Graham Fletcher: ‘Our young showjumpers came across very well on the TV’


  • Former international showjumper and highly-respected trainer, horse breeder and producer, Graham Fletcher, discusses the BBC’s coverage of London International

    For the first time in a long while, I wasn’t at the London International Horse Show for the FEI World Cup qualifier, but watched it on the BBC instead.
    I’d love to know what the viewing figures were – and whether the corporation rated the broadcast as a success – because I thought that it was top class.

    Very few sports get peak air time on the BBC now, and equestrianism in particular. Older viewers often remind me of how popular televised showjumping used to be, so I hope the powers that be were as impressed as I was by this latest coverage.

    Having a presenter like Clare Balding is a huge benefit because she really understands the sport and talks the riders’ language. Therefore, when she interviews them, it’s so much easier for them to give good replies; she certainly helped our young riders come across very well.

    London’s World Cup round was a terrific competition in front of an appreciative crowd with Scott Brash riding at his brilliant best to give Britain a second consecutive World Cup win. Special congratulations to 22-year-old Jodie Hall McAteer, who jumped two brilliant rounds on Salt’N Peppa to finish third.

    The World Cup course, set by Bernardo Costa Cabral, was excellent. It included a combination needing real scope, and an impressive wall at fence four that some horses really backed off, making the five strides to the following oxer very difficult.

    I’ve argued for a couple of years that courses which rely only on carefulness are getting too predictable – and that a couple of braver-looking jumps test riders by upsetting their rhythm, making it more interesting to watch. In my opinion, that’s what gets the best horse and rider combinations into podium positions.

    New stars shine

    There’s been an explosion of young rider talent recently, and they’re winning at the very highest level in the UK and abroad. Our own Harry Charles and Belgium’s Gilles Thomas are prime examples.

    There are many reasons for this; but a significant one is top shows putting on FEI under-25 ranking classes. Geneva, Aachen and Stockholm all have three days of jumping with one of these; the Hermès show in Paris even has two under-25 ranking classes. It’s invaluable for young riders to be able to compete at such prestigious shows and get used to their electric atmosphere.

    London International’s tight scheduling would make three days for under-25s impossible. But I thought they did it perfectly last year when they jumped the Voltaire Design under-25 British championship in the morning with the top 10 going forward to a class preceding the grand prix during the evening performance. On that occasion, it was won by Jodie Hall McAteer with Joe Stockdale in second. And I don’t need to remind anyone how those two have kicked on this season!

    This year, the class was on at 10am on Thursday morning, won in his usual flamboyant style by Harry Charles. But running as it did in a near-empty hall, it lacked the previous year’s exciting ambiance and gravitas – and was most likely a big disappointment to its sponsor too. Of course, all those qualified riders would have competed if it had started at 6am. But I really hope London’s organising committee can find a better slot for it next year.

    Living the dream

    The most popular winner of the week was Matt Sampson winning the London grand prix. The emotion and absolute joy this hard-working lad from Sheffield showed had the crowd in raptures. It’s just what the sport needs. Matt proved that dreams do come true.

    ● Did you enjoy the BBC’s coverage? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county for the chance to have your views published in Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 29 December, 2022

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