‘Everything is on a bigger and grander scale’: Gareth Hughes’ Tokyo Olympics groom Steph Sharples on her first Games

  • In the second part of our mini series about the British dressage grooms at the Tokyo Olympics, we hear from Steph Sharples – groom to travelling reserve Gareth Hughes and Sintano Van Hof Olympia

    Attending an Olympic Games has been a long time coming for Tokyo Olympics groom Steph Sharples, who has worked with Gareth Hughes for 18 years. The Tokyo Olympics is a Games debut for both of them, and while Gareth has travelled to Japan with the 11-year-old Sintano Van Hof Olympia as Britain’s alternate rider, he could be swapped into the team at any point up until two hours before the grand prix special on Tuesday, 27 July. This means that their preparation and training out in Tokyo is exactly the same as Britain’s other three combinations: Charlotte Dujardin and Gio, Carl Hester and En Vogue and Lottie Fry with Everdale

    “Sintano is having a whale of a time out here, and seems to be loving it all,” said Steph of the Sandro Hit x Silvano gelding, who is owned by Gareth and Judy Firmston-Williams, and only made his international grand prix debut earlier this year. 

    “He’s never been to any really big shows, certainly nothing on this scale, so it’s so exciting for him and having the one-on-one care they get there is brilliant. In the stables you can tell he’s the new boy as he is always interested in what’s going on, and is finding everything very interesting.”

    Gareth presented an immaculately-turned out Sintano at the dressage trot-up this morning (23 July), and he was accepted without incident, while visibly looking around and taking everything in. 

    “I’m very proud of how he coped at the trot-up,” said Steph. “Trot-ups for him have been very quiet affairs so far in his career, but here it was very different compared to your average three-star show in Europe. Everything was on a bigger and grander scale.”

    Steph admitted that in some ways, she is just like Sintano, just trying to soak in everything about her first Games experience. 

    “This is one thing I have always dreamed of and worked towards,” she said. “So few people actually get to go to the Olympics in their career, so to be here now as part of Team GB is amazing. And to be able to do it with Gareth is brilliant, having worked for him for 18 years. It has always been one of his major dreams and drives.

    “We’re so lucky that our team out here is so supportive, the other grooms and riders and all the support staff,” added Steph, who explained that she and the other British dressage grooms, Alan Davies, Steven Caley and Lucy Scudamore, have been working very well together.

    “A group came out ahead of us and when we arrived our stables were all set up, with beds laid and British bunting up, and shelves built in the tack room. They had also gone into our grooms’ onsite accommodation and given us some home comforts – a nice Union flag fleece throw on the bed, for example and some cushions – lots of little touches to make it more homely.”

    Steph explained that even though Gareth is the travelling reserve, they are treated no differently to any of the other riders and horses. 

    “I certainly feel that we are part of the team – even if we don’t get to actually compete we are still supporting everybody else. It’s a very strange situation – of course we would like to compete, but that would mean something going wrong for somebody else, and we don’t want that. At the end of the day this is a great experience for myself and the horse. If anything does happen – and we hope it won’t – we’ll be ready to step in.”

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