William Funnell: UK system is killing standards *H&H VIP*

  • The rankings system in the UK needs to change. If you aspire to compete at the top international shows, you’re forced to go abroad and it’s killing standards.

    Our national classes are getting smaller and the gap between the top 10 British riders and everyone else is getting larger. Classes at national shows are getting faster and faster and it isn’t educating horses to do Nations Cups and grands prix.

    Ten years ago — when we had a joint rankings list that included both national and international results — I had a year of mostly competing younger horses on the county circuit and at national shows. I still accrued enough points to stay in the top 10.

    Now, show centres won’t put on 1.50m classes because they don’t get the entries. Riders don’t want to jump 1.50m if they can’t get rankings points and can’t move up the system. Charles Britton told me that South View would love to host larger grands prix but they struggle to find support for anything above 1.30m.

    To get into the top shows, you have to be in the top 15 or 20 riders. As British Showjumping (BS) now uses the FEI rankings, it has forced everybody to go on tours. It’s expensive, but at a two-star show you have the chance to jump two rankings classes in a weekend and climb up the list.

    Owners want to be at Olympia, the Royal International, Bolesworth or Royal Windsor, so rankings points are the priority. It’s damaging the national circuit.

    We need to go back to a joint list. I can understand why BS got rid of the joint rankings — from an administrative point of view it’s far easier for them to just copy the FEI standings.

    There’s no real reason BS couldn’t talk to international shows and ask them to accept a joint national list — Belgium has retained theirs. The shows are keen to encourage opportunity and all they really want is a well-balanced list from which to work.

    The power of tours

    In the south of England we’ve lost several venues. In the London area, it’s been a disaster losing Patchetts. The closest centres running indoor shows are now Crofton and Addington. Maybe the government could offer assistance with rates to encourage more centres off the ground. Although Hickstead is busy as a summer venue, it would be great if the Bunns could build an indoor arena — perhaps we could have our own tour, where riders compete at one venue for several consecutive weeks.

    The bigger show centres are well supported, but entries do suffer come January. Tours offer the opportunity to start horses earlier in the season with the sun on their backs. If you can start practising in early spring in 20 degrees, why wouldn’t you? While the autumn tours are a more recent development, those in the spring are well established. So far this year, 191 of our riders have competed on the 12 tours between February and October. It will always be difficult for centres here to compete with that.

    I am currently in Spain for three weeks. As a breeder and producer, tours bring in a different clientele for me and I’ve already sold a couple of horses. They are good for business and for training — you’re in the same place as your students, there’s a clear round ring and you can put time into them.

    With the eventing season finished, it’s also one of the few occasions when Pippa and I can train and compete together, so we do get some husband and wife time even if we’re working.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 12 November 2015