Graham Fletcher: Let our teens prove themselves *H&H VIP*

Opinion

A few years ago, Ludo Philippaerts lobbied the FEI to get the age at which riders can compete in three- to five-star grands prix lowered from 18 to 17. The rule was holding back Ludo’s extremely talented sons, Nicola and Olivier, at an age when they were more than capable.

The FEI wouldn’t budge. I thought then, and still do, that they’re wrong. I’ve seen more bad accidents in speed classes than I ever have over big jumps that now have collapsible back cups. In fact, the most nervous I get watching showjumping is for kids on 128cm ponies.

The public love it, but sometimes I just have to shut my eyes! Here in Vilamoura, my son Olli, who’s in his 16th year, can now ride in ranking classes. In fact, he’s ridden in eight and been placed in every one, jumping 15 clears with three different horses.

Yet he must wait another two years before he’s allowed to compete in grands prix that are only a few centimetres bigger. Not only is that totally ludicrous, but how do you explain it to an owner?

It’s time the FEI got in step with other Olympic disciplines. For track and field athletics, the minimum age is 16; in swimming and gymnastics, competitors can be any age if they meet set qualifying criteria. And of course National Hunt jockey James Bowen won the Welsh National at 16 and rode in Aintree’s version at 17.

Ludo was right all along. I’d advocate saying that if a 16-year-old can jump four clear rounds in ranking classes, they should be allowed to ride in a three-star grand prix.

Let’s hope that at its next meeting, the FEI committee realises what it’s like to be young, ambitious and striving to succeed in a tough sport where commercial viability is essential.

Together for Tokyo

By the end of 2019, there won’t be a horse and rider combination that can say they deserved to be on a senior British team but didn’t get the chance.

I spoke to much-travelled British team manager Di Lampard when she arrived to see potential combinations competing in Vilamoura, having already been to Oliva Nova and the Spanish Sunshine Tour. As she said, it’s going to be especially hard this year.

Not least because all four counting super league Nations Cup shows — at which she’ll be scouting for our European Championships squad — clash with the big-money Global Champions Tour shows.

So our top riders are not always available. The upshot is that anybody who’s good enough will definitely get a game this year. And we need to be trying out those up-and-coming combinations before the Europeans — where we’ll need a really strong squad as it’s our last chance to qualify for next year’s Olympics.

We desperately need British showjumping to be represented in Tokyo. Wishing for a bit of luck isn’t good enough — we need everybody to pull together to make it happen.

Ref Horse & Hound; 21 March 2019

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