I was very lucky to have been at the British Dressage National Convention for the Sunday session on 22 November and, like the whole crowd, was delighted to see the little surprise that team Hester and Dujardin sprung in the afternoon.

Completely unexpectedly, they brought Valegro (Blueberry) to complement Nip Tuck (Barney) in the last demonstration of the day (pictured).

There can only have been a handful of people present in the whole place that knew the plan, and in order to keep the surprise for as long as possible we smuggled Blueberry and Barney into stables on the end of our barn to get them ready as part of the covert operation.

As a result it wasn’t just those attending the convention who got the shock of their lives that afternoon, our work experience students were pretty astonished to see the big boys arriving unannounced in front of their eyes too!

Having warmed up — again out of sight — in the top indoor school, Carl and Charlotte continued to leave the crowds in the Hartpury Arena still completely unaware of what was going on.

The champs then made their way to the holding arena, which housed the shopping area over the two days and was scattered with some rather surprised and happy punters as the boys and their entourage rolled in!

As per the programme, Carl started his demo on Barney, and after a couple of minutes of introduction made the announcement that Blueberry had come to play too. The collective gasp of 1500 people is quite something to hear; it actually made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck! I’ve spoken to a few people since then who were also there, and it would seem I wasn’t the only one.

Charlotte was grinning from ear to ear upon hearing the crowd’s reaction and Alan (Carl and Charlotte’s groom) had tears in his eyes — suffice to say, it was all a bit emotional! What a privilege to be there for such a moment. The level of affection that people have for this wonderful horse was there for all to see; it was a tangible reflection of awe and appreciation.

Barney went on to excel himself following Blueberry’s exit after a highly entertaining demo with the two of them together. Carl, in partnership with Judy Harvey on the ground, gave a really interesting insight into how to score the big marks in a grand prix freestyle with style and flair all of his own.

My favourite sentiment of the whole thing was a quip along the lines of: “I’m not going to do the whole test as I don’t want the Germans to see!” I personally can’t wait to see it in full at Olympia next week.

A new addition to our stable

Back in June of this year I wrote about a trip that my boss Kathryn and I made to Tarporley in Cheshire to visit Racewood, the company that made our current mechanical horse, Hercules.

We went up to road-test out their latest offering, the Three-day Event Simulator, a “horse” on which you can ride a grand prix dressage test, jump around course of showjumps and go cross-country on also. As soon as we left the premises we hoped to find a way to buy one of these amazing machines from Racewood, and I’m thrilled to say that we have been successful in securing the funding for a horse, with the help of the Margaret Giffen Charitable Trust.

We are hugely grateful for the continued backing of the trust, who work to help create opportunities for people from all sectors of society to take part in equestrian activities. The trust especially focused on supporting those living with disability, the young, the elderly and people from disadvantaged backgrounds or a mixture of all of these things. We’re so excited to be able to purchase the simulator, which will be the first one of its kind in the UK, with all others having been shipped abroad so far.

Racewood only make one of these horses at a time currently, and so we are expecting ours to be ready in the early part of 2016.

One of the huge benefits of the horse is that it works with three screens that give you both frontal and peripheral vision whilst riding. This allows us not only to observe saddle and rein pressures, but also gives a more connected and integrated experience for the rider. In particular we hope that the children from our local Maisemore RDA group — whom we currently support by donating time on our other simulator Hercules each week — will benefit from this technology by providing a far more interactive experience on a horse than we have ever been able to before.

The new horse will form the centrepiece in the Margaret Giffen Centre for Rider Performance, and will be available for hire for riders and/or instructors to train on, as well as being utilised to enhance our current rider performance clinic provision.

These services are available to all, whether you’re associated with Hartpury or not and we can’t wait to get our new charge in situ to get going. And what will we call this new steed? Well, Margaret of course.

Fizz