Quarter Three Update from Jason Brautigam, BD CEO

  • Written By: British Dressage
  • Published: Sun, 11 Oct 2020 14:51 GMT

British Dressage CEO Jason Brautigam sent a quarter three update to members recapping the year to date, detailing the current position and outlining what's we have to look forward to for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. 

Dear member,

I hope you are all keeping well, despite the uncertain and challenging times we continue to live in. This time of year is always crucial for us to evaluate where we are likely to be financially at year end and inform our decision making for the following year. Never more so than this year, after the significant impact that the coronavirus crisis has had on British Dressage and everyone involved in our sport over the past six months.

I have been awaiting confirmation of our September figures before writing this quarterly update, as they’re crucial to understanding how we have fared as an organisation since the sport was able to resume in July. It hasn’t been easy, with England, Scotland and Wales all progressing at a different pace and different restrictions applying in each nation, so it was difficult to predict whether riders, organisers and officials would be willing and able to continue training and competing under the COVID protocols we have had to put in place.

We have been delighted with way our members have responded, by wholeheartedly embracing the changes that were necessary to ensure that we could continue to operate in a safe and secure environment. Thank you to everyone for following the guidance, adhering to the protocols and showing such support for the sport. Your response has been quite humbling and proves what a strong sense of community we have in British Dressage. We all have a part to play and a collective responsibility to get through this together, but your response has been tremendous.

Numbers are looking positive

As each month with competition passes, the figures improve and while there’s still a way to go before we get back to pre-pandemic levels, things are moving in the right direction. We actually had more starters in August and September than at the same time last year, with over 22,800 horses going down the centre line in the last two months – a fantastic result in the circumstances. We are also delighted to welcome many new members who have decided to try affiliated dressage for the first time since restrictions were lifted, which is very encouraging.

Of course, with many local lockdowns in place and further restrictions on the horizon, there’s no room for complacency. Total lost income from starter levies alone ran into six figures from March until July, while we are still around 1,000 full members down on this time last year – so the impact of COVID has been significant. Uncertainty continues to hamper progress, with travel restrictions in Scotland and Wales proving to be particularly frustrating for members in those nations, but at least organised training and competition activity has been permitted to continue for now.

Understandably, some members are cautious to renew or get out and compete again, but we can assure you that the health and wellbeing of everyone involved in British Dressage remains our prime concern. With the social distancing and hygiene measures we have put in place, our organisers, venues and officials are doing whatever they can to keep the sport going whilst maintaining the safety of all participants – and we are immensely grateful for their efforts.

Through the autumn period there are a total of 554 fixtures currently scheduled in September, October and November, which is only fractionally down on the 577 that took place during the same period last year. To be back to 96% of our normal competition levels is quite astounding, given the continued challenges, so I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped us build back to these levels in a relatively short space of time.

Regional training has also come back with a bang – both in person and online. The use of Zoom as a platform has become a huge part of our lives over the past six months and our judges have certainly embraced it as an effective learning tool. From June to September we normally have around 650 participants in judge training, but this year the total numbers are nearer 950, up by almost 50%! One of the benefits is that our tutor judges can interact with a number of regions, without requiring extensive travel, and a number of our FEI judges have been able to take the sessions while they’ve been unable to officiate internationally.

Cautious optimism

So, overall, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the future, but this has to be tempered by the fact that the long term effects of the pandemic will be felt for a long while to come. We are certainly not out of the woods yet. We took swift and decisive action when the crisis hit to mitigate the financial impact, by identifying cost savings, furloughing staff and reducing our operational overheads, which has helped to limit our losses for the current year. Nevertheless, revenue generated from membership, competitions and sponsorship has been hit hard and we’re still forecasting a deficit of around £275,000 for the year end.

This is a far better figure than the £1.1 million projected loss that we were faced with back at the start of the crisis in March, but it will still hit our reserves this year and next. However, this experience has certainly highlighted why it was so important to build up those reserves in the first place – and that has put us in a stronger position than some other sporting organisations. No one could have seen the pandemic coming, but I’m proud of all of our staff and volunteers who have worked hard over the past five years to ensure we can at least better weather this kind of storm.

We continue to deal with a number of regional restrictions, which I’m certain will be just as frustrating for those of you living in those areas as it is for us, especially when there are limits on non-essential travel. Rest assured we continue to lobby government on your behalf, to keep competition and training activity going for as long as possible. Please continue your vigilance and compliance with any local restrictions, as frustrating as it may be, as the continuation of our sport depends on it. The regional teams are working tirelessly on keeping activity going wherever possible, providing it is safe to do so.

