Festive stars: one’s ‘awful’, the other ‘tries his utmost’ – meet the 18-year-old coaxing the best from two very different horses

  • Ibble Watson, 18, says the two top horses in her string, Candito and Aristoteles S Z, couldn’t be more different.

    Candito (“Toto”), who won the CCI2*-L at Hartpury, has always been the easier of the pair.

    “He’s a lot more genuine and will try his utmost to help you out,” says the 2019 pony team gold and individual silver medallist. “I found coming off ponies, he would help me if I wasn’t on it, whereas if I’m not on it, Aristoteles S Z wouldn’t do it.”

    Candito came from Olivia Craddock as a five-year-old and is nine in 2022. Ibble’s mother, former top-level rider Erica, did his first few events on him before Ibble took over.

    “Up until this year, she got his worst dressage score, which I do remind her about!” jokes Ibble. “He’s quirky and scared of everyone in a warm-up – if someone canters towards him, he’ll stop. But he always tries really hard, which is why I love him so much.

    “I was pleased he got the result he deserved at Hartpury as he hasn’t had the easiest time at internationals, including me falling off both horses at Bishop Burton.”

    Ibble Watson and Aristoteles S Z at Hartpury 2021

    Ibble Watson and Aristoteles S Z at Hartpury 2021. Credit: Nico Morgan

    The grey Aristoteles S Z (“Ace”) is two years older than Candito and a very different character.

    “He’s so awful – we love him, but we hate him,” says Ibble Watson. “He’s so naughty and cocky. He has to wear three headcollars in the lorry because he can take them all off, he unties himself and takes himself round the yard, jumps out of the field. He even has to wear a sort of seatbelt in the lorry!”

    The Watsons were given Ace through a friendship with the Hales family, who owned his sire Arko III.

    “We’ve had him since he was two and broke him in. He showjumped until he was eight and then had a career change after I sold my pony,” explains Ibble.

    The rider won the junior championship CCI3*-S at South of England in the autumn of 2021 on Ace, but says the horse was awful that day in the dressage.

    “Because he’s so powerful, I’ll want half-pass and he’ll give me passage. He was Mum’s dressage toy for a bit and we stupidly during lockdown taught him the Spanish walk, so sometimes if you halt and squeeze too much he’ll give you the Spanish walk.”

    Braking issues across country caused Ibble some problems with Ace last season, but she felt like she had his bitting sorted by the time they got to South of England.

    “To win was a bonus – I was happy to be able to control him. He is so talented and absolutely loves it, but he has such a big jump, by the time you land, you are two strides out from where you want to be.

    “We had quite a lot of people ask about him after South of England, but I don’t think we want to sell him because he is tricky and you can easily fall out with him. I have had an awful lot of trouble with him – you feel like you have your leg on and you don’t, then he drops you – but this year I’ve really connected with him.”

    With two such different rides, Ibble Watson says she has learnt she needs time to think about how to ride each one between phases, as she struggles with changing from one to the other quickly.

    Next year, Ibble will aim for the eight- and nine-year-old class at Blenheim with Toto and for the CCI4*-L there with Ace. The young rider Europeans could slot in if she were to get selected, but she has two more years in the age category if she doesn’t make it next year. She also has some younger horses who will aim for age classes.

    The Watsons are based near Broadway Horse Trials, in the yard Erica worked out of during her career. Ibble, who left school in the summer of 2021 after A Levels, says she has found it challenging in some ways working closely with her mother.

    “I don’t have help from anyone else and I found it hard, especially when I was on ponies, accepting criticism from my mother. Now I can change it to thinking of her being my trainer, rather than being told it’s not good enough by my mother, which you naturally want to argue against. We get on a lot better now and since we’ve got on better, I’ve been able to improve more. And it’s cool because everyone knows who she is!”

    Erica rode at Badminton and Burghley successfully on Last Of The Incas before the mare collapsed and died at Badminton in 1998 and Ibble has ambitions to follow in mother’s footsteps in competing at the top level, with the Olympics as an ultimate goal.

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