Graham Fletcher: a disgrace that our youth is being neglected *H&H VIP*

  • The format for Saturday’s FEI Nations Cup final in Barcelona was spot-on. Even though Spain hadn’t qualified for the final eight, the packed stands were testament to it making riveting viewing.

    Full marks to Belgium for winning, but the Brits’ second was a great achievement.

    Ben Maher’s superlative skills have honed Diva II from a hugely talented but sometimes tricky mare into a true championship horse. Jessica Mendoza rode with a class and maturity belying her age of 19.

    After a disappointing 16 faults from Laura Renwick, the pressure was heaped on Joe Clee, who responded brilliantly with a clear. Joe also cemented his position as a genuine contender for Rio 2016.

    What does HOYS offer?

    Young British medallists from this season’s European Championships for children-on-horses, juniors and young riders have been invited to Horse of the Year Show’s (HOYS) Sunday evening performance to parade.

    We decided the experience for our 12-year-old son Ollie, of riding into the main arena, reliving his team silver medal and watching top riders in the grand prix, was well worth it.

    I daren’t think how long it is since I won the young riders at HOYS. But this year is definitely the first since then that there has been no young riders’ class of any description at the show.

    Yet, just look at some of our young riders’ results this season. Chloe Winchester won the Queen’s Cup at Hickstead and so nearly collected a European medal when she was fourth. Millie Allen, who added European bronze to her stack of other medals, is another we need to promote.

    Harry Charles was also invited to parade, as the winner of a silver medal in the juniors. But his father Peter declined.

    “No thank you,” Peter wrote in an email to the HOYS’ organisers. “We don’t need the experience of a parade. And I find it appalling for all the young talent in this country that one of the very few chances to compete at one of our better shows has just been taken away. Looking down your list of invited international riders, I see it’s a really good list of no-hopers, while some of our medallists can’t even get a look-in except to parade.”

    Ollie will still parade at HOYS. But Peter has a very solid point because, surely, it’s in our sport’s best interest to encourage youth.

    Encourage new talent

    HOYS will probably cite insufficient time to run young riders’ classes in its hectic schedule.

    They’ve done well to put on three rankings classes. There are also four £1,000-to-the winner classes for which the prize-money has stood still for many years, prompting some competitors to use them as schooling classes.

    Why not reallocate a couple of these classes to young riders who would grasp the chance to compete? The paying public comes to HOYS to see the best horses and riders in exciting competitions. So don’t tell me they’d rather watch schooling rounds, or foreigners they’ve never heard of, than some up-and-coming talent giving it their best shot.

    Peter’s voting with his feet out of sheer frustration. But we all want HOYS to be successful.

    Hopefully the organisers can be persuaded to put measures in place for 2016. Because it’s a disgrace that youth development is being neglected at a time when it’s needed more than ever.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 1 October 2015