It seems that it has been raining for the last 6 months straight. In fact, was there ever a time when it didn’t rain? I have forgotten if there was. With the first two Scottish events at Kirriemuir and Forgendenny cancelled due to the horrendous weather, I caught up with Country Ways sponsored rider 5* event rider Eilidh Costelloe about her plans for the 2024 season (if it ever stops raining….)

What are your plans for the 2024 event season?

“Just to try and get to an event!! The way eventing is going, you lose a little bit of hope and it’s hard to forward plan, with the weather, lack of events, travelling distance and expense…especially now I have the baby too, what can I possibly fit in?!”

How has the awful weather impacted you?

“We were entered for Kirriemuir and Forgendenny to start the season and we were meant to be going to Lindores to train beforehand, but the plug has been pulled on all of that….the ground was saturated and the rain was just not stopping, so I thought what’s the point in going training? It’s not fun in the rain and I don’t want to trash their ground and I was just trying to get training in before Kirriemuir. Training for cross country is such a challenge now for us in Aberdeen, unlike BS, where you can jump up to 1.30 in Aberdeen twice a month if you want, if you want to jump 1.30 in eventing, you are talking middle England at least. You can do so much training and practise locally for dressage and showjumping, but there is not many options locally for cross country training and even then, nothing is able to open just now either”.

It must be hard to stay motivated?

“The start of the season is normally exciting, but to be honest, this year that excitement has faded fast, with the weather, event cancellations and the news of us losing Blair Castle after this year its hard to be excited about our sport right now!

The cross country is why we go eventing and spend winter training our horses to be ready, but if there’s nothing to go to and you cant get XC practise in, then you kind of lose the confidence in your riding ability XC to be prepared to go round these big tracks that we travel South for.”

Do you have any advice for people who are feeling disheartened about the eventing season?

“Move the goalposts and change your targets or you give up! This week alone, I was just in such a foul mood, I lost track of how many times I rode head down in the pouring rain, all the waterproof layers on, and then with the first two events now cancelled and no training to go to and I start to think why am I doing this? So quickly, I think, I need to move the goalposts and make some new plans ‘right I’ll go showjumping instead’. Otherwise you get stuck in a rut and lose the motivation to ride at all! The horses still need to work at the end of the day, they can’t just be stood around and you’ve got to have a goal to train towards, otherwise you do just end up hacking, lunging or using the treadmill. Whatever level you are, you need a goal to push youself, to inspire you to get on board on a miserable wet day! So I think that’s really important. Even though the eventing feels like it’s going down the drain a little bit at the moment, I can’t dwell on it as the horses are fit, ready and need a job! I’ve registered all the horses with BS, because we can do so much of that locally, even in Scotland you can jump to a really decent level. Even my young horses who I would normally just compete on day tickets, I’ve gone and registered them. The membership for BS isn’t even that bad and you know that a few rosettes can win you that money back. I went to a show down at Howe and my entries were £100 and I came back with £90 prize money. You go eventing and you’re lucky if you win a dandy brush after spending hundreds on the entry! Whereas you come back from a local jumping show and think oh I’ve only spent £40 today! There’s something about the challenge of being able to win money, even if it’s just a few quid, it’s something!”

How is big Buddy?

“He is really good, he is show jumping and loving it! Originally I had planned to show jump him for the year that I had the baby and thought I would maybe bring him back out eventing after. But then I thought, you know what we’re enjoying it and it’s a lot easier in terms of fitness, he’s such a difficult horse to get fit, and also the cost and time away travelling for the level he’s at, there’s nothing in Scotland for him. So I just decided it’s a lot easier to have him ready to show jump at his age and stage in life, so weighing everything up it’s the sensible thing to do. I just want him to enjoy his job and he didn’t like the dressage (neither did I!), so it’s nice that we don’t have to punish ourselves over that! It’s a 2-minute round in the ring rather than 3 days and a 10-minute cross country, so at his age and stage in life he is happy, enjoys his training and that means everything. He’s been out to a few shows this year and is jumping really well. He’s entered to the Fife Show as the Highland Show qualifiers are there. I wouldn’t normally do the agricultural shows, but it's nice to do something different”.