Project updates

While in many respects this has been the ‘lost year’ due to lockdown, with many projects put on hold, we have still managed to make significant progress in a number of key areas, particularly in terms of the training and education programmes that will continue to provide the cornerstone of our strategy for the long term development of the sport.

One of our most ambitious projects is the overhaul of the Judges’ Education System. In recent years, there have been a number of improvements to how BD judges are evaluated and assessed, but it was clear that a radical new approach was needed to professionalise our qualification standards. This required more focus on individual learning outcomes, involving more targeted training and development for our officials, rather than simply working towards passing an exam.

A great deal of work has gone into developing resources, policies and an education framework that will provide us with a world leading system. We’ve just completed the process of selecting and training judge educators and tutors, which has been followed by the roll out of our new workshops and training materials. Over 280 judges have already registered, with many more expected to follow. COVID permitting, we plan to release the technical workshops and new style assessments shortly, with our first exams under the new system provisionally scheduled for summer next year.

Huge thanks to our Judges Director Peter Storr, BD Chair Linda Whetstone, the Judges Committee and the office team for their extensive work on the project, all while faced with additional challenges posed by the COVID crisis. This new system will have a positive impact on everyone involved in the sport and ensure our judges continue to be recognised as some of the best in the world.

The BD Youth Pathway review was another project started pre-COVID, with the aim to create clear and transparent routes for young riders to fulfil their potential while utilising the resources and funding available more effectively. As well as a more defined pathway with a number of different options available, depending on individual needs and aspirations, the review made a number of recommendations that will inform our strategy over the next five years by adopting a more integrated approach.

Most notably this will include utilising the BD Academy structure as a key component in the selection process for our international teams. We’ve just had our first Foundation Academy camp and it’s clear that this innovation has already had a positive influence, with some riders achieving scores for selection at the test riding now incorporated in the programme. We have 58 riders taking part in total, our largest ever Academy cohort, and judging by the quality we have seen so far it will be an exceptional year.

I couldn’t send out a quarterly update and not mention IT. Again, we haven’t stood still in the last six months – and indeed the substantial investment and extensive development work that we have undertaken in recent years have been integral to helping us manage the crisis effectively. This has ensured that our staff could continue to work remotely from home and provide a seamless service for members, as the BD Online system, digital telephony system and cloud based technology can be accessed from any location. We continue to plan for Phase IV, which will cover further enhancement of the CRM capabilities of the system, improved database reporting and integrated communication processes. All being well we aim to recommence this work early next year, as IT continues to be integral to everything we do – this year has proved that more than ever.

Championships back in the calendar

On the competition front, while it was of course incredibly disappointing to lose the whole summer season, we have at least been able to get some of our championships back in the calendar. The NAF Five Star Winter Championships at Hartpury in August were a triumph and provided such a boost to everyone involved after months of lockdown. Show Direct, headed up by Kelvin Bywater, did a tremendous job to run seven days of competition ‘behind closed doors’ under our COVID protocols, providing a safe and secure environment for all 750 competitors.

It was always our plan to stage the championship in some way, shape or form if at all possible, even if it couldn’t be the usual sociable event we normally enjoy. So much effort had gone into qualifying by many members, we wanted you to still have your moment in the spotlight. We are very grateful for the loyalty and support of our sponsors, as well as Horse & Country TV, who enabled us to live stream the event free for all members to enjoy from the comfort of their homes. This was rewarded with over 55,000 views, from 38,000 unique users, which is an incredible number. Further live streaming initiatives with H&C TV will follow later this year, with some exciting plans also in the pipeline for 2021, so watch this space.

The para community had a successful reunion in the form of the Equissage Pulse Para Summer Festival. After a disrupted calendar, it was impossible to hold a full championship, but with the team at Solihull Riding Club working closely with our Para Director, Julie Frizzell, and members of our Para Committee, we hosted one of the largest, if not the largest, para competitions ever. Thank you to all behind this show, it really was a great success.

We have also been able to complete the Shearwater Young Horse Championships, ensuring that horses still had the chance to contest against their age group, including our inaugural Seven Year Old Championship that was due to take place at the Nationals. The British Dressage Young Pony Championships ran alongside, as well as a selection trial for the FEI World Breeding Championships in Verden in December. These took place over three days at Keysoe last weekend and the quality on display was exceptional, with British Breeding prevalent throughout.

