Graham Fletcher: A fitting tribute to an era gone by [H&H VIP]

  • Olympia’s unique atmosphere makes it one of the best shows in the world. For those without tickets for Saturday afternoon’s FEI World Cup qualifier, I understand it will be live on BBC1 — great news for our sport.

    Many older readers will remember when Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and Olympia  (pictured top) were broadcast live at peak viewing times. Often shown on consecutive nights, these shows frequently returned higher viewing figures than football matches.

    I’m sure the riders of those days look on in envy at the unbelievable prize-money on offer now. Yet showjumping still has a long way to go before it touches the millions it once did.

    That fact was never illustrated better than when Raimondo d’Inzeo, one of the greatest riders of yesteryear, died aged 88 last month. A 2min silence was held at every sporting event — not just equestrian fixtures — right across his native Italy.

    And never was a national tribute more deserved. I was lucky enough to watch Raimondo at the end of his career, at a time when I was just starting mine. He had a wonderful feel and empathy with his horses and yet he was fiercely competitive.

    I remember seeing him compete in Dublin one year. On the 1st day, he had 4 fences down on the great Bellevue. As he came out of the ring, not for him an aggressive or annoyed look on his face nor any see-sawing on the reins. No, he came into the pocket, gave his horse to the groom and went to watch the rest of the class.

    After the competition had finished, he returned to the collecting ring where he quietly and thoughtfully worked and jumped Bellevue. He won the next day; a great man indeed.

    Nuts for Brazil

    This weekend, the children-on-horses World Championship final takes place in Brazil. Our 14-year-old son Will is due to compete with the other qualified British rider, Charlie Jones. Many will remember Charlie’s mother, the former Alison Bradley, who was hugely successful on the international scene with Endeavour.

    Unfortunately, the all-expenses paid trip to South America doesn’t include flying the horses on which they qualified. So on arrival, lots will be drawn to decide who rides which of a pool of borrowed horses.

    Will hasn’t had a great deal of experience of jumping different horses, so every time I look outside, he’s pulled out a new one to try. I wish both him and Charlie luck. Whatever happens, it’s a great experience for these teenagers.

    The Fletcher-Walton family Christmas

    I’m fortunate enough to have 5 children. When I told my oldest, Nicola, about the arrival of the youngest, Ollie, 10 years ago, she said: “Dad, when we’re all sitting around the Christmas table, there will be so many of us, it’ll be like The Waltons.”

    Recently I read something very alarming on the subject of children. A survey has revealed that the cost of raising each offspring to the age of 18 is £140,000 — and it didn’t factor in the cost of horses, ponies, horseboxes, tack…

    So as I look at mine, I could be forgiven for thinking wistfully about which country would have been best for my multi-million pound holiday home… But seriously, they’re all fit and healthy and my Christmas wish is for them stay that way.

    I really enjoy Christmas. The bah-humbugs among you should be encouraged to heed the words of former US president Benjamin Franklin: “In wine there is wisdom; in beer there is freedom, and in water there is bacteria.”

    And those who are dreading the arrival of the in-laws might appreciate Oscar Wilde’s observation: “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s relatives.”

    My favourite is a quote from the great comedian Jack Benny, who said: “Give me my golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner… and you can keep my golf clubs and the fresh air…”

    Happy Christmas to you all!

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound (12 December 2013 edition)