Graham Fletcher: Weakest squad of horses in history *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    This year, Team GB will be back competing in the “super league” — jumping at the best showgrounds in the world — which is as it should be.

    However, we’re going into battle with the weakest squad in terms of horses that there’s ever been in the history of British showjumping.

    Over the past couple of years, many of our top pros have voiced concern. But nothing has been done and 2018 must be the year for change. Specifically, we need ideas to help produce horses and national shows to ignite owners’ and sponsors’ enthusiasm.

    I’ll give you an example. Royal Windsor is now one of the world’s top shows where everyone wants to ride. But, due to the FEI rankings list dictating who can enter, only a few British riders get the chance. There are, however, two FEI wild cards for riders from a home nation.

    Britain now has some first class outdoor centres. So why not have a series of three 1.50m grands prix at different venues during April? Under a cumulative points system, the top rider would get one wild card to go to Windsor, with the best under-25 getting the other.

    The idea could be rolled out for other international shows on home soil, such as Bolesworth and Hickstead. It would deliver excitement into what’s now a largely dreary national circuit and allow selectors to scout for future teams.

    Such a series would also be a more positive way of helping centre shows than the idiotic ruling that British Showjumping (BS) brought in five years ago — that no two 1.40m and above classes can run on the same day. That brought standards down because you can’t beat competition.

    As Lord Harris, one of the best businessmen of his generation and a great supporter of our sport, says: “The best place to open a carpet shop is right next to an existing one.”

    We must improve facilities for owners and provide vibrant competition for a discerning watching public. When it’s presented properly, as Liverpool International did last month, showjumping still plays to packed crowds.

    Selling to the media

    At a recent Great Yorkshire committee meeting, everyone said how happy they were with last year’s show and the stands full to bursting with spectators.

    I told them that we’ve got a great product, but we aren’t selling it well enough to the media. So I suggested inviting sports editors from the national press and TV to the show and entertaining them. Will it work? I don’t know… but I do know if we do nothing, it certainly won’t.

    Jump jockey winning at 16

    Well done to jockey James Bowen on winning the Welsh Grand National, aged 16. His story captured the public’s imagination and created some excellent press for jump racing.

    Last year I asked, via our federation, for the FEI to reduce the minimum age of riders allowed to compete at four- and five-star shows from 18 to 16.

    BS chief executive Iain Graham tells me it was discussed at December’s FEI meeting. The idea was well supported, with no concerns raised. But so far, nothing has changed.

    So come on FEI, get into this century. If 16-year-old James Bowen can be successful in the most arduous and dangerous sport of them all, then surely our best young riders should be capable of jumping 1.45m with collapsible back cups.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 January 2018