“The horses are the most important thing, their health and welfare,” legendary British showjumper Geoff Billington said as he offered advice to the sport’s next generation during a guest appearance at Countryside Live.
The Lancastrian double Olympian has travelled from his stables in Cheshire to give showjumping displays on both days of the event and he told The Yorkshire Post the sport was growing with plenty of fresh talent coming through.
“There are more bright young riders now than ever before, which is great because there was a gap down from the older generation for a long time,” said Billington who launched his own career on famous steed, Talk Of The North, went on to compete at the Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney and whose peers include the likes of Huddersfield’s John Whitaker.
He said: “It’s difficult to break through but it was for us, 40 years ago. You have got to work hard, be dedicated and don’t think it’s a nine to five,”
The training facilities for young showjumpers now are unrecognisable from those his generation had to work with, added Billington who said his first horse cost him £10 - showing how much the equestrian world has evolved.
“It’s black and white now (in terms of training facilities). Like every sport, it’s got more professional. Horses cost a lot more money, the riders have to be a lot more professional. I don’t think they have the same craic that we had along the way.”
The showjumper now does a lot of teaching, demonstrations and commentary and looking back on his career he said: “I’m lucky that I’ve done something for a living that I would have done as a hobby anyway.”
Billington’s style in the ring during his displays is to combine anecdotes from his career with informal demonstrations on horseback.
He said: “When I’m doing demonstrations, I try to play to the boyfriend who has been dragged along under duress and I try to explain things in layman’s language.
“It’s great to be a part of Countryside Live, though it’s difficult for a Lancastrian to follow a Yorkshireman!” he said, referencing fellow showjumper Graham Fletcher who was unable to appear at Countryside Live, as in previous years, due to other commitments.