Graham Fletcher: National standards have slid in this country like no other *H&H VIP*

  • Having bemoaned the state of our national circuit, I’ve come up with an idea to improve it.

    Any plan needs endorsement, so who better to go to than John Roche, the FEI jumping director? And I’m pleased to report that he was very receptive.

    I prefer to look to the future than talk about the past. However, I’m often asked why showjumping is so different now from when I was a young rider.

    Many can hardly believe it when I recall sponsorship from multinational household brands, mainstream television and newspapers covering the main British shows. Riders could even expect the sort of publicity about their private lives that footballers get today.

    In those days, our national circuit was so rich in prize-money that the likes of Harvey Smith and David Broome favoured competing in the UK.

    Importantly, if you could win at a national show in Britain, you were ready to compete on an international team — so high was the standard. That’s why our whole national system needs a complete overhaul now.

    Apart from the Stairway series, national standards have slid in this country like no other. Not for a second am I dissing the bronze and silver leagues; they serve a good purpose. But we must address the top end.

    Give ambition a chance

    My idea is for a performance-based national league of excellence. It would operate on a rolling basis with riders earning points. No class under 1.40m would get any points, but extra points would be awarded for bigger competitions and classes with higher prize-money.

    The top national rider and the top young rider on the league at close of entries for an international show such as Royal Windsor or Bolesworth would get places.

    John Roche agreed that it’s imperative to encourage emerging talent. Indeed, he highlighted Germany’s objective system — which is run on a points-based league not dissimilar to my idea — that gave relative unknown Niklas Krieg a place in the FEI World Cup qualifier in Leipzig last week, which the 22-year-old duly won.

    John also pointed out that there’s already an FEI system in place for two wildcards to be made available at international shows by the host federation. So why not use my proposed league to fill those places? It only needs British Showjumping (BS) and the shows to agree.

    We must install a regime that gives ambition a chance — without needing wealth and connections.

    It would also give our national circuit a boost. Rather than shows dumbing down their schedules, they’d have an incentive to run 1.40m and above classes because these will be national ranking classes.

    In turn, more riders would stay and jump in this country, thus raising the overall standard. And that, of course, is something badly needed to produce horses too.

    There are too many glorified “speed classes” on our national circuit; small and fast doesn’t make international horses.

    I hope our top organisers and BS can agree to put a new system in place for the sake of youth, the riders who are on ponies now.

    As news emerges of match-fixing in tennis and grubby goings-on in athletics, the media yearns for honest sport. In the old days of showjumping, we used to over-jump our best horses to qualify for the top shows — it was the only way to get in.

    The more a sport looks like a rich man’s pastime, the less the likes of the BBC want to do with it. So let’s make it possible for rags-to-riches dreams to come true again.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 28 January 2016