H&H’s showjumping columnist reflects on the strength of lower level showjumpers
With everything that has happened this year, we were very lucky to have a venue for the British Showjumping National Championships last week (3–11 August). We should all be grateful to Nina Barbour and her Bolesworth team for their hard work.
Overall, the week seemed successful but I was sad to see the numbers were light on the opening days. I am sure this was caused by various factors but there did seem to be a lack of marketing prior to the event.
Having the National Championships at this stunning venue was a fantastic opportunity for athletes of all levels and ages. My niece was competing her ponies and had been excited about the prospect since the new venue was announced.
Although she left happy, I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Apart from the ever-changing timing and schedule changes, all the other boxes had been ticked, but it was disheartening to hear these riders welcomed into the arena by a judge on the microphone and to find out that a commentator hadn’t been booked until later in the week.
We need to remember that these championships probably mean far more to the young and amateur riders than the professionals. They have worked incredibly hard to qualify and given the turmoil that we have all endured this year, it would have been fantastic to see a sprinkling of the sports presentation Bolesworth has become known for.
Improvement through the ranks
As the year continues to progress at a considerable rate, many riders’ thoughts will now be on the indoor championship show at Aintree, which has been created to host the finals that would normally be held at Horse of the Year Show. For others, the focus will be the Amateur and Veteran Finals that will be making its return to the same venue.
The latter is an event I have many great memories from and it is even where I met my wife! I now usually spend that week at a World Cup show in Toronto, but there is a secret part of me that wishes I could do both.
There will be purists out there that think I am a bit mad comparing the two, but they just don’t get it. To me, amateur sport is just as exciting and in a way those athletes should be admired more. Most of them have a full-time profession and arrive at championship events ready to rise to the challenge.
The professionals are specialists and fantastic at what they do but (thankfully) Scott Brash doesn’t spend his days off doing people’s accounts and Geoff Billington isn’t performing surgery just hours after the grand prix (put the scalpel down Geoff!)
Every so often, there is an online debate on the word amateur and I am always saddened to see some riders viewing this as a derogatory description of their abilities. For some reason, the term is often misinterpreted when used in the context of equestrian sport.
A missed marketing opportunity
During a more normal year when amateur athletes come through that big purple curtain at Horse of the Year Show for their competitions there, I think the fact they aren’t professionals is a missed marketing opportunity. Most of the audience is in the same position and these riders are proof dreams can come true.
Non-professionals are a substantial part of the British Showjumping membership and the lower level competitions earn the most money for show venues. We should be continually looking for new ways to encourage improvement through these ranks.
There is a large, eligible group who can be competitive over larger heights and who shouldn’t then have to compete alongside professionals. In North America, it is common to see a “junior/amateur” division that runs up to 1.40m and offers very healthy prize funds.
British Showjumping is constantly working to ensure there is a fair playing field for all levels but I wonder if there is a simpler way to classify who is and isn’t an amateur. Answers on a postcard!
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 August 2020