Graham Fletcher: The gap has closed considerably *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Very well done to Qatari rider Bassem Hassan Mohammed for winning the grand prix of the last leg of the Global Champions Tour on home soil in Doha.

    He seems a really nice guy, and his victory shows how far countries like Qatar have come. Back in 1998, my wife Tina and I trained the Hong Kong team for the Asian Games. The difference between the Olympics and the Asian Games then was about four divisions; yet the gap has closed considerably in the past few years.

    And it isn’t just the emerging nations who are improving. The Italians were a spent force for nearly two decades, but now they’ve come back really strong with a team good enough to vie for a 2020 Olympic medal.

    Of course, all these riders are sitting on top-class horses. But the main catalyst for change has been the move of most major international competitions to all-weather arenas.

    Years ago, when grass was the norm even at championships, riders had to learn how to cope with undulations. When it rained and the ground turned soft, another set of riding skills was required. But now, in any corner of the globe, an immaculate all-weather surface can be built for riders to practise their technique. Meanwhile, modern showjumpers are purpose-bred to jump with the blood and trainability to achieve the exacting distances on today’s courses.

    Super-fit riders

    Top riders’ fitness has evolved too. Knowing that fractions of a second can split the first four or five places, they’re all super-fit now. Their workout routines continue even when they’re away competing at shows and many could make the weight to race under Rules.

    And who can blame them? Take a look at Doha. The grand prix winner got €130,000 (£116,000), series “champion of champions” Harrie Smolders earned €300,000 and the winning team scooped €2m (£889,000). While being part of that might seem light years away to any of our up-and-coming riders, it’s a good point to be making to a prospective owner who’s thinking of investing in showjumpers.

    As for Team GB and our Olympic chances, with only six European teams to qualify (three from WEG next year plus the next best three from the 2019 Europeans), we need a dramatic improvement in our form of the past two years even to get there.

    So British Showjumping (BS) must play its part and get more enlightened and positive in its attitude.

    I don’t doubt its office admin efficiency for a second. In fact, the other day I received a fine for jumping a grade B in a grade A class — and notification arrived so quickly I hardly had time to get the horse back in his box and give him a pat for jumping so well!

    It just seems that BS thinks it’s sufficient to police our sport and make sure all the rules are obeyed. And while I don’t dispute the importance of that, we surely need to be more proactive. Why not detail one of the more able development officers that BS employs to visit the federations of Italy or Sweden, examine their strategies and report back as to why they are comprehensively not just beating us but producing more horses and riders? And if an officer doesn’t want to do that, replace them with someone who does.

    A year ago, following Britain’s relegation from the super league, I was invited to a BS meeting along with all our top riders. The idea was for everybody to have a say about what was needed to make progress.

    Many good ideas were put forward from the likes of Nick Skelton and Tim Stockdale. The meeting concluded with some words from David Broome: “To do nothing is not an option.”

    But from where I’m standing, and to the rest of us on the shop floor, that’s precisely what’s been done — nothing.  BS’s international effort is a bit like a hen sitting on a china egg. The hen will be happy, the egg will come to no harm; but as for anything being hatched, it’s an impossibility.  I rest my case.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 November 2017