Graham Fletcher: the can of worms doesn’t bear thinking about *H&H VIP*

  • The dispute over whether the Irish team’s Rio qualification was jeopardised by a steward crossing Cian O’Connor’s tracks at the Europeans looks set to run and run, especially with lawyers now involved.

    I understand the Irish disappointment, as potentially they had their best Olympic team in years. And I’d prefer to see them going than some others that have qualified.

    But much as I sympathise, if the Irish win this, the can of worms it could open doesn’t bear thinking about.

    While something similar is unlikely to happen again at a major championship with experienced organisers, what about our national shows?

    I remember riding a mare called Burnbrooke Again at Newbury Show. I always prided myself that I was hardly ever unshipped. But Burnbrooke was jumping a lovely round until, out of the corner of one eye, she spotted a six-in-hand carriage driving turnout.

    It was moving parallel to our jumping line, packed with passengers in colourful costumes, the coach horn at full blast. Burnbrooke spun round sharply and I fell to the ground. I never thought of objecting. I just put it down to bad luck.

    But if the Irish win their case, I can see our beleaguered judges being inundated with all sorts of protests. From balloons to barking dogs, and even heavy rain, where would it stop?

    One of the best things about showjumping is that it’s always been judged objectively. The outcome of this case could change all that.

    Rising standards

    Having been involved with last month’s European youth championships in Austria, it’s fascinating to see how the standard has improved so rapidly in every division.

    Juniors’ horses now need to be good enough to win a Stairway competition. And for young riders to be in with a medal chance, they need to be on something capable of jumping double clear in three-star Nations Cups.

    The strength in depth has risen as more nations emerge as championship contenders. This means 15 or more teams are contesting the podium places.

    The Lake Arena venue was fabulous. Interestingly, although the surface was all-weather, there were undulations in the ground.

    It’s much easier to train a good horse and an average rider to jump clear on a flat surface than it is on even the slightest of gradients. Ups and downs demand sufficient rider “feel” to react correctly in a split second; something that comes only with natural ability.

    At Hickstead, even though the drainage is so good that the grass rides like an all-weather, they’ve done the right thing in keeping the gradients.

    Bob Ellis would confirm that undulations make for more interesting course-designing. Jumping on gently sloping ground makes the distance problems much more difficult.

    Imagine a major golf tournament with no gradients or bunkers. The best player would still win, but it would take out most of the excitement for the spectators.

    That’s where our sport needs to be careful. As showjumping goes from strength to strength, with fantastic prize money, it remains vital to keep the paying public entertained.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 10 September 2015