Graham Fletcher: I appreciate the optimism *H&H Plus*


  • In these strange times, it can be daft little things that really bring it home to you. As the clocks went forward at the end of March, it was the first time in my memory that I hadn’t had to remind my staff to change their clocks – because they’d need to be up in time to go to a show on the Sunday.

    Amid so many cancellations, I must admire Royal Bath and West show organisers, who have instead postponed until the end of July. I appreciate their optimism and only hope they’re right that, by then, we’ll have beaten this virus.

    Exciting prospects

    Some European countries have banned riding for the foreseeable future. But until or unless that happens here, we’re keeping our horses in light work. All young riders, regardless of their ability, pick up bad habits. So with plenty of time on our hands, we’ve been working on those – riding without stirrups, something I always hated but which undoubtedly does a rider’s position and leg a lot of good.

    Our son Will has started a podcast called The Full Course with Sam Gerrard-May. I’m told their first one, featuring an interview with Joe Stockdale, was listened to in 18 different countries.

    It was especially interesting to hear what made Joe, a talented cricketer, decide to go into showjumping. What clinched it, he explained very eloquently, was jumping a clear round in the leading showjumper of the year at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).

    Joe was supposed to be playing cricket that day but an injury had sidelined him, so he made his way to HOYS. What made it so special was that his late father Tim, then very ill with cancer, was watching from his hospital bed.

    Whatever happens in his future riding career, said Joe, no round would be as important as that one. Now fully committed to showjumping, Joe hopes to be on the British young rider team for the Europeans in Vilamoura, Portugal, this July. Hopefully it will be postponed to later in the year, rather than cancelled, as Joe and Will are both in their last year in the category so they want to make it count.

    Another rider who’s made great strides recently is Will’s podcast guest for last week, James Wilson. He could even be among those hoping to head to Tokyo next year.

    Turning professional

    It’s fascinating to note the point at which a young rider makes that lifestyle decision to transition from riding as a hobby to becoming a full-time pro. Ever since he won his first pony class, our son Olli never had any doubt that’s what he wanted to do. But his older brother Will took a very different route.

    With Will, I spent much more time travelling round the country, watching him score a lot of goals, than I ever did taking him to shows. And when he achieved good A-level results, it looked like it was simply a case of finding a university with a good football team. So it came as a shock when he told us he wanted a year out to concentrate on riding. I didn’t see that one coming…

    That was three years ago, and Will’s worked really hard to get up to speed. Yet as I listened to his podcast in which he names his top five riders and heard how intelligently he explains his reasoning, it was with pride – not to mention relief that the small fortune I’d spent on his education wasn’t entirely wasted!

    If anybody is the slightest bit interested in my career, it started when I left school to work on the family farm. Living in a small village and wanting to see more of life, my first purchase was a Lambretta scooter. However, I quickly realised that girls were much more interested in boys who played in a band than in those who drove a tractor for a living, so my next purchase was an electric guitar.

    Sadly, I was a terrible guitar player, but luckily I’d started winning a few showjumping classes. Before long I was having as much fun as the boys in the band! So I sold my guitar, focused on showjumping and the rest, as they say, is history.

    With everybody spending so much time at home, I’m sure those nearing retirement age will be thinking that staying on at work is a much better option. As Harvey Smith once said, there are only two chairs that kill; the electric chair and the armchair.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 16 April 2020