Graham Fletcher: ‘What do owners value most – winning money or jumping clears?’


  • “When it’s only speed that counts in jumps-off, course designers are letting horses down,” says Graham Fletcher

    I’VE seen many changes in style and technique over my time in the sport. Today’s courses, for instance, bear very little resemblance to when I first started.

    One thing that hasn’t altered, however, is how to produce a horse to fulfil its maximum potential. And there remain two schools of thought on that – win as
    much as you can by going as fast as you can in jump-offs or give them a bit more time in the air, so they get the belief and confidence to go on to the next level. I’m all for teaching horses to turn up to jumps – that’s essential in their production. But those that come quick, go quick.

    During my career, I’ve made nearly all my horses, past and present. There are currently eight in our yard jumping in rankings classes that we have produced from novices. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to own most of them or had owners who understand what’s needed. However, there are many other owners who, due to the ever-increasing cost of production, like to win back some prize money.

    The question is: which do you value most as an owner – winning money or jumping double clears?

    A trend towards speed

    COURSE-designers’ input is incredibly important and valuable to horses’ production. However, over recent months, I’ve seen some beautifully constructed first-round courses that then fall victim to the ever-increasing trend towards speed. And when it’s only speed that counts in jumps-off, designers are letting horses down.

    In a recent six-year-old jump-off class at Vilamoura, of 65 entries, 24 went clear in the first round over a well-built course. The jump-off had a long gallop to the last fence. It had been a plank in the first round and, had it been put up a hole, it would have tested horse and rider.

    But no, it was replaced by a sloping oxer – and not one of the 24 had it down. And if you didn’t ride at it at 300mph, you wouldn’t finish in the top six!

    Even in rankings classes – where first rounds take a lot of jumping – it’s ultimately speed that counts. Instead of putting fences up, which I think they should, tracks are being softened for jump-offs with oxers narrowed, front bars lowered and skinnies replaced with full-width poles.

    Naturally, horses with the talent to jump a difficult first-round course are going to find these jump-off fences easy. Therefore, the result is decided on speed.

    The public enjoys watching a difficult course being jumped as much as a very fast one. But if course-designers mixed and matched their courses throughout a show or tour, then it would be much better for all concerned.

    An archaic system

    DOING more tours and international shows has highlighted to me how the courses are more free-flowing, with more distance between fences, than many in Britain. Perhaps British Showjumping (BS) should send some of our course-designers to visit these shows to see the difference for themselves?

    If we’re getting out of date with our courses, then we certainly are when it comes to age classes, too. It’s six years since a BS meeting where Nick Skelton, the late Tim Stockdale and I all said that the newcomers and Foxhunter should be replaced by age classes.

    The enormous numbers of entries for age classes on the foreign tours are proof that we were right. Our system doesn’t just look old-fashioned, it is positively archaic.

    • Do you agree with Graham? Let us know your thoughts at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • Read this exclusive column, plus lots more in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 17 March

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