How a secret phone call kick-started a plan that led to Lottie Fry becoming world champion

  • Five months before Lottie Fry stepped atop the dressage World Championships podium in Herning, Anne van Olst made a phone call.

    It was a thought she had shared with only her husband, Gertjan. And by the end of that call, one other person would be in on Anne’s plan – sworn to secrecy.

    “I remember I phoned the music man Joost Peters, who made the freestyle, in March,” says Anne, as we sit in the unseasonably warm sunshine at the van Olst’s Netherlands yard.

    “I said, ‘hey, Joost, you have to make the freestyle for the world champion’.”

    They told nobody. Even voicing it out loud, two months after Lottie and Glamourdale claimed double gold, the fact the plan came together was never a given – never can be a given in sport, least of all horse sport.

    “I think that nobody can expect to be world champion in their life because there are so few world champions,” she adds.

    “But I was counting back from that day, 11 August, and I thought, ‘okay, how are we going to plan this? Because it is possible that Lottie and Glamourdale can be world champions.”

    And so started the alchemy. Bringing together the very best ingredients – the other worldly stallion, his exceptionally talented rider with the experience of two senior championships behind her. Add to that the mentorship and backing of the van Olsts, and the fragile dream grew teeth.

    “Then we made the video choreography and that was a big job,” says Anne. “We have a lot of other grand prix horses, which is fantastic, so we rode it through with the others, but then you come to Glamourdale and then you work half a minute longer because he has so much air time. So that was really difficult.

    “But we took the video to Joost of the choreography, and he phones saying, ‘you think it is going to be world champion? Yeah, but this and that…’ I said, ‘Joost, shh – just make the music!’

    “It took us a long time, four-and-a-half months, to make it but the whole time, I had the plan inside me. The only one I talked to about it was my husband. I didn’t even talk to Lottie about it.”

    A month before Herning, they filmed every session. Watching it back and analysing everything together – making sure they weren’t wasting any time, and that how it looked matched what Lottie was feeling. Five months after that initial phone call, Anne was watching again. This time, joined by the world as Lottie and Glamourdale sent shivers across the globe with their spine-tingling 90.65% freestyle.

    “That was unreal in fact, and I still don’t think I really realise it,” says Anne. “Every time I say the words ‘world champion’, I get almost emotional, because it is unreal.”

    World Champion Lottie Fry: ‘I have a lot of respect for Anne’

    The van Olsts’ business has two arms – breeding and youngstock, and the production and competition yard.

    “It starts with my husband, he is incredibly clever with the breeding,” says Anne. “I can see when it is a good sport horse. He is very good in seeing when it could be a good stallion.

    “I can see a nice horse and he will tell me he would never breed with that one. That is a gift he has. He is getting better and better quality, but so is the whole world. And sometimes we have to sell our quality horses – this is a business, we have to keep the business going. It is not like we only keep the good ones and sell the rest. No no, we have to sell good ones too.”

    Selling is the hardest part. That and balancing head and heart when the phone inevitably rings with enquiries for those they have other plans for.

    “Glamourdale was of course world champion as a seven-year-old. And he’s not the only really big star we have. And of course the phone rings and of course it’s difficult. It’s not difficult to say no, because you don’t want to sell. But it’s difficult to realise what a life changer it could be. But that is a choice you make,” she says.

    “[Selling hurts] very much. It does. Of course. I mean Valegro also came from here. But the bills have to be paid.”

    She adds, pragmatically, that the toughness of seeing horses sold is “of course” balanced with the joy they get from seeing them succeed in new homes.

    “It is all confirmation for us that what we are doing is good and that’s fun,” she says. “You always think if I could have kept that one, I could have kept another million. But that’s the way the business has to go on.”

    The sport horse side is under Anne’s guidance. She spends hours a day helping Lottie with the horses – the 26-year-old is rarely alone in the arena. It’s a relationship that spans friendship, mentorship, coach, employee/employer and choreographer.

    “I think I am a little bit of everything. We support each other in daily life with everything. If there are some things you are excited about she would be one of the first I would tell, and the other way round. We trust each other,” she says.

    “I get a lot of joy [out of mentoring Lottie]. Because it is our own horses, it’s a little like double joy, as it’s nice to see our own horses and breeding grow underneath her.”

    That support and trust between Lottie, Anne, and the stallions, is the foundation on which medals are won.

    “I have a lot of respect for Anne, she’s many different roles for me, in different situations,” says Lottie, the daughter of late Olympic dressage rider Laura Fry, who died in 2012. It was on the advice of Carl Hester, a friend of both Laura and Anne, that Lottie relocated to the Netherlands two years later, aged 18. She has never looked back.

    “One minute Anne’s my mentor, then she’s my trainer, the next she’s my friend. It works really well. It’s great to have someone like that you can always turn to, and who always has your back.

    “We all have mutual respect for the stallions and they have mutual respect for you. And I think when you’ve got that partnership, they kind of put their trust in you and you put your trust in them.”

    Lottie’s Dachshund, Bami, dozes contently in his owner’s lap as she chats. In a barn full of stallions, he is confident of his VIP status and will trot out into the arena at the end of the day to “collect” Lottie when it’s time to go home. It sounds idyllic, but the graft is real.

    Paris 2024 is the next “main goal”. But in the near future, she will be returning to the UK in December to compete at the London International Horse Show with her Tokyo Olympic team bronze medallist Everdale.

    “None of it would be possible without the support of Anne and Gertjan,” says Lottie. “The quality of the horses here is on another level to anything I had ever seen before I came here. It’s just a great partnership, we all get on really well. We all support each other.

    “They have allowed me to ride their horses, Anne trains me everyday and what they have done for the British team, to allow me to ride for Britain on their stallions, is amazing.”

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