William Funnell: We’re missing a trick here *H&H VIP*

Opinion

I recently returned from competing in the UAE, which was a great experience. My horses are now fresh as daisies, ready for the new season, having had sun on their backs.

The timing worked well as January is always a bunfight trying to get into the European shows while the tours in Spain and Portugal had yet to start. I did four shows — a three-star, a four-star and two five-stars — and there was some serious competition. Decent combinations had come from Europe and the standard from the local countries is now high. The footing at each venue was excellent and we didn’t see a cloud — it was pleasant month of training and competition.

I’ve noticed the UAE riders have not only improved their standard of riding, but also they are becoming better horsemen. Many are training in Europe — Germany in particular — as well as buying better horses.

When two of the four grands prix were won by UAE riders — including one from the Al Shira’aa team — you know they’re doing something right.

A few years ago, when they first introduced young horse classes in the UAE, there were only three or four in each as most riders had older horses, but they are now competitive classes with well-produced young horses. It used to be that the Middle East was the last place you’d want to sell a horse as riders were sometimes seen treating them like machines, but that is no longer the case.

The next generation of riders looks particularly exciting. They’ve done a great job in organising junior Nations Cups against the likes of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. One of the Al Shira’aa riders, Hamad Al Kirbi, has been based with me for the past couple of years. Although he represented the UAE at the Asian Games and the Nations Cup final in Barcelona last year, he’d never jumped on a team before, so this development will help their younger riders.

We’ve opened up the Olympics for these up-and-coming countries by going down to three riders per team. That isn’t my idea of progression, but it could allow the UAE to be really competitive in Tokyo.

‘We need to do better’
While Germany has enticed riders from the Middle East during our summer months, the UK needs to do a better job of promoting itself. Hamad’s German-based team-mates all told him the shows in England wouldn’t be up to much, but I was able to take him to shows at Hickstead, Windsor and Bolesworth, proving what excellent competitions we host.

We just need to do a better job of promoting our facilities and making sure we can offer something all-year round, so they don’t have to jump on a boat every time they compete.

We are already at an advantage because they nearly all speak English and most have a base in London, or at least relatives in the UK, so a lot of them would like to be based and train over here. At the moment, some are based in London and flying to Germany just to ride their horses. We’re missing a trick here.

‘Incredibly moving’
Laura Stockdale and the whole family did a fantastic job putting on Tim’s memorial service. Streaming it on ClipMyHorse.TV was a new departure and a great way for his many foreign friends to watch it. It was incredibly moving — fitting for a man of Tim’s stature.

Ref Horse & Hound; 21 February 2019