Pippa Roome: Let’s not be too quick to judge when owners move horses to a new rider

  • The news that Hawley Bennett-Awad will no longer ride Gin & Juicebroken this morning by our friends at eventingnation.com — is already causing waves through the eventing community on the other side of the Atlantic. There are 60 comments on the story on eventingnation.com — and the number is growing all the time.

    This pair have been stalwarts of the Canadian team effort in recent years, with Hawley and the little thoroughbred mare contributing to world team silver in 2010 and completing seven four-stars together. They came to Britain and contested both Badminton and Burghley in 2011.

    This is one of the highest profile splits on the world stage in recent years, of a pair who have been together throughout the horse’s international career. And let’s be honest: “Ginny” is, at 14, heading towards the twilight of her career, which makes the decision even more unusual.

    I’ve never owned an event horse with another rider, nor competed one owned by anyone other than me or my parents. As such, I can only imagine what both rider and owners go through when this sort of split happens.

    Often, neither party can really speak out, leaving a lot of guesswork for everyone. And that’s understandable and absolutely their right, of course.

    Owners often get the flak — onlookers can readily sympathise with the rider, losing a partner who they have worked hard to mould into a star, and they tend to be better-known personalities who fans feel they know.

    But you have to feel for owners, too, and the tough choices they make. Christopher Stone was kind enough to speak openly to H&H when he moved Chilli Morning from Nick Gauntlett to Mary King in 2012. That was, of course, a short-lived partnership, after which William Fox-Pitt took over the reins on the stallion. Again, Mary was creditably frank about her decision to give up the ride.

    It’s understandable that any owner wants their horse to reach its full potential and, although anyone with a heart would feel for Nick Gauntlett, Christopher’s decision makes sense — especially with hindsight.

    Although he owns other eventers and has a small breeding programme of horses by Chilli (read more about that in our interview with Gemma Tattersall in Eventing magazine’s November issue, out tomorrow), he may never have a horse as talented as the stallion again.

    Who knows whether Chilli would have gone on to the same success had he stayed with Nick Gauntlett? No one can answer that question for certain. But now that Chilli and William have won two individual championship bronze medals for Britain, I don’t think anyone is criticising the Stones’ decision to change rider.

    I don’t know the circumstances of Linda and Terry Paine’s decision about Gin & Juice. So far we hear only that they are “in discussion with another top upper level event trainer to come and work with us at Kingsway”. Maybe more will come out in due course, maybe not.

    I’m not saying don’t talk about this or any other change of rider. That’s not realistic. Discussing it — having an opinion on everything that happens — is much of the fun of being a fan of any sport. But before you hit social media, do bear in mind we don’t know the full story and quite likely, we never will.

    In the meantime, best of luck to Hawley, Gin & Juice and Linda and Terry Paine.

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