When you think of an Olympic eventer, what do you think of? A regal bay? An elegant grey, perhaps? A buckskin probably isn’t the first thing to come to most people’s minds, but the unusually coloured Tullabeg Flamenco will be heading out to the Tokyo Games, having been selected for the Irish team with Sam Watson.
Flamenco was bred by Nicholas Cousins and shares his colour with his sire, Nicholas’s Tullabeg Fusion. Sam rides “Danny” for owner Vahe Bogossian, whose son David first asked him to have a go with the horse.
“David ran an event in Ireland and I went and thanked them after their first event and said they’d done a great job,” he remembers. “That probably led to him picking up the phone to me a couple of years later. Initially, we never knew where is ceiling was going to be.”
As a first aim, Sam targeted the seven-year-old World Championships, where the horse finished just one second over the time.
“Then we decided to try the Blenheim Horse Trials eight- and nine-year-old championships and see how he handled short format four-star,” says Sam. “He was getting fitter and stronger and handling it well.”
When Tullabeg Flamenco finished on his dressage score at both his CCI4*-Ls, finishing seventh at Tattersalls and 10th at Boekelo in 2018, Sam knew he probably had a championship horse.
He says: “Like a lot of old-fashioned horses, Danny’s 99% heart and brains and just puts everything into all his training sessions and all his competitions. He’s a great warrior like that. He’s impressive looking, can do a pretty nice test and has a big gallop. People expect him to be pony height and he’s not – he’s 17hh.”
Sam says Danny was unlucky in 2019 when he was in line for a podium place in the Event Rider Masters at Chatsworth and lost it when his rider “messed up line” and then it was a similar story at the European Championships in Luhmühlen.
“So many people had problems at the bird in the water – I tried to be clever and turn later and I just couldn’t do it. It was completely my mistake – I circled, he never ran out – and he was exceptional around there,” he says.
The pair have had three top six places at four-star short since then, including a second at Ballindenisk when they finished on their 26.9 dressage.
“If I can do that same level of test again, it’s all there,” says Sam. ”He’s got a championships under his belt and a five-star [12th at Luhmühlen 2019] so all the bits of the puzzler are there. We’ve just got to put it all together on a big stage, which is hopefully Tokyo.”
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Sam says Danny has a big fan club.
He says: “It’s his personality as well as his colour – he does smile at everybody and you can go up and talk to him. He has a lovely temperament. Nine times out of 10 anyone in the family could ride him, except maybe the first event of the year when he can be a bit fresh. There are days he knows he’s an athlete and he’s got to perform – but you want that as well.”
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