Graham Fletcher: The best story I’ve heard all year *H&H VIP*

  • My favourite story of the season so far was recited to me earlier this year at Hickstead by Michael Whitaker. It was about his inimitable brother, John.

    The day after John rode Argento to win €80,000 (£57,000) for a close second place in the grand prix at the London leg of the Global Champions Tour (GCT) series, he was at a show at Arena UK riding a young grey stallion.

    He took it into the first class only for it to nap in a corner. John couldn’t get it going, so he rode it a bit more outside and entered the second class. Once again, the horse stood in a corner napping. So he rode it some more and tried it in the third class, but still it wouldn’t play ball.

    “You know the person who owns this place, don’t you?” John said to Michael. “Why?” asked his brother. “Will you ask her if I can go into the ring and finish the job when the last class has ended?”

    So there was John — or “Spot” as I like to call him — as it was getting dark and everyone else had gone home, patiently and quietly schooling the horse.

    Whatever determination and tenacity it takes to reach to the top of a sport, it takes an awful lot more to remain there. At 60 years old the talent and horsemanship of John Whitaker remains unmatched.

    Super side-kicks

    Nobody who went to Bolesworth CSI this year could fail to be impressed with the set-up and organisation, whether you were riding in the four-star international, the two-star competitions, taking part in the young horse classes or spectating.

    Organiser Nina Barbour deserves all the plaudits for such an enterprise, but no matter how dynamic the person is at the helm, very few can run a successful business without a really good, reliable colleague by their side.

    Nina couldn’t have chosen a better side-kick than Alan Beaumont. Having ridden himself, Alan knows what the competitors want yet he also has the flair and vision to put on a show that appeals to the paying public.

    This pair must have called upon all their combined expertise when they decided to run the inaugural four-star Liverpool International Horse Show (1–3 January 2016).

    I competed at the very first Olympia and I remember how hard Raymond Brooks-Ward had to work to convince the public to come to a show during the Christmas holidays. It seems amazing that a venture that was looked upon with such disdain back then is now top of many children’s wish-lists.

    Over the years various shows have been spawned — only to fail. So it cannot be underestimated how big a gamble it is for the team at Liverpool.

    I really hope riders and the public get behind this show. I understand it has a terrific stadium venue with easy access by car, and tickets from less than £20. The daily programme is packed with entertainment and top riders competing for good prize-money; there’s a jump-off class every day and they’ve included crowd-pleasing favourites, like the puissance and the knock-out.

    Many people love watching the professionals warm up, and I’m told the champagne bar is adjacent to the collecting ring at Liverpool, so spectators can enjoy a glass while doing just this.

    While we’re on the subject of champagne, I’ll certainly raise a glass to the courageous organising duo and their team and wish them the very best of luck for their new venture.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 10 December 2015