The Olympic showjumping champion has put his head above the parapet to suggest a major overhaul of the sport in the UK, including a significant increase in membership costs to produce funds that could be reinvested to improve show facilities around the country...
With plenty of time to reflect during lockdown, having not been to a show since the Sunshine Tour in early March, my thoughts turned to the unbelievable job the Blázquez family does at their venue in Vejer De La Frontera in Spain.
It’s a five-star-plus facility with grass and sand rings that are second to none. The stables and the warm-ups have all you require and it’s absolutely spotless. The tour is run for the sport rather than spectators and the family has made a thriving business out of it, attracting huge numbers of people.
So why don’t we have anything like it in this country?
British riders – many names I don’t even recognise – turn up on the Sunshine Tour in droves. The reason is, very simply, we don’t have the right standards or the right infrastructure at home – we’re not giving people what they want at shows and they’re clearly not happy about the way things are going.
So I can’t think of a better opportunity, while we have time on our hands and nowhere to go, to throw away the British Showjumping (BS) rulebook and rewrite the whole thing.
Way behind Europe
Let’s start by trying to bring the sport up to the standard of mainland European shows. We are currently so far behind.
The current cost for an adult to join BS and register a horse for a year starts from around £220. You can’t even get a gym membership for that money, it’s amazing value.
So if BS put up the cost to say £500 (with a sliding scale for riders with more than one horse to register), they could use that extra income to reinvest in the sport in a way that will directly benefit all riders – giving them better facilities.
My proposal would be to set up an annual bursary-type fund of, say, £250,000 for four or five show venues around the country that could benefit from investment. You’d set up a small committee including several ex-pro riders to advise each venue what to spend their money on.
If these bursaries were given out every year, it wouldn’t take long before we had a raft of shows reaching four-star or even five-star standard to match the likes of Kronenberg in the Netherlands or Sentower Park in Belgium.
The next step is to scrap the British novice, discovery, newcomers and Foxhunter classes, which want firing straight in the bin. We just have far too many classes in this country – 1m, 1.05m and so on, it’s all a waste of time.
It used to be a pleasure and an honour to ride at the old Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) at Wembley because you were up against the best riders in Europe, they put on the best classes and the house was full from Monday to Saturday because people would happily pay to see the top riders.
I’ve always believed that HOYS died when it left Wembley and that’s where it should have been buried, because it’s all changed now – how do they expect people now to pay to watch a 1m class at an international show?
It’s like buying a ticket to Wimbledon and watching me play just because I want a game of tennis! But, without any qualifiers happening this summer, I can’t see HOYS going ahead anyway, but we’ll see.
So let’s focus instead on making height and age classes the backbone of our shows. You’ll have the five-year-olds jumping 1m, and any rider who wants to jump that height goes in that class, too – you’re effectively incorporating two classes at one height. Then you follow on with the six-year-olds at 1.20m and seven-year-olds in a 1.35m class.
It’s simple and effective and works in Germany, France and the Netherlands, which are leading the way while we continue to drag our heels. The people running our sport just need a bit more foresight.
So let’s all put our heads together and start a consultation process with the entire BS membership – this potentially amazing opportunity has presented itself in the most unexpected and unfortunate circumstances, but let’s grab it and make a change.
Ref Horse & Hound; 14 May 2020