Kauto Star’s performance at Olympia last week (16 December) has caused some debate in the equestrian and racing worlds.
A stilted dressage demo at the London International Horse Show proved uncomfortable viewing for some on grand prix night.
The 14-year-old gelding is best-known for his triumphs in the National Hunt world when trained in Somerset by Paul Nicholls, winning two Cheltenham Gold Cups and a record five King George VI Chases. He moved to event rider Laura Collett’s yard for retraining after his retirement in 2012.
At the time this sparked some outrage in the racing community, with many calling for him to have an quiet retirement with his lad Clifford Baker.
But owner Clive Smith wanted the horse to have the opportunity to be mentally stimulated and to have an active second career.
Kauto Star has been out a few times doing demos since and has received positive feedback on his appearance, especially at Barbury Castle this summer.
However, on Tuesday night the horse appeared lacklustre in his performance, sparking mixed reaction from his fans, and critics.
The intention was admirable, for Kauto to show off his new skills in front of a willing crowd promoting second careers for ex-racehorses. However, his performance fell a bit flat for some as he was cajoled into trot by Laura.
Yogi Breisner, who has been training Laura and Kauto, explained in his commentary that the horse was “overwhelmed by the atmosphere”, being an environment a racehorse would never have had to handle before.
“I was fortunate enough to see Kauto Star up close before he went into the arena and he looked fantastic. Watching him warm up he was as good as gold, but after after an impeccable start to his demonstration he did appear to become a little overwhelmed by the occasion,” added Retraining of Racehorses’ Di Arbuthnot.
“Laura had said beforehand that nothing can prepare a horse for the atmosphere they experience once in the arena with 7,000 people packed around all four sides and the accompanying noise and lights and afterwards she said he had had a bout of stage-fright and lost his concentration.
“The crowd were still very appreciative, recognising what Kauto and Laura have achieved in switching from the routine of being a racehorse to that of a second career doing dressage. And it was great to witness the affection the public still feel for the horse.”