In a hard-hitting interview former top US show jumper and coach Katie Prudent has bemoaned the ‘dumbing down’ of the sport in America which she claims is now populated by “fearful talentless amateur riders” who compete with the professionals only because their rich parents are prepared to buy them the best horses.

Speaking to Chris Stafford of WISP Sports, Prudent said that young riders are not being trained properly but instead are being propelled into competition through the easy option of acquiring top horses. “How far can an amateur go by buying the greatest horse in the world?” she asked. “It’s become a sport for rich talentless people. The way it has been dummied down, it’s amazing that anyone can ride at all.”

She pointed to the success of Irish riders in America as telling a tale about the lack of home grown talent. “We have all the Irish boys coming over here and riding all the horses and getting all the owners,” she said.

“In about five to ten years we’re going to have a really hard time putting together a good team,” the 1986 World Championship Team Gold Medalist continued.

Commenting on Prudent’s views, top US rider McLain Ward said he did not believe the path to show jumping success was fundamentally different now to what it was decades ago. “There have been wealthy kids coming up through the sport for the better part of the last 50 years,” he commented on The Chronicle Of The Horse. “To label that as a downward spiral of American show jumping is incorrect about those young riders and is incorrect about the state of show jumping in our country.”

Ward said that all through his career he has been hearing that the number of good riders is drying up because the sport is only for the rich, but it never happens. “We all want to fight the “elitist” label. We all want to show that people can rise to the top of the sport no matter their financial backing, and we see that daily. We see that throughout the world—the top riders in America all came down roads where in one way or another, they had to find the means and the opportunity.”

American Kent Farrington is currently the world’s top ranked rider, with Ward at number two. Laura Kraut at number 17 is the only other US rider in the top 50, while there are six others in the top 100 (Jessica Springsteen 55th; Jack Towell 59th; Leslie Burr-Howard 74th; Kristen VanderVeen 77th; Todd Minikus 84th and Ali Wolff 91st). There are 22 American riders in total in the world’s top 200.

Mike Dunne