William Funnell: it’s time to move out of the dark ages [H&H VIP]

  • Congratulations to British Showjumping on its new initiative of gold, silver and bronze leagues with new finals at Horse of the Year Show. It’s a great step in the right direction, but only halfway there.

    I’ve won the Foxhunter final 3 times — and it’s one of the most memorable classes I’ve ever won — but I find it embarrassing explaining to foreign riders that our most prestigious young horse class is open to anything aged 5 to 15. It makes a mockery of what we’re trying to do as breeders.

    If we’re to succeed in bringing our young horses to the international market place, we have to up the ante and do as good a job, if not better, as the rest of Europe. We need a better system.

    The current series of young horse classes — newcomers, Foxhunter and grade C — is a mishmash between amateurs and professionals. The only way to split my horse from an amateur’s horse is by how much it’s won, which is silly really. It is trying to cater for everyone, but actually doesn’t suit any of us.

    The argument for this is that amateur riders represent around 70% of the British Showjumping [BS] membership. I’m all for supporting them and the hobby breeder, but not if it’s holding back the whole sport.

    There’s plenty of uproar coming from this sector about BS’s proposed shake-ups to the sport. But having sat on the executive committee for several years, I totally understand how diffi cult it is to change things and please everybody. There are too many people moaning and questioning decisions without being constructive.

    It’s not BS’s job to make sure we all earn a living from the sport. We’re all in business and businesses only survive if they’re good at what they do.

    A shake-up at HOYS

    My solution is to move towards height and age classes for 4- to 7-year-olds. I’m all for keeping our heritage, but the newcomers and Foxhunter titles could equally be applied to an age class, so why are we getting hung up on it?

    As a breeder and producer, you want to see a natural progression but, at the moment, young horses are jumping all these double clears, then up to 4 regional finals, plus there’s grade C qualification and, as it was, you could also do the 6-year-old final. A horse doesn’t need to do 4 finals — it’s too much.

    Just 2 young horse championships at HOYS would be ample — a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old. You’ve then freed up a slot to include 2 separate championships for “amateurs” using the silver and bronze rankings — rather than the handicap championship announced by BS.

    Your 5th championship would be at 1.40m — from the gold rankings — to fill the gap for people who jump at county shows, but will never be high enough up the rankings to qualify for HOYS. And yes, they can still use the wild cards and the Stairway as a way into the international classes.

    That’s where we’re lucky in this country because that 1.40m division at county shows is the natural progression for what an 8-year-old should be doing.

    Continental shows are generally run along the height and age classes — and there’s progression. Early in the year a 5-year-old can jump 1.10m and later they’ll be run at 1.20m. These are finer points that are all possible.

    More emphasis on jumping double clears would also be a natural progression and could result in a nice little series. You could qualify for, say, 4 dedicated young horse finals with the top few from each qualifying for HOYS. Sure, some youngsters will be used for breeding or be a bit behind, but if you’re going to be commercial, they need to be competing against others in their age group.

    It will work for show centres, too — they like regional finals because they get big entries and it’s a good money-spinner, but they’d still be getting the same number of horses trying to qualify for HOYS.

    Let’s give change a chance and support it with our minds open. It’s time we moved out of the dark ages and moved with the rest of them.

    William Funnell’s comment was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (30 January, 2014 edition)