William Funnell: The system is wrecking our young horses *H&H VIP*

  • A good friend of mine from the Netherlands came and competed with me for three weeks, and we went to Addington’s summer classic for the newcomers and Foxhunter second rounds. I had to explain what a regional final was — the system is a mystery for foreigners.

    We wonder why we produce so few grand prix horses in Britain when, compared to the rest of the world, our competition structure is archaic. We jump amateurs against professionals in these classes, and young horses against older horses. It doesn’t suit anybody.

    At Addington, there were 120 entries in the newcomers second round; the top 23 horses who were placed were between six and 10-years-old. In the Foxhunter second round, they were aged between seven and 11.

    People would be better off jumping a six-year-old against a six-year-old and having a clearer idea of the questions they should be asking, rather than chasing classes that muddle our goals. The second rounds make a mockery of what we are trying to produce.

    This year, there is a six-year-old qualified for newcomers, Foxhunter and the grade C — but people shouldn’t be encouraged to jump that much. They’d be better off doing more flatwork training at home and fewer shows, so when the horses need to jump 1.40m and 1.50m consistently, they are equipped to do so.

    ‘Frustrating for amateurs’

    The same small group of people are producing the good horses all the time, because the system is encouraging people to wreck our young horses. It’s also frustrating for amateurs when only the professionals are able to go fast enough to pick up a qualifying spot.

    I jumped the second rounds at Addington because I will be going there for the young horse championships — my aim with our young horses. At a young horse show, the fences get bigger in the run-up to the final and the good horses will improve each day, so the cream rises to the top.

    At the young horse championships at Addington over the past 10 years, among the winners are Intertoy Z, Billy Congo, Argento and Bintang II, all of whom have gone on to represent our country in Nations Cups and championships.

    If you look at the past 10 years of the Foxhunter final, only Bruce Menzies’ ride Sultan V and Philip Spivey’s winner Romanov have been good horses. Apart from those, you would struggle to find too many five-star grand prix horses out of the Foxhunter winners. It speaks volumes about the system and what you are asking those horses to do.

    The only way to adjust our system is to start again with height, age and amateur classes — with everyone having a final at the Horse of the Year Show.

    The first Foxhunter winner was in 1954. Since then, showjumping has changed, but the system hasn’t. I’ve won the Foxhunter final three times and produced grand prix horses.

    Winning the Foxhunter remains one of my proudest achievements. While I agree that we don’t want to lose that history, surely it would be better to lose the name and improve the system?

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 20 August 2015