Let’s Make Britain Great Again

By: Horse Deals

Let’s Make Britain Great Again
Part-owner Phil Vickery with Raging Bull Vangelis S: we need owners who are prepared to turn down big offers

Olympic show jumper and Horse Deals columnist Robert Smith reflects on the ongoing relegation debacle and says we’ve got to act now to put our team back on the map

So, are we in or out? The jury’s still out while the legal wrangles drag on, but it shouldn’t be. The FEI said they only wanted 10 teams and they’ve got it, so what’s the problem? The Belgians say they don’t want to go as they haven’t got sufficient riders for the Super League and World Games, so in my opinion, we should still be in.

Our lot are fighting the decision and I hope they’ve got the stomach to see it through — if not, it’s a big mistake! The FEI seem to make up the rules as they go along, so it’s very hard to know exactly where we stand because of their flaky changes of mind. After Dublin, they should have had the foresight to either make us jump off or go to Barcelona, but they did neither, so I can’t see how they’ve got the grounds to throw us out.

Of course it’s left the riders feeling frustrated, but this is sport and that’s what happens. The greatest teams and players all lose games — end of story, get over it!

You’re only as good as your last round. You can’t go on being pompous and whingeing about it, you’ve got to stop and figure out what’s going on and what’s gone wrong, it’s as simple as that.
No, it’s not going to be an easy fix. At the moment our hierarchy has too much of their own self interest at heart rather than looking out for the good of the sport. It’s time the BSJA stood up and faced facts.

The biggest stumbling block is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone looking at the bigger picture. Everything appears to be measured on a short-term basis, so we’re not playing the long game.

From a personal point of view I learned a long time ago that you have to rise above all the politics. At the end of the day I don’t care, if Derek Ricketts is in charge next year, I’ll just go and do my own thing!

There’s been a bit of fuss in the equestrian press about riders and owners speaking out, but in my opinion that’s a load of nonsense and nothing to do with what’s really happening. The difference in say Germany and Holland is that they have great riders and horses, and as a nation want them to stick around.

Our problem is that we haven’t had a good enough leader. Where would we have been without Churchill? I know I’ve said it before, but Holland has Rob Ehrens, who’s superb. He’s been there and done it, but he doesn’t ride himself any more and he doesn’t make a living from selling horses or training people, so he has a healthy overview.

Riders shouldn’t be selectors. You need someone with an impartial view and like any other top sport; it needs to be one person rather than a committee.

One thing people have been asking is should every Nations Cup team include a less experienced member to give them the experience?

Well, if you can afford it and you’ve got a very good young rider with a very good horse, then yes, but not just because it’s part of the World Class Performance plan.

We should be more ruthless and stick to our guns. If a top rider isn’t getting the results or doesn’t have a top horse, then they should be competing in B teams’ Nations Cup until the results start coming through again. Sport at top level is harsh, that’s the reality.

The concept of the World Class programme is good but it shouldn’t be calling the shots in actual show jumping matters. The BSJA has to get the balance right otherwise it is an expensive trade off.
Unfortunately, Britain is no longer seen as a real threat by other nations. In fact, we haven’t been for a long time. The problem is that we seem to rely on our past glory but the fact is that although we’ve got some great riders, we simply don’t have enough great combinations.

BSJA chief executive Di Cornish does a superb job, but she can only do so much and she’s only had two years to play catch up.

It sounds strange, but our reliance on having a good horse is similar to Formula One motor racing. It took Jensen Button 10 years to come from nowhere, then he gets a great car and suddenly he’s there at the top and delivers.

Although no one seems prepared to say this, it’s all down to money and you can’t do it on the cheap. How many owners would turn down the offer of £250,000 upwards for a horse? Not many! But that’s the depth of stability you need to stay in the Super League. Unfortunately it’s been like that for the past few years and I don’t see it changing in the present climate.

It’s the same for show jumping. Unless you’ve got real horsepower, you’re in danger of bobbing along as an amateur country. It’s not good enough to be "fairly good" — that’s soppy nonsense! We had the worst European Championship result — it was embarrassing — but no one seems to be tackling it, even though there’s the Olympics looming.

On a lighter note, I’m looking forward to competing at Olympia again. It’s the best show and I love it because it embodies everything great about show jumping. You have fantastic crowds, a packed house and a great atmosphere. There’s no other show like it in Europe and I would even go as far as to say it’s the best indoor show in the world!

Last year was a bit disappointing because it didn’t attract the best riders or horses from Europe, principally because the prize-money wasn’t high enough. I hope that’s not a sign of things to come, because Olympia’s the perfect way to finish a busy season off before we wind down for the Christmas break. I hope to see you there!

About Robert Smith

Yorkshireman Robert Smith’s career has spanned more than three decades. He has jumped on Nations Cup teams on more than 80 occasions and represented Britain as an individual in the Athens 2004 Olympics, where he finished fourth.
In 2006, he was a judge for the BBC’s Only Fools on Horses reality programme for Sport Relief. A father of four, he is based at Brook Furlong Farm in Shrewley, Warwickshire, with his partner Shelley Redbart, where he has 20 to 25 horses in training.
His latest venture is an online training initiative on www.robertsmith.co.uk

Pictures by Kit Houghton/ FEI, www.robertsmith.co.uk and Horse Deals