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In tough times, Laurens Meynaerts takes a leap of faith to launch new competition concept at Sentower Park for 2022

Thursday, 13 May 2021
Interview

Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping. "We have a fantastic team with great facilities, and I see us doing more," Laurens Meynaerts says – here with Marijke De Rossi, Alan Beaumont, Bert Swennen and Sally De Smedt. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

For the past five years, 30-year-old Laurens Meynaerts has been in charge of running events at Sentower Park in Opglabbeek, Belgium. With an annual average of 20 weekends of international jumping events throughout last year, Meynaerts and his team have been one of the few organisers that have managed to keep going both indoors and outdoors through the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with the recent EHV-1 outbreak, Meynaerts has been faced with even more challenges. To World of Showjumping, the young event director tells how the last twelve months have only strengthened his vision: A new competition concept is needed – something Sentower Park has in store for 2022.

“The EHV-1 measures are very strict and hard to implement,” Meynaerts says about the current situation. “We received the protocols on a very short notice, and I believe that one of the biggest issues has been how the laboratories are having trouble in delivering the test results on time. Even though implementing the measures is difficult, it is possible. However, the measures are making everything very expensive: There are a lot of new costs for both the riders and the OCs. That being said, we have to do our best to protect the welfare of the horses and on this point all the stakeholders are on the same page.”

Meynaerts believes that the EHV-1 outbreak will have long-lasting, positive effects when it comes to biosecurity at showgrounds around the world. “There were a few FEI rules that earlier were not taken seriously,” he says. “I think that with the focus we now see on biosecurity, the situation will improve. Everyone has become more aware of the risks and will sharpen up. In that way, it is a good thing: We have all opened our eyes, which is a positive outcome.”

“My feeling is that during the summer, the situation will get more normal – step by step. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Meynaerts continues about the EHV-1 outbreak and the Covid-19 pandemic. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been able to prove that equestrian sports here in Belgium is an important industry. Nationally, only top sport events have been allowed – meaning cycling, soccer, tennis as well as certain equestrian disciplines. We got a green light from the politicians to keep running, which is motivating – we feel appreciated by the government. We hope that the amateurs and non-professionals can compete again soon!”

Supporting the Belgian equestrian community is important for Meynaerts. “We are at the centre of the equestrian world, but in order to stay as such we have to improve and invest,” he says. “We have now been five years here at Sentower Park with our team and it is all going smoothly. However, we only do the lower star-levels. This year, we are adding our first four-star, and for the future we are thinking about aiming higher. We have a fantastic team with great facilities, and I see us doing more. At Sentower Park, we are trying to help riders in different age groups prepare themselves and their horses for the bigger events – like championships – and for that purpose we now want to add a new series of international shows in our calendar for 2022.”

“In 2022, we will be launching a new series called ‘The Riders Series’,” Meynaerts details about his plans for next year. “We are adding eight shows to our calendar for the summer of 2022, all three and four-star shows. With these shows, we want to reach the riders who want to step up and have the goal of jumping into the top 150 on the Longines Ranking. We want to give them the opportunity to jump a lot of ranking classes close-by – here, in the centre of the equestrian world.”

“The series will run for two weeks at the time, on four occasions from the end of May until September,” Meynaerts continues. “These events will not be clashing with any other big shows in Belgium such as Brussels, Lanaken or Knokke – we have to support the Belgian equestrian top sport. For the rest, the series fits very nicely in the calendar. To run the series with two weeks of show in a row also makes the trip worthwhile – especially for those affected by Brexit. The final two weekends in September 2022 will be at a secret location – to make it more exciting. There will be nine ranking classes per weekend and no qualification for the ranking classes, and there will also be an overall winner of the series. I see this concept developing and maybe even growing with the star-levels. With a total of 1,6 million Euros in prize money it is a risk, but it will be a big boost for the jumping sport in this area.”

With the new competition concept, Meynaerts wants to create more opportunities for the lower ranked riders. “Due to the FEI invitation system, it is very difficult to get into the three and four-star shows at the moment – unless you are ranked in the top 100,” he explains. “In general, if you are outside the ranking-based invitations, the cost is very high to compete and most of the time it is related to buying a VIP-table. We don’t do that. We really want to see the sport evolve and give everyone a chance to get their rounds in and score ranking points. The basic slogan for the new series will be ‘It is all about the points’ because with the current FEI invitation system, the whole sport is based on the points. It might be sad, but it is true.”

“In my opinion, the sport today is all about either selling and promoting the sales horses or being a top ranked rider. I think all the riders want to be climbing on the ranking though. But, on a lower international level it is nearly impossible to plan shows in advance because you never really know which events you will get accepted for. I don’t understand why equestrian sports have to be so complicated in this regard; we all want to aim high, go to the championships and promote our sport – but we can’t make a proper show plan because of the way the invitation system works?” Meynaerts says.

“Everything is challenging in the beginning when you have to adjust and adapt, and there will always be minor problems,” Meynaerts says about the FEI invitation system. “However, I do think the system works to its purpose when it comes to protecting the riders: It puts a limit on the show organisers’ commercial opportunities, which I believe has an effect. I do think the FEI could be a bit more flexible when it comes to the youth though: For example, there should be a U25-quota for all the four-star shows – so that those that belong to the future of our sport get a chance to jump the kind of events without paying €10,000+ per weekend.” 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



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