Showjumping gets sexy

Gyrating cheerleaders, rock music and confetti used to draw in the crowds

The image of showjumping hasn't changed much since the days when Raymond Brooks-Ward was the gentlemanly voice of the sport.

From next week, however, showjumping's governing body hopes to turn those dated perceptions on their head as the equestrian discipline undergoes a radical makeover, which, it is hoped, will restore the popularity of leaping horses to levels not witnessed since the early 1980s. Quite what the late commentator would make of the changes is anybody's guess.

In a controversial rebranding effort, riders competing at the prestigious Barclays Wealth British Masters Invitational, due to be held at Chester Racecourse, will ditch the traditional jacket and tie in favour of trendy Team GB polo shirts.

Drawing on the kind of razzmatazz already successfully deployed within Twenty20 cricket, competitors will emerge gladiator-like in front of the 5,000-capacity crowd to the thumping strains of rock music. Confetti canyons will fill the air with colour while cheerleaders gyrate in time to the music, whipping the crowd up into a frenzy of excitement as riders race head to head.

In perhaps the most far-reaching development, the crowd will be able to bet on proceedings – bringing showjumping some much-needed cash.

However, not all the innovations have gone down well among the sport's elite, which is gathering this week at Hickstead. Not least the release of publicity pictures this weekend of the leading horsewomen Laura Renwick and Georgie Strutton posing for photographs while brandishing whips and no jodhpurs.

But according to the British Olympic hopeful Tim Stockdale, who will be compering as well as competing in the two-day event at Chester next Thursday, it is time to move on. "Too many people in our sport are a little bit backward, harking back to the good-old days of Harvey Smith and David Broome. We have got to change," he said.

"It is already causing a stir. There are one or two people out there who don't think it is correct and think we shouldn't be jumping in polo shirts and there have been complaints."

Mr Stockdale believes that the sport has long languished with a crippling image problem. "We are so misunderstood. Most showjumpers have never been to school let alone public school. Those who think we are hoity-toity, hanging on to the purse strings of Zara [Phillips] are wrong. We are down to earth and very normal," he said.

Though showjumping may have largely faded from primetime television screens since Brooks-Ward died in 1992 and Harvey Smith went off to pursue an unlikely post-equine career as a wrestler-cum-pop singer, the sport itself has continued to go from strength to strength. Riders going to Beijing for Team GB next month are firmly in the running for medals and the junior youth team remains among the best in Europe. Stars such as 18-year-old Daniel Neilson and senior riders including Ellen, William and Robert Whitaker will be taking part in next week's event.

Maria Clayton, of the British Showjumping Association, said there was a ready market for the changes among the 4.2 million regular horse riders in Britain.

"It is so, so popular but is stigmatised as a posh, minority sport which it just so isn't," she said. "Showjumping had incredible high street popularity a couple of decades ago and we need to revive that.

"We're hoping that on-course betting will attract a newer and wider crowd to the sport."

It will also help boost the amount of money in the sport. Chester will carry £60,000 in prize money as well as affording the winning riders a place in the Horse of the Year Show.

The sports consultant Jason Harborow said showjumping has been able to draw on the lessons learnt by other sports such as darts and rugby league.

But it is Twenty20 cricket which offers the best example, said Mr Harborow, who was brought in to help devise the new competition form.

"You have to simplify the experience and make it more interesting and then you have a winner. The problem is that showjumping unfortunately has had an image which is quite stuffy. We have taken the core components and tweaked them a bit." He added: "Five years ago, it was unusual to see young people or women at a test match series. Today, with Twenty20, it is the norm."

In an attempt to promote the identity of individual riders, each will select a personal signature tune. Mr Stockdale, the Olympic hopeful, said that he had toyed with the idea of the theme from Rocky before settling on a track by Dire Straits.

Music will also greet a clear round while the former Olympic gymnast Suzanne Dando will interview competitors.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing