Graham Fletcher: ‘Who is making the rules?’ *H&H VIP*

  • I recently said how British teams have relied on John and Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton for decades.

    Could those three musketeers go into battle together once more at the Rio Olympics? The way they’re all riding, don’t bet against it.

    Last year, I highlighted that it was a negative move by British Showjumping (BS) to abandon the national rankings list. It had served us well for years as riders and was online for people to view.

    BS should consult those involved on how the replacement of the list with the gold league has worked. Then they will realise that they’ve all come to the same conclusion as me — it’s confusing and counts for nothing.

    The Foxhunter was once a proud novice championship that all riders loved to win.

    But now, thanks to its qualification system — whereby horses no longer need to qualify and compete at the final in the same year — the Foxhunter has become nonsensical. A rider can hold over their horse’s qualification to the following year, meaning some horses come back with a year’s more experience under their belt.

    As top international course-designer Bob Ellis remarked to me last week, the first round of the Foxhunter final at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) has had to be raised from 1.40m to 1.45m as so many were going clear.

    Most producers no longer compete their careful six-year-olds at Foxhunter regionals. They keep them back for the following year, which, under the current qualification system, they’re perfectly entitled to do.

    And what about people coming into the sport? What message is BS sending out to them about the Foxhunter — a competition to which they should all aspire?

    Jump your four double clears over 1.20m and you get a letter notifying you of qualification for your regional — all good so far. But competitors aren’t told that if they do make it to the third and last round at a regional, they could be asked to jump 1.50m against the clock. This is the maximum height allowed and course-builders now have to build final rounds up to height, to prevent so many clears.

    With only the first two going through to HOYS, you can’t afford to ride just for a lower placing if you want to qualify. If tickets were on offer to, say, the first four, you could employ different tactics. But with just two slots — plus some more experienced horses in the mix — it’s a case of all or nothing.

    Priests and prayer books

    Horses should be brought on gradually. Taking them out of their comfort zone to jump a big track at speed puts their confidence back.

    BS employs stipendiary stewards to police the Foxhunter regionals. All I can say is, having watched some of the rounds, it’s a good job we now have collapsible cups — or they’d need to employ a priest with a prayer book too!

    Even if BS altered the eligibility slightly so that Foxhunter horses had to jump two of their four double clears in the same year as their regionals, then a more genuine novice competition would be restored again.

    In the old days, it was obvious who was making our national sport’s rules. If BS thinks I’ve got it wrong, I’d invite them to do an interview with me. Or email me at enquiries@grahamfletcher.com or send your thoughts to hhletters@timeinc.com for H&H to publish.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 16 June 2016