As any professional horseman will tell you, riding the roller-coaster of sporting success is guaranteed to prove more than a little character building.
Peter Storr, Britain’s national dressage champion, has stared disappointment in the face, but now looks set to bounce back to the big time.
“I had a rough couple of years from about 1995,” he admits. “Competitively and emotionally, I was not in a good frame of mind – there were a succession of things which didn’t go quite right. Looking back, I now realise that lacking confidence affects your form and then, inevitably, you start to lose a little direction and faith in yourself.”
It seems, however, that surviving setbacks has helped to give 34-year-old Peter the will to win once again. The year 1999 was a memorable one, with his name featuring consistently in the results both at home and abroad.
Having been offered the ride on Caroline Mathieson’s Trapani and Freuden Tanzer for last year, Peter enjoyed success with both horses in advanced classes on the Spanish Sunshine Tour. This was followed with placings at Copenhagen and Stubbing Court CDIs, before topping off the season as runner-up in the national grand prix championship with Trapani.
At the same time, Peter also cemented his fast-improving partnership with Pinkie Heinz’s talented chesnut stallion Gambrinus by scoring a double in the Wellington Prix St Georges and Advanced Medium Music Championships, as well as placings at Goes and Villanove D’Asti, before going on to take the national intermediaire II and prix st georges titles and heading the 1999 Puffa National Rider Rankings. This combination also were also reserve for they Sydney Olympics team.
Horses have always played a big part in Peter’s life. Born in Cheshire to “totally unhorsey parents”, Peter says that he became “obsessed” with riding at the age of eight after accompanying his sister on a pony trekking holiday.
“I pestered myparents to let me have one lesson a month at the Wirral Riding Club, but I was a terribly nervous rider and pretty pathetic when it came to trying anything new,” he says. “It wasn’t until I went to work at a dealer’s yard as a teenager that I got mynerve back.”
Peter’s introduction to dressage came when he was accepted for a year’s training with Jennie Loriston-Clarke at the Catherston Stud where he took his BHSAI.
“It was very hard work and quite disciplined – I don’t think I was the ideal student,” he remembers with a smile.
A three-month attachment with George Theodorescu followed and although he admits to finding the rigorous German training regime tough going, Peter says that he returned to Cheshire even more determined to succeed.
Riding a horse given to him on loan, Peter saved up enough money for a week’s training with David Hunt. Inspired by what he learnt, Peter stayed a month before deciding to move south and rent a nearby livery yard with the help of a £40 business grant.
“I’ve always been very lucky to have David’s support and encouragement,” he says. ” I used to go to his yard every day just to watch him ride and during this time I learnt not only how to train a horse, but also gained a better understanding of the psychology between horse and rider.”
Through David Hunt, Peter was offered the ride on “an ugly four-year-old” called Amos, who was to prove a special partner for the next 12 years. Peter still talks fondly about this great campaigner, whom he describes as “one of the biggest influence of my career”.
“Amos was the first horse I trained myself from novice to grand prix and he always forgave the mistakes that I made. He was extra special because, although he was far from the classic perfect dressage horse shape, he always tried his heart out.”
Having given Peter a taste of national and international success, Amos retired at the age of 16 after numerous wins and placings at every level. Peter was offered a succession of horses, including Arancini, with whom he won the national medium championship, and Jachtsky, who was placed at every level up to grand prix.
Known for his trademark stylish turnout, Peter arrives for work at Pinkie Heinz’s new training yard near Ascot, Berks, in a flourish of elegance. Dressed in co-ordinating breeches and fleece jacket, he steps out of his sleek, sporty, personalised BMW Z3 and prepares for a morning’s training and teaching.
Having moved to Pinkie’s private yard, surrounded by 20 acres of prime grazing plus indoor and outdoor schools, Peter is kept busy overseeing the training of 10 dressage horses, aged from four years upwards and working from novice to grand prix .
Grazing in the neatly fenced paddocks by the side of the arena are two well-bred three-year-old Hanoverians, while one of the stables is home to Wild Dancer (nicknamed Wild Thing), an impressive 17hh youngster Hanoverian stallion by Weltmeyer, bought by Peter at the Verden stallion show and whom he describes as “the ultimate athlete”.
Wild Dancer won the international young horse class at the British Dressage National Championships in 2000.
Peter credits Pinkie Heinz and his grand prix partner Gambrinus with playing a big part in helping to give his career a boost.
“Pinkie, who has been a client for the past seven years, always said that what I needed was a quality German youngster to bring on. Initially, she went to Germany on her own and then went back with me, but I must admit that, at first, I didn’t think Gizmo looked that special. I should have realised that Pinkie has always had an extremely good eye for a horse!””Gizmo is a terribly laid back character, but is brilliant for top-level competition because he absolutely loves the big occasions. The more people clap, the better he goes.
“He’s the best horse I’ve had to compete, as well as the most reliable and straightforward. Although he’s a stallion, he’s a nice person, but he can also be easily offended! We understand each other well.”