Graham Fletcher: ‘We are producing fewer top riders capable of jumping clear rounds’ *H&H VIP*

  • Peter Charles said recently that Britain is the best place to produce horses, and I agree with him. We have many very good shows. New additions this year are Cherwell Competition Centre near Oxford and the recently updated Pyecombe, both of which have superb all-weather arenas, good facilities and really bright showjumps.

    The infrastructure is there to produce our horses. But before long we must address the fact that we are producing fewer top riders capable of jumping clear rounds at super league and grand prix levels.

    Before anybody reminds me how successful our young riders have been at two- and three-star shows, very few people appreciate the difference between those and a five-star competition.

    It only becomes apparent when you get into those arenas and walk the courses.

    Like Group races, five-star shows are such that only the class acts will come to the fore.

    We have relied on John and Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton as the backbone of our teams not only for years, but for decades. There has been a trickle of younger riders who have made it into the top bracket — but I can only think of Scott Brash and Ben Maher who’ve come all the way through the ranks and stayed there. They are now aged 30 and 33 respectively.

    My suggestion would be for British Showjumping (BS) to hold a discussion and invite pros, ex-pros and people who have been involved with five-star and Olympic competitions to air their views about producing more riders and horses to this level.

    There’s no point in asking anybody unfamiliar with these shows, because they wouldn’t know the specifics.

    This isn’t a matter that can be put on the back burner until after the Rio Olympics, either. Even if we win a medal, we would only be papering over the cracks.

    We have talented riders in this country — but we must come up with ways to propel them into the top division.

    Big Star blazes

    When Nick Skelton and Big Star were picked for La Baule, I said what good news it was for the British team and how it made a medal in Rio much more attainable.

    Several people questioned my view as to whether Big Star, having been side-lined for more than a year and with no significant results in grands prix, should have been selected to go straight into a super league Nations Cup team.

    I told the doubters, Big Star is one of the best horses the world has ever seen, Skelly is one of the best riders the world has ever seen, so I’m struggling to find a negative.

    Full marks to Big Star’s owners Gary and Beverley Widdowson for making their horse available and pursuing the Olympic dream again, rather than the more lucrative Global Champions Tour. I’m sure they had an awful lot of pleasure from Big Star’s double clear in La Baule. It definitely left no one in doubt that he’s back at his best.

    Although sixth place in the Nations Cup could be classed as disappointing, there were positives. Michael Whitaker told me earlier in the season that Cassionato was more settled and less spooky than last year — and his first clear was immaculate. The assured way he cleared the water jump, previously a cause for concern, makes him a more reliable team horse.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 26 May 2016