‘I nearly gave up on him’: how training and perseverance transformed a showjumper into a five-star dressage leader

  • Bubby Upton had a lump in her throat on Thursday (16 June) as she cantered up the final centre line on her overnight dressage leader Cannavaro at the Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials (16 to 19 June).

    The 23-year-old British rider produced her best-ever test at four- or five-star level with the 15-year-old gelding, a former showjumper who is owned by her mother Rachel Upton, scoring 24.9 to take the provisional lead at the German five-star.

    As a combination, this was their best international test by a significant margin – their previous personal best was 28.3, which they scored at Rockingham CIC2* (now CCI3*-S) in 2018 and which they matched on their way to taking the 2021 under-25 championship crown at Bicton.

    “I nearly gave up on him a few years ago, and God I’ve never been happier to be proved wrong,” said Bubby. “I have never got a left-to-right flying change with him in an arena. He used to do this skip behind – he just couldn’t do it.

    “Last winter I was so determined to get it. I spent hours doing counter canter and tricking him into doing it, because he would anticipate it so much.

    “Then we did one and I thought, ‘Oh my god, we can do this’, and then we did them every day. Now he has started to get them. It’s always a relief when the training pays off.”

    There are 40 available marks for the flying changes, out of a total of 270, in the CCI5* “B” test, which makes these movements so influential on the overall dressage result at five-star level.

    Bubby Upton and Cannavaro hold the overnight lead in the Luhmühlen Horse Trials dressage results

    Bubby Upton and Cannavaro hold the overnight lead after the first day of dressage at Luhmühlen Horse Trials. Credit: Libby Law Photography.

    Cannavaro’s elegant performance was rewarded with a consistent stream of sevens and eights from the judges, peppered with nines for their canter work and overall harmony, and a 10 for their final halt.

    “He really is a teacher’s pet; he’s asking ‘what’s next, Mum?’. He finds dressage hard, he’s not naturally engaged, he is quite long, and he twists his legs. But one thing he’s always had is a heart of gold,” said Bubby.

    “It’s a massive team effort. I get to ride him, I’m the lucky one. But everyone has helped so much with him.”

    His previous owner, Lucy Morgan, is still “heavily invested in his journey”.

    “He is so adored by Lucy and he is so adored by us – you can’t help but love him,” said Bubby.

    The pair made their five-star debut at Pau 2021, where Bubby opted to pull up and save him for another day after an early run-out on the cross-country.

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