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Chairman's Letter - Autumn 2023

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo

Dear BEMA member,

I’m very honoured to be writing my first annual report as your Chairman. I know we are all enormously grateful to my predecessor, Andrew Baldock, for his leadership since 2012, ably supported by wonderful committee members giving their time to help the organisation achieve its aims of improving conditions for journalists and acting as a valuable conduit between governing bodies, events and the working press.

As I was taking over, the AGM voted to change the organisation’s name to the British Equestrian Media Association (BEMA) and we have relaunched our website and selected a new logo as we embrace a more multi-media industry. 

As Chair, I have launched a recruitment drive for members – bringing PRs, social media creators, influencers, event marketing and press office teams into the fold – but I’m conscious that we need to ensure that we offer value for those membership fees, especially in the current economic climate. To that end, your committee has set up a working group to assist events in managing social media content creators and influencer activity around the more traditional media and has come up with a useful set of guidelines. With the support of the team from the Longines Global Champions Tour, we were also able to offer an incredible day for young and aspiring journalists at their London event in August which will be repeated in 2024. And, finally, this year we will launch a photography award for members, with our President, Kit Houghton, heading the judging panel.

I am delighted that we will be hosting our lunch during the London International Horse Show at ExCel again; it’s an important event for us to speak with each other, as well as riders and representatives from governing bodies, events, etc. and hopefully it will be a lot of fun! The lunch (on December 14) will also once again include our awards. Neither the lunch nor our awards could happen without the generous support of a number of sponsors, some of whom have been involved with us for a very long time – my thanks to them all.

On the sporting stage it has been an interesting pre-Olympic year. The eventers, led by the incomparable Ros Canter, blitzed the opposition at the European Championships in Haras du Pin to take team gold. Ros herself became European Champion, an accolade to add to her sublime victory at Badminton in the spring, and Kitty King achieved a first and well-deserved individual senior medal by taking silver. At Defender Burghley it was Oliver Townend’s evergreen Ballaghmor Class who rose to the occasion to take the autumn classic title once again.

Beyond the five-stars, it was a tough year for eventing with many cancellations due to the unpredictable weather and the impact of the current financial pressures we all face on entry levels, making some events unviable. It was a pleasure, though, to see our former under-25 award winner Bubby Upton take a second national under-25 title at Bramham before unfortunately being sidelined through injury; we wish her the best with her recovery and rehab. In terms of young guns nipping at the senior team’s heels, it’s difficult to look beyond Alice Casburn, the 21-year-old who delivered a top-10 result at Burghley for the second year in a row.

In jumping, we enjoyed five-star competition on home soil at both Royal Windsor and Global Champions London but had to settle for the visitors taking the spoils. That wasn’t the case at a vintage Royal International at Hickstead; Britain reclaimed the Nations Cup for the first time in 13 years and Robert Whitaker and the family-bred Vermento’s victory in the King George was a thrilling finale. In a year when the Derby meeting also seemed among one of the best in recent memory, it’s frustrating that Hickstead has been overlooked for the FEI’s new “League of Nations” Nations Cup series. I know we will all do our best to support the Bunns’ efforts in 2024.

Internationally, our top tier of jumping riders have been flying the flag with aplomb so it was disappointing to miss a medal at the Europeans in Milan. Mention, though, must be made of Ben Maher’s incredible performance with Faltic HB; for the second year in a row Faltic had to be Ben’s championship horse and once again delivered an impressive (albeit frustrating) individual fourth place finish. Our team at the Nations Cup finals laid down a marker by winning day one on zero and, whilst the Sunday finale didn’t go our way, a noteworthy clear came from the youngest on the team, 21-year-old Lily Attwood. Another of the rising stars of jumping, 23-year-old Jodie Hall-McAteer's impressive podium finish in the World Cup Qualifier in London last December contributed to her being named the outright leading international rider of the show. Then, at October's Horse of the Year Show, she won the Grand Prix becoming the first female rider to claim the Leading Showjumper of the Year title since 2010.

Britain’s dressage team have brought home many medals since 2011, but hadn’t won team gold since the Olympics in 2012. Their European title in Riesenbeck was all the more impressive as it represented the first time Germany had been beaten for a team medal on home soil. The expected narrative was a battle between Germany’s Olympic champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Britain’s world champion Lottie Fry, what was perhaps unexpected was the incredible performance from Charlotte Dujardin and Imhotep who themselves took two individual medals. Carl Hester, of course part of that golden performance, was the following week crowned national grand prix champion for the 11th time (his 68th national title overall!). It hardly needs saying at this stage, but Carl’s value to the sport as a rider, a trainer, a coach, a mentor and an example to others is second to none. It’s telling that his national titles mean as much to him as those international medals.

The para-dressage team at Riesenbeck used the championships to consolidate some combinations and launch others onto the world stage. Whilst we might have to get used to not always winning the team gold anymore this team’s performance for bronze in strong company just shows the strength in depth of Britain’s programme. On her championship debut Gabriella Blake won individual bronze in grade I, while Georgia Wilson won grade II individual and freestyle silver, and Sophie Wells won grade V freestyle bronze.

In the youth divisions Britain’s pony showjumpers won team bronze in Le Mans (FRA), The children on horses, juniors and young riders all took team bronze at Gorla Minore (ITA). The junior eventers scored team silver at Montelibretti (ITA). At Kronberg (GER) Myles Graham won junior dressage freestyle bronze. In Budapest (HUN) Great Britain’s team of young riders won dressage team bronze with a European freestyle gold for Annabella Pidgley.

In addition Great Britain were medallists at the World Para Driving Championships, Exloo (NED), winning team bronze, and the Veterans Jumping European Championships, Hardelot (FRA), where they took team silver, individual silver and individual bronze.

In the past 12 months we have sadly lost several great colleagues and veterans of press centres around the world in Michael Clayton, Alastair Martin-Bird and Peter Churchill. Michael’s writing and editing of Horse & Hound set the gold standard for equestrian journalism that we still hold ourselves to, and all done alongside being a “real” journalist – a former war correspondent, he would present the Today programme on Radio 4 before a day’s work at Horse & Hound. Alastair was a pioneer in producing our sports for television. His company has been involved in Badminton since 1984 and maintained a relationship spanning over 20 years with the FEI, producing their live events, highlights programmes, and managing broadcast rights during what was arguably one of the high points for worldwide coverage. Peter wrote extensively on the sport including being Horse & Hound’s showjumping editor, but will be best remembered as a television commentator. He helped introduce international jumping to our screens, in particular with his long association with Eurosport right from the early days of satellite television.

Please do remember to vote for our awards and keep our treasurer, Lynne Reed, happy by paying your subscriptions promptly and I hope as many of you as possible will join me for our awards lunch at London ExCel on Thursday, December 14.

Rupert Bell