William Funnell: A whopping new show and rules gone mad *H&H VIP*

  • We haven’t been able to sell showjumping to an audience in the way that Nina Barbour and her team succeeded in doing at the new Liverpool International show since Olympia was introduced.

    I have spent a long time questioning how we can get the sport across to a new crowd and the show introduced some great ideas for promoting showjumping as the main event.

    It opened with the Bootleg Beatles, which was a fantastic start, and the format of two sessions a day — each featuring both novelty and world rankings classes — gave the organisers plenty to market.

    A show needs to be innovative and brave to sell showjumping on its own merits, and there was a lot that worked. Having a maximum class size of around 30 riders might have reduced the takings from entry fees but it kept the classes short enough to maintain the crowd’s interest.

    Twenty-six thousand watched the show live, with another 500 in the owners’ and hospitality areas — about 50% of whom weren’t horsey.

    Geoff Billington and Nick Brooks-Ward worked fantastically well together in the ring. Geoff reached new maturity as a commentator — he was able to get the riders to open up and interact. Alongside the podium format for the prize-givings, it really helped the riders’ personalities to come across to the crowd.

    This was all aided by Liverpool’s use of a big screen, from which perhaps even Olympia could learn. With course-walks and interviews, there was never a moment when the audience felt nothing was happening. Some horses might have been distracted, but to sell the sport we need to get used to it.

    If you buy a ticket to watch showjumping, it needs to be this dynamic. If we can learn from this, hopefully we can take our sport to another level.

    ‘Rules gone mad’

    At such a great show, how unfortunate it was to see the accident with Cameron Hanley’s horse, Antello Z. Sebastian Garner [who was in charge of the horse ambulance] and the team must be congratulated for dealing with it swiftly and efficiently. Everything was in place and the best things were done for both the welfare of the horse and the crowd.

    It was also disappointing to see Richard Howley’s disqualification for walking his horse in a non-designated area. Plainly, he wasn’t trying to cheat. If the stables were closed, why was he allowed out? Surely he could have been anybody and could have been stealing the horse. It’s rules gone mad.

    The FEI need to take a long, hard look at what we’re trying to sell — with Bertram Allen’s disqualification at Olympia being another case in point. To have someone win a grand prix and then to turn round and say they are eliminated is ridiculous. Everyone saw him in the ring, he rode a class round and clearly did nothing to harm his horse. If I had been in the crowd, I would have left with a sour taste in my mouth not understanding what had happened.

    If a horse has blood on its flanks before it enters the ring then that is the time for the stewards to raise it. The round is under the scrutiny of the judges and if they see abuse, they can pull a rider up for it.

    The news that Cian O’Connor’s appeal was overturned was a further blow for Ireland. It is a big shame not to have them represented as a team in Rio when their form has been so strong. The rules of Olympic qualification are something else that needs review.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 January 2016