Saudi Arabia’s splurge on big-name football signings has generated plenty of headlines but the Gulf kingdom has also been splashing the cash in show jumping’s equine transfer market ahead of deadline day for next year’s Paris Olympics.
Harry Charles, who competed for Britain in the individual and team events at Tokyo 2020 and hopes to be a medal contender next year, told Reuters the market had been “a bit crazy” of late.
“I think in the next few months before December 31st you’ll see a lot of transfers of horses for a lot of riders because that’s a cutoff for the Olympics,” said Charles, whose father Peter won team gold at London 2012.
“A lot of people are trying to acquire the horse they need for next year. Luckily I’m in a pretty good condition at the minute,” added the 24-year-old, the world’s number one under-25 show jumper.
Charles, a team bronze medallist at last year’s world championships, said the Saudis and Ireland’s Coolmore Showjumping had been big spenders.
“They’re buying pretty much anything that comes available,” he said. “It makes it a bit harder for the rest of us but they also put more money back into the sport so it’s the way the world works.
“It can make it a bit difficult but sometimes you’ve got to look under the top shelf and then you can find some unpolished diamonds which is what makes it fun.”
Top British mare Equine America Spacecake was sold to the Saudi Equestrian Federation at the end of 2022 and helped the country qualify for Paris with Khaled Almobty in the saddle.
“The offers were getting bigger and bigger until it just became impossible to turn down,” previous rider Ellen Whitaker told Horse & Hound.
Saudi Arabia has won only four Olympic medals and two have been in show jumping -- individual bronze in 2000 and team bronze in 2012. Olympic-level horses can cost millions of dollars.
Charles will compete at the London International Horse Show from December 13-18 at the ExCel Centre, a standout event on the calendar.
“It’s one (event) you really want to shine at and show everyone what you can do. You can really enjoy it because next year it’s all very serious and all very much leaning towards the Olympics,” he said.
The team for the Olympics starting on July 26 is unlikely to be announced before June.
“I like to think right now I’m in pretty good shape, I’ve got some pretty good horsepower behind me,” said Charles, who recognised reigning individual champion Ben Maher and 2012 team gold medallist Scott Branch as top picks.
READ MORE: Indian sports news wrap, October 19
Charles is also outspoken about opening up a sport often associated with wealth and privilege.
“I think something the sport in general could do better at is appealing to the younger generation,” he said. “A big one is making it more accessible, which is something I feel quite strongly about and as I get older I’d love to do my part to make that happen.”
He suggested the traditional apparel of tie and jacket could also do with a makeover. “I’d like to just get rid of the ties. It’s old fashioned and very uncomfortable for us, especially when it’s 35 degrees heat,” he said.
“You could have a more sporty, athletic kind of jersey. You’re nearly in a suit and tie going in to do quite a physical sport,” he concluded.
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