Rob Hoekstra: ‘Step up and respect the team’ [H&H VIP]

  • I would like to respond to recent criticism of my team selection.

    First, we should apologise to the public for our performance at Hickstead. I don’t think it was the wrong team, but we didn’t perform on the day.

    Because of the huge shortage of horses we have this year, contesting Hickstead, Dublin, the London GCT, and then the World Equestrian Games (WEG) two weeks later is a big ask. Eleven of the 16 horses we used in teams last year have not been available this season, either through sale or injury. But as a result of participating in all the non-counting Nations Cups, we’ve been able to produce some extra horses and some of those now go to WEG.

    We have a riders’ meeting at Olympia to discuss which Nations Cup shows we’re going to do the following year. It’s a joint decision. We then participate in an FEI draw and hope to get the four rounds of our choice. Hickstead is compulsory and Dublin, which is our most successful Nations Cup in history, has always been chosen.

    When I plan a team over a year, I look at my possible championship horses and work back from there. I sit down with the riders in question and we look at the GCTs that they want to do and the Nations Cups that I would like them to do. Then we make a plan for each of the horses.

    The basis of a strong Hickstead team was originally going to be Nick Skelton and Big Star, Ben Maher with Urico, Scott Brash and Ursula plus one other — so if someone new came forward there would be a place available. The Dublin squad was going to be Cella, Hello Sanctos plus two others. Of course it’s fluid because there are injuries, horses losing form, horses being sold or a new horse that suddenly comes into the picture, but I try to give riders an idea of where they’re going, so they can plan their campaign.

    Sadly Urico was injured in La Baule, Ursula has had a niggling injury since the World Cup final, and even before Big Star was injured in Portugal, Nick had withdrawn him from the Hickstead team because he wanted to aim for the King’s Cup and WEG. Michael Whitaker was not available for either Hickstead or Dublin.

    As a result, I had to rebuild my Hickstead team. I asked Will Funnell to be part of it but he felt his horse was not ready and I have to respect that. I wanted to give every horse on the WEG longlist an opportunity to jump at either Hickstead or Dublin — but not both. So I chose horses for Hickstead that had some experience there.

    Why it came down to Dublin

    WEG and Olympic qualification was the priority. The second target was to keep us in division one of the Nations Cup and the third to qualify for the final. However, the format dictates that if you choose the last two shows as point-scoring rounds, as we have done for the past few years, you’ll always end up close to the bottom of the leader board before Hickstead. We finished sixth out of 10 strong teams and qualified for the final, so it’s not a train smash.

    The British team is there because of the generosity of our owners. We are allowed to borrow these horses for the honour of the country, not for financial gain, so we must manage them carefully in order to keep their support. To take our top horses to Hickstead and then straight to Dublin is not the way to do this.

    The generation gap

    We currently have two generations of riders in our country and it has been the youngerset that has kept us in division one this year. The older generation have been critical but, except for Michael, have not had the five-star results. The message is always: “Step up, do your talking in the ring, support and respect the team.”

    Because the younger generation are pulling their weight, they’re enthusiastic and we have great team spirit.

    I accept that there are a lot of people who could make better decisions than me, especially with hindsight, but, fingers crossed, we have a very exciting team for WEG. It’s easy to point the finger, and I will take some of the blame, but people also need to look to themselves.

    To quote a man hugely more talented than myself: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same… you’ll be a Man, my son.”

    Rob Hoekstra’s guest column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (21 August, 2014)