Nick Skelton: The worst result in British history [H&H VIP]

  • I have one word for what happened at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Gamespathetic.

    It’s the worst result in British showjumping history. To be beaten by Columbia, Australia and finish on a similar score to the Norwegian three-man team sums it up.

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that we lost Big Star and Cella but the show goes on and we should have been fighting even harder because of it.

    So where did it all go wrong? The order that Rob Hoekstra chose the four riders to jump in was a bad strategy. Michael and Scott should have gone at the end and Joe should have jumped first. It’s not like an Olympics where you need a strong pathfinder.

    Michael hasn’t got the easiest horse in Viking, but you could tell within the first 15 horses that Tuesday’s opening speed leg was going to be a really quick class. If Michael had gone later, he could have ridden much faster and it would have helped us stay in contention.

    You can’t expect Scott to carry the whole team like that. When horses with two fences down — ie 8sec to add — are beating you, you know you’ve done something wrong.

    When Ronnie Massarella was British chef d’equipe, he would sit us down together the night before a championship and say: “Right you lot, I want to see each of you finish in the top 10 at the end of the speed round.”

    That’s the way you need to start, otherwise you’re always playing catch up. With him at the helm we won three European championships on the trot — way ahead of the field.

    You can’t keep using the excuse that we had young riders on the team who’d never been to a championship before — Bertram Allen blows that theory completely out of the water.

    You go to a championship, you’ve got to get stuck in.

    Where was the team spirit?

    At the London Olympics we had great camaraderie, but what you could really see lacking at these championships was team spirit.

    A championship team should be working together, walking the course together and giving each other advice.

    But there’s been a lot of team friction in the run up to these championships — partly because of the dispute between Michael and myself with Rob over sending a team to Aachen.

    When you have conflict, you lose all respect. And I think that friction with Michael influenced Rob’s decision in placing him first in the team order.

    We’ve certainly been struggling for top class combinations in the run-up to WEG, but Robert Whitaker was rejected too soon and merited being part of the five-man squad that was sent to Normandy. He had two bad rounds at Hickstead, but he’d provided the goods with a double clear in St Gallen and a brilliant first round in Falsterbo.

    We’ve now got our back against the wall when it comes to Olympic qualification — next year is going to be incredibly difficult, but we have to qualify for Rio.

    A future world champion

    Otherwise, this has been a fantastic championship. Frederic Cottier has done a very good job of producing fair courses that have been nice to ride. It’s a very hard championship on the horse, but the cream has come to the top.

    It was a great result for Jeroen and a credit to his riding ability, 14 years after his Olympic gold.

    It’s been extremely close this year and you’ve got to feel sorry for people like McLain Ward. But the one thing to have come out of this is seeing what a rising talent Bertram Allen is (pictured).

    If he can get the right horses and be lucky, he’ll be world champion one day. He’s got it all.

    Nick’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (11 September, 2014)