Graham Fletcher: ‘Nick Skelton and Big Star make an Olympic medal more likely’ *H&H VIP*

  • We haven’t nearly as many possible Olympic partnerships for Rio as we had for London 2012. Therefore the inclusion of Nick Skelton and Big Star in the Nations Cup team for La Baule (12–15 May) is so important.

    In a team of four, with three to count, having a banker on your side makes winning a medal so much more likely.

    When my wife Tina and I gave a gala night masterclass at Hartpury, I remarked that our sport was enjoying a rebirth. Indeed, the Blue Chip Championships have never had more entries or been as fiercely contested during their 25 years.

    Full marks to Kelvin Bywater and his team for putting on an excellent show that encompasses all from juniors through to a grand prix.

    Jay Halim rode really well to collect the Andrews Bowen £1,000 bonus. It goes to the rider placed in the top three in the pro open earlier in the show before winning the grand prix — it’s never been done before.

    Jay was our stable jockey for five years before setting up on his own. He’d be the first to admit there’s been much blood, sweat and tears to achieve what he did at Hartpury. Those born with immense talent, such as John and Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton, have a huge advantage. Nevertheless, it’s surprising how far you can go with determination and the right horses.

    Jay was never one to be stuck for words, but I do remember him once being rendered speechless. It was at a frightening time when Britain was on amber terror alert, and I asked him in a serious tone if he was a Muslim. “I don’t know,” Jay replied. “You must do,” I said. “Well, my father is,” he ventured.

    “Well then, you are too,” I declared. “I’m going to get you some paint and a paintbrush.” When Jay looked bewildered, I added: “Because I want you to get up on that sloping roof and write in big letters ‘Muslims and Christians live here in perfect harmony’.” As I started to smile, he looked relieved.

    Jay is now taking up Turkish nationality, a good career move for him. I wish him well.

    Brexit? No thanks

    As I write, our yard is preparing to decamp to Bonheim in Belgium for the season’s first young riders show. And provided the horses’ health papers and passports are correct, we’re unlikely to have to wait long to cross the border.

    Only older riders will remember the hassle and delays that were once the norm. You could be kept waiting for hours, even if the paperwork was in order. Horses would be uncomfortable standing in the heat; cases of colic were much more common then.

    In addition, different papers were required for different European countries. I’ve seen horses turned away from the Italian border over a tiny error. Sometimes, you felt you were held up just for being British.

    On a monetary note, it’s sometimes said that it would be a good thing for European countries to drop the euro and revert back to their own currencies. Again, there won’t be many who remember having to deal with various exchange rates.

    Someone would try a horse, then it could take two weeks to have it vetted and arrange transport. During this time, particularly for countries with weaker currencies, a fluctuation by as much as 10% could really put a spanner in the works.

    No doubt everything we’re told about the EU being too bureaucratic and wasteful is true. For many businesses Brexit would be advantageous. But for equestrianism, I can’t see one positive for leaving.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 April 2016