William Funnell: Riders, unite [H&H VIP]

  • There have been a lot of positives at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) this year — great atmosphere and good classes, particularly the Foxhunter again. And how refreshing it is to have some new faces at HOYS this year. It proves that the new national points system has worked in that riders like Kerry Brennan have come off that list and been given the opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have had to compete in the international classes — and she’s gone very well. The bronze and silver league amateur championships also worked well.

    But it has also highlighted that many people just don’t understand the points leagues. We’re still tweaking an old system and seem to have ended up with half measures of both. I’ve documented before that we’re the only country that doesn’t have a system of amateur, age and height classes, so everyone has their category.

    Nobody knows whether their horses are grade C, B or A — and does it really matter what they are anymore? Not really. A horse can be grade A and never jump higher than 1.25m. The height a horse jumps double clears in is far more appropriate once they’re out of age classes.

    There has been a lot of moaning about the change but at least they’ve tried to be constructive by bringing in these points leagues. However, by implementing them on to an old system it’s turned into a mish-mash of the two instead of moving forward.

    Wouldn’t it have been great if, when British Showjumping moved offices recently, someone was brave enough or had the backing to tear up the pages, ditch the computer systems and start afresh on the Monday morning.

    It’s crunch time

    Going forward from an international perspective, it’s time for owners and riders to pull together. It happened post-London Olympics but recent events have proved the sport is in a real dilemma and we have to do something to encourage owners to buy horses and keep them in this country. Some have been encouraged while others have been forgotten — there are more than two people on the British team.

    As has been well documented in the pages of H&H, there’s plenty of discontent at the moment, which doesn’t help the environment. But it all comes down to the riders. We’ve either got to back the current system or everyone must pull together and find a way forward.

    The Olympics is always the big goal and if we don’t act now and ensure we have a good team of horses in place and find some unity as riders to help Great Britain retain Olympic gold, it will be too late.

    Coming in to 2012 there was a healthy fight for team places and that’s what we need to regain.

    Looking ahead

    If there is a positive to come out of 2014, it is that we’ve discovered riders like Spencer Roe who have proved invaluable to the squad.

    His family could have sold that horse several times over but they’ve kept it and tried to live the dream, and fair play to them. But these success stories don’t just happen — we need a better system to keep these horses coming through and people in this country fighting to hold on to them.

    We also need to reward excellence in the right way — and that’s producing a horse to jump double clears in Nations Cups, not one that can race round as many 1.30m and 1.40m tracks as possible.

    So it’s time for riders to choose — either accept what we have or change it. We need direction and we need it now, or we’ll end up right back where we were pre-2012.

    This column was originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 16 October, 2014