What does he make of the agricultural shows?

“I don’t know but we’ll soon find out! He’s not done any yet so I just thought it’s nice to do different things, you can get a bit bored going to the same venues year in year out, so I thought we would do something different! And he loves jumping on grass too, that’s where he can beat some of the showjumpers, especially if it’s slippy wet ground then he can really come to the fore. Put the big studs in and crack on! He’ll be delighted. He is so used to those big environments, when you go to the 4*’s like Bramham, there’s so much going on around the main ring, so he’s quite used to jumping big tracks in those environments. Once he’s in the ring, he knows his job. So that’s his plan this year, have a bit of fun and jump big tracks and on grass where possible.  It’s good for me to keep my eye in at that level, when you stop jumping big tracks you soon look at them and go wow that’s big! So I’m loving it, it’s really good fun”.

Do you have your next top ride in your sights now that Buddy is retired from eventing?

“Penny is coming through, she’s doing really well and is 7 now and coming of age and jumping some bigger tracks. She moved up to Foxhunter and she’s making that feel easy. It’s often a big step from Newcomers to Foxhunter as it’s 1.10 to 1.20, whereas most tracks are just 5cm, so I think normally you can tell at that stage if they are going to be able to jump big tracks or not. Most horses can jump to 1.10 comfortably but after that it’s a different ballgame. She’s actually surprised me at how good she feels. I think I was worried she was going to disappoint me, but actually she’s loving it and it’s really improved her jump having a bigger fence to take time over. So that’s quite exciting and hopefully she’ll move up to Intermediate and go 3* this year out eventing. My plan was to go down South in May to a couple of Intermediate events in Yorkshire after having had two Novice runs at Kirrie and Forgandenny just to settle her back into it and use them as training runs as there’s not much of anything bigger than a metre to train round. What courses there are only go up to a metre or so. You can’t train over big cross country tracks so you have to use a couple of competitions to prepare you to step up and then go down to places like Yorkshire to get an "Intermediate run”.

It must be very challenging trying to event at your level in Scotland?

“The problem is, and I can see from an organisers point of view, if there’s not the riders then they’re not going to build the tracks. Hopetoun aren’t running an Intermediate this year because there was something like only 7 entries last year. How can they build a whole track for so few numbers? So it then becomes a viscous cycle, because if there aren’t the riders, and there isn’t the XC training and without the training, you aren’t going to develop the riders or horses, then we aren’t going to get the competitions or opportunities. That’s where I feel the problem is for BE Scotland in particular, what do you do?

Do you worry about the future of eventing in Scotland?

“I do, but I just don’t even know how you go about it, but again it comes back to an organisation point of view and how the tracks are funded, encouraging people to build them, how you break the cycle, if there’s not the tracks, there’s not the riders and vice versa. If there’s not the training and not the tracks then riders aren’t going to be there and then with the loss of Blair as well, that’s where all the Scottish riders aspire to be at. The whole equestrian circuit in Scotland congregate there, not just people riding but doing their shopping, with that one common link of being horsey of some description. Saying that, not even horsey, I have lots of family and friends that come to watch at Blair that don’t have a clue about horses but come as it's such a big country fair, beautiful location and a good day out in Scotland. The pinnacle of our equestrian year is going, it just feels a wee bit depressing at the start of this season knowing that. We’ve lost Blair, the weather isn’t allowing us to run, the few events we have, that’s two lost already. The event season seems to be shifting as well, the weather is worse for longer in the Spring and then you could almost event into October because October is a lovely month. I don’t know whether they need to actually look at moving the calendar a bit, but then I think daylight is an issue in October. So there’s lots of hurdles with eventing now, the cost and the safety, it just makes you kind of worry about the future and how to make this work. But we glory on for now and hope the sun will shine soon and that we get some glorious days eventing this summer!”.

April 19, 2024 — Lynne Clark

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