Graham Fletcher: Showjumping in danger of becoming a bubble *H&H VIP*

Opinion

The time for reflection on the 2018 season is all but over. It’s now the start of a new year with all its challenges — the most important being for Britain to qualify for next year’s Olympics at this year’s Europeans.

For sure, there were positives to come out of the World Equestrian Games (WEG). But now we need our top two riders, Ben Maher and Scott Brash, on board to help scrap for that ticket to Tokyo.

With all the money on the global tour, it’s a difficult one for them to balance. But imagine taking David Broome and Harvey Smith out of the 1970s and ’80s teams; or losing Nick Skelton and John Whitaker from our ’90s and 2000s teams… What would we have won then?

A call for help

Our youth teams did exceptionally well last year. Let’s hope those same riders progress to strengthen our senior teams.

But it’s a very difficult transition and they need all the help they can get to find the owners and sponsors they will most certainly need. And on this one, British Showjumping (BS) could really help by promoting them.

When I tell people how much prize money there is at top level nowadays — the €10m at last month’s Prague show was on a par with any high-profile sport — they are aghast. And that incredulity even includes people from the racing and eventing worlds.

Indeed, we don’t even promote what’s on offer across our own equestrian industry, which is why showjumping is in danger of becoming a bubble. Instead, we should be letting prospective owners know the possible benefits of investing.

My idea is for our international selection committee to pick a rolling group of riders as the season goes on, depending on form. BS should then set about promoting these riders across regional and national mainstream media. Every National Hunt jockey seems to have a locally sponsored car, so let’s not ignore provincial opportunities.

I can already hear BS saying it would be unfair on the membership for them to have to pay, say, for national newspaper advertising. But I believe the riders involved would pay their own way once they could see the potential payback.

It needs BS to organise a means for would-be sponsors to hook up with the genuinely best up-and-coming riders; someone to interpret the system for people who don’t know the sport.

You can hardly pick up a newspaper without seeing top trainers such as Paul Nicholls advertising for new owners. And I’m sure he wouldn’t be doing it if it was a waste of money.

So let’s give young riders a shop window for potential sponsors to pick from. Such a scheme would have so much more style and kudos under BS recommendation than riders shouting from their own soapboxes.

Backers don’t just pop up like mushrooms. So let 2019 be the year we get more owners and sponsors on board as they realise what they’re missing.

 

Time for a flutter on the jumping?

Betting is another area that needs investigating to bring our sport into the modern world, and promote it, too.

When the man in the street walks into a betting shop, there are over 20 sports to have a flutter on. But showjumping isn’t one of them.

Of course, a whole class lasts too long for bookmakers’ liking; but the jump-offs of major classes would be perfect.

It always takes about 15 minutes from the end of first rounds to the start of the jump off. And if there was an app on a phone where you could see the starting prices, it would be a great success.

Can you imagine how many people watching Olympia — not just at the venue itself, but on TV and livestream, too — would have a punt? It could work really well for showjumping’s global audience.

Ref Horse & Hound; 3 January 2019