Ahead of the 2015 End of Season Event, which takes place on Saturday 28th November at The Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club, we chat to Kiwi eventer Bruce Haskell, President of the Eventing Riders Association, about the vital role ERA plays on the international stage in order to support riders, their welfare and the sport.
How was your 2015 season for you?
It was really good – I am very pleased with how it all went. I got the chance to develop a few of our young horses, all of which have a great future.
My 7 year old mare, Amiro Sky is looking really good for her first 3* run as an 8 year old. She did a nice double clear at Osberton and my 5 year old did a lovely double clear at Goring Heath and finished on a low dressage score. My 6 year old Moon Under Water, owned by Karen Bartlett, had a great season and qualified for Le Lion.
For me, seeing them perform at this level with solid results, consolidating their education and living up to my expectations meant the year went to plan and this is something I want to expand in 2016 – a wider range of talented young horses that get the results so I am looking for new owners for some exciting new rides.
How do you juggle the horses with your role as President of ERA International?
I am only able to do this as I have a small team of young horses currently and that allows me to also work on ERA but when they get to 3* and 4* the reins will be passed to someone else. I have the time and definitely the passion and see it is as payback to the sport that has given me a profession and my livelihood, and continues to do so through teaching and developing horses.
I wanted to take the opportunity to repay what it has given me. It was a need that needed to be met and when we decided to split ERA into 2 associations, GB for safeguarding British Eventing and International for FEI and international issues, I knew how important its voice needed to be.
ERA needed an international voice to represent all riders around the world. When we sat down with the FEI to discuss the 21 penalty issue, it was a great feeling having consulted riders from countries including Canada, Italy, China, America, Brazil and South Africa, that we were representing the worlds’ athletes.
Our first year has been focused on the development of ERA International. Going forward we to want to introduce proper governance that leaves a credible legacy but it is a huge amount of work.
The main problem we have is apathy until there is a problem. We all need to have input and things do evolve. If you only react when there is a problem, then nothing ever really moves forward. Since I have been doing this, I definitely feel that there is more cohesion in the sport and we are a definitely a ‘we’ now. The downside is the phone rings a lot more and my horses and grooms are all very well schooled in most FEI aspects !
The Eventers Ball is happening this weekend. More work for you?
Not really – I have a fantastic organising team who really do do everything and only come to me for final decisions. It is the second Ball under the new administration and directive – membership to ERA is free so the Ball is our main source of fund raising for the running costs of ERA.
The ERA of GB Ball incorporates both the British Eventing 2015 Awards and the 2015 ERA Awards ceremonies, so many super star event riders will be in attendance. We are hoping next year will have a truly international section as well – but it’s a case of watch this space. Ambition and money run side by side so we have a lot to do to get there.
I really want to thank the eventing community for getting behind the Ball. They are starting to see a relevance for getting involved plus we couldn’t do it without so many volunteers. It takes a lot of work and commitment. ERA International committee member Jonty Evans will be compèring on the night and he does a great job of getting everyone going.
Photo credit: © Nico Morgan
What feedback have you had this year ?
It has been a hugely positive year. We have definitely gained credibility with the FEI and BE and extended our networks with them. They now know we exist and we feel we have a good relationship with them.
We are available if they need to ask us for help with their enquiries, which does happen, and one of the primary roles of ERA International is to be involved with FEI issues.
We have been proactive with the Olympic 2020 programme and although there is a long way to go, we now have athlete representation at these important meetings and deciding boards, which is crucial for ERA as a sound athlete body. There is a long way to go.
Going forward into 2016, how do you see ERA’s role developing?
We are very keen, and it is very important to us, to get set up properly with the Eventing Family as our official charity. Every year we have another tragedy or person who has had a hard time and we want to support those people around the globe.
We are a family and we have been in discussion with Helen West at Bicton to see how much we can try and raise. It is an extension of the framework of what ERA is about and we want to look after our connections.
For me, I believe it is important for more people to join ERA. It is free – there is no membership fee and there never will be. We need people to understand the reason of why joining is important. We have a very high proportion of the top 100 riders as members on our international list and all members know they can approach us for problem solving.
The sport is incredibly complex but it is a clever system and we are part of a much greater group that includes organisers, owners and volunteers. There are a lot of stakeholders, which is what makes British Eventing so good. There are still a lot of gripes and what you learn from being involved on the inside, is that these things do get dealt with and constant evolution is part of the sport.
