Robert Smith: Course builders can ruin a show *H&H VIP*

  • The National Championships at Stoneleigh is a good concept and I had a great show, picking up a win with my seven-year-old Ilton VD Spithoeve in the gentlemen’s final.

    It’s difficult running an event for the first time, and while I don’t want to be too harsh on the organisers, the show did leave a bit to be desired.

    I was travelling in each day and it was a long way down to the arenas. You expect teething troubles but there should be enough experienced people behind the show to know what’s expected. If you make it too difficult for competitors and grooms, they won’t come back. The atmosphere in the main arena was a bit sterile too, and could have done with more noise and razzmatazz.

    One of the main issues for me was the course-building, which in two or three classes wasn’t ideal, with distances that weren’t great. Course-builders are under pressure to produce a result, but there is a fine balance to be struck. If you have a course-builder who’s not up to scratch, who has his own ideas and won’t listen, he can ruin a show. A course should be built cleverly to catch you all over the place — not just with a big combination or a sly distance.

    Course-building is a problem on the national circuit in newcomers and Foxhunter second rounds. At one show the Foxhunter will be 1.20m, at another it will be pushing 1.40m — you’ve got to restrict course-builders to heights. In Europe, where there are age and height classes, they don’t deviate.

    We ask a lot of our young horses in terms of what they are expected to jump, and I agree with William Funnell that the UK system should have been switched to age and height classes years ago.

    The six-year-olds who can win a Foxhunter second round can do it because they have been campaigned around the circuit since they were four. By the time they’re eight or nine years old, they should be ready to get on with it, but how much has been taken out of them in the early stages? When you’re making horses it has to be consistent, and you’re better keeping the tracks under height than over. A good course-builder will understand that.

    Mission accomplished

    I watched some of the European Championships at Aachen; it was vital that we made it through to Rio and great news that we qualified. A medal would have been nice, but the team fulfilled the main aim.

    There were some surprises in the line-up: I was startled not to see Guy Williams, and thought it brave of Di Lampard to take a risk on Jessica Mendoza. She’s shown some form this season but is not a proven big-track Aachen jumper.

    Scott Brash’s decision not to put any of his horses forward for selection didn’t seem a good move. You’d assume that if someone doesn’t want to help in qualifying for the Olympics then they are not interested in going themselves — you can’t cherry pick. You might be in a privileged position with horses at one stage, but you can be sure in showjumping that fortunes will change.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 3 September 2015