If only someone could get behind showjumping in Britain the way Mark Bellissimo has in the US. What he has created in Tryon — where the 2018 World Equestrian Games will be held — is a real coup.
Under his influence as the biggest show organiser in the US, the number of rankings classes has increased from a handful to hundreds. The Longines Masters is now a huge event in Los Angeles, which was established to rival his Central Park show in New York.
In the winter, there is the equestrian fair in Wellington, which is a modern equestrian lifestyle event with great prize money, which helps create opportunities and jobs. In the summer, Tryon in North Carolina provides another chance to compete at a world-class facility. Mark always collaborates with riders, is forward-thinking and approachable.
All in all, America has a show scene to be proud of. They make the most of what they have, using fans of the sport like Bruce Springsteen and Bill Gates. The Americans also have a great developing rider programme, paying to send them to Europe and to top shows.
Yet here, if a young rider wants to compete at Liverpool CSI4* in January, they will have to pay to get in. It’s a disgrace. I am not pointing the finger at Nina [Barbour, the Liverpool show organiser]; she has a tough job, is probably losing money and needs to find the funds from somewhere. But I believe no young rider at that level should have to pay to compete in a top show; it should be up to the governing body or World Class lottery funding to back it.
We need a shake-up
The departure of Dan Hughes as World Class Performance director is good news for showjumping [news, 17 November]. It could mark a shake-up at the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and we need to see progress.
I’ve heard glowing reports about Clare Salmon, who was appointed the new chief executive in February. She has a great vision for the sport. I certainly know that our discipline is the one with the most growth, the most to offer and the most likely still to be in the Olympics in 10 years. It would be good to see someone take over the role who has showjumping high up their list of priorities.
For a start, the BEF could help create a business model for riders. They can be educated so it’s not the end of the world when they have to sell a horse, as they will have the structure there to replace it. I’ve established a business model that has worked for 20 years and doesn’t depend on owners or sponsors, so it can be done.
We also need to increase the drama in showjumping. We should play more on the personality of our riders and especially our horses. Most of our lot would bore the pants off a non-horsey audience, and we can’t rely on an audience of aficionados forever.
Get Geoff in the jungle
I don’t watch much TV, and if there’s one thing I’d turn off it would be reality garbage like I’m a Celebrity… But I think among showjumpers we have a king of the jungle contender: our very own Geoff Billington.
I’ve spoken to him on the subject and he’s adamant he could win it. Slayer of men, digester of any animal, rider of any horse — there’s nothing that man can’t do. We have to find a way of getting him on the programme. I know there would only be one winner. No one else would stand a chance!
Ref Horse & Hound; 24 November 2016