Graham Fletcher: Goodbye — and don’t expect a goody bag on your way out [H&H VIP]

  • It’s usually in the twilight years of their careers that top sportsmen are hailed as “a great”.

    But the cool, calculating, talented performance of Scott Brash at Aachen — where he netted the grand prix with Hello Sanctos — was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

    It was truly deserving of the title “great”.

    After the gloom and despondency of the end of last year, who would have predicted such a fantastic start to this season for the British team?

    Back-to-back “super league” Nations Cup wins in La Baule (pictured) and then Rome, plus the emergence of new combinations at this level, means the list of genuine contenders for the European championships isn’t as short as everybody — myself included — feared it might be.

    Full marks to new team manager Di Lampard. One of the unnoticed things she’s done is give riders with top national form a chance — and that’s something that hasn’t happened for many years.

    Di has been looking out for who’s going well at our county shows, just as much as abroad. It’s good for the national shows and lifts the spirits of home-grown owners and riders.

    Staying involved in the twilight years

    Aachen is the best show in the world, and has been for decades.

    This year’s grand prix course, designed by Frank Rothenberger, highlighted just how much toughness and guts are required from horses and riders who want to win it.

    When you visit the phenomenon that is Aachen, you can’t help but be swept along by the hype, the crowds and the surrounding media coverage. Also notable is the number of former top German riders who are involved behind the scenes as the organisers harness all that expertise.

    The Germans may not be renowned for their sentimentality, but every year they invite previous Aachen grand prix winners to the show. Being lucky enough to get the call myself, I can tell you that it means a lot.

    Since retiring from riding, I’ve been fortunate to stay immersed in the sport. I enjoy going back to Olympia, Hickstead, Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and Royal Windsor, where I won their respective grands prix and remain on good terms with the administrators if I need tickets.

    I say this not to be bullish, but to state the case for riders who have similar achievements yet have been lost to showjumping once they’ve hung up their boots.

    Regardless of their ability and patriotism, they don’t even expect to be invited back. And indeed, it’s often a case of “goodbye — and don’t expect a goody bag on your way out”.

    Many older readers will remember Lionel Dunning. With his illustrious horse Jungle Bunny, he had a marvellous record of double clears for Britain in top Nations Cups — often at the expense of the grand prix. And this at a time when there was very little financial reward for riding on teams like there is now.

    Yet I never saw Lionel at one of our major shows from the day he retired to the day he died last year.

    I don’t blame the shows, who are all very helpful if tickets are needed. I don’t blame British Showjumping, which has far more important issues to deal with. I just salute Aachen — the biggest and best show in town.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 11 June 2015