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Emile Hendrix and Ken Ruysen: “We understand everyone that wants to make money, but the sport has to stay the number one priority”

Tuesday, 04 August 2020

Photo © Eva van den Adel. Ken Ruysen and Emile Hendrix. Photo © Eva van den Adel.


Text © World of Showjumping



With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing organisers into cancelling their five- and four-star events, the pressure on the three- and two-stars has exploded. In July, at a CSI3* show in Belgium, there were 252 starters in a 1.45m that qualified riders for the next day’s world ranking class – open to the 100 best. A total of 60 moved on to Sunday’s Grand Prix. While the CSI2* events have been less extreme, the Grand Prix classes have been fierce with between 60-100 riders competing – many of them among the world’s best. With entry fees set at 400 Euro exclusive VAT and compulsory fees on top, only those at the top of the ranking classes will break even when paying their bills. 

The International Jumping Riders Club has already addressed the situation – stating that: “Over 250 competitors in a competition of 1.45m with 4000 euros as prize money is totally unacceptable.” The Club added that those profiting on the pandemic on the expense of others must be reprimanded. 

Is there a way to find the right balance though? World of Showjumping spoke with Emile Hendrix and Ken Ruysen. 

Hendrix needs little introduction; he is one of the Dutch heavyweights and knows the sport inside out as a former rider and owner. A board member at Equestrian Centre de Peelbergen – one of the Netherland’s biggest and most popular jumping facilities, Hendrix also has a foot in the organising world. Ruysen has over the years built up a reputation for himself as sports director and is managing director for Equestrian Centre de Peelbergen.

“There is currently a huge reduction in the amount of shows,” Ruysen points out. “Normally, in this part of Europe, we have five-six different options from two-star level and up to five-star every weekend. Now, we see only two-three options per weekend – sometimes even less. Of course, everyone wants to compete, and organisers get huge amount of entries.”

“From a financial perspective it is very interesting to accept fifty or hundred riders more than what we normally would do, but our vision is to keep up the quality of the events,” Ruysen says. “In my opinion – if you host an international show, you should at least give everyone the possibility to compete in the first world ranking class. At the moment this is not the case. To have CSI invitation rules for three-star shows that regulate how riders must be invited according to their position on the world ranking, makes no sense if they are not allowed to jump at least the first ranking class. We have seen that riders with a slow clear don’t qualify, they have to race around in order to get to compete.”

“I can understand that everybody wants to make money, but when the commercial aspects push the sport aside there is something wrong,” Hendrix fills in. “Just because the pandemic has increased the demand of riders who want to jump, does not mean organisers should be able to take in unlimited numbers of horses and riders. It’s good for their pockets, but not for the sport. The FEI needs to take action.”

In Hendrix’s opinion, the solution is simple. “If you want to organise two-star events including one-star and young horses and you have one ring, you should not be allowed to have more than 300 horses competing in one day. If you have two rings, you can double to a maximum of 600 horses. If you are in a place like Vejer de la Frontera – with a huge number of rings – it’s a totally different story,” Hendrix says. “I also think we should consider the option to limit the number of riders to a maximum of a hundred Big Tour-riders, then we avoid that those accepted for the show end up not jumping one ranking class. To have to qualify in for the Grand Prix is something I think we can all accept, but everyone should have access to the first ranking class. In this case, we need to protect the horses and the riders.”

“There should not be any pressure on any horse on the first day of competition,” Hendrix continues. “We should not run them around for a little bit of prize money, it goes against the welfare of the horses. My suggestion to restrict the entries would help protect them, and would also bring these shows back to what they are supposed to be – a place to develop horses for the future.”

“At the moment you will see that many of the riders, even at these lower star levels, need to take out their best horses on the first day – in a 1.40m or a 1.45m,” Ruysen adds. “This is normally a class where the better horses shouldn’t be competing, because they will be jumping the Grand Prix later in the weekend. They should either be resting or jumping a smaller class as a warm-up. Forcing riders to use their more experienced horses in these qualifiers also gives less opportunities to the up-and-coming horses to step up – no one wants to race around on their youngsters in bigger classes. It is not the way forward.”

“I would also prefer to do as in the US and only allow twelve hours of showing a day,” Hendrix fills in. “We need to protect all the stakeholders at the shows and keep it serious, and this has nothing to do with the pandemic.”

“All these issues should be looked at and decided upon rather today than tomorrow, because these are urgent matters,” Hendrix says. 

All riders competing at three- and two-star level know the dreaded Sunday-feeling of heading to the show office to pay their bills. In pandemic times even more so – with horse sales going slow and little prize money on offer, most riders are struggling financially. “From our own experience we all know that even with good results in the ranking classes you can end up with a tremendous bill. It’s not often it’s break-even,” Hendrix says. “Perhaps, in times like these, we should look at the distribution of prize money. Should we show a bit solidarity and distribute the prize money by 25% rather than 33% –  dividing it more out on all the riders? I’m sure most would be willing to accept this. In these three- and two-star Grand Prix classes it is limited what can be built, and we often have around twenty clears. Even if you go for it in the Grand Prix, you can be close to the top in terms of your jump-off time but still end up 12th and don’t even get the entry fee back. If we would rather do the 25% distribution of the prize money, at least the riders have the bill for one horse paid.”

As to Covid-19 safety measures, Hendrix and Ruysen stress how all organisers need to be aware of their responsibility. “Firstly, that means taking into consideration the national and regional restrictions,” Ruysen says. “Secondly, it’s questioning whether further measures should be taken. Here, in Peelbergen, we are allowed to have spectators – however, we decided not to open for the general public. For us, the safety of the riders and their entourages is more important than opening for an audience. That’s an extra regulation we added ourselves, and it gives us control in terms of the people that access our event – no one is allowed in without accreditation. We avoid filling up the venue, and everyone has the necessary space to respect social distancing regulations.”

“We need to set good examples,” Hendrix says. “If one organisation makes a mistake, it’s damaging to the rest – and this does not just apply to the equestrian world. We all know that these are different times, and we have to accept that to move forwards and get out of this. Creating space for the competitors is a good place to start, and make sure that social distancing requirements can be respected. At the moment, the best solution from the FEI’s side is to make it easier for two-star show organisers to get dates and thus spread people out over different venues. Because at this point in time we can all agree there are enough competitors for all the shows.” 

“I think show organisers would benefit if the FEI took a more proactive approach regarding the Covid-19 protocols,” Ruysen says. “Currently the FEI officials are present at the shows and are doing their utmost to uphold and carry out the Covid-19 regulations. But there is no check beforehand to see whether shows are fully prepared and have their measures in place. Normally an official makes a report after the show if there are points of improvements, but that is not an option now. The coronavirus will not wait until a next show. Checks before the event starts need to be made to ensure the safety of everyone. No matter how good the intentions of an organising committee are, the measures that need to be taken in line with Covid-19 protocols can be quite complicated and elaborate. Here the FEI could support us and ask their officials, such as the chief steward and jury president, to contact the organising committee beforehand. Have them go through a check list of measures that have to be in place in line with the FEI Covid-19 guidelines. This way, if an organising committee is not fully prepared, they have time to adjust it before the show starts.” 


No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping


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