As preparations begin in earnest for the London International Horse Show at Olympia next week (16-22 December), we went behind the scenes with Great Britain’s leading showjumper Ben Maher to meet his three equine contenders, while having a look around his beautiful Hertfordshire stables.
1. Next stop Olympia
Ben is taking three horses to Olympia — F One USA, Ginger-Blue and Gakhir (pictured). Ben recently took over the ride on the striking chestnut from stable jockey Maggie McAlary and they made their five-star debut in Stuttgart, Germany last month. This will be the eight-year-old Dutch-bred son of Spartacus’s first time at Olympia. Stabled a couple of doors down is Poden Farms’ nine-year-old F One USA (Toulon x Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve) — this will be his second time at Olympia — while Jane Forbes-Clark’s lovely eight-year-old mare Ginger-Blue, AKA “Cookie”, will also be on the wagon heading to London, hoping to impress the crowds at the annual five-star show.
2. Prizes galore
Just some of Ben’s substantial haul of rosettes, trophies and awards.
3. Olympic goals
The five Olympic rings hang proudly over the jumps in Ben’s indoor school — inspiration while he rides? “Possibly!” he says. They’re actually attached to a plank which came from the course at the 2012 Olympics — each member of Great Britain’s gold medal-winning team (Ben, Scott Brash, Peter Charles and Nick Skelton) was allowed to keep one of the jumps from London. The rest of Ben’s fence is still bubble wrapped and perfectly preserved in storage.
4. They’re not all five-star athletes at Ben’s stables…
…Just don’t tell pint-sized Rio that. The miniature stallion was a rescue pony and belongs to Ben’s girlfriend Sophie Gracida. Rio does a fantastic job of ensuring his super-star stable-mate Explosion W doesn’t hog the limelight entirely.
5. Tack room goals
“It’s tidier than my house!” says Ben. “But we have a lot of people working here so we need to keep everything organised, sorted and in separate places to keep it running smoothly.” He has different areas for day-to-day tack (pictured) and show tack, as well as a treasure trove of bits and shelves packed full of neatly stacked rugs.
6. The best horse in the world
Ben’s stable star Explosion W won’t be going to Olympia this year, instead the pair will be contesting the Rolex Grand Prix at Geneva this weekend (15 December) before the all-conquering chestnut enjoys his winter holiday.
7. Nags on board
Ben’s horsebox comes with a very appropriate number plate.
8. Expectant faces
Only a handful of horses remain in Ben’s yard as most of the equine inhabitants have already flown to USA for the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida. Ben will be taking in Geneva and Olympia five-star shows before heading there himself.
9. ‘Maybe racing was my second calling’
Ben’s horses enjoy fast canters around this all-weather track as part of their fitness work. “Maybe racing was my second calling but I like to ride the horses round here to open them up and to keep them free and easy,” Ben says. The horse-walker, however, lays idle until later in the day. “I’m not a huge fan of horse walkers, especially for the older horses,” he explains. “I’d rather they were ridden a second time or did some hand-walking instead. The younger ones do go on it sometimes. But it always seems very boring to me for the horses to go round and round.”
10. Out for a stroll
Ben leads Explosion W back to his stable — the Christmas wreaths are out in abundance round the yard. Olympia may be the big target at the moment, but there’s still time to embrace the Festive spirit.
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11. If the coat fits…
This amazing chair sits in Ben’s office and was crafted out of Ben’s London Knights team jacket from last year’s Global Champions League.
12. Ben’s right-hand man
Ben’s groom Cormac Kenny looks after Explosion W and says there’s nothing he likes more than munching on carrots. “He’s very inquisitive, he’s still a bit like a four-year-old in his brain,” he says. “He wants to suss out everything and see where everything is — basically put his nose everywhere it shouldn’t be!”
Olympia, The London International Horse Show, begins on Monday 16 December and runs until Sunday 22 December. Head to olympiahorseshow.com for further information and don’t miss any of the action with Horse & Hound.
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