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Steven Wilde: Equestrian sport, or more importantly, the world in lockdown

Saturday, 18 April 2020
When at home...
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Photo © Stefano Grasso/LGCT. Steven Wilde. Photo © Stefano Grasso/LGCT.

Photo © Stefano Grasso/LGCT Steven Wilde. Photo © Stefano Grasso/LGCT.

Steven Wilde, one of the most famous voices of international showjumping, shares his thoughts on the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on the equestrian industry in particular and the sport industry in general. "In our little world, most people have been on a rollercoaster and we all feel a little like we are not quite sure what is over the next track peak; will it be a short sharp shock or a long drawn out terror ride?" Wilde asks.

 


 

"The jumpers are grounded, the Piaffe’s are paused and the three day-ers are down to none. 

What does this all mean? Well put simply, other things are more important right now. Health, as it always was, is at top of the list, although it just happened to be on the list of things that we took for granted. 

I have been asked to write a little something on how we are dealing with the current situation. Well; there have been highs and lows. 

I’d love to write some perfect world idealistic piece, where we are all just at home, reading and spending time with people we love. 

Anyone who tells you everything is fine, is living in a false utopia, lying, or the luckiest people alive!

This is a situation that affects us all and many have already been touched by someone who has passed away. More optimistically I hope, you have had friends who have recovered, or even had it yourselves but bounced back. We will all be touched by this in some way, which is why talking about “how are all of you coping”, seems a difficult one to answer. 

In our little world, most people have been on a rollercoaster and we all feel a little like we are not quite sure what is over the next track peak; will it be a short sharp shock or a long drawn out terror ride? 

If we put these experiences into reality, there have been a host of levels to this and as much as we will have good and bad moments, if we come out on the other side of this, then that is the first optimistic hurdle jumped. Some sadly won’t. 

I have already lost colleagues and friends and sadly being realistic, I don’t think we are done yet. 

Ok, so personal experiences; as is my remit here!  

Well… it all really hit home out here in the USA when were happily rolling through the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. It’s a usual mix of top sport and a bumper time, competitors everywhere. In a matter of days, having tucked away a big five-star week, the next week, as they say, “escalated quickly”. On Monday the virus situation was seen as something that happens elsewhere and maybe it will impact us in mid-April, by the end of the week the curtain was being brought down prematurely. A personal thank you to Michael Stone and his team for being so supportive this season. 

The emotions. Well, there was the initial chatter about what might happen, then the dawning realisation that something big is coming over the hill. Then the real impact hits. At this stage the sickening realisation that people’s incomes were about to be cut off, that physically this evil thing had arrived on the doorstep. Then the dreadful hope stage that, oh in a few weeks things we will be back up and running. No, we won’t. The next stage is then desperately looking for balance in the new normal. 

The physical impact of this disease will be horrific, but the economic impact will be devastating too. 

For me personally, I have generally been a resourceful soul and with the help of my good friend Gareth Jenkins, we are now putting together a twice weekly talk show on Clip My Horse: The Inside View. 

This has been a source of stress and of pleasure and frankly necessity too. The team at Clip have been tireless in their efforts to make this happen and deeply understanding of our will, enthusiasm and constant editorial interference! There is no usual income stream on the current horizon, so we all need to get creative. I feel we are now starting to mould this programme into something that may not just be something for the short run but hopefully the longer term. My grateful thanks to everyone involved there for having faith in us, so far. 

I have tried several times to rewrite my work/show calendar - now it’s simply on hold! It has just been a constant barrage of cancelled and postponed notices. Listening to those in the wider sporting industry, it is very hard to make a judgement right now based on the fact we are possibly not yet at the peak of this thing. We might say that we’re back at the end of June, but it might be another year, no one is sure until a vaccine is found. 

I did manage to slot in a little filming when still in the wilds of Wellington, a little time ago now, to film a new show for H&C TV – The Path to Greatness. Putting my producers hat on for a change. It goes out in April and is an insight into the minds of some amazing riders.  

