Having not been to the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) for a couple of years, it really struck me this time around that it no longer seems to hold the same magic. When I was younger, the show had a real aura about it — and maybe this historic show lost something special when it moved from Wembley. Or perhaps I’m just old and grumpy now…
But for the younger generation, it is the end of the year finale that they all aim for. It’s still a special show for equestrianism and it will always be steeped in history. Regular readers of this column will have heard my gripes about the Foxhunter class, but it’s amazing how many people go to HOYS on the Thursday night because of the class’s history.
But during this year’s class, several international riders asked me if these were the best horses we had in our country. When I tried to explain that yes, these were some of our finest young horses, but that there were also an 11-year-old, two nine-year-olds and eight eight-year-olds in the class, it made no sense. An eight-year-old should either be good enough to compete in the international classes or an amateur horse — I can’t pretend that it should be in a young horse class.
It was a fantastic achievement for Laura Pritchard to win on one of two six-year-olds in the final, who, with the seven-year-olds, should be what this class is restricted to.
A production system that mixes six- to 11-year-olds is just an embarrassment. British Showjumping seems unwilling or unable to assess the problem, however, and if they are advocating that this is a forward-thinking way of producing young horses and that a six-year-old should be jumping round 1.50m, then I wish somebody would explain it to me.
We wonder where our next wave of Nations Cup horses are being produced in the UK; I certainly didn’t see any. The current system is destructive rather than productive — unless you have your own know-how — and without a better structure in place, it’ll be the same old producers who keep bringing horses through to GP level.
Far too familiar
We need a better structure in place for our younger riders, too. Not only are we one of the only countries without a Nations Cup team competition for juniors and young riders, but HOYS, our big finale, has no junior or young rider championship.
Just as it’s the big names producing all our young horses, when you look at the talent coming through the rider ranks, they seem to be the sons and daughters of our professionals: Robert Murphy, son of Peter; Jack Whitaker, son of Michael; and Peter Charles’ children. They all ride extremely well, but why is this the case? Like the young horses, they’re the only ones given a chance.
We can sit back and say: “Isn’t it great we won an Olympic gold medal with a 58-year-old rider who produced his own horse?” But we’re running out of those older riders with the know-how to produce these young horses. Someone needs to get off their arse and do something about it.
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 October 2016