Graham Fletcher: The worst mistake British Showjumping has made for decades *H&H VIP*

  • William Funnell thinks that scrapping our national rankings system is having a detrimental effect on British riders. He’s absolutely right.

    When I heard of the plans to replace it with gold, silver and bronze leagues, I rang British Showjumping’s (BS) chief executive Iain Graham to point out that it was the worst mistake BS had made for decades. I said so in my H&H comment too.

    As things stand, qualifying for our top British shows such as Royal Windsor, Bolesworth and Hickstead can only be achieved by jumping internationally.

    When I came into the sport, I didn’t have the money to take a string of horses overseas to compete. The same is true for all those still at the top today, the likes of the Whitakers and Nick Skelton. They too worked their way up through our national circuit to earn the privilege of jumping at foreign shows.

    Under the new system, progression in our sport is most accessible to the wealthy — because it restricts those who aren’t as financially well resourced. Yes, talent does come to the top — but it needs the infrastructure to allow it to do so.

    The old combined national/FEI rankings list fascinated owners, sponsors and fans, as well as riders as they jostled for position each month. To be part of a league that has Scott Brash at number one gives a real buzz to up-and-coming riders.

    When BS decided to adopt the FEI list and dump the national element, it cited the high cost of administration. Well, I’m sure there are many people who’d be very pleased to do a couple of hours a day at home on the computer. So why not sub-let the paperwork?

    Topsy-turvy standards

    Many of our so-called top national classes are now a joke, a contest of how fast riders can go over small jumps. It’s only the international trials and Stairway series that are upholding standards — and full marks to BS’ Maria Clayton for that.

    But how can we continue to get sponsors for such classes when they count for nothing as far as rankings, and therefore qualification for major shows, is concerned?

    Take Royal Windsor: getting into the first big show of the British outdoor calendar used to depend on standings in the combined rankings list. But now, a rider can win the Cock O’ The North, county show grands prix and international trials, perhaps collecting £25,000 in the process. Yet someone who’s won £100 for a tail-end placing in a rankings class abroad is automatically above them when it comes to qualifying for Royal Windsor. How can that be right?

    The knock-on effect is that we’re losing the more difficult courses to jump in this country. And that’s something we badly need if we are to keep producing horses to win Nations Cups and championship medals.

    The British team, led by Di Lampard, did remarkably well to qualify for the Olympics. But we can’t look at the future through rose- tinted spectacles.

    Two of that team, Joe Clee and Jessica Mendoza, are based in Belgium. And, as great a partnership as Jessica has with her top horse Spirit T, the mare is 15 next year.

    At the recent Global Champions Tour final in Doha, the top four British riders were competing. But only Scott went through to the final 18.

    I’m sure that at its next meeting, the BS board will dismiss mine and Will Funnell’s view as old-fashioned, claiming they’re far better placed to know what the membership wants.

    But I’d urge those board members who have never ridden or produced an international horse — and there are quite a few of them — to think again; because in my opinion they have collectively played an absolute shocker.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 26 November 2015