Graham Fletcher: The crowds were on their feet *H&H subscribers*


  • This year’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) was one of the best for entertainment. There were some exciting classes and Lorenzo is the best act of all time.

    There’s no doubting the show’s significance to the circuit and show centres appreciate the importance of being awarded HOYS qualifiers and the resulting extra revenue.

    The enthusiasm of British Showjumping (BS) members to compete at this prestigious event remains undimmed. It’s a unique experience to compete in front of such large crowds in an atmosphere whipped up by excellent commentators, lights and music.

    This year’s crowds were receptive, as we found when my wife Tina and I did a demonstration. Sons Will and Olli were riding and Rory Bremner was compère, with his brilliant wit and impressions. But nothing’s perfect and the talent seekers, with its HOYS final, is a case in point. Finding the best seven-year-old among a start list of horses of all ages doesn’t work.

    Having five pony classes yet not one young rider class can’t be right either. And I’d still say the same when my lads are out of the category. But these are minor points in the bigger picture. And talking of bigger, how the British and Irish crowds love to see horses jump big fences.

    Puissance competitions have all but died out in Europe, but “big red wall” night on HOYS’ Saturday is always a sell-out. The crowds were also on their feet for the last round of the five-fence challenge over some massive jumps. On this one, we’re poles apart from our neighbours.

    Farewell Bob

    Looking back over the decades with course-designer Bob Ellis, he became somewhat teary-eyed about this being his last HOYS.

    Bob never built to the extremes of big, gutsy courses. You would sometimes walk his tracks and think “there will be a lot of clears over this”, but there never were. And that’s where his genius lay. He built for precision, accuracy and athleticism.

    Bob’s equestrian of the year award was richly deserved. He’s not just the best course-designer, but he’s a top-class human being, too.

    Fresh perspective

    It’s always interesting to get an opinion from someone relatively new to our sport. Sir Tony McCoy got me thinking about pony classes as we chatted after his daughter Eve competed in the 128cm HOYS final. “AP” pointed out that although competitors can ride three ponies in this class, it would open it up to more people if they could only ride one. He’s right, because the top of the pony jumping pyramid is starting to be elitist. With fewer kids riding ponies, there are fewer ponies being produced, fewer ponies available to buy, and so on.

    Meanwhile, the children-on-horses category continues to grow in popularity, perhaps because it’s more accessible. When Olli was competing in children-on-horses four years ago, there were many pony teams at the European Championships. This year, there were 23 children-on-horses teams compared with just 10 pony teams. Pony jumping is due for a review or, as I predicted then, this trend will continue.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 24 October 2019