A BD end of year update from Jason Brautigam, BD CEO

  • Written By: British Dressage
  • Published: Fri, 18 Dec 2020 20:06

British Dressage Chief Executive Jason Brautigam reflects on 2020 with pride and looks forward to what 2021 promises. There's some positive news for members with an addition month extension to horse registrations and a price freeze on prices for a third consecutive year. 

For each and every one of us, 2020 hasn’t been the year we had expected and hoped for.  The challenges we have all faced have impacted on all aspects of our lives – work, family, home and leisure, but I’m very proud of the way that the dressage community has pulled together in times of crisis to support each other.
We have had to be flexible in our approach to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, sometimes making difficult decisions and compromises along the way, but as the year comes to a close we still have much to be thankful for.  We may not have been able to develop and grow the sport the way we had planned at the start of the year, but necessity has most certainly been the mother of invention and we’ve found new ways of operating by coming up with some creative ideas and innovative solutions to deal with obstacles put in our way.
The summer season may have had to be abandoned, but we still managed to get the sport back up and running in time for the start of our winter season and have four months of activity from July to October, albeit with different restrictions applying in each of the home nations.  We actually had a greater number of starters in August and September than last year, with overall numbers during the autumn period around 95% of normal levels.  We are very grateful to members for adhering to our COVID protocols and guidance, which has enabled us to keep the show on the road, despite ongoing disruption across the country.
We acknowledge the difficulties that the lockdowns and regional restrictions have caused members, so we took the decision earlier in the year to extend horse registrations, by two months for those in England and three months for Scotland and Wales.  With the disruption continuing now into the winter, the BD Board has agreed to extend horse registrations by a further month for all members to compensate for the impact this has had on your ability to compete and train.
All horse registrations that were valid with a current membership on 1 December 2020 will automatically receive an additional month as a thank you for your continued loyal support.  These extensions will be applied automatically over the course of the next week, so you will see the revised renewal dates on your horse profile on the BD online member portal before Christmas.

Winter Regional and Area Festival Qualifications

Qualification emails started going out from head office earlier this week and it’s been a more involved process than normal, with points gained for summer qualification carried forward to the winter season. Right at the start of the crisis we recognised that it was important that your efforts to qualify for the summer period didn’t go to waste – so this qualification window will actually cover eight full months of competition activity, despite the pandemic.
Nevertheless, we recognise that the mandatory travel restrictions that have been in place in Scotland, Wales and the islands will still have prevented some members in those regions from accessing competitions, thus limiting their opportunities to qualify.  We have been carefully monitoring the qualification data and will be providing special consideration for those who have been directly affected in this way.
Anyone who resides in an area that has had mandatory travel restrictions imposed will be contacted directly to offer concessionary criteria, based on island points. Qualifications will be reviewed on an individual case by case basis to ensure a fair outcome for everyone.

The early months of 2021 will almost certainly continue to be challenging, but we will still be aiming to run our Winter Regionals and Petplan Equine Area Festivals under our COVID protocols, wherever possible.  We have contingency plans in place for every eventuality, should the worst happen, but for now we have to remain positive and ready for a number of different scenarios.
I am also optimistic that we will be able to begin our recovery from the spring onwards and it is certainly our intention at this stage to run our NAF Five Star Winter Championships at Hartpury in April as normal, even if we have to operate with some restrictions still in place. With the vaccine due to be rolled out next year, we have to hope that the summer period will be easier to manage and we are continuing to plan ahead for a full calendar of competitions, regardless of the current situation.

