With all eyes on Tokyo, the young but talented Lottie Fry is a very real contender for the British dressage team, finds Martha Terry on a visit to her Dutch base
There are still three hours until daybreak when Lottie makes the short walk from her apartment to the yard. The British dressage rider is first in at 5.30am to start feeding the horses, and begins riding at 7am.
In the Netherlands in January, it’s not light until well after breakfast. Not that it matters in the cosy barns at the Van Olsts’ yard near Breda, which houses stables, a 20x60m indoor school and horse walker. The large sliding doors are kept shut, heat lamps and radiators pump out warmth, and the horses’ sleek, unclipped coats look radiant.
There are around 200 horses on site, including broodmares, foals and youngsters, as well as the dressage stallions and geldings, but Lottie operates out of just one of the barns.
“I feed these horses before everyone else arrives at 7.30am, taking a cart round all the stables,” says Lottie, looking immaculate at this early hour, dressed in black jodhs and gilet, with manicured black nails.
“We call the feed ‘brok’ — it looks like horse and pony nuts but it’s TopSpec and is specific to each horse’s needs — and we also feed lucerne, which is like chaff.”
In the tack room, Lottie’s dachshund Bami — meaning noodles in Dutch — is snuggled under a fleecy blanket, barking enthusiastically at any visitors. Outside, a flamboyant dapple-grey is being lunged in a pen, before being brought in under the heat lamps to be tacked up. This is Especial, Lottie’s third ride of the morning. The six-year-old is by Lottie’s grand prix ride Everdale, out of a Vivaldi x San Remo mare. Lottie loves the continuity of riding both sire and offspring.
“Most Everdales are like their dad; they all love to work and will keep going all day; everything comes so easily to them,” she says. “Especial’s been lunged just to get rid of a bit of his excess energy.”
‘I can’t use my strength because I’m small’
Over in the school, Anne van Olst is practising passage on a home-bred stallion, Nespresso, alongside a couple of work riders as Lottie joins in. Music is blaring from a Dutch radio station, and the atmosphere is relaxed as the four horses are put through their paces. A collie wanders through the school, one of eight dogs belonging to various riders and grooms roaming round the yard.
Nespresso’s work is done, and after a few laps of loose-rein walk, Anne leaves the arena, leaning over to the sill of the viewing window to pick up a sugar lump from a large tub. All the horses get sugar lumps after working, and “sometimes halfway through if they’re really good”, says Lottie.
Especial’s next young horse class is looming and he’ll come out at small tour later in the year. He is learning tempi changes and pirouettes, and Lottie intersperses periods of work with loose-rein walk and encouraging pats. He’s very enthusiastic, pumping forward from the hind-end. Lottie’s slight frame creates such an elegant picture on this striking gelding, with her aids almost imperceptible.
“That’s the plan,” smiles Lottie. “I can’t use my strength because I’m small, so it has to be technique.”
Anne joins me at the viewing window. She rides up to five horses every morning alongside Lottie’s rides, before training her more intensely from the ground in the afternoon. She explains how Lottie arrived at the yard, over five years ago, when she was 18.
“Carl Hester sent her to me saying she was a good junior rider, and she came with Dinky [Z Flemmenco],” says Anne. “After three months she started riding other horses; after six months it became a long term job.
“From the start, she was very good and wanted to learn, but she was very inexperienced. Her timing for the grand prix work has really developed, but she still has so much to learn, which is a good thing — there’s much more to come.”
Last year, Lottie broke into the senior ranks, despite being eligible for under-25 championships — she won gold in 2018.
“The original plan was under-25s but the whole time I had it in my mind she could do seniors,” Anne says. