William Funnell: Who’ll give Ben and Scott a run for their money this year? [H&H VIP]

  • One thing British showjumping has lacked in recent years is strength in depth. But recent grand prix results around the world have shown that things are definitely on the up.

    On the Sunshine Tour alone, we’ve had several podium placings — and a lot are coming from a swelling group of younger riders. Even though none of them are in the top world rankings, you can see the talent coming through.

    It’s particularly good to see recent grand prix victor William Whitaker among them. He had to take a step back after he left Michael Whitaker’s yard, but he’s started to get one or two nice horses. With a bit of backing, he could be up there with Ben Maher and Scott Brash.

    It doesn’t matter how well you ride, you still need good horses to win grands prix. We’ve always moaned that it’s success we’ve needed to attract good owners. Hopefully on the back of Great Britain’s recent triumphs, we can maintain the support we’ve had from owners — and add new ones.

    Bringing the sport home…

    Having several new high-profile international shows in Britain this year is another way to keep owners interested.

    People ask why we can’t attract the top international riders to Great Britain. Well, if you provide a five-star fixture and good money, they’ll come. But if it’s a choice between a
    three-star in Belgium or France and one here, then obviously they’re going to avoid the boat ride.

    I’ve always thought Royal Windsor was a sleeping giant — we’ve never really made as much of the venue as we could. Hopefully, its new three-star status will earn the support it needs from riders and crowds.

    Bolesworth organiser Nina Barbour has a three-year vision in which she hopes to take the show to five-star level and I really hope it works. But it’s also great to see one of our mainstay events, Hickstead, attracting a new title sponsor for the Derby.

    Five-star shows — including the Global Champions Tours and Nations Cups — are really
    something to aspire to. So wouldn’t it be great to have owners keen to help our young riders reach the top 30 in the rankings so they can contest these shows, both at home
    and abroad?

    …and taking it overseas

    Rob Hoekstra tells me that, as reigning Olympic and European champions, we’ve been invited to compete in all eight of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup top league
    competitions this year — not just the four at which we bid for points.

    This means that, as well as playing about with his top players and World Equestrian Games contenders, Rob can test new names, without the pressure of chasing points — although we still like to win!

    There are a lot of capable riders out there and this competition from young talent is healthy for me and the other senior team members. We’re still on a high from recent championship successes, but we need to qualify for the Olympics and it’s a lot easier to do it at this year’s WEG rather than leaving it till next year’s Europeans, when it becomes a bit of a lottery.

    Last year, we didn’t have Nick Skelton and Big Star, so if you put him back in the equation, plus a few new names, as well as returning riders such as Tim Gredley — who
    proved his credentials with a double clear in the recent Nations Cup in Florida — it’s a very exciting time.

    Have bed, will travel

    Sunday nights are party nights on the Spanish Sunshine Tour and, because my staff work so hard, I’m happy to let them join in the fun — as long as they’re ready and able to
    work again the following morning.

    With this in mind, my new lad Luke, on his first trip abroad, found himself in a bit of a dilemma after a particularly late one last week. Being the conscientious worker he is, he didn’t want to risk being late for work so he decided to go straight to the stables, filled a
    wheelbarrow with rugs and fell fast asleep in this makeshift bed. Of course, he was still snoring when everyone turned up the next morning and the resulting photos were shared all over social media.

    Within hours, I had Luke’s concerned mother on the phone asking whether the accommodation I’d arranged for her son was really up to standard…

    William’s comment was first published in Horse & Hound (20 March, 2014)