Graham Fletcher: ‘Horses that shouldn’t win, do’ *H&H VIP*

  • Everybody loves a story about an athlete defying all the odds to reach the pinnacle of their sport. And I can’t think of anyone in the equestrian world who has turned their career around more dramatically over the past few years than jockey Harry Skelton.

    When he left Paul Nicholls’ stables in 2012, he’d ridden just eight winners all season. And I’m certain that as other jockeys were preferred to him, it wounded Harry’s self-belief.

    So to go from there to riding 178 winners this season — with only champion jockey Richard Johnson having more — really is remarkable.

    Harry is riding with such great confidence. And it’s true of every equestrian discipline that when you have that attitude, horses give their most for you. Horses that shouldn’t win, do.

    Of course, the infrastructure around him, with his brother Dan as trainer and having fantastic facilities, has been pivotal to Harry riding so many winners. And indeed, as the margins between winning and losing in all sports have become so fine, it’s that strong support team that’s all-important in giving competitors the edge.

    You can be moderately successful without it, but reaching the top in modern equestrian sport requires excellent facilities, a team that’s constantly thinking about how each horse needs producing to enable it to be at its best, and people who can spot potential problems before they arrive.

    A vital part of that team is a trainer who can cast a critical eye over a mistake yet still gives the rider the certainty they need to think they’re invincible. Look at any trophy-winning team or individual in any sport, and all the above will be factored in to give them the 101% needed to win nowadays.

    Sport only salutes and crowns the winners; even silver medallists are soon forgotten. Which is why, despite riding 178 winners, Harry’s second place means he won’t get the credit he deserves — so I hope he can go one better next year to become champion.

    When I asked him what he puts his success down to, he said: “You just keep doing your best and grafting away.”

    I replied: “I’ve known your dad for decades and that is in your DNA.” I wish Harry well.

    A will to win

    Thanks to the massive amounts of prize money that can now be won at more and more international shows, it’s often said that jumping for their country in Nations Cups loses its appeal for some of our top riders.

    And while I can totally understand the commercial side of this, I have to say that when I was on the teams with the likes of David Broome
    and Harvey Smith, we all considered it a great honour to ride for Great Britain.

    We never lost our pride and willingness to compete for Team GBR. And that’s why I find it so refreshing to be part of the team that’s going to Denmark this week.

    Our son Will is part of the British squad — along with Georgia Tame, Ellen Whitaker, Graham Babes and Max Routledge — for his second senior Nations Cup. And they’re all so pleased to be on the team.

    With such sheer enthusiasm, and when their will to win comes into play, there’s a good chance of the Union flag being raised in Denmark.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 23 May 2019

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.