Pammy Hutton: There’s no margin for experiment *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    With Olympic teams sadly down to three, preparation for the next Games has become even more important. There’s now no margin for error or experiment. Funding has been cut (news, 29 June), and while new sponsorship of horse and human clothing by FalPro and Musto is to be applauded, it’s those filling the clothes on the World Class committees that leave me with no inclination to put my hands together.

    The British Equestrian Federation publicity talks about “innovative and exciting plans going forward to Tokyo”. But if there was a vote on chief executive Clare Salmon’s leadership — or lack of, it’d likely be one of no confidence. The strength of feeling is gathering pace this summer as top professionals ask how to get their voices heard.

    Yes, like politicians, those with thick skins can and do ignore criticism and carry on regardless. Perhaps they hope that others with busier lives will give up and go away? But our sport will so regret it if we lose the medal momentum built up over the past two Olympics.

    If our leadership needs specifics: how long before Emile Faurie is put on to World Class? He should have been there last year. Emile’s my bet for our senior European team, plus Carl Hester, Spencer Wilton, Lara Butler, and Gareth Hughes is in the mix too after a good streak.

    Lara is of course performance manager Caroline Griffith’s daughter. How this particular relationship is perceived in this country and abroad is beyond words. It’s downright wrong. But then shouldn’t leadership come from the top?

    Home comforts

    Changes in training methods from home trainer to squad training can be so confusing. It’s become a real problem for the under-21s; in their case in particular, home trainers must be listened to.

    Once upon a time, I trained a partnership to Olympic qualification at grand prix.

    It was then suggested to the rider that they should move to a “top trainer” to be sure of “getting there”.

    Well, folks, that pair’s best was never seen again and the marks were never as high. I was not pleased or smug, but bitterly disappointed for them both.

    Not even a renowned international trainer knows a partnership like the home trainer, so a “working-together” scenario should never be ruled out. A young rider eventing team hopeful has just proved the point by returning from squad training needing “mend and repair”.

    Golden opportunities?

    My horse Abira has won three national championship titles and has 20-odd junior, young riders, small tour and now para international competitions to his name. Wow, what a horse…

    And now he’s selected for the para Europeans with Suzanna Hext. Yet he can do novice gold classes. Is this okay? I suppose if a gold medallist can do novice gold, so can my horse. But heaven help the others in the same competition as those two!

    Accessibility to everyone — even champions — is essential. But some competitions need protecting. And the clue’s in the name: novice.

    Meanwhile, please be careful, judges. My friend in the north was telling me about a Welsh cob whose rider got a judge’s comment that “more length of rein” was needed. “But he hasn’t got any more neck,” was the helpless response.

    A last hurrah

    I’ve been in intensive training — wondering when to stretch my horse down or when to get him up and light and in front of me without going hollow. And I’m constantly trying to get fitter.

    Feeling like Frank Sinatra on a final comeback and with a body racked with arthritis, I headed for Hartpury Festival of Dressage for one last grand prix ride.

    My result was some nice judges’ comments, a rosette and not coming last. I loved it! And at least I’m not all talk and no action — just yet.