William Funnell: UK needs a shop window *H&H VIP*

  • There are many reasons for the mass exodus to Europe for the showjumping tours — the better courses and the one thing we’ll never be able to improve on, the sunshine. But the simple fact is, for producers, there will never be a better shop window for your horses. If you’re looking for a seven-year-old, there are 150 to pick from — a nice horse will have a queue of people waiting outside the ring to buy it. One rider sold a horse to Qatar through the buyer seeing it on the livestream.

    So how can we create an attractive window display on home soil? Change is never easy and, as an island cut off from the rest of Europe — not least with the change that Brexit will bring — it’s not just a case of following what’s happening on the Continent, we need to do things better.

    Thirty years ago, we were streets ahead of the rest of the world and if you were winning on our national circuit you could head straight to Aachen and win there, without having to get yourself up to speed in Europe. We had major sponsors like Sanyo and Everest — companies who thought showjumping was a great advertising medium for their products and not just because the owner of the company had an interest in the sport. People came here to source horses and to train, and of course, we had great personalities and extensive media coverage.

    During my 10 years on the executive board at British Showjumping (BS) everyone was looking at how we could generate more income, and the focus was on grassroots with ways of increasing membership at the lower levels. This has been a great success, but, having grown the bottom of the sport, we seem to have pulled the middle and the top down closer and less time has been spent publicising the highest level. We’re lucky to have top riders like Scott Brash and Ben Maher, but the gap below is widening. For professionals to survive all the way through, you need riders coming here to train and to be able to attract clients and the prospective buyers that generate our industry. The professionals are still the ones keeping the sport afloat and yet receive the least help from BS.

    County show appeal

    We do have one string to our bow, however — the county shows could and should be Great Britain’s USP. The county circuit is the one place where the general public can be introduced to our sport. If BS can find suitable sponsors to make the International Stairway and grand prix at county shows part of an international one-day with world ranking points, we will have something that the rest of Europe doesn’t. We can’t guarantee sunshine but we can provide the perfect conditions and facilities to raise the standard and form a shop window to make it easier for professionals to be commercial.

    If we hadn’t had a freak horse and rider winning gold in Rio, the sport would be in a sorry state now. Is Scott Brash a household name? No — people still name Harvey Smith and David Broome. But we’ve developed some brilliant five-star international shows, so let’s worry more about promoting the top end of the sport, because there are an awful lot of professionals thinking a better system could look after them and the sport.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 March 2017