Tales from Stoneleigh: ‘I never expected this’ — meet the winning horse who underwent major kissing spines surgery

  • The substantial 13-year-old Absinthe has exceeded all expectations on his journey to the LeMieux National Dressage Championships at Stoneleigh (20-23 September).

    Owned by Veronica Chomse, ‘Ant’, as he is known at home, hasn’t had the most straightforward of dressage careers. The 17.2hh Abanos x Rubinstein gelding underwent major kissing spines surgery three years ago, when he went into training with Molly Key.

    “As I was getting to know Ant, I realised there was something a bit amiss and it transpired he had very bad kissing spines. The problem was directly under the saddle where I sit — the bones in his back were overlapping and impinging everything. Because of this he’s had other physical issues too because he was compensating elsewhere for the problem,” says Molly. “He underwent back surgery that Tom Hughes from Liphook Equine Hospital performed — Tom is a wizard so I’m very grateful to him.”

    Veronica bought Ant when he was five from Gary Williams.

    “I chose him because of his temperament,” explains Veronica. “When I tried him, Gary had a huge forklift stuck in the middle of the arena with its forks up. I’d ridden around the arena and I then decided to drop my reins and walk under it — he didn’t flinch at all and I thought ‘that’s the one’.

    “He’s my only horse and I initially produced him to novice level – he was lovely to train and a real poppet.”

    But then disaster struck three years ago when Veronica had a fall from Ant at home.

    “It was just one of those silly things where a horse in the neighbouring field starting galloping off. Ant caught sight of it in the corner of his eye — I was walking him on a long rein at the time — I lost my balance, fell, broke my neck and both my arms.”

    Molly then took over the ride on the black Hanoverian and his resulting long rehabilitation following surgery.

    “It took a long time to rehabilitate him to full strength, especially as he is such a big horse, but since then he’s not looked back,” says Molly. “He’s just gorgeous to train — he tries his hardest, but he likes structure — he doesn’t like surprises. But you couldn’t say anything negative about him. I train with Damian Hallam and it’s his sympathetic and fair training that’s got Ant where he is today.”

    At this week’s championships, Molly and Ant were contesting the Fairfax Saddles prix st georges (PSG) gold final.

    “I never expected we would get to the PSG gold national championships because of the kissing spines — we thought we would just have to see how far we could do and he just keeps on improving,” admits Veronica. “I just wanted to learn to do dressage when I bought him — I was very much a novice rider then and so I needed a horse with a good temperament. I’m a very happy owner now!”

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    “He’s got a wonderful attitude and I feel a bit like Eddie the Eagle here because when I saw the list of names in my section here, against the likes of Charlotte Dujardin, Laura Tomlinson and many others, I thought ‘oh God’ as I’m more at home galloping around a field as an eventer,” laughs Molly. “But he’s done me proud and I couldn’t have asked for more — he was brilliant. When Emile Faurie is starting the class off and then Charlotte is following me, I think they’re really big names and then there’s me. I’m loving it but I feel very much like we’re at the bottom, but we’re hopefully working our way up.”

    Keep up-to-date with all of the news from the National Dressage Championships by keeping an eye on the Horse & Hound website, and don’t miss the full magazine report, out on Thursday 21 September.

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