Four of Britain’s top five show jumpers will not be competing at this year’s Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).
Robert Smith, Nick Skelton, John and Michael Whitaker will all be jumping at the five-star Onassis International in Athens instead.
While hefty prize-money has lured the riders to Greece, they say they regret letting down British fans, but ongoing dissatisfaction about conditions for riders at the show also played a part in the decisions.
“There is a €100,000 [£68,300] prize to the winner in one class alone in Athens; the grand prix top prize at HOYS is £7,500, so there’s no contest,” said Robert Smith.
“But HOYS has also left a bit of a sour taste. There are never enough passes [to distribute among owners], nowhere for our families, it just goes on and on. We’ve ended up voting with our feet.”
Nick Skelton backed up Robert’s views.
“There is no contest between the shows in terms of prize-money, but HOYS doesn’t do a lot for the riders — it’s all one way,” he said. “We don’t get treated at HOYS like we do at foreign shows. Yes, there’s showing at HOYS, too, but people do come to see us.”
But Michael and John Whitaker told H&H there was no reason other than the prize-money for their decision to go to Greece.
“I enjoy jumping at HOYS,” said Michael.
With the four off to Athens, Britain’s David McPherson, who went well at the European championships last month, Mark Armstrong, Guy Williams and Geoff Billington will all jump at HOYS. Ellen and Robert Whitaker remain HOYS-bound.
Mark Wein, director of Grandstand, which runs HOYS, denied that the four’s departure would have an impact on the show, and said there was going to be some “fantastic jumping”.
“Unfortunately, you’re not always going to get all the top riders, because they’re always going to be invited to richer shows in Europe,” he said. “It’s happened before and it will happen again.”
Mr Wein said the show continually listens to riders’ requests, now offering them 11 passes each and a dedicated riders’ lounge, away from public glare.
“And prize-money is now topping £100,000 across the show. Riders would rather see increases across all classes than just one class. It allows for a better spread of FEI world ranking points,” he added.
Geoff Billington confirmed that he was looking forward to riding at HOYS.
“The last time I qualified was on a wildcard, two years ago,” said the 2007 Hickstead Derby hero.
To book tickets (tel: 08700 101052).
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (20 September, ’07)