Graham Fletcher: Our historic annus horribilis *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The year 2017 will go down as the worst ever for the British team. It was a year that promised so much, coming after Nick Skelton’s Rio gold medal.

    Yet the season is ending with overseas riders watching us in disbelief. How could a team that won Olympic gold in London and European gold the following year now be so poor? What has gone so wrong?

    The blame game — most of it justified — will continue. Now is the time to set out a constructive plan to ensure a year like this doesn’t happen again.

    One aspect that never seems to get flagged up is how the Global Champions Tour has changed our sport. And with such fabulous money on offer, who can blame the top riders for preferring these fixtures to the more arduous super league Nations Cup shows?

    Some of my eventing friends have questioned our top riders’ commitment to team GB. But if an organisation came along with new venues and doubled or trebled the prize money that’s offered at Badminton or Burghley, I’m sure it would test even their patriotism.

    Hopefully, the Global Champions Tour is here to stay for many years. But the stark fact is that to keep pace with other countries, Britain needs to produce more horses and riders up to that level.

    British Showjumping (BS) is run democratically for all its members, and rightly so. But it needs a different structure at the top of the pyramid. The sport has been dumbed down to attract more members. I don’t have a problem with that, but I do with the way it’s dragged down the top end.

    I agree with the H&H columnists who’ve campaigned for more prestigious age classes. We need to be bolder in our approach to improve standards.

    Another class I’d like to see is a 1.40m run on the same lines as the Foxhunter — double clears qualifying for regionals and a Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) final.

    The centre shows would get good entries, encouraging them to put on these 1.40m classes, which would raise the bar by getting more combinations starting to believe in themselves. And with five pony classes at HOYS, it wouldn’t be life or death to drop one to make room.

    That’s just one idea from me. I’m sure other people will have many more.

    Think big and bold for sponsors

    Most shows complain about lack of sponsorship. And, for sure, we need to be more proactive on this front. BS’s head of communications Maria Haig has done a good job for BS over the years, but there’s a limit to what one person can do.

    We need to embrace the wider modern business world, think bigger and bolder, and target potential sponsors beyond the equestrian marketplace, instead of relying on in-house support.

    Anybody with a client or company who wants to invest should be made aware that the doors are very much open.

    If there is an agent involved, they should receive an appropriate consultancy fee — or waive it if their motive is to contribute to the good of the sport. Altruistic or not, everyone needs an incentive.

    Winners or mercenaries?

    Whoever is in charge of the British team over the coming years must be brave enough to make a distinction between riders who want to keep their horses to ride at Olympics and championships, and the opportunists who use the team as a shop window to promote their horses to sell them.

    Of course, these mercenaries should be used to help us win. But there should be much more financial support for younger, ambitious riders, and for those riders who’ve proved over the years that however much they would have loved to “cash their chips”, their over-riding aspiration and love of the sport have stopped them doing it.

    Whoever’s in charge needs to have transparency and fairness at the forefront of all decisions. By doing so, the British team will get much more support from owners and World Class funding.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 19 October 2017