William Funnell: Where are our riders for future Olympic Games? *VIP*

  • I recently had a horse based with a rider in the Netherlands. When the bill arrived, I couldn’t work out why the show expenses were half what they are in the UK. I was talking to the owner of a Dutch show centre, who said that their federation has an option that if entry fees are less than €12.50 (£10.50), you don’t have to give prize-money.

    If more than 200 horses jump in a day, and he’s in profit, then he chooses to give prize-money to the first five. He says more often than not, 500 jump in a day — so the system works.

    From a producer’s view, when you’re jumping 20 horses, it makes a big difference to pay £10 rather than £25 a class. If a horse is under eight years old or in between international shows then I’m usually only jumping them for training. A couple of times a year I might want to educate a horse to up the tempo, but mostly I’m not interested in ragging it round because there’s £150 at stake.

    These days, if you are producing a horse to sell or for top-level grand prix, people are looking to see if it goes correctly, in balance and with its changes, not chasing winnings.

    Having spoken to UK show centres, many still think prize money encourages entries but they are also keen to provide producers with what they want. Addington’s Tim Price came up with a suggestion that we could nominate on entry whether we want our horse to be eligible for prize money. It would be a good way of gauging interest in the system.

    An experienced oufit

    So we now know which riders are going to Rio following Tuesday’s (5 July) announcement. Looking at the team selection — Nick Skelton, John Whitaker, Michael Whitaker and Ben Maher — you might ask where the younger riders are. But when it comes down to it, experience in a championship counts — especially under the unique Olympic pressure.

    John, Nick and Michael have been together for numerous championships and their experience will pay dividends. It’s Ben’s third Olympics and he can also perform under pressure. He has built up a good partnership with Tic Tac, who should be a useful new championship horse for him.

    It’s great to have Nick back and if Big Star gets back to top form, he’s a banker. As the only surviving partnership from London 2012, it’s a big blow they couldn’t be joined by Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos. But, as the horse hasn’t jumped in a long time, it’s no surprise.

    I think John believed Ornellaia was a little short of experience, but with the form she’s shown recently, there’s no doubt they should be going. Michael’s ride Cassionato has shown he has brilliance. Sometimes he can be a bit awkward, but this year he’s kept improving. He’s capable of jumping two clears.

    Travelling reserve Jess Mendoza (Spirit T) did a good job getting us to the Olympics during the European Championships last summer. Joe Clee was unlucky to have two uncharacteristically bad rounds at the final trial in Rotterdam and therefore missed out on a team place. I feel for him — but you can only go on the last rounds.

    It’s a shame not to see any younger riders included — where are the next people with Olympic experience coming from? But this year it wasn’t to be. Looking at current form, there’s no argument.