Graham Fletcher: We need better shows in Britain *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s showjumping columnist supports a bursary for show centres to upgrade facilities

    One day, this rotten virus that’s caused immeasurable hardship will be over. Many businesses have had to change tack to survive. Likewise, our sport needs to look very closely at itself if the fracture we’re seeing is not to become permanent.

    I write from Vilamoura, Portugal, where we’ve taken 15 horses that my boys Will and Olli are riding in competitions ranging from grands prix to young horse classes.

    There are unbelievable numbers of starters here; 100 in the ranking classes and more than 150 in the 1.40ms, of which at least 40 are from the British contingent.

    It’s disappointing for our domestic scene, but the reality is that those Brits – plus others currently on different overseas tours – have to travel to produce their horses to the next level. And let’s not use Covid as an excuse. There are simply too few UK shows accommodating those who want the higher-level 1.40m classes and above with decent prize money.

    There’s the same anomaly with age classes. I’ve always tried to see both sides of the argument over whether or not to keep the open-to-all ages newcomers and Foxhunter classes; and I know a biggish percentage of the British Showjumping (BS) membership don’t want change. But the rest of the world is totally bemused about why we retain such a ridiculous system.

    Nick Skelton got a lot of criticism when he wrote in H&H that BS subscriptions should increase to support our centre shows. Yet he said this with first-hand knowledge of how much we all spend to keep our facilities to a good standard.

    All-weather surfaces need replacing every few years and Skelly’s critics should realise that there are centres whose ground equally needs renewing. There are several venues to which I would take horses to jump 1m or 1.10m, but no way would I jump a 1.40m to 1.50m course for fear of laming one.

    So where are centres to get that money from, especially now, if it doesn’t come in some form of bursary?

    Clearly, the present BS management is trying to be fair to its 16,500-strong membership, of whom only around 500 jump at 1.30m and above. However, the stats also show that overall numbers have remained static for some years.

    It’s a complete reversal of the time when, for decades, Britain was seen as a world-leader in the sport. Indeed, the rest of showjumping globally copied us, the thinking being that if you look after the top end, the entire membership benefits from excellent facilities where younger riders can learn by watching their heroes.

    Sadly, that’s no longer possible. Laura Renwick, who’s here in Vilamoura, tells me that the only national shows she competes at now are midweek through the summer, riding novices at her local centre. And the same applies to all top British pros.

    Credit to Ireland

    Talking to former Irish international rider Marion Hughes, we agreed that because Ireland and Britain are islands, the cost of competing abroad is prohibitive for many. But unlike BS, the Irish federation has gone a long way to address the present situation. And all credit to Alison Corbally, director of breeding and programmes at Horse Sport Ireland.

    Using money that hasn’t been needed this year due to cancelled fixtures, Alison initiated 13 new shows running from September to November. Six had high-calibre young horse classes; seven had 1.40m grands prix subsidised to a minimum €6,000 (£5,480) prize fund, with most topped up by the shows.

    At a time when it’s hard to stay enthusiastic, these shows have helped producers raise their game. With international course-designer Alan Wade present, they’ve also inspired up-and-coming designers. I have total respect for the Irish because they’re the best sales people in the world and I give them full marks for their endeavour on this one.

    Meanwhile, the BS board needs a meeting with some of our top riders to see if anything can be done to address our situation – because the tide has definitely turned and if nothing is done, it will become irretrievable.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 November 2020