Graham Fletcher: The secret behind finding a world class horse *H&H VIP*

  • Britain came within a whisker of winning their first ever FEI Nations Cup final in Barcelona when, with three superb rounds from Nick Skelton, Michael Whitaker and Scott Brash, they took Germany to a jump-off.

    A dazzling display from Olympic gold medallist Skelly recorded a fast clear many must have thought to be the winning round. But the “cool as ice” Marcus Ehning used second draw to come home just in front.

    Such a good British team performance came as a welcome relief after a year that’s seen us dumped out of the top division, 11th at the Olympics and a horror show in Calgary. There will be many looking for radical explanations for why we went so well in Spain. It’s simple, we fielded our best team. When we have two of the world’s outstanding horses in Big Star and Ursula XII, we’re always going to start among the favourites.

    Experts sometimes try to identify the perfect model for a showjumper, yet Big Star and Ursula are very different in type. What both have, however, is total bravery and unique technique.

    And when I analyse them further, they have another point in common. I remember Skelly showing me Big Star as a five-year-old and telling me how the horse was the best he’d ever had. Since then, he and partner Laura Kraut have produced him meticulously.

    Ursula was bred and produced in Scotland by Mark Turnbull. A sympathetic horseman, Mark did a top-class job of bringing her through the ranks before I bought her for owner Lord Harris for my wife Tina to ride. I too was never in any doubt that Ursula was the best I’d ever had. And indeed she was soon jumping clear rounds in top-level Nations Cups at Falsterbo and Calgary before Scott took her to the unbelievable level she’s at now.

    My point is that Big Star and Ursula both started with prolific ability. But the key is that they’ve both been so well produced — they have never entered a ring looking at a course they didn’t think they could jump.

    If Britain wasn’t going to win in Barcelona, then who could begrudge Ludger Beerbaum a place at the top of the podium in what was his last ever German team performance?

    Ludger’s career spans four Olympic gold medals plus numerous world and European Championship honours. His clear round in Barcelona, when the pressure was really on, showed the great man at his best.

    The USA team was a creditable third having finished strongly with two clears from their last two riders. They’ve surely found a gem in 19-year-old Lillie Keenan.

    Falling on deaf ears

    It was interesting to read Carl Hester’s comment last week in which he remarked how the ideas we columnists put forward are rarely taken up.

    I couldn’t agree more having talked about our sport’s computer list system earlier this year. It means that once they’ve achieved a certain ranking, the same riders end up getting into international show after international show, provided they have enough horse power.

    For our younger riders to even get a foot in the door, we need to make use of all the wildcards at UK international shows to give them a chance. But I’ve hardly seen anything change… So perhaps, Carl, we need to be more proactive? I’m thinking about getting one of our young riders to dress up as Oliver Twist to go in front of those in charge, begging bowl in hand, asking, “Please, sir, can we have some more?”

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 29 September 2016