Opinion

I had to wait eight years for my fourth Hickstead Derby victory after winning it three times in four years and it does make you appreciate it more.

It’s been a huge team effort to get Billy Buckingham to this point, and it’s the same with every horse at the Billy Stud.

Those first two years of a horse’s career, when you’re establishing a horse’s basic knowledge, are the most important, because what he learns then sticks with him for life. I can tell immediately, five years on, when my wife Pippa has ridden a horse at this crucial stage and instilled these basics.

From Donal Barnwell, who bred Billy Buckingham, to Will Plunkett who does the breaking, to Lucy Townley who produced him for two years, and all the grooms — you can’t be successful without a solid, fantastic team behind you.

When I sold my previous Derby horse Billy Onslow last year, Buckingham seemed the obvious candidate. I always like having Hickstead as a goal and to have a horse for the Derby.

As part of their basic education, all our horses jump ditches and small cross-country fences. They’re not frightened by a hole in the ground and it’s why so many of ours are good Derby horses. If you have a horse that can jump grands prix and not be worried about ditches, you have a Hickstead Derby horse.

Flawed system

It was rather a surprise to discover a letter the other week sent from British Showjumping (BS) fining me £6 for jumping Billy Buckingham in the Stairway at South Of England.

According to their points system, this horse, who won the Eindhoven Derby last year, jumped double clear for Great Britain in a Nations Cup and has gone double clear in grands prix, wasn’t grade A.

I told BS their system was flawed and no way would I pay the fine — and they agreed to waive it, which to me sounds like an admission that their system is flawed.

It leads me back to the need to change the whole structure of the sport; several years after spending considerable time on the executive board, nothing appears to be changing.

BS has determined that the newcomers and Foxhunter championships at Horse of the Year Show should be the amateur dream, but to most amateurs that dream is simply not achievable. We’re wrecking dreams — and horses — rather than helping riders achieve them.

We need to give amateurs what they want and professional producers what they need, not this outdated mishmash which benefits nobody. Is someone really saying that the way the rest of the world runs the sport is wrong and our way is right, just because we’re the ones who originally came up with it?

We’re out of date with breeding, producing, selling and offering opportunities for amateurs who want to enjoy the sport, which is also what showjumping should be about.

Every rider needs a goal appropriate to what they’re trying to achieve, whether it be double clears for newcomers, qualifying for an amateur championship or winning the Derby. We need a radically changed structure that means dreams are achievable.

Ref Horse & Hound; 5 July 2018