Again, it’s been a source of pride and angst in putting this together so quickly, a super team at H&C TV, several of which, I have worked with since the very start of my commentating career have pulled together to get this off the ground and a project that I hope that we can pursue maybe in better times. They have been creative too with my long-time colleague Jenny Rudall leading H&C’s weekly “Check In” Show. 

There is a sickness in your stomach, for the realisation on just how big this crisis is and the health issues that are at the forefront, but then that slap in the face that makes you wonder selfishly, will I ever go back to commentating or is it time for a change of lanes?  

Then you slap yourself again because frankly, it doesn’t matter, there are lives at stake. Don’t be selfish, keep to the bigger picture. 

We might resume in June, July, August this year or maybe not until March 2021. Until then we have to work on how we keep ourselves safe, how we still earn some sort of income and how we will support those that won’t cope and will lose their businesses. 

I am also a Director of an event security business; WH Management Group, all well and good but we are in the sports industry mainly: With high profile clients from equestrian sport, to tennis, to American football, several of which we have worked with for years. Great. Reality; anything before August right now is basically gone or on the brink of going and not much beyond that. 

How do you support the loyal staff with massively reduced company income and with all your main clients rightly pulling the cancellation cord, they all between a rock and hard place. The big issue now is insurance; whether events have it, whether it will pay out and who is legally entitled to it. This is not going to be an easy problem to solve on any side. There are going to be contractors that supply the sporting industry going out of business and in the future, a dearth of backroom talent as people have reapplied their skills outside of the sporting sphere. There are lists of companies in this boat now. Sorry to say but that is the reality. 

The weight of pressure on everyone in companies like ours now is immense and this situation mentally lies heavy on many shoulders. We may put a date on when the world resumes, but the problem is this; the majority of events have already packed their bags and moved pitch to 2021. How do you survive in the meantime? There has to be a collective solution here for us all to be around in 2021. 

This for me personally was the year of being the arena announcer for the Tokyo Olympic Games. It became a beacon of hope back in March, in what was fast looking a dwindling year; gone now. However, there may be new dates in 2021 but as has already been said by senior people, there are still no guarantees. Fingers crossed though. 

I have been involved in the US in helping raise money for people, no hang on! Not just people; friends, in the equestrian industry who are now without income, putting a few of my old marketing and PR skills to work through the Showjumping Relief Fund. Daniel Bluman and the other riders that have stepped up, and the biggest thanks are to team behind the scenes that are in the same boat, putting in the help despite being out of paid work themselves. They have no income in sight but god dammit, they are rolling their sleeves up to help others and we will not let this ship sink. I salute you! 

Everyone can think that they are going to come back to horse shows and look around and see the same faces; think again! But you’ll see a number of them missing, either due to new jobs, couldn’t find work or sadly no longer with us. So, when these funds ask for something, however small, if you can do something, do it! 

Equestrian Relief has been another charity to raise money, this time for the National Health Service Charities. Nina Barbour and I discussed this briefly, as she I am sure she did with many others before it was launched. Well done to her for a superb call to action. I have been delighted to see how the Horse World Family in the UK has come together to raise money for a superb cause. We have tried to do our part on the “Inside View” show, with guests on to promote this valuable cause. 

What’s next, that’s the slightly terrifying part…who knows? 

In normal circumstances I would always have plenty of avenues to explore and we will delve into as many as we can. 

When you’ll hear me commentate next: who knows!? 'Thank god; relief!' some might say. 

Right now, I have no idea how or even if I will carry on in the same way, the world for the next few years is going to be a different place. However, let’s end on a positive; never have we been so creative, resourceful, and supportive of each other and let’s always remember that. 

Talking to Ludger Beerbaum last week, he expects the sport to resume in some way later in 2020. I agree. Whether there will be the desire or even the ability to push the boundaries of global sport like we did in that time frame, sadly I very much doubt it. 

It will though, be a time for new chapters. We will just have to wait a while before we get to write it. 

In the meantime, stay safe and see you, somewhere…….and for god sakes; Tune IN!! Donate! Stay home! Please! 

I want to talk to you all again; one day. 

Steven"

 

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