Andy Austin: The plasticine on water jumps adds nothing but irritation *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I’ve always advocated the water jump as a very fair test on a track — it requires bravery, the ability to open up over 4m-plus, then tests control and balance afterwards as you normally ride a related distance to a big vertical.

    But, after recent events in top-level competitions, I’m calling out for a change.

    At the Spruce Meadows Masters last month, there was a contentious decision regarding Portuguese rider Luciana Diniz at the water.

    I’d say 99% of people were sure her horse’s foot was in, but she objected and the judges reversed their original adjudication. She finished fourth in the end but, had she won, it would have been shrouded in controversy.

    Then at the World Equestrian Games (WEG), the water jump had far too big an influence on the competition, particularly on the first team round. I was a great fan of Alan Wade’s courses in Tryon, but it was unfair to have a water jump in the speed class. He made a great decision to leave it out of the team decider.

    The lovely thing about showjumping is that, unlike subjective sports like dressage, it’s very black and white – you’re either over the top or you knock a fence down or you have a refusal. When a fence is hit at a dramatic moment, you hear the “aaaah” from the crowd straight away — it’s brilliant drama. But spectators rarely have that clarity as to whether or not the horse has gone in the water.

    To make matters worse, we are currently relying on a strip of plasticine to judge whether the horse’s foot touched it, or maybe a boot, or if something flew back into the water, even. But it’s often not that clear when camera replay is available either.

    Horses tend to know how to touch poles without knocking them down, but it’s unfair to expect them to understand not to touch some plasticine.

    So what’s the solution?

    I suggest two white rails over the water — which we have seen in the past — so you fault at the rails not the water itself. It’s the same test, but without the need for plasticine, which adds nothing to the sport and just serves as an irritation.

    Under my new system we wouldn’t even be discussing the events of Spruce Meadows or WEG.

    Sharp, chestnut mare, anyone?

    I produce a lot of horses for sale and everyone is looking for that “technically perfect, easy, bay gelding”. So what really struck me about the meaty end of WEG was how many sharp, sensitive mares — DSP Alice (who won the gold), Bianca and Clinta — were still in there fighting.

    Even the silver-medal winning gelding, Clooney 51, is unpredictable and opinionated. From the 36 stallions who started, only one was left in the top 12. So next time people come to me saying they don’t want a chestnut mare, I’ll remind them exactly which horse won a world championship, tried her heart out over every fence and never touched a pole!

    The British influence

    The top 25 in WEG also highlighted how many horses were British-bred or produced — Clinta, Blue Movie, Don VHP Z, Lizziemary and Bianca — but have escaped these shores for one reason or another; you can draw your own conclusions. If we’d had that horsepower on the British team, we’d have done very well.

    I gave Di Lampard and the whole hierarchy some grief on these pages last year, but I want to congratulate them on having been open-minded on their team selection this time around.

    I’m very much “glass half-full” after WEG because we’ve found two new potential superstars in Holly Smith (Hearts Destiny) and Amanda Derbyshire (Luibanta BH). They’re young riders, with young horses and are totally committed to jumping on teams. Amanda deserves much credit for finishing best Brit.

    We may not have won a medal, but we sent a team — the best that was available — that was totally united.

    We’re moving in the right direction.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 4 October 2018