William Funnell: Showjumping has some work to do *H&H VIP*

  • Scott Brash having won the Rolex Grand Slam of showjumping but not being nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year has been a hot topic. Does it say something about showjumping’s popularity when the world number one rider doesn’t get a look-in?

    Scott is an Olympic gold medallist and consistently at the top of the FEI rankings, so you have to ask if we have made enough of him, and his potential to promote our sport.

    When my wife Pippa won Rolex’s Grand Slam of eventing in 2003, she was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year. I know my wife is much better looking than Scott, but it still shows that showjumping has some work to do.

    Scott is more of a household name in Europe than he is in Britain, and to a large extent that is down to us not getting through to the general public. Showjumping has dropped out of the mainstream, apart from a few selected days on national TV.

    There was a full-page article on Scott in The Telegraph last week discussing his lack of a nomination. While it was great to see showjumping receiving coverage, it was a shame it had to be on the back of a negative.

    Crucial county shows

    To promote the sport we need to keep pushing the standard of our national circuit, and at the forefront of this are the county shows.

    They are the only occasions when riders are viewed as main-ring entertainment and aren’t paying for their sport. Normally, entry fees add up to more than the prize money — it’s the only way show centres can survive.

    The county shows bring showjumping to people who have not specifically turned out to watch it — at the Great Yorkshire, there must be 5,000 people watching the Cock o’the North.

    Between British Showjumping and the riders club — which has just been reformed — we should be doing something to put more value on these county shows to stop standards from slipping.

    We have the advantage of some great commentators and that’s a vital tool for selling the sport. It’s important that they get used on the county circuit and that everything possible is done to make the competition entertaining for the crowds and valuable for the riders.

    In Britain, we’ve made huge strides with our international shows. Three or four years ago we were moaning that there were only three international shows in the UK and now there are 14. Encouraging top-class showjumping and giving riders the opportunity to gain rankings points must be good for the sport. Shows such as Nina Barbour’s new Liverpool four-star next month are a step in the right direction (interview, p22, 17 December).

    I went to Keysoe CSI2* last month, where organiser Simon Bates put on a good event. It’s great for competitors to finish at 6pm, rather than 11pm, but it’s a shame we couldn’t get more of the general public involved. To attract a gala audience, you need to jump in the evening.

    There’s always a balance that needs to be struck. How far does a show earn money from entry fees and how far from bums on seats? It’s difficult to do both when even for us hardened fanatics it’s a challenge to sit down and watch 60 riders in a 2 1⁄2-hour grand prix and stay interested.

    Big money, big promise

    It was exciting to see another showjumper make big money in the sales ring last week.

    A six-year-old by Stakkatol out of a Chacco Blue mare sold for €1.7m (just over £1.2m) at Paul Schockemöhle’s PSI auction.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 17 December 2015