William Funnell: We can’t justify a gathering of nations at this time *H&H Plus*


  • Realistically now, unless they find a Covid-19 vaccine – which they’re saying is unlikely before next year – we’re looking at the possibility that we won’t see another international show, with crowds, until 2021.

    Even if we come out of lockdown this summer, training days followed by national day shows are likely to be the first stepping stones, long before the international circuit can start up again. There’s just no way we can justify a gathering of nations, all of whom are still at different stages of dealing with the virus, any time soon.

    But, trying to take the positives out of this situation, now would be the perfect time for British Showjumping to rejuvenate our national circuit. When we come out of this, far fewer people will be in a position to spend money on competing abroad, so let’s stimulate the winter season in particular, provide support to our valued indoor centres and make the circuit something riders want to compete in.

    Potential crop of superstars?

    It will be interesting to follow the sport’s current crop of four-, five- and six-year-olds to see what’s been produced during the lockdown. I think we’ll be surprised at how much these horses will have benefited from doing more flatwork and home preparation, rather than show, show, show.

    In a few years’ time, I hope we’ll see that we’ve made better horses as a result.

    We’re doing lots of gymnastic exercises with our older horses at home – you’re reinforcing what you’ve trained in them but, with nothing new to teach them, it can be hard to keep them stimulated. I’ve always found they’re fitter and sounder when they’re up and running and in competition, too – if you let them down too much, they can end up a bit creaky. So it’s proving difficult for a lot of people to manage their horses at the moment.

    Pushing the Olympics back a year will, I hope, act as a stimulant for horse prices when we all get going again and I’m sure they’ll also move the date until which Olympic horses can change hands again.

    Whether you’re buying a youngster or a top sport horse, they have to be seen as an investment. Everybody looks to see what is happening at the top of the tree, which then trickles all the way down, affecting horse prices at all levels.

    Talking of investments, there will also be a lot of people with an 11-, 12-, 13- or even 14-year-old that is in his prime right now and, with potentially a whole year out of that horse’s career lost, that’s a huge amount of prize money on which they will potentially miss out.

    Under the virtual hammer

    We were always planning another online auction at the Billy Stud on 24 May but it feels as if there’s never been a better time to hold one. Our original plan was to sell four- and five-year-olds and show them in videos being ridden under saddle and cantering round a course.

    However, as times have changed and rider safety is now more important than ever, we’ve decided to carry on with the auction but with just the 10 four-year-olds, showing them at walk, trot and canter under saddle before being loose jumped to show their talent and movement over fences.

    I’m hoping that, with everyone having cabin fever and the realisation that this year is going to be all about training young horses, potential buyers will be logging on to buy a nice four-year-old, while supporting British breeding, and can enjoy being able to put some time into it.

    Sad farewells

    It has been a very sad week in the equestrian world with the news first of the passing of Rory Gilsenan, followed by Liz Edgar. I’ve known Rory for years; we had a lot of fun together and I have many fun memories. He was a real character and a very great horseman.

    Liz was one of the first riders to bring style to showjumping. She continued to put so much back in to the sport we all love through her hard work in various committees. Both will be very greatly missed.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 7 May 2020