Tests will get harder, there will be more technicality, different rules and so on and we are lucky that we can drag our sport forward through the centuries and get it more modern and being interesting and relevant is part of that. Many of the British riders need to have a wider view and be more aware of what else is going on in the sport worldwide. Britain is not the centre of the world for eventing – it is absolutely the leader and will always remain incredibly strong but if you look at the countries that are doing it around the world, it is now a truly recognisable sport globally and I believe being early adopters of social media, as many riders have been, has made us more visible.
Eventing needs to see itself as another form of entertainment competing for exposure on the international stage and we only have to look at other sports to see how this can happen. I make an active point at looking at other sports to see what innovations they are bringing in and what we need to move towards.
Photo credit: © Nico Morgan
ERA remains absolutely passionate about rider safety and that includes taking responsibility for your own progression and training: making sure that your safety is viewed as an internal mechanism within yourself and not by a rule book.
We also want to encourage the FEI to standardize body protectors and helmets to a higher level than they are right now. There is a gap within the FEI rules about there being no minimum standard for body protectors and these are absolutely proven in preventing serious injuries in falls. We are, and will continue to actively encourage the FEI to consider a tougher level of body protector.
It would be prudent for the FEI to take a stronger policy on what that level should be, especially in the cross country phase. My background is in motocross and we are lagging behind when you look at other sports safety equipment. It is easy enough to change a rule and force the market to change direction and it cannot be argued on a cost basis when you are competing at FEI level.
I would hate to read about an accident that could have been less severe if a rider had been wearing an enforced body protector at an FEI event. And this is a matter of when not if that that will happen tragically. It is a dangerous sport and we accept that, but it is a serious topic and we will not be backing down on it. You have to wear an FEI approved helmet so body protectors need this policy.
And what about the sport’s progression? Could a name change to Equestrian Triathlon help the cause?
With regard to the sport progressing, I have views on the proposed name change to Equestrian Triathlon.
At ERA, we have made it clear that we support the concept of a unilateral understanding of what our sport does. Where we may differ with the FEI, for example, is that we point blank believe that you would be better off marketing the name we have.
Tennis is not called hitting the yellow ball over the net with 2 bits of wood and string! Eventing is eventing. I understand the motivation with the name change, it could be seen as confusing when some events like Badminton use ‘horse trials’ and Boekelo use the term ‘military’ but other things need to take a higher priority.
It could get even more confusing in Asia markets where things don’t translate well. My background is marketing, and you have only have to look at a brand like Kodak, the word means absolutely nothing, to see that we need to build on the name as a brand, not disperse it, and I do not believe arguing about a name is helpful at a time when our sport needs to keep its Olympic retention.
The public awareness of showjumping, for example, was only bought forward by showjumping being on television and it is a chicken and egg situation. We have a very short, sweet brand name – let’s use it, market it, develop it.
How will you spend the winter?
Winter will be renovations and repairs, teaching, spring cleaning, and hopefully a ski trip in January with a few eventers.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would have liked to be a better rugby player but I’m not big enough to play properly.
How do you unwind/relax?
Playing touch rugby but I am nursing a bit of an ankle injury at the moment. I bought a bike this year and am really enjoying it.
What is your greatest fear?
The numbers 2 and 0. A 20 score. I live not to have a 20 on the score sheet!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Better time management
Who are your heroes in real life?
Jonah Lomu, who sadly passed away recently. I read an interview about him once and he always took the time to acknowledge people and talk to everyone and I have never forgotten that.
Where would you like to live?
In my fantasy world it would be by a beach with a mountain behind me and a cross country course in between!
What would be your perfect weekend?
In Geneva at the Indoor Grand Prix – I’m going in a few weeks and I love that event.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m a bit of a Sci-fi geek and am reading Surface Detail by Iain Banks.
What are your top indispensable pieces of kit, for you or your horse?
Dainese body protector
My running shoes
A random pair of Ikea kitchen steps to get on my horses.
We are very grateful to Bruce for taking time out to talk to us at such a busy time and we hope everyone attending The Eventers Ball has a wonderful night and it raises much needed funds to keep the crucial work of ERA moving forward.
The Eventing Riders Association (ERA) can be visited at www.eventingriders.com
Follow The Eventers Ball on Twitter @eventers_ball
ERA GB on Twitter is @ERAofGB
ERA International on Twitter is @ERA_Int
Huge thanks to Nico Morgan for the photographs – see Nico’s work at www.nicomorgan.co.uk