*Blog* Winter Dressage Championships: Sparkles, grit and Bridgerton – stand-out moments and the power of sporting stories

  • Nathalie Kayal summed up horse sport beautifully yesterday afternoon: “Coming down the centreline is the icing on the cake,” she said.

    We had been chatting about the work that goes on behind the scenes and her juggling act of balancing responsibilities, family, horses, competition, training and all the unpredictability that goes with it.

    Just to get to that centreline is the achievement, having your horse peak at exactly the right time is a skill. Anything above that is, well, a cherry on the top.

    And while Nathalie is having a phenomenal week of success, it was the achievement of her groom, Charlotte Tuckwell, that she said has been the highlight of her 2021 championships so far.

    That joy in other people’s achievements is a huge part of what sport is about – and is particularly zeitgeisty given events outside the bling Gloucestershire bubble that is these championships.

    Mollie Summerland’s remarkable journey to and victory at Luhmühlen Horse Trials is fresh in the memory, as is Andy Murray’s dramatic four-set Centre Court win on the opening day of Wimbledon 2021. I’m certain I also wasn’t alone in trying to wrestle Hartpury’s capricious Wifi into showing me any of England v Germany. It was worth it to catch that first goal, powered into the net by Raheem Stirling, with the ball – in that moment – carrying the hopes of a nation along with it.

    We have been starved of so much to look forward to and enjoy that these moments feel like a rare and precious treat. Wimbledon, the Olympics, the Paralympics stretch out on the horizon like glittering hurdles. And right now, I firmly believe that all of them are going to join football in “coming home”.

    Scottish secrets & brilliant broodmares

    Two of the absolute stand-out stories so far have to be the success of Scottish – specifically Aberdeenshire-base – horses and riders, and the legacy of several outstanding broodmares.

    There’s even a neat connection between the two, which makes for a lovely story. The Moray Firth Stud’s Del Piero x Lauries Crusador XX mare Doro had two offspring triumph on the first day. The six-year-old Dance With Me Fürst MFS, bought from the stud as a foal, and Bali Dancer, who was bought from Germany before the stud acquired Doro.

    Progeny of the Oppenheimer’s late outstanding broodmare Rubinsteena also secured two further national titles, with Headmore Bella Ruby and Headmore Dionysius each earning a sash.

    There was also a special moment for the connections of Lord Flashheart, ridden here by Claire Deuten, as the gelding’s dam, Gavotte, competed at these championships several years ago with Dannie Morgan.

    Bridgerton or egg…?

    The Netflix hit Bridgerton reportedly drove a vast streaming spike for classical covers of pop hits following its release in December 2020 – you know who else loves a string cover of a pop hit? Dressage riders. It suddenly dawned on me while I was watching the freestyle classes this week, that the reason the Bridgerton soundtrack felt so familiar in places wasn’t just because I knew the originals.

    Popularity of certain soundtracks for freestyles goes in waves. When a new film or series is released with a cracking soundtrack, that will often trickle through into riders’ music choices. Of course I’m speaking in general terms here and not knocking this in any way – quite the opposite – it’s a part of culture and these tunes are popular for a reason, because people enjoy them!

    As I listened to a classical rendition of a recent hit, I started to wonder which way round this was now happening… is Bridgerton the latest show to be having an impact on the dressage to music world, or is popular culture catching up to what many dressage riders have known for a long time?

    Chicken and egg; Bridgerton and freestyles. After 15 months of global pandemic, it’s a relief to be back to pondering these sorts of questions…

    Read more reports from Hartpury…