A new chapter for dressage at Hickstead
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Dressage will continue at one of the country’s most famous showgrounds, with the All England Jumping Course set to host a Premier League show in May 2021. The three-day fixture (21-23 May) will include classes from Advanced Medium to Grand Prix, with entries expected from a number of British Dressage’s leading riders.
Dressage fans expressed huge disappointment when it was announced that Dressage at Hickstead – the sister site to the All England Jumping Course – was to close after 27 successful years. Dressage at Hickstead had been the brainchild of rider Dane Rawlins and Hickstead founder Douglas Bunn, and it quickly became established as one of the leading dressage venues in the world, with the European Championships taking place there in 2003. It was also the chosen venue for an annual CDIO competition, which included the British leg of the FEI Dressage Nations Cup series.
Dane made the difficult decision to close Dressage at Hickstead in August, and the site has since been dismantled. “We are immensely grateful to Dane for his many years of hard work and dedication to Dressage at Hickstead,” says Lizzie Bunn, Director of Hickstead. “We understand that many riders were saddened to lose the venue, and while it was unsustainable to keep running the dressage side as a separate entity, we have been working hard this season to formulate plans to hold dressage competitions within the main Hickstead site.”
This has been made possible due to recent investments into the Hickstead showground, with more than £500,000 spent on making several existing grass rings into two vast all-weather arenas, with top of the range Andrews Bowen surfaces. During the winter months, these arenas are used for cross-country and showjumping schooling courses, but at the beginning of the 2021 summer season they will be transformed to create a Premier League dressage venue with a number of arenas running concurrently as well as an international sized warm-up arena.
“We want to test the water with our first Premier League show, to gauge the initial levels of support and interest – with a view of going on to potentially bigger events,” Lizzie adds. “We are currently discussing a number of other options, including hosting existing finals here, plus hopefully an international competition in 2022. But this very much depends on the entire dressage community getting behind this new venture and making it a success.”
Dressage has hit new levels of popularity in the past decade, with British riders Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester and their team-mates winning multiple championship medals – most memorably claiming team and individual gold at London 2012.
When informed that dressage would be continuing at Hickstead, a venue he has had so much success at, Carl Hester said: “This is fabulous news and most welcome. We need to keep up the momentum and build our future teams, and venues with world class facilities like Hickstead are key to that. Experienced riders use Premier Leagues to bring our younger horses on, while these events also give up-and-coming combinations a chance to taste the big occasion. On behalf of the riders and owners, I’d like to thank the Bunn family for providing this opportunity, and for continuing the next chapter of Hickstead which will follow on from all that Dane and his team achieved.”
Jason Brautigam, Chief Executive of British Dressage, added: “After 27 magnificent years of Dressage at Hickstead under Dane Rawlins, it was of course incredibly disappointing when it was announced in August that he was unable to continue. We subsequently had really positive and constructive discussions with the Bunn family and British Dressage is delighted that the sport will be able to continue enjoying a presence at the venue in 2021 and beyond. Hickstead remains a special and prestigious venue for our members and we look forward to next year’s Premier League fixture, which will hopefully be a stepping-stone to the return of more shows in future years, including international competition. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Dane and his team for their immense contribution to the sport – and to Edward and Lizzie Bunn for being so supportive of our efforts to retain dressage at Hickstead.”
Hickstead was the first purpose-built showjumping venue in Great Britain, and it now hosts two major international fixtures each year – the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting in June, and July’s Longines Royal International Horse Show. This year the showground reached its 60th birthday milestone, having first opened in 1960. “My father Douglas will always be remembered most for his passion for showjumping, but he was also an innovator and advocate of all equestrian sport, and he knew that for Hickstead to be successful it had to diversify and cater to other disciplines as well,” says Lizzie. “Dressage classes have been held here at the showground since the 1970s, eventually leading to the opening of Dressage at Hickstead in 1993. I’m pleased that we can carry on Dad’s legacy – and that of Dane – by continuing to showcase the sport of dressage here in West Sussex.”