John Whitaker: National riders are missing a trick *H&H VIP*

Opinion

It’s been a while since I’ve followed the county show circuit, but this summer I found myself without a top horse but with a couple of nice up-and-coming new ones, so I decided to educate them at home. Not only is it cheaper to stay in this country, the county shows are a fantastic place to move them up a level and get them used to jumping the bigger fences.

County shows have lost out to the lure of bigger prize money and ranking points available abroad, losing the big names they used to attract. In the 1970s they were the making of me and they still offer that opportunity to our national riders.

Great Yorkshire was a massive turning point in my career. In 1975 I’d been going pretty well around the smaller shows, so I thought, “Let’s try the big one against the top riders,” who were jumping at these shows from week to week.

I was jumping in front of family, friends and neighbours, so I felt as though I had to do well, and on the first day I made a right mess of it. I was totally disillusioned by the whole thing.

That night I said to my father, ‘I think we’re out of our depth here, I’m not sure I should go back.’ But he pointed out we’d paid the entry fee and couldn’t lose that, so I was persuaded to return and try again.

I won both classes the following day and went on to win the Cock o’ the North with Ryan’s Son. That was a massive boost to my career. I made the national headlines and for the rest of the year I enjoyed being announced in to the ring at every show as the Cock o’ the North winner — it was a fantastic title to have, almost like being Olympic champion.

So this season I paid my second-ever visit to Kent County — around 40 years after my debut there! I then returned to the Great Yorkshire — I’m probably a bit biased but it’s still one of the best shows we have in this country with its flagship class, the Cock o’ the North, packed crowds cheering on the riders and a brilliant atmosphere.

It must be one of the few shows that hasn’t had to change with the times because it was fantastic 30 years ago and remains as good as ever — you could hold an international show in its outstanding arena. It’s very special.

We took in Royal Lancashire after that, where the Mustoe family always put on a tremendous show with nice classes and good money.

I’ve really enjoyed going back to my roots and my horses have learnt a huge amount this summer. These county shows — there’s a whole host of other good venues including Suffolk and Norfolk — try so hard, the ground is immaculate, they offer decent prize money and deserve more support than they get.

Many of our national riders are missing a trick by heading overseas instead of cutting their teeth here.

Tokyo bound

Congratulations to the British team for a great result at the European Championships. They weren’t far off winning and Ben Maher was exceptional — just so unlucky with one small mistake not to win gold.

It just goes to show what can be achieved when you have the best riders available to you — the chef d’equipe can only pick from what she has, but when she has the top riders to pick from, it does make a difference.

The turnaround came in Dublin and they enjoyed a good couple of weeks, qualifying for the Olympics too. So I’ve bought some new boots, just in case!

Ref Horse & Hound; 12 September 2019