‘One of the hardest goodbyes’: grand prix horse moves from Olympic eventer to British five-star showjumper

  • Showjumper MGH Candy Girl, produced by Olympic eventer Gemma Stevens, has moved to Matt Sampson.

    Gemma started riding Isobel Fox’s 10-year-old “Candy” (by Sligo Candy Boy, out of a Cruising mare) as a four-year-old and has produced her to CSI3* grand prix. The decision has now been taken for Candy to be ridden by Matt, with the bigger shows in mind.

    Under FEI showjumping CSI invitation rules, based on a rider’s position in the rankings, Gemma can currently compete at international shows up to CSI3*, but Matt can compete at CSI5*.

    Gemma told H&H it was a “really tough decision” but she is confident it is the right one.

    “She is a brilliant little horse and she deserves to go to some of the bigger shows that I just can’t get into. Obviously I only have one horse at this [showjumping] level, so my ranking points aren’t high enough to be able to get into the five-star shows, and Candy’s ready now,” said Gemma.

    “I always knew the feeling she gave me was very good, but I don’t think we realised perhaps this time last year quite how good she was going to be. She had a really good year and stepped up to grand prix.

    “I can honestly say she is the most intelligent horse I’ve ever known, she’s freakish with her intelligence and she’s incredibly careful in every sense. She’s really feisty, but never in a nasty way; she’s just a proper sassy mare and when it comes down to it in the ring and you say, ‘Come on, let’s go girl’, she’ll fight for you.”

    Matt Sampson had a phenomenal 2022; including three five-star titles among his 17 wins at Spruce Meadows, and many other top placings. He rounded off the year by winning the London International Horse Show grand prix with Ebolensky.

    Gemma said when Matt tried Candy he was “buzzing”.

    “That gave me a really good feeling,” she said. “He said how amazing she feels and he thinks that she can be a top horse, which is so exciting for us.

    “He’s a great communicator, which is really important for us so we’ll still be able to be a part of her career. We’ve very excited to see what he can do. There’s going to be a period of time for him to get to know her, and she’s only ever been jumped by me in the ring, but we’ve told him he’s got all the time in the world. Then hopefully there will be some magic!”

    Matt, who is in Spain competing but plans to return to Canada for the Spruce Meadows summer series, told H&H he is “delighted” about taking on the ride.

    “I can’t wait to get going with her. I think she’s a very competitive horse with a big heart. I’ve seen Gemma riding her for a long time and I’ve always really liked her,” he said.

    “I’m really grateful to be taking her on and I’d like to say a massive thanks to Gemma for doing such an amazing job with her. It shows truly what a horsewoman and rider Gemma is to be doing two disciplines at such a high level.

    “The plan is to get to know Candy over the next few months and develop her up the levels and see what she’s got. We’re currently at the Sunshine Tour, so it’s a great place to get to know the newer horses and keep producing my other ones to the higher levels.”

    Candy is the first showjumper Gemma has produced and she hopes to do the same with others, alongside eventing.

    “I’ve always been keen on showjumping, but it’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to compete a horse at that level,” she said. “Having her from a very sharp four-year-old, I know she’s really matured and knows her job. It’s really sparked my love for showjumping even more than before and I want to try and produce another one up the grades.

    “I’ve got a really smart rising seven-year-old, Cinsey Blue, who we bought at the end of her five-year-old year. She’s nice and scopey, so we’re going to see how she turns out this year as a seven-year-old. I’ve also got the ride on Balou for Pleasure, a little stallion who was sent to me the middle of last year. It’s been exciting for me to have a couple of other owners who are keen on on the jumping.”

    Gemma added that Candy has been bred from via embryo transfer; she currently has two yearlings, a two-year-old and a four-year-old, Kannan’s Lolliop. A foal by Big Star is due this year.

    “Candy has been amazing at producing embryos. We’re really excited about them all. Kannan’s Lollipop will start doing some very low-key and quiet local shows towards the end of the year, there’s no plans to rush her,” said Gemma.

    Gemma added that she is “definitely not” giving up eventing.

    “This year it’s going to swing a little bit back towards eventing because I’ve got more this year than I did last year. I’ve got eight event horses who are super smart and exciting,” she said.

    “I’d love to get to some of the bigger shows in showjumping, but I have to be realistic. I have some very nice event horses, and I’m really hoping to campaign and try to get myself on the list for Paris 2024 selection. It’s hard for us Brits because we’ve got to literally be the best in the world to get selected, but I’ve got two horses; Flash Cooley and Johan-Some, who I think are really special. I really want to focus on that for the next 18 months or so, but keep producing these nice jumping horses.”

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