We’re also in the middle of our Quest Regional Championships, which are being run as finals this year as we couldn’t manage a national championship within the current restrictions on numbers. Nevertheless, we still wanted our Quest Club members to have an end goal this year, so hopefully these will still go some way to recognising their achievements. The North West and Wales dates have had to be rescheduled due to circumstances outside of our control, but Tushingham now has a revised date of 18 October and Beacons will follow once travel restrictions have been lifted.

Much more to come in 2020

There’s still plenty of action to come too. We’ve rescheduled the new British Under 21 Championship to form part of the Vale View High Profile Show, from 29 – 31 October. This is a welcome new initiative for our youth riders, particularly as a number of riders missed out on the chance to represent their country this year and may not have that opportunity again if they’re moving out of their age category. There’ll be titles for Ponies, Juniors and Young Riders on offer, with the highest combined total in the Team and Individual tests taking the honours.

We are very grateful for the generous support and contributions from the British Dressage Supporters Club and Vale View, who have donated trophies to recognise the achievements of our Under 21 riders at these championships. Like the Young Horse Championship, Horse & Country TV will provide the livestream on their H&C TV+ subscription service.

November traditionally sees us host the British Dressage National Convention and we’re continuing with our plans to stage the event over the weekend of 21 & 22 November. However, due to the unique circumstances this year, this will be available for members to view online rather than in person. Saturday will be largely aimed at riders and trainers, featuring the wisdom and insight of Stephen Clarke and Ferdi Eilberg, while FEI 5* judges Peter Storr and Clive Halsall will host the second day on Sunday, to replace our cancelled Judges Convention. We’re currently finalising plans with Horse & Country on subscription options that will enable members to purchase a weekend live streaming pass and we will launch this on our digital channels very soon.

We’re also working on the best Christmas present for you all after what has been a difficult year for everyone. With Olympia sadly another COVID casualty this year, BD’s Honorary Patron, Carl Hester, had the fantastic idea for us to host a Grand Prix National Championship instead. It will be a unique opportunity to see the very best British combinations in action, competing for the title of National Champion, something we rarely get to see due to the international calendar.

LeMieux are once again on board to generously sponsor the event and help us make it happen, so this will be a great way to end the year. While it will have to take place behind closed doors, like the Winter Championships we are aiming to broadcast this free to air for members as a thank you for all of your support this year. So put 21 & 22 December in your diary, as you most definitely don’t want to miss out! We’re currently working on the logistics and will release the details as soon as they’re finalised.

British Dressage AGM — 20 October

Also, please don’t forget that the British Dressage Annual General Meeting is coming up on 20 October. It’s another sign of the times, but we will now be hosting it virtually and members will be able to watch on the BD website. The formal business of the AGM will be followed by presentations from me and each of the Directors as usual, but the noticeable difference this year is that all votes and questions from members must be submitted in advance, by 6.00pm on 16 October. The proxy voting form and question submission form are available on the BD website.

On the evening, we’ll look back on what’s happened over the past 12 months – but, just as importantly, outline what plans we have in store for next year. We started 2020 with many exciting projects in the pipeline; with it being an Olympic and Paralympic year there was so much promise and potential. One of our primary targets was to launch a new five year strategy in April, which incorporated a brand refresh, new commercial partnerships and other key areas of development.

A lot of this work had already been completed just before the pandemic struck, so it was disappointing to have to put these projects on hold. When the time is right and we can look ahead with a degree of certainty, we’ll be able to share these with you and use these initiatives as an opportunity to promote our sport to a wider audience. You are very much part of these plans and once this crisis is over we want you to help us achieve our goals over the next four year cycle.

There’s no doubt that the next six months or so will still be a challenging time for us all. There will inevitably be further disruption with local, regional or even national restrictions, but rest assured we’ll continue to do everything possible to ‘keep the show on the road’ during the weeks and months ahead. Your support has been amazing but we mustn’t let complacency creep in, so please do continue to be vigilant and adhere to the advice and guidelines. Our COVID protocols ensure that sport can operate, but it’s your compliance that ensures we can continue.

We will aim to keep you informed throughout the crisis, but please do also check your local situation and comply with any government restrictions in your area. As a community we all need to play our part to help get us through this pandemic. The team at BDHQ is working to keep the sport going, viable and on the road to recovery – and with your continued support, I’m sure we’ll get to the other side and emerge stronger than ever.

With best wishes,

Jason Brautigam
CEO, British Dressage