Peter Charles: debate about our sport’s future can only be good *H&H Plus*


  • Following on from Nick Skelton’s controversial column suggesting a significiant increase in membership costs to raise funds that could then be reinvested back into show facilities in Britain, fellow Olympian Peter Charles shares his thoughts...

    As Nick Skelton outlined in his comment in H&H last week, this lockdown situation does present a great opportunity to reflect on how the sport has developed into what it is today. Whether you agree with his comments or not, the debate it has generated can only be good for the future of the sport.

    What British showjumping has is one of the best export economies in Europe. On most tours, British riders outnumber the host nation. We take multiple lorries, horses and grooms and spend a lot of money, year in and year out. That money is leaving the country and this is a chance to look at how and why that has come about.

    “The good old days”

    We do harp on about the “good old days” but it is useful to remember what our circuit used to look like.

    Every Butlin’s holiday camp in the country hosted top-class showjumping, with 30 riders invited and paid. There were the amateur and professional World Championships at Cardiff Castle, the Everest Double Glazing championships and the Lancia finals at Northwood, where the winner won a car.

    We had four international Hickstead meetings, and Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) at Wembley was followed the week after by the Courvoisier Championships, which had the biggest prize money in Europe.

    Many boroughs in London also held shows – Clapham, Wandsworth and Hyde Park – as well as a couple of seaside crackers in Southport and Southsea.

    A large proportion of the British Showjumping (BS) membership are amateur riders, which is no problem, but somewhere in the organisation there needs to be an enterprising outfit looking purely at reinvention and the creation of new shows and venues.

    This would be such a good opportunity to grow our professional game to the standard where we can attract more foreign riders to our shores – that would be the sign we are getting it right.

    The dream is real

    There has been more than one occasion in the past few weeks when I’ve woken up and thought, “That was some dream” – and then realised it’s all real!

    We were in Spain with 20 horses and 13 people when governments started to bring in restrictions. The show was closed down and we had to fly in drivers to get the horses out, just making the last commercial flights home ourselves.

    Nick mentioned in his column how good it was in Spain on the Sunshine Tour, but it wasn’t without its disappointments. It’s not a cheap tour but the main classes were still vastly over subscribed. There were around 150 entries trying to qualify for the 50-starter grand prix and that’s not really the intensity you want at that time of year.

    When will it end?

    We’re back up and running at Heathcroft Farm with the breeding season well under way. We’re being very strict with hygiene and are stocked up with sanitisers and plenty of medical gloves. Our farrier now shoes in isolation and we have an isolation box for the vets to use if they are on the yard.

    Showjumping, like everything else, has been in lockdown, and the question on everybody’s lips is when will we be jumping again? I think by June or July, at a national level, we could resume some competitions.

    The best route would be to get the professionals out first and restrict people to jumping at their regional show centres.

    If BS creates strict guidelines for organisers, I think it can go ahead. We’d need limited online entries and allotted times, ideally both a warm-up ring and a collecting ring, and grooms would need to wear masks.

    We’re likely to need extra stewards and additional facilities, such as more toilets, to ensure social distancing.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 21 May 2020

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