EQUESTRIAN: Skill still needed says Tait

Retired equestrian Blyth Tait has rubbished claims that New Zealand riders and their mounts will be at a disadvantage because of the "softening" of the three-day eventing course.
"I think it's total rubbish. You can make the course as long and as fast as you want and never mind where they are from - Britain, America, Australia, Canada or New Zealand - they will all have to use their skills to come through," Tait said in Hastings last night.
The former Olympian and world champion horseman was at the Equestrian Centre in Flaxmere at the weekend in his capacity as the New Zealand Equestrian Federation's high performance director, to help fine-tune riders' skills.
Tait says the sport has evolved over the years and New Zealand has no distinctive advantage as such.
"New Zealand riders sit still and don't want to improve," he says. "I'm in favour of shortening the course. What people have to understand is that the endurance part of three-day eventing is not important. It's the skill factor that is."
The three-day event - comprising a combination of speed and endurance tests of steeplechase, crosscountry, and road and tracks - was shortened at last year's Athens Olympics.
The death knell for the longer version will be at the World Games in Aachen, Germany, late next year with dress rehearsals likely at the Badminton and Burley selection trials in England before that.
In the shortened version, the steeplechase and road and tracks disciplines will be sacrificed and the 5000m-plus crosscountry will be trimmed back to about 3000m.
The equestrian world has been divided over the radical change, with purists claiming the shortened version of the competition will kill the enjoyment and challenge factor while others, including former equestrian and tetraplegic Catriona Williams, whose career was cut short due to a fall, believe the shorter version is more humane to the horses and safer for the riders.
Some argue that New Zealand will be at a disadvantage, having to breed lighter horses now that the heavier thoroughbreds suited to the endurance event will be phased out.
"I have been involved with horses for many years and there's nothing more disappointing than preparing a horse for an event only to find you can't compete because your horse is injured," says Tait, who believes there's nothing stopping people from holding a purely endurance test.
Remarking on the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Tait says while he was satisfied with the world governing body FEI's assessment and approval of the facilities in Hong Kong, it was "less than ideal for our sport but it is part of a bigger thing".
He preferred to have the equestrian competitions held in a part of the world where the countries understood the sport better.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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