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‘These are scary times’: top British riders make urgent return to UK amid fears of coronavirus lockdown

Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester are among the top British riders to have arranged urgent journeys home from the Netherlands today (12 March), after a crackdown on coronavirus in the country forced the late cancellation of The Dutch Masters show at ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Yesterday (Wednesday, 11 March), the organisers of the event, due to host the final European World Cup dressage qualifier, and the opening round of the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, announced that it would go ahead behind closed doors, after Northern Brabant authorities banned events with more than 1,000 visitors.

But this afternoon, the event was cancelled just hours before competition was due to begin, after government guidelines to help curb the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus were altered.

“The national government just announced that all events in The Netherlands where there are more than 100 people need to be cancelled. Although we only have 60 riders here at The Dutch Masters, together with the grooms and the organisers, we are far in excess of 100 people, so we had no other option than to cancel the event immediately. We’ve managed to speak to all of the event’s stakeholders in the last few minutes, and they totally understand and agree that there is no other alternative,” read a statement from the event.

With fears over a regional lockdown, riders immediately began the journey home.

“I dashed straight to my hotel to collect my things, we got the horses and the lorry loaded within about 10 minutes and left,” Richard Davison, due to compete Bubblingh in the CDI3* competition, told H&H. “It’s been a bit of a mad exodus, but you have to react to what happens — I was not going to hang around.”

Carl Hester had just landed in the Netherlands to support Charlotte Dujardin, who was due to compete Mount St John Freestyle in the World Cup qualifier and Gio in the CDI3*. He heard the news 10 minutes into his journey from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to ’s-Hertogenbosch, and turned straight around to try to return to the UK.

“It’s been a nightmare — these are scary times,” Carl told H&H from Schiphol airport. “There was a scramble for flights out in case of a lockdown, but luckily I got a seat on a flight to Birmingham. You could see the seats disappearing in front of your eyes online!”

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Charlotte’s horses are en route home to Gloucestershire with Carl and Charlotte’s head groom Alan Davies. Charlotte is booked to fly home on Friday (13 March), and will spend the night at Anne Van Olst’s yard in Brabant, The Netherlands — the base of British rider Lottie Fry, who was due to compete Everdale and Dark Legend at ’s-Hertogenbosch.

“I agree with the decision to cancel, although it was a shame it couldn’t have been made earlier. But we have to count ourselves lucky,” added Carl. “As for the rest of the year, none of us can make any decisions at the moment.”

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