Showjumper Ellen Whitaker is back on a senior British team after a seven-year absence, with a horse she describes as “one of the best I’ve ever had”.
Ellen and nine-year-old Arena UK Winston, owned by Norman Oley, have been named in the squad to contest the three-star Nations Cup in Lisbon, Portugal, from 31 May to 3 June.
The rider, who was on the bronze medal-winning team at the 2007 European Championships, last appeared on a Nations Cup team in 2011, since when she has had two children with her partner Antonio Marinas Soto.
“It’s really exciting,” she told H&H. “It’s especially good because we got this horse, Winston, as a four-year-old with the highest of hopes.
“It doesn’t always work out when you buy a young horse; you think they’re the best in the world and then they don’t quite make it so it’s lovely to have had him since he was four and take him to this level.”
Ellen explained that while she has been busy with her sons, Harry and Frankie, Winston has been “working his way up slowly”.
“But it all seems to be coming together,” she added. “He went to Mannheim [Germany, 5-8 May] which is a three-star show but seems to be renowned for being big and difficult and he was really good; I’m really excited about this year with him.”
Ellen compared the 18hh Irish sport horse to her former ride Locarno, with whom she enjoyed success at top level all over the world.
“He’s probably one of the best I’ve ever had,” she said.
“Locarno would be the best before him and I think Winston has everything he had; they’re very different but have very similar qualities. He’s a huge horse, which Locarno wasn’t, but with lots of scope and carefulness.
“But we bought Locarno as a five-year-old and I think when you’ve had them since they were so young, you know them so well, it really helps at the higher levels.”
The combination have also qualified for selection for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) this September.
“Di [Lampard, British Showjumping performance manager] was watching him on the Sunshine Tour this year and we were talking about when he’d be ready [for a Nations Cup] and he was very strong, and has kept going since so hopefully he is ready!” Ellen said.
“It’s all about mileage and experience now; they can be ready physically and in fitness but the only way they learn to do everything is to do it, so this will be really good for him.
“I had always had a vision for him but I think horses let you know what they are and aren’t ready for. And although I didn’t actually think I would try to go to WEG – as I think that can sometimes make you push them a bit more than they’re ready for – he seems to have come on so much.
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“So you never know, and WEG’s looking a lot closer now than it was!”
The other members of the squad are Amy Inglis on Claire Inglis’s Wishes, Jake Saywell on Rachel Gascoine’s Havinia van de Roshoeve, Georgia Tame on Team Z7’s Cash Up and Robert Whitaker on the Oestreng family’s Cash Sent.
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This week’s edition (17 May) features a full report from Royal Windsor Horse Show, including all the showing, showjumping and dressage action. We go behind the scenes with the Household Cavalry as they prepare for the royal wedding, plus check out our interview with Irish eventer Padraig McCarthy.