For Carl [Hester] and his many fans it was a dream ending to Olympia, the London International Horse Show. For us Brits it is such an iconic event and the Grand Hall has a magic all of its own; it is therefore
understandable that, touched with emotion, Carl described his victory as being as good as winning a medal.

For many dressage devotees it has become the annual pre-Christmas break, with tickets for the freestyle selling out months in advance. But it was particularly pleasing for me, as part of the organising team, to see an almost full-house for the first day’s grand prix class. There are very few shows in the world that attract that amount of public interest for a technical qualifying class, and this must reflect the substantial following dressage now enjoys in the UK.

I’m often asked why we don’t field more starters. Aiming to combine elite level equestrian sport with family entertainment is a challenge for all indoor inner city venues, where space is at a premium and limited for stabling and lorry parking. Balancing the timetable has numerous challenges. Organisers must also comply with FEI regulations when it comes to how many riders — and from which nations — they must invite, and the number of starters in the freestyle is always restricted to 15.

It was a shame that this year we had last-minute withdrawals from both Edward Gal and Fiona Bigwood as the top end of the grand prix class would have benefited from an extra injection of competition. With the Olympics less than nine months away, it is understandable that all international riders aim to do less travelling with their best horses and only a few riders have second horses.

As far as my own up-andcoming horse Bubblingh was concerned, I decided it was a little too early in his development to expose him to the electric atmosphere of Olympia; a view wisely shared by both Gareth Hughes and Spencer Wilton when it came to what was best for their promising young stars.

While a couple of horses in the grand prix — including Hayley Watson-Greaves’ Rubins Nite — did fall foul of the Olympia buzz, a second time in the ring allowed them to show what they could really do — in Rubins Nite’s case to pull off a personal best of over 75%. Lara Griffith and the Bechtolsheimer family’s
Rubin Al Asad also landed a huge PB of over 78%.

On both days Carl and Charlotte’s tests were in a class of their own. I wasn’t able to watch Uthopia’s freestyle as I was on duty backstage helping Carl warm up, but I caught glimpses of it on the TV monitor and it was great to see him return to the show ring looking so full of power after an almost 18-month break. If he can stand up to the rigours of training he will be a high quality Olympic reserve.

But isn’t Carl and Jane de la Mare’s Nip Tuck an amazing horse? There are many other horses blessed with better physical characteristics than him, but he has an outstanding temperament that means he just
keeps finding that extra bit of improvement, and he delivers everything he can in the arena.

It is entirely down to Carl’s training and his unique talent and strategic test riding that Nip Tuck has graduated to such a consistently high-scoring horse. It also shows that when it comes to horsepower, aptitude and reliability can trump physical challenges.

H&H 24 December 2015