Graham Fletcher: a one-way ticket to Portugal *H&H VIP*

  • I have always maintained February is the most unpleasant month of the year. And it definitely didn’t fail to disappoint me in 2018. So what with the weather, and that damnable Brexit not doing anything to help the despondency gripping Britain, when it was suggested we do one of the spring tours, I didn’t need much convincing.

    There are masses of British riders now competing in southern Europe. We chose to come to Vilamoura in Portugal, from where I write. With Spain’s Mijas tour cancelled, the start lists are massive. There’s a rankings class each day of the four-day shows, but with up to 100 horses in each, they are very competitive.

    With well-built, flowing courses, good distances and times allowed that if riders aren’t riding up to pace, time-faults are inevitable, it’s a great concept for our up-and-coming young riders. These tours improve their horses and get them up to speed for the season to come. We came here with our son Will and four horses, and with some really good results in rankings classes, I can see the improvement already.

    It also works for top riders like Laura Renwick, who attacked the classes from day one. These riders find it’s a more lucrative and enjoyable way of making a living than our national circuit, on which there’s isn’t a 1.45m competition until the end of April.

    So with another week still to go, would I come back in 2019? Well, if the political predictions are to be believed and there’s the possibility of extremes in the shape of either a Jeremy Corbyn or Rees-Mogg government, not only would I come back, I’d make sure I switched all the bloody lights out and bought a one-way ticket.

    Give youth a chance

    Did any FEI decision-makers see that wonderful display by Alina Zagitova, the 15-year-old from Russia, who won the figure skating gold medal at the winter Olympics? Hers was a fantastic achievement, but under the FEI terms and conditions, she’d have had to wait another three years to be old enough to compete.

    So yet again, I say to the FEI: put your wine glasses down, take the blinkers off and give youth the chance it now has in every other popular sport with the exception of showjumping.

    Rolling a double six

    Very well done to Rowan Willis for his recent grand prix win in Ocala, Florida, on Blue Movie, which netted him $87,000 (£62,700). I’ve known Rowan for many years since he came over from Australia. And with him living in our area of Oxfordshire, I’ve done a bit of business with him, too. He rode for Sue Welch before deciding to branch out on his own. I’m sure Rowan won’t mind me saying that he lives very much by the seat of his pants.

    His best buy to date has been the Sue Welch-bred Blue Movie, who is out of Showtime, a big winner for Nick Skelton and by Chacco Blue. But although bred in the purple, this has always been a feisty little mare. Rowan hardly competed her until she was eight, and even now doesn’t jump more than three jumps in the collecting ring.

    Until his recent adventure to the States, Rowan was renting some stables at Boomerang Stables near us. And when he told me of his plans, and knowing the expense involved with competing in Florida, I thought it was a brave throw of the dice. However, up to now, it’s proved a double six.

    Following his Ocala triumph, Rowan has been asked to jump in a million-dollar invitational in California. Good luck to him. And to fellow Australian Russ Hardy, owner of Boomerang, I’d say don’t expect him back any time soon.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 8 March 2018