I’ve competed and trained in many countries around the world, but Morocco has never been one of them. However, when my son, Will, got picked for his first four-star British team, off I went, not knowing what to expect from the three-show Royal Moroccan Tour.
I found myself in a country that’s very quickly moving into the modern world. There’s a big military and police presence wherever you go. When my wife, Tina, heard that we had to have an armed escort for the horseboxes travelling from show to show, she nearly hyperventilated. Despite that, I never saw any problems and found the Moroccans to be very friendly and helpful people.
As far as the shows went, the first was held in the royal palace gardens. With big crowds and an atmosphere like the Global Champions Tour, it was funded entirely by The King.
The second show was funded by the national federation. Held at the Rihad Equestrian Centre, there was every imaginable facility. It’s no wonder the standard of Moroccan riders based there has really has improved.
The Nations Cup was held at this show. Although we should have finished better than fifth, I was very satisfied with Will and Persimmon’s four faults in each round on his first senior Nations Cup appearance.
The prize fund across all the shows was extremely good. With some of the world’s best jumping in classes of up to 70 starters, it was ultra-competitive, too. The ambition to make them into five-star shows seems wholly realistic.
In my day
When Will was organising the export papers to get back from Morocco into Spain, he remarked on what a tedious job it was.
So I told him of yesteryear, when I was his age, and travelling across Europe meant you needed papers at every border. Some checks were worse than others; they could keep you waiting for hours.
Now I’m sure when we leave Europe, it won’t go back to that. If and when that day comes, the Brexiteers will be singing Land of Hope and Glory louder than ever. But, from where I’m standing, I just need somebody to point out one single advantage.
Last weekend saw Countryside Live take place at the Great Yorkshire showground. I’ve done a demo and judged the talented showjumper competition at this event for the past few years. But as I was in Morocco this time, the reins were taken over by my old pal, Geoff Billington.
We both know that there are certain criteria needed to entertain. This time, Geoff rang me a few days before to say in exasperation: “Fletch, they’ve just told me the size of the arena. It’s 28x35m — how am I going to do a good demo in a ring that small?”
So I emailed him back as though I was sending it on behalf of the Great Yorkshire show committee.
“Dear Geoff Billington: Firstly, do not waste your time talking or trotting over poles because the Yorkshire crowd will be bored. Secondly, jump some huge jumps and the crowds will not only be on your side, but they will even forgive the fact that you’re a Lancastrian. It’s as simple as that — if you’re in any doubt about the above advice, please contact John Whitaker or Harvey Smith.”
Ref Horse & Hound; 25 October 2018