Congratulations to Ireland winning European gold, what a great team effort. So often we hear our British riders saying we have no owners, but the Irish could have filled two teams in Gothenburg — every rider has made their own opportunities and have gone all over the world doing so. As a rider, you have to go out and sell yourself, knocking on every door. Just look at Irish eventer Jonty Evans — through social media he raised half a million pounds to keep his horse.
But you also have to want to be at that championship enough. There’s no better planner than Cian O’Connor. He still jumps on the Global Champions Tour and is on a team in the league, but this year he set out his horse Good Luck to do what he did at the Europeans because he’s a team man — he really wants to win medals for his country.
Rodrigo Pessoa as team manager has boosted Ireland’s team spirit, and Denis Lynch and Shane Sweetnam are riding better than ever. They basically won gold with a three-man team — the pressure was on but it was a fantastic performance.
A shake-up required
So what lessons can Britain learn? Not sending a team to these championships, where there’s no Olympic qualification, probably was the best decision. To represent your country, riders need to have proved themselves jumping double clears in Nations Cups or to have five-star form. Britain has produced just 11 clears from 44 rounds in Nations Cups this season — mostly in division two.
It’s difficult to go to the Europeans without our two best riders but as good owners as Scott Brash and Ben Maher have, they’re still lacking horse power. It’s easy to say the manager should have sent some form of team to Sweden, but we simply didn’t have any younger riders going well enough to benefit from the experience.
Everyone from British Showjumping (BS) to World Class to Di Lampard will have learnt lessons for next year, when the World Championships are crunch time. But above all, this needs to bring about a massive shake-up among the riders. The horse power, the rider ability and the preparation is all, ultimately, down to us, so we all need to have a long hard look at ourselves and work out what we can be doing better.
But Great Britain also needs to regain the mentality that strives to win a medal for your country, because somehow we’ve lost that. Team spirit doesn’t come from the team manager saying “let’s all go out for dinner tonight” — riders need to make that effort to bond and to fight for each other. At the moment we’re just a bunch of individuals.
Hopefully BS will look at our whole system. It would be great if the performance manager did the selection for British shows — Windsor, Olympia, Horse of the Year Show and so on — rewarding riders who have represented their country in Nations Cups rather than encouraging people to chase rankings points abroad.
Hopes are high that we will be returning to the super league next year, allowing more riders to prove themselves at five-star level. Of course we need our top two riders to have horses up and running for the World Championships. But right now Ben and Scott are a long way off everyone else. Getting on the World Class programme doesn’t mean you’ve made it — you still need to fight for it. And that’s a lesson to us all.
Ref Horse & Hound; 31 August 2017