Graham Fletcher: Grounded yet soaring *H&H VIP*

  • It was good to see a big squad of younger British riders competing at the Opglabbeek show in Belgium the weekend before last (17-20 November). The Sentower Park venue has fantastic, state-of the-art facilities.

    Well done to Jack Whitaker for winning the junior grand prix on Stakkato De Fee, and to my son Ollie for winning the children-on-horses grand prix. It was nice that he rode a home-bred, too. Little Business is by It’s The Business out of a former international mare, Fujiyama.

    These lads have a real desire to win — as do their peers Harry Charles, Robert Murphy and Jodie Hall-Macateer. They’re a great bunch of riders, not just for their competitiveness but also for their very likeable personalities out of the ring.

    They’re also all thoroughly grounded and realistic about what it takes to succeed in our sport. No doubt that has something to do with growing up seeing their parents experience all the highs and lows that showjumping throws at you. And it might be interesting to some pony parents that they’re all in full-time education taking GCSEs and A levels.

    Of course, training is readily available to children of former or currently competing professional riders. But in this era no rider can make it to the top on talent alone. You must have the good manners and intelligence to attract owners and sponsors. These five younger riders score a good mark on that front. I wish them all well.

    Essential speed

    In Opglabbeek, everyone agreed how flowing the courses were. Horses and riders could get into a rhythm and keep up a good, attacking pace, even in the jump-offs.

    The same applies across the board at top level. You only have to watch any five-star show to see that, unless a horse can run and jump, they’ll get time-faults. And nowadays, if a combination can’t go fast in jump-off, they might as well not turn up.

    Some British course-designers need to study these international courses, because too many are building tracks that fail to take this new style into consideration. And the result is that too many courses on our domestic circuit are looking distinctly old-fashioned.

    Mind over matter

    I have always enjoyed following many different sports. But when I watched Andy Murray beat Milos Raonic in the semi-final of the tennis ATP world tour final last month, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a never-say-die attitude in any competitive arena.

    A recording of the final hour of that tennis match should be kept for posterity. It should be shown to all athletes, whatever their sport, to illustrate the power of mind over matter when it comes to winning.

    We can all remember times when the great riders like Harvey Smith, David Broome, John and Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton have pulled classes out of the bag when all seemed lost. Yes, when perspiration meets inspiration, you have a winner.

    Three’s a thriller

    It is almost exactly a year ago that I wrote in this comment about the merits of having three riders on a team.

    The discard score in Nations Cups makes it hard for the public — and sometimes even for the commentators — to understand and keep up with who’s in the lead. So I was pleased to see the FEI has recommended teams of three for the Tokyo Olympics.

    When I first suggested it, I said that a three-to-count competition would have more theatre and be more dramatic and thrilling. Of course many riders will complain, but the viewing figures will go up. And, surely, at top level that’s what it’s all about.

    Ref Horse & hound; 1 December 2016