Graham Fletcher: Action is needed [H&H VIP]

  • The spectacle that was the showjumping final at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) made
    for compulsive viewing.

    Whether first-time viewer or purist, to watch four top pros riding each other’s horses was spellbinding. The atmosphere was tense and their sportsmanship exceptional.

    Before WEG, Scott Brash told me he was very concerned about the toll jumping ten rounds in five days would take on the four equine finalists. And when you consider how much prize-money is on offer nowadays — Scott won €145,000 in London last month — this championship had to produce something truly special to preserve such a charismatic competition.

    But, boy, did WEG deliver! I know it’s not a particularly English thing to say, but I’ve always admired the French way of doing things with total style: consistently filling a 20,000-seat stadium, Frederic Cottier building some of the best courses I’ve ever seen, French television’s innovative camera angles and a quartet of world-class combinations oozing talent. It highlighted all that is great about our sport.

    “Oui”, the French put World Championship showjumping back where it belongs. It was just wonderful.

    What went wrong

    Team GBR’s WEG result was appalling; not just due to the scores we knocked up, but because there was no other combination waiting in the wings that could have done any better.

    In most sports, there would be an enquiry into what went wrong. If a similar situation arose when I was on the then BSJA (British Show Jumping Association) selection committee, a group of people with vast knowledge of the sport would meet, discuss the situation and put forward proposals to the governing body.

    Sadly, I’ve no idea if such a system exists in today’s British Showjumping (BS), to whom suggested remedies should be sent, and what structure is in place to implement changes. So I will use H&H to put forward my idea to improve the overall system and produce more future international horses.

    It’s pitiful that from October to April a mere handful of 1.40m classes are run nationwide at a small number of premier shows. To make matters worse, centres have lowered the standard of 1.30m classes in a bid to generate more entries. I don’t blame them for attempting to run financially viable shows, but with so few suitable classes at home, it’s no wonder riders are encouraged to go abroad to learn their trade and produce horses over international-standard courses.

    Using foreign shows to this end is expensive. And if it’s the only option, that narrows the pool of available talent to those who can afford it.

    Yet Britain has some top-class facilities that are more than adequate to produce good horses — so more should be done to help them. For example, I’d like to see BS affiliation fees waived for any show putting on classes of 1.40m or more with at least £500 to the winner.

    To claw back the shortfall, BS should reallocate some of the World Class funding they currently use for training. After all, what’s the point of being all dressed up with nowhere to go?

    Perhaps some World Class funding could also pay for course-designers of the calibre of Frederic Cottier to build at some of our shows. We have some excellent designers of our own, but anybody can learn from the best. And without the right courses to jump, you’re snookered. Surely BS could find a sponsor? Any extra revenue that BS can raise should go towards running better shows. BS has always tried to be ultra democratic, believing that the member paying their first subscription is just as important as Scott and Ben Maher. While this is laudable, it’s only success at the top of the sport that brings benefits to all.

    Look how the BBC has come back following our Olympic gold medal and acclaimed London Global Champions Tour with a British winner. Any more results like WEG and the corporation will desert us, leaving us in the wilderness again.

    Will a strategy like the one I suggest help Britain secure Olympic qualification at next year’s Europeans? No. We need the injured top horses to be available for that. But it will help to produce the next bunch of championship horses.

    Inactivity doesn’t solve a problem, it only makes it worse. So let’s act — and act now.

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 18 September, 2014