Rowsell seeks a return to the flair days

Genevieve Murphy reports on the man who intends to spur an adventurous spirit in Britain's three-day event team
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Contenders for the senior British three-day event team should now know that Giles Rowsell, the new chairman of the selection committee, believes in a bold approach to cross-country riding. He will not be advocating the safety-first policy that was in evidence during last year's Olympic Games, where Britain finished a disappointing fifth.

Rowsell is anxious to avoid apportioning blame for any past mistakes. "It maybe that there hasn't always been sufficient planning as to who did what," he said. "My aim is to make sure that everyone knows what's expected."

What was expected by the selectors in Atlanta seems to have been misinterpreted during the Games, when the reins were handed over to the chef d'equipe and trainer. Bridget Parker, then chairman of the selectors and now on Rowsell's committee, has come up with an idea that will avoid that problem.

At Parker's suggestion (firmly endorsed by the other selector, Angela Tucker) Rowsell will keep hold of the reins at this year's European Open Championships at Burghley by filling the role of chef d'equipe himself.

"That's the trouble with having two ladies on the committee, they gang up on you," Rowsell said with a chuckle. "Now it means that my neck is going to be on the block twice." It also means that he can give an unequivocal message to the British riders before they set out on their cross-country journey at Burghley.

Even though they hold the world and European team titles, few British riders of the 1990s have shown the sort of flair at cross-country that was once epitomised by Lucinda Green.

Nowadays it is the New Zealanders and Australians who remind us of Green in her heyday. Under the plans being laid by Rowsell down on his arable farm in Hampshire, we could see a welcome return of the old British style.

Rowsell is already well-known as the director of the Windsor Three-Day Event (this year's fixture will be his 10th at the helm) and for the 10 years he spent as chef d'equipe to the Young Riders' European Championship teams. His tally of team medals during that decade amounted to four gold, two silver and two bronze.

Some of today's senior riders (notably William Fox-Pitt, Kristina Gifford and Pippa Funnell) are already familiar with Rowsell's relaxed style of leadership, having been briefed by him on young rider teams. These three were among the 31 riders on the Winter Training list, who have met up with Rowsell and his two fellow selectors at one of the three training courses held last month.

Parker, an Olympic gold medallist in 1972 and chairman of the selectors from 1993 to 1996, is also well-known to most of them. Former chairmen do not usually carry on as selectors, but Rowsell believed that some measure of continuity was vital. "I was also aware that Bridget has a huge amount of knowledge at her fingertips and that she is well respected by the riders. It would have been daft to throw those assets out," he said.

Tucker, another able and knowledgeable woman, will be one of the three members of the Ground Jury at Badminton from 8 to 11 May. They will officiate at the horse inspections and judge the dressage.

"Having Angela on the jury is a big advantage to us, because it means that Bridget and I won't have to watch all the dressage," Rowsell said with a smile.

A shortlist for the European Open Championships, to be held from 11 to 14 September, will be announced immediately after Badminton. The list will be longer than usual since Britain, as host nation, is able to field a total of 12 riders - the usual squad of six from which the team is chosen, plus six to compete as individuals.

Rowsell will be "very disappointed" if the second six does not include some young horses and some of the less experienced riders. "This will be a golden opportunity for them to gain experience," he said.

With his term of office lasting for four years, Rowsell is thinking ahead to next year's World Equestrian Games and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Some of the younger riders could be among those whom he will urge to go for gold in Sydney.