A young eventer was spotted piloting her father’s top five-star ride for the gelding’s first run of the season.
Ellouise Bragg, 16, made her competition debut with Alex Bragg’s 17-year-old ride Zagreb in the BE100Ou18 section at Larkhill Horse Trials on Saturday (10 April), the pair taking home sixth place.
Alex told H&H it was agreed with Zagreb’s owners, family friends Sally and Philip Ellicott, that Ellouise could ride the gelding over winter to give her some experience on elite level horses, and following the cancellation of Badminton the opportunity arose for Ellouise to take Zagreb out.
“It was quite exciting for all of us to give her that experience,” said Alex. “There were moments where she’s not quite used to that sort of power in a horse like him – it’s something different; it’s like getting out of a Ford Escort and getting into a Ferrari.
“In her defence I didn’t really think about it being the first run for the horse and the weather was really cold so he was exceptionally fresh on top of the hill trying to do his dressage! She did an amazing job to manage him because he was full of beans and that went throughout the day. He was very, very forward and keen but she thoroughly enjoyed herself.”
Alex said Ellouise crossed the cross-country finishing line patting the gelding.
“She was kissing and hugging him and said it was like nothing else she’s ever done. It’s not easy to sit on a horse like that; it can be a perception it’s a push-button kind of job but when you ride an animal of that power and that capability it can be quite intimidating to some people. As a young girl she coped amazingly well.
“Her mum, Simmone, was so nervous, as I think I was a little bit because you didn’t really know whether she was going to manage or not but she did phenomenal and we’re very proud of Ellouise – and the horse, to be so genuine and kind to do that for her.”
Alex said Ellouise might be seen competing Zagreb in the future – but he has not given up the ride yet. The pair have enjoyed five top-five finishes at five-star; third at Luhmühlen in 2019, fifth at Pau in 2016 and 2017, and fourth in 2019 and 2020. They won the Event Rider Masters leg at Jardy in 2018, and in 2019 Zagreb was crowned British Eventing’s horse of the year in 2019, a title shared with Oliver Townend’s ride Ballaghmor Class.
“I’ll still be riding him – he’ll start with me in a couple of weeks at Bicton and hopefully do Luhmühlen,” he said.
“It’s obviously been so difficult with Covid; we’ve missed two Badmintons and Zagreb’s not getting any younger. Although he’s on amazing form at the moment and feels great, when a horse gets to his age you never know how well they’re going to come out the following season. He might come out next year and feel just as amazing and just as young in himself and want another go at Badminton. And if he comes out and we don’t feel he’s quite up for it then we know Ellouise has had a bit of experience on him this year and she could possibly enjoy doing the junior stuff on him.”
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Ellouise, who turns 17 in November, also events pony Sweet Riot and 16hh Bloomfield Tiger Two, who Alex produced as a youngster.
“We’re not in the position to go and buy her expensive horses but we are in the position that we can produce really nice horses to help her out. She works so hard, she’s so dedicated so if you’re able to do that as parents it’s a wonderful thing, it’s as much rewarding for her as it is for all of us,” said Alex.
“She is in love with horses and eventing. She’s also very academic; she’s very intelligent which will stand her in great stead whatever she chooses to do in the future. If her mother had her way she probably wouldn’t encourage her to do horses as she knows how hard and stressful it is but Simmone and I have always set out to encourage the children and if they want to do something enough then we’ll be there to support them, and if it ends up being horses then of course we’ll do everything to help.”
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