Former international showjumper Graham Fletcher, a highly respected trainer, as well as a breeder and producer of young horses, reflects on Explosion W at full throttle and the rest of the Games action
IT has been a few weeks since this comment tipped Ben Maher and Explosion W for an individual Olympic gold medal. But mine was the easy bit, because nobody realises how difficult it is to produce a horse at his peak on the hour and day that you’re aiming for – then ride him to the best of your ability for everything to come good at once. All this, Ben did magnificently.
His first round, over a massive course that tested scope and carefulness to the absolute maximum, was poetry to watch. And then to see him ride the jump-off at full throttle and blast the opposition away was just mind-blowing.
A truly great horse ridden by a great rider. Is Explosion the best of all time? Well, I haven’t seen a better one.
The only disappointment during the well-presented competitions was to see the splendid stadium completely empty. Wouldn’t it have been a fantastic atmosphere for the individual final, especially with the Japanese rider Daisuke Fukushima featuring in the jump-off? Our sport rarely gets a worldwide stage to showcase itself, and this would have gone down superbly well in a nation relatively new to horse sport.
However, I have total respect for the Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who held his nerve in the face of hostile criticism to allow the Games to go ahead. Despite the empty stadia, the Tokyo Olympics were joyous and particularly uplifting when we needed it most.
One person who really impressed me on the media front was Rishi Persad. Throughout the coverage of all the disciplines on the BBC, his summaries of the day’s events were top class. Following equestrianism’s medal-winning results and positive storylines at these Games, it would be great to see more coverage on mainstream television. We deserve it!
There can be very few neutral people who didn’t want Sweden to win the Olympic team gold in what was one of the most dramatic competitions ever.
Henrik von Eckermann, Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Peder Fredricson put in masterful performances throughout. And considering the number of taxing rounds their horses had jumped during the Games, to have them looking so fit and enthusiastic for the final jump-off was a credit to them all.
It went to a cliff-hanger of a jump-off against the Americans. Remarkably all six combinations went clear, with last-to-go Peder just clinching it on time. I would urge any aspiring young rider to watch and study Peder and All In’s rounds because for horsemanship, feel and professionalism, they’re as classy an act as you could ever see.
There’s been much controversy about the three-per-team format at these Games. As a sport, we must always remember that we have to entertain; the dilemma is getting the right balance between equine welfare and entertainment.
As I’ve said before, my ideal formula for championships and Nations Cups is four in each team with a drop score for the first round. This makes it fairer to competitors and kinder to the horses should there be an elimination or other disaster.
But to ensure the competition culminates in a thrilling finale, it has to be three per team for the second round. The purists can indulge themselves watching the first round, while in the second the public engages with the theatre of every round being a game-changer.
As these Olympics highlighted, sharp, tense sport makes for the best viewing. The team and individual finals in Tokyo showed that showjumping can deliver with the best of them.
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 12 August
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