‘I want her to finish on a high’: gold medal-winning Olympic hopeful retires from top-level competition

  • Gareth Hughes has announced the retirement of his European team gold and World team silver medal-winning ride Classic Briolinca (Trento B x Royal Dance) on her 18th birthday.

    Classic Briolinca has been one of Great Britain’s top-performing horses in the modern era, winning numerous international titles, and always impressed judges with her ease of going and her proficiency in the highly technical movements, such as the piaffe-passage and the pirouettes.

    “It hasn’t been an easy decision especially as it’s an Olympic year, but we wanted to do the best by our amazing mare and retire her at the top of the sport,” said Gareth and Rebecca Hughes in a statement.

    “A special thank you to our friend and amazing owner Julia Hornig who has been nothing but supportive since we found Briolinca as a three-year-old, a very special thank you to Steph Sharples who has given her life to ourselves and Briolinca throughout her career.”

    Steph, who has groomed for Gareth for more than 20 years, told H&H: “I’ve been with her since her first young horse class to helping win medals at championships. It’s been quite a journey, and it actually makes me quite emotional – thinking about certain shows brings back such special memories and gives me goosebumps.

    “She’s always wanted all the fuss and attention, she’s such a lovable character, she always makes me feel like she needs me, and she’s become my best friend over the years. We’ve gone everywhere and done everything together.

    “She gives you the love back, so as much love as I give her she repays it, which has turned us both a bit soft – she definitely knows how to get more out of me than anyone else.

    “And the fact that she’s not competing any more doesn’t change anything, she’ll still get exactly the same amount of care from me, she’ll be pampered and looked after, she’ll still get fed first and have her pick of the treats because she is such a fantastic horse.”

    Gareth Hughes and Classic Briolinca in action at the 2023 European Dressage Championships in Riesenbeck. Credit: Benjamin Clark

    Gareth said he will take with him both the highs and lows with Briolinca.

    “As a young horse, she was always trying to be more than she was capable of being at the time, so we really took our time with her in the beginning, giving her time to mature,” he said.

    “I remember her doing her first prix st georges, and she felt like a grand prix horse in the making. When we finally got to grand prix, she was quite quirky and we didn’t always have the easiest rides – I had to retire from the freestyle at the nationals one year because she got freaked out by a flag.

    “Compiègne [2019] was our breakthrough, where we won the Nations Cup and the special. That was huge and it felt like she’d really stepped up to the big time. Then the Europeans that year is when I think she established herself as one of the top horses in the world.”

    Gareth said it is a disappointment for him that Briolinca never got to compete at an Olympic Games. “I call it a disappointment but how can I be disappointed with her and what she’s given me?” he added. “I would have loved to have given her an Olympics. It’s not about me, I think she as a horse deserved to be an Olympic horse, she was good enough, the timing was just always a bit off.”

    With the Paris Olympics on the horizon, Gareth admits it was difficult to relinquish that Olympic dream, but above all else he wanted to do right by a horse who has given him so much.

    “It’s been hard because she still feels brilliant but I think it’s just one year too far and with the Olympics being a team of three, we already have an extremely strong team,” he said.

    “I want to finish her on a high, I’d rather make that decision now and let her be remembered for the amazing mare that she was.”

    Although Briolinca will be retiring from top-level competition she will remain in work as a schoolmistress. “She makes it very clear when she’s feeling good, she goes out and squeals and has a little buck,” Gareth said.

    “Then if she has days where she’s feeling a little older we back off, but she still enjoys her work and I wanted to retire her while she still felt like that.”

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