‘She made so many dreams come true’: ‘heartbreak’ as British medal-winning mare retires

  • British showjumper Amanda Derbyshire has made the “heartbreaking” decision to retire her championship mare Luibanta BH at the age of 14.

    “Lulu” can be credited for taking Amanda to the highest level of the sport and really helped to put her on the map. The pair helped Great Britain win team bronze, and earn Olympic qualification, at the 2019 European Showjumping Championships, they jumped to 17th individually at the World Equestrian Games in 2018 and earned many five-star placings.

    But last year the Luidam daughter was diagnosed with spondylosis, a degenerative condition of the spinal column, and she will now be taking a step back from the sport to hopefully breed the next generation of top-class jumpers.

    “Lulu gave me everything for the last five years, she was a little mare with the biggest of hearts,” said Amanda. “I’ll never be able to thank her enough for all she has given me, from jumping my first five-star grand prix to winning my first Nations Cup and many other classes.”

    Luibanta was originally produced by Ellen Whitaker and Amanda began riding the mare as an eight-year-old in 2016.

    “I remember going to Ellen’s to try a different horse and it wasn’t what I was looking for,” Amanda told H&H. “Ellen told me about Lulu but said she was very unfit and wasn’t ready to try because she had been on a break but I could do a few jumps if I wanted. We watched a video of her doing the seven-year-old classes at the Sunshine Tour and I liked the look of her. I tried her that day and the rest is history.

    “I never expected her to take me to that level, but it just shows you what the heart can achieve. Lulu always believed in herself and thankfully she believed in me too.”

    Amanda said Luibanta had given her “so many proud moments” but that team bronze at the European Championships in Rotterdam in 2019 (pictured below) was the stand-out.

    “The plan that summer was to aim [my other horse] Roulette at the Europeans but after our fall at Hickstead, plans had to change,” she said. “I was at an all-time low mentally, but thankfully due to an amazing and supportive team around me, I got chosen to represent my country on Lulu instead. Lulu stepped right up and gave Team Great Britain all she had to help secure not only a medal but our Olympic place. Standing on the podium is a memory I will cherish for ever.

    “Winning my first Nations Cup in Florida also stands out, and making it to the final of the World Equestrian Games. No matter what, Lulu always gave you her all — she was so versatile, from winning the speed final at Washington to getting top ribbons in several five-star grands prix, she really could do it all.”

    “What made her so incredible was her heart, she was a little mare but you never felt like any track was too big,” she added. “I never walked a course and thought we couldn’t do it, that’s the feeling she always gave you. She made you believe.”

    During the summer of 2020, Luibanta had been in flying form and US-based Amanda gave her a two-month holiday before gearing her up for the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida at the start of 2021.

    “Although she was very sound, she felt stiff in her back and neck when I started jumping her and didn’t feel quite the same,” explained Amanda. “We spent a lot of time investigating and trying different things but after many treatments she still didn’t feel like the same horse when it came to jumping.

    “In the summer she got diagnosed with spondylosis. Although if managed correctly she could have continued her career at a lower level, I just didn’t think she deserved that. Lulu had given me everything, made so many of my dreams come true, she owed me nothing. Her heart was always so big and I wanted her to end her amazing career at the top of the sport where she belonged.

    “In October I made the heartbreaking decision to retire her. As a barn favourite it was hard to let her leave our team, so she travelled to Florida with us and has spent the past four months hanging out in the sunshine, going on an occasional hack and eating lots of treats!”

    Luibanta flew back to the UK last week and will head to Amanda’s family home to enjoy her retirement.

    “We are planning on doing embryos with her, as I don’t want to put her under any unnecessary pain whilst carrying a foal with her spine condition,” said Amanda, who is currently considering stallion choices but has “plenty of fun ideas”.

    Amanda also paid tribute to the Gochman family who owned Luibanta and the whole team who have helped along the way, “who cared and supported us on our exciting journey”.

    Amanda has some exciting new horsepower in her string, including the British-bred 10-year-old mare Wonder If, a daughter of Cevin Z who she bought from Emma McGlynn.

    “I’m very excited about the future with her, she has been produced slowly and correctly and she’s now ready to step up to the next level,” said Amanda. “We also bought MHS Cardenta, an eight-year-old from Ireland who I’ve just started doing some 1.45 classes on, and a nine-year-old mare called Chanteric who I’m just starting out doing some 1.40 classes on.”

    Amanda also has two exciting six-year-olds who are currently in the UK being produced by Emma Stoker and Declan Irvine.

    “Of course we are still searching for my next ‘Lulu’!” she said. “I desperately want to get back up to the level to ride for my country again, so for now I’m working hard and being patient.”

    But Amanda’s final words are paid in tribute to the unforgettable Luibanta: “You made so many of this little girl’s dreams come true and for that I owe you everything.”

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