Medal-winning eventer trained with carrots bows out on a high

  • Vittoria Panizzon’s medal-winning ride Chequers Play the Game has retired from top-level eventing aged 18.

    “Elvis”, who finished ninth in the CCI5* at Luhmühlen Horse Trials in 2018 and won the CCI3* (now CCI4*-L) at Tattersalls in 2017, as well as being part of the Italian bronze medal-winning team at the 2017 Europeans, will enjoy lower-level competition with his owner, Captain Amy Lambert, and the army team.

    Vittoria told H&H the KWPN gelding, who was initially evented by Amy, and then taken to three-star (now two-star) level with New Zealand’s Jock Paget, had early issues with corner fences, which she solved by using carrots.

    “He’s been a really special horse, and probably my favourite to ride across country,” she said.

    “He came to me with a history of issues with corners, which did recur, but it was a confidence issue, and I found a way to tackle it using carrots.”

    Vittoria explained that Elvis had a “mental block” over corner fences, but “luckily, he’s quite greedy!”

    “I retrained him to connect corners with carrots; every time I jumped one, I’d give him a piece of carrot,” she said. “That lasted to this day; when I jumped him at Tweseldown this spring [the pair finished fourth in the three-star], I jumped a corner at home two days before and gave him a carrot.

    “He went from having that issue to coming ninth at Luhmühlen, and lots of other good results. Jock did a great job on his flatwork, and whoever else was involved with him before, so he came to me with good foundations, which I really appreciate, and he always did a good test; it’s nice to go in the ring and feel you can actually ride dressage!”

    Vittoria said as well as that five-star finish, her highlight was probably the Tattersalls win — “he gave me an exceptional ride; the video came up on Facebook the other day and it gave me goosebumps to watch it” — and their second-place finish in the Burnham Market CCI4*-L last September was also special.

    “He’d been injured so only came to me two weeks beforehand for the final prep; it was a big team effort including the owner to get him right but it paid off,” she said. “There aren’t many horses I could have done that on; just got on and gone round a four-star but I completely trust him across country.”

    Vittoria said she always enjoyed riding Elvis in the cross-country, adding: “The thought of not doing that again is quite hard.

    “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it on him in the last year or so, as he had so few runs, and every one has been precious, and appreciated to the full.”

    Minor injury led to the decision to step Elvis down from the top, and Vittoria said although she will miss him, he will be enjoying “five-star care” with Amy.

    Amy told H&H Elvis has been her horse of a lifetime, also representing the army with her at Olympia and Royal Windsor.

    “He has the most amazing personality, has the biggest heart and is a true member of the family,” she said. “He adores his job and is utterly professional and class in all disciplines but he does also have a hugely cheeky nature. At home nothing is safe! He’s been known to dig holes, pick up sticks, pick up tyres, take gates of hinges and loves a happy buck and squeal when jumping.

    “He’s always taken everything in his stride and has been nothing but a true professional. He’s a truly special horse and owes me nothing.”

    Vittoria added that Elvis has always been a very kind and well-behaved horse, whose cheekiness is just that.

    “He loves to play with things, and you can see real amusement in his face,” she said.

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    “He does like a buck after a jump, especially if he hasn’t jumped for a while, and I always wanted to channel that humour rather than squash it so I never told him off; I felt that needed to be harvested to create a good partnership.

    “Each spring when I don’t have him to start me off for the season, I feel a little sad, and he was always a smiley face to have on the yard, but it’s so great Amy will be able to enjoy him more instead, and hopefully I’ll get to sit on him again at some point; it’s always been almost a fight between us as to who gets to play with him more!”

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