Horse & Hound dressage editor’s review of the year

  • 2012. Blink and you’ve missed it. Never has such a long-anticipated sporting season whipped by so fast. One minute it was months until the Games, next thing I know life’s all tinsel and Coca Cola ads.

    I still have mementos of the fabulousness of those heady days pinned up round my desk — dressage on newspaper front covers should be cherished (and encouraged) forever. I don’t even mind if they call it ‘horse dancing’.

    This is the first year I can remember when I’ve only blubbed through happiness. I’m pretty hardy, but Charlotte Dujardin’s wonderful kur was a bridge too far. Trying to pinpoint exactly what uncorked the waterworks, I think it was watching a super-talented, trusting, relaxed horse operating on full power and so eager to please. Delightful.

    Hot on the heels, the Paralympics were fabulous. With my accreditation round my neck, every tube journey was more a social than a tedious commute.

    With that trusty pass, I sneaked into the main stadium in Stratford to watch Johnny Peacock win the 100m final from the press tribunes on the finish line. I’ve never heard a plus-80,000 crowd in full voice chanting as one — especially not in an arena designed to kettle noise. It was greater than the sum of its parts and enhanced by a brilliant single-serving friend — a fellow renegade journalist also “extending his sport remit”.

    It was a sad day when I finally had to say goodbye to my accreditation and accept that Londoners had reverted to their silent, grumpy pre-Games norm. That aside, our city raised the bar — I can’t wait to see how Rio, one of the liveliest cities on earth — will respond to the challenge. Conga on the escalators?

    Tubby triumph

    The early part of the year was also competition-heavy for me. This time riding my runty five-year-old at the regionals. February’s snow and ice was great; the -4C conditions meant there were tons of withdrawals and we won.

    It was edifying riding (pictured above) and reporting at the winter championships — I didn’t get much sleep that week and even forgot to give “Tubby” her lunch once. But we were third in the class and the delighted winners I interviewed for H&H made the exhaustion worthwhile.

    Midget though my horse is, I will say one thing for her: she could solve the whole mounted/non-mounted prize-giving debate in one fell swoop — she loves them and I’d happily loan her out at a fiver a pop.

    Fast track to Holland

    Other major highlights of this epic year include two trips to Holland. The first — another brutally cold day — was to Edward Gal and partner Hans Peter Minderhoud’s yard to interview them for H&H’s first ever gay “at home” feature. About time too.

    They were wonderful hosts and still, after years at the top, couldn’t help being sidetracked by their favourite horses’ soft noses as they showed me round. (They have heated indoor arenas — how cool is that?)

    A few weeks later I received the first of many official letters from Holland. I worked out — too late — that they concerned a speeding fine. Then ensued a maddening merry-go-round of indecipherable letters and phone calls to a monolingual automated system. Cue frantic random number pressing with no human at the end of the chain. It took a friend at a Dutch bank to act as mediator, working out who, how and how much (a lot, by this point) to pay to prevent me from trouble at the border next time.

    Thankfully, that was all sorted before my other Holland trip (imagine trying to explain that one to the Editor) the Global Dressage Forum. This is my favourite event — two days of dressage, food, wine and chat at the glamorous Academy Bartels. No one calls you a dressage geek there.

    A Christmas wish

    So as this mega sporting year draws to a close, there’s one more treat in the pipeline. Olympia. Olympia only means one thing: Christmas. And, Santa, I’d like Valegro to win please.


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