Graham Fletcher: ‘Our county shows are in desperate need of help’


  • Graham Fletcher reflects on all the action at the Royal International and looks ahead to Herning

    It was great to see the Royal International Horse Show back to its very best. Really good crowds came to enjoy themselves and got behind the British riders. It was a modern-day audience, and all the better for it.

    I’ve never seen Hickstead’s ground better; Edward Bunn did a super job. A good groundsman is so important when you’re jumping on grass as nearly all horses nowadays are produced on all-weather arenas. Too much watering and they can’t cope with holding conditions, not enough and horses jumping 1.55m or 1.60m fences soon get jarred up. Worst of all is patchy ground which wants avoiding like the plague as it can lead to tendon injuries. So well done, Edward, your good going was appreciated by all.

    I was really pleased with how my boys Will and Olli went at their first five-star show. Olli’s Hello William had double clears and was well placed in both his rankings classes. Will’s clear with a time fault on Valento in the King George V Gold Cup meant he finished 10th – a very good result. Normally I go mad if they have a time fault! But the King’s had a very tight time and when you’re riding it for the first time over all those huge, imposing fences – like the double of water ditches coming at the end of some very big efforts – it makes for tough jumping. In fact, of the 48 top horses in the class, only 13 finished with four faults or less.

    What went wrong?

    The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was disappointing for many of our national riders, with several collecting big scores that didn’t reflect their current form. So, what went wrong? Was the course too big? I don’t think so. The Queen’s is a prestigious title and it ended up being a very good competition with Shane Breen having to tap into all his experience to beat a fast round from Nicole Lockhead Anderson, another top young rider and definitely one for the future.

    Shane Breen rides Haya to win the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at the 2022 Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead

    Shane Breen rides Haya to win the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at the 2022 Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead

    No, the drop in standards is because a lot of our county shows aren’t what they used to be – and are in desperate need of some help. For example, when I got involved with the Great Yorkshire Show, I was lucky to work with a progressive committee. So when I suggested that their collecting ring was dire, they agreed to put in an Andrews Bowen surface. In addition, the Yorkshire’s prize money is much improved, the ground was never better than this year, and with packed stands and top-class competitions, there wasn’t one criticism from any rider.

    Many more county shows could achieve the same. I constantly get approached by riders and owners making valid suggestions for improvements, but it’s now a massive problem knowing who they should speak to to make their views known.

    Years ago, the executive committee of British Showjumping (BS) comprised top businessmen and women, plus BS members who were voted in by the membership. They made sure views were listened to and grievances heard so that changes could be made. BS is now run in such an autocratic way that it seems impossible to get the revisions that are so badly needed. In fact, I have a very important question: how much more investment could be obtained for our sport if people felt
    more included?

    Good luck in Herning

    I have a good feeling about our chances in this week’s Showjumping World Championships. Although Ben Maher isn’t taking Explosion W, Faltic HB is a very good substitute. Joe Stockdale, the rookie of the pack, has proved an excellent team rider. He’s cool under pressure, and I love his mare Equine America Cacharel. Harry Charles and Scott Brash are not just in with a chance of a medal, gold is very much within their reach. Harry’s full of confidence and riding out of this world. Scott’s Hello Jefferson was outstanding when second in Aachen’s grand prix and he’ll have him spot on for this one. Good luck to them.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 11 August

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