Graham Fletcher: ‘The shot in the arm our sport needs right now’


  • Follow the usual autumn exodus of the British showjumping fraternity to Spain, Graham Fletcher reflects on what can be done to keep riders in Britain

    THIS last month or so, we’ve been competing on the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour in Oliva Nova, Spain. There are two- and three-star shows with classes for everybody – from ranking classes and young horse classes to bronze tours at 1.10m.

    Last weekend, when we were contesting the three-star grand prix that had nine British riders entered, my son Olli asked me to guess how many Brits in total were competing that week. And I couldn’t believe it when he told me there were 71.

    Many riders and connections I’ve spoken to here say they’re coming back in the spring; it’s become a way of life. And with the expenses attached to travelling horses after Brexit, it makes sense to spread the cost over a few weeks.

    The sheer number of British riders competing abroad must surely be having an impact on the UK’s winter and spring shows. But who can blame them for coming to jump on top-class ground, with stylish facilities and hospitality for owners and, of course, nice weather?

    Big plans ahead

    THE question I’m increasingly asked by foreign equestrians is: “What has happened to the British shows when once you had so many good ones that were well run and with prize money as good as anywhere?”

    And as much as I don’t like to criticise our shows, it’s hard to disagree when grands prix at our winter premier shows are for £1,000 to the winner – exactly the same as when they first started over 30 years ago. On the other hand, entry fees and the cost of competing have far from stayed static…

    So I’m very pleased to report that Sarah Stoute, who now owns Keysoe, has received confirmation that she can run six international shows in 2022. There are also big plans for a complete renovation of the centre’s indoor and outdoor rings, and for an on-site hotel.

    It’s just the shot in the arm our sport needs at the moment. Because our whole system is desperate for an injection of enthusiasm before more riders leave these shores.

    On a lighter note, a word of warning… One advantage British shows have is that they’re much cheaper to attend than the overseas tours.

    For example, I’ve used quite a few car rental companies on these trips, and I can safely say that Dick Turpin is alive and well. Talk about daylight robbery! And another piece of advice. Always rent a car that does nought to 60 in a very quick time. In Spain they drive as if every second counts.

    The youth of today

    PEOPLE have very different opinions on what they think constitutes a good television commentator. Having done it for quite a few years myself, our son Will asked for advice ahead of commentating on the Madrid World Cup show for Clip My Horse TV.

    Well, I don’t think my help was needed as I wasn’t the only one to think he spoke really well. And his grasp of statistics about both horses and riders was far better than mine ever was.

    Meanwhile, the youth of today have embraced the climate change problem with a passion – whether they’re disciples of Greta Thunberg or believe there should be radical change in the way big business commits to it. So why is it, then, that I’ve never met a teenager who can switch a light off?

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