A year to be proud of

There were still a number of positives to come out of 2020 and we always strive to find the opportunities in every difficult situation.  A herculean effort by all meant the Winter Championships ran successfully, albeit four months later than planned in August, while the Shearwater Insurance Young Horse Championships were also able to come to a successful conclusion in October, meaning that horses in their age groups didn’t miss the chance to compete. We also managed to include the new seven year old category which will run again next year with a new qualification method.
Despite the significant logistical challenges presented by COVID-19, we still managed to get two new championships off the ground; the inaugural British Under 21 Dressage Championships and our first ever BD Middle Tour Festival.  And although we were not able to save our Quest Championships this year, we did still manage to run all bar one Regional Final.  We are very grateful to all of the combinations who went above and beyond to get ready and compete, as well as the hard working organisers and their teams, for the part they’ve all played this year in keeping the show on the road.
The National Convention, in association with Harrison Clark Rickerbys, was also a real highlight for the BD team this year, despite having to be run as a ‘virtual’ event for the first time.  Moving our training showcase online was a complete leap into the unknown, but you enthusiastically embraced it in great numbers and we have received universally positive feedback about the new format.
The four hosts provided excellent insight and demonstrated their new found television skills with aplomb, while the demo riders gave us some fantastic performances and the team working behind the scenes did a great job in providing professional polish to the production. Over 1,400 members tuned in over the weekend, so this is certainly something we will look to carry forward into 2021 and beyond.  If you missed it, remember you can still purchase a pass and watch on demand until February.
Presenting the National Convention on a digital platform was not the only use of technology we’ve embraced in our new world this year.  Judge training has been revolutionised through the use of Zoom online, so we’ve managed to keep educational content and delivery going throughout the year.  This has also meant that officials in all parts of the country could access a number of high profile names from the comfort of their own home.
We’ve worked with Horse & Country TV to bring more live stream coverage this year, to make up for not being able to attend venues and spectate at shows.  This partnership will continue to develop and grow – and we will provide further updates on our plans for 2021 in the New Year.  We also brought you ‘BD at Home’ in November, with a whole host of digital content to entertain, inform and educate members during the second national lockdown.  The viewing numbers have been impressive so far, with more online initiatives to come.
The grand finale will be next week’s LeMieux National Grand Prix Championships at Hartpury, on 21 & 22 December.  Thanks to the encouragement from our Honorary Patron Carl Hester, our year will end on a high with 30 of our top combinations aiming to be crowned the 46th national champion.  After such a tough year, we wanted to make this a festive celebration to say a huge ‘thank you’ to you all for your support, with Horse & Country streaming the event live and free for everyone to enjoy.  It’s quite a line up, so please do join us on Monday and Tuesday next week, whether you are watching on your phone, tablet, PC or smart TV.

A chance to 'build back better'

Our main objective next year will be to ‘build back better’, so we can learn from our experiences this year in order to drive BD forward as a more efficient and effective organisation.  
At the beginning of the crisis, we were looking at a potential seven figure loss, which would have had a huge impact on our reserves that we’ve worked so hard to build up over the past few years. Membership numbers have fallen by around 1,500 on pre-pandemic levels, while we have also lost substantial revenue from our competition starter levies and commercial income, despite the backing of our loyal sponsors and valued partners.

Through a combination of cost reduction, driving efficiencies and careful planning we have managed to mitigate the financial risk to the organisation, with the forecast loss for the year now in the region of £200,000, which would be quite a result under the circumstances.
However, in order to put us back on the road to recovery, it’s necessary that we continue to operate within our means and in October the Board authorised two working groups to evaluate our overheads at head office and regional level.  Following this review of our internal structures and staffing levels we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce headcount by 10%.
This will include a realignment of the regions, where we will be operating with six regions in future rather than eight.  New Development Officer roles will cover four larger areas in England (North & East, North & West, South & East, South & West), merging some of the regions together, although Scotland and Wales will be unaffected by these boundary changes.
It will take some time for these changes to be implemented, so further details will follow in the New Year, once we have fully consulted with our regional committees.  Importantly we want to ensure that there is a smooth transition to this new regional structure that minimises the impact on our members and volunteers.
These changes will enable us to have a more streamlined structure, which still provides all of our stakeholder groups with the service and support that they need.  By operating more efficiently, with a joined up approach from head office to regional level, we will be in a better position to renew and reinvigorate the sport during the recovery period and over the years ahead.
The whole team, from our Board of Directors, to our committee members and our staff, have worked hard to put us in a strong financial position to deliver that recovery, but we also want to recognise the contribution of our members for their loyalty and commitment to BD.  We are therefore freezing our membership and horse registration prices for 2021, which means that this will be the third year in a row where subscription fees have remained the same.  Hopefully, despite all of the challenges we have collectively faced this year, you will agree that that BD membership continues to offer great value for money.

Looking ahead to 2021

As we count down the final days of 2020, there is plenty to look forward to next year, not least the rescheduled Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo and the first National Championships at our new home in Somerford Park.  Many of the plans we had in the pipeline for this year have also been carried forward into 2021.  This includes the launch of a new five-year strategy for British Dressage, a new brand identity and some exciting new commercial initiatives, as we continue to make significant progress in developing a modern, inclusive and accessible sport that we can all be proud of.

Thank you once again for your support this year, which has helped us through these difficult times.  Coming together in times of crisis, with the ability to adapt, evolve and innovate, is vital to ensure that we have a sustainable, healthy and long-term future – and we’ve certainly shown as a sport, organisation and community that we are able to do just that.
Our offices will close at 5.00pm on Wednesday 23 December and reopen at 9.00am on Monday 4 January.  We’ll be operating with a skeleton staff at our head office in Meriden and continuing with remote home based working arrangements when we return after the break, but our online shop will resume a full service from 4 January for all of your needs.
In the meantime, all of us at British Dressage would like to wish you, your family and friends a relaxing and peaceful Christmas and we look forward to a more enjoyable year all round in 2021.

With best wishes,

Jason Brautigam
CEO, British Dressage