‘He got into my soul’: tributes pour in after British grand prix horse dies aged 18

  • Isobel Wessels’ international grand prix horse Chagall has died, aged 18, prompting an outpouring of sadness across the dressage community. 

    The Hanoverian gelding, by Contendro I, enjoyed an illustrious career, competing at nine national championships, and winning 10 national titles including at inter I in 2012. He and FEI five-star judge Isobel have competed at grands prix in Europe around Isobel’s judging commitments, as well as on the British circuit with much success. On Chagall’s final competitive outing, in December 2020, the pair scored 72% at grand prix.

    “Chagall was the kindest, most sensitive horse – he was so big but so gentle with it and he always picked up on the mood; he sensed everything. He has touched so many people throughout his life – he just seems to throw a spell over anyone he came into contact with,” Isobel told H&H

    Chagall was put down on Friday (12 March) after suffering acute laminitis. 

    “We have no idea what triggered it – there had been no change in his diet, his routine, his management,” said Isobel. “We battled it for about four weeks; I was going to see him three times every day to groom and cuddle him, and there was a period where we thought he would make it. But on Thursday night he took a bad turn, and the suffering had to end.”

    Isobel explains she has been moved by the huge number of messages and tributes she has received from across the equestrian world.

    “Everyone knows that he has been successful and won national titles and competed abroad, but it’s through all these messages I have had since Friday that I have become aware of how much more of an impact he had than just his track record. People have told me how he inspired them, and made them love the sport with his elegance. Wherever I go, people seem to know about him.”

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    Fellow FEI five-star judge Stephen Clarke added: “Isobel trained this wonderfully elegant horse all the way through to grand prix so beautifully.  Their partnership was truly harmonious and epitomised the meaning of ‘happy athlete’. Their signature half-passes will always be remembered as a special highlight.”

    Isobel said: “Chagall was always a fighter –  after he won at the nationals in 2012 at small tour, he got a tiny cut above the coronet band in the field which became infected, and he nearly died. He was in the vet clinic for two months and so many vets told me he wouldn’t survive, but my own vet was determined he would get through it, as was I, and he did.

    “He could be tricky to train at the beginning as he was so sensitive, and you couldn’t even pat him on the top of the croup as he would bolt. But he got into my soul; he was my very special friend.”

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