Graham Fletcher: ‘In short, we need to do better’

THERE are times when I’ve watched our sport lately and thought surely the standard can’t get any higher. At the Olympics we were treated to some of the best showjumping ever seen; the recent European Showjumping Championships were in the same vein. The courses designed in Tokyo by Santiago Varela and at Riesenbeck for the […]

Graham Fletcher: ‘In short, we need to do better’
Graham Fletcher, H&H showjumping columnist

THERE are times when I’ve watched our sport lately and thought surely the standard can’t get any higher. At the Olympics we were treated to some of the
best showjumping ever seen; the recent European Showjumping Championships were in the same vein.

The courses designed in Tokyo by Santiago Varela and at Riesenbeck for the Europeans by the ever-reliable Frank Rothenberger were simply phenomenal. The way these two set rider problems without going too gutsy and brutal is an art in itself.

Take the first day’s speed course at the Europeans. The penultimate fence was a double of oxers; and although they weren’t too big, it was amazing how many faults were accumulated there. And that was because the previous two jumps were verticals on a short four strides.

When they’d got that far round the course and were clear, riders were starting to think “stay cool, take it easy” when in fact the opposite was needed – a change of gear to generate the power to jump the oxers.

There was unanimous agreement about how fantastic the facilities were at Riesenbeck, the complex where Ludger Beerbaum is based. The stables, the warm-up, the grass arena all epitomised German efficiency at its very best.

And to think it was a rider and his team who put this all together… I can only look on with awe and total respect.

For the Brits, it was a disappointing result with only one clear from 12 rounds. We need to do better than that.

The clear was jumped by Emily Moffitt whose horse Winning Good improved every day. Their clear in the second round of the team competition was a particularly good one. I’m sure there’s a lot more to come from this partnership.

And that’s what we need, more big-jumping partnerships. We can’t afford to rest on the laurels of gold medals won at the last two Olympics.

Nick Skelton and Big Star, and Ben Maher with Explosion W, are world-class riders on world-class horses with tremendous support from their owners, without which neither of them would have won gold.

Energy and resources must be put into the sport if we are to keep pace with the rest of the world. We have people in British showjumping who are real enthusiasts; like former chairman of selectors David Rogers and British Showjumping chairman Charles Britton. They need a progressive working committee behind them to put forward ideas about how we can improve our standards nationally.

There’s never been a better time to do this because the cost of travelling abroad has now become substantially more.

Well done to the British centres like Chard, Wellington and Keysoe that have put on two-star international shows for the first time this year. Fortunately, their entries have been really good and hopefully they will run again in 2022.

But to make a tangible difference in standards, we need more three- and four-star shows. Nina Barbour has done a terrific job with Liverpool and Bolesworth over the past few seasons – but we need others.

To highlight the gulf between us and Europe, France opened its season in May and has since had eight five-star shows, nine three- and four-stars, and 22 two-stars. Belgium has had two five-star shows, nine three- and four-star shows, and 23 two-stars. It’s a similar pattern in the Netherlands and Germany.

By contrast, the UK has so far had six two-stars, one three-star and two five-stars, one at Royal Windsor plus the Global Champions Tour in London.

That’s why every effort should be made to support shows on British soil that are willing and able to upgrade to three- and four-star – and why our federation needs to get wholeheartedly behind them.

  • Do you agree with Graham on the way forward for showjumping in Britain? Let us know your views at hhletters@futurenet.com
  • This exclusive column can also be read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 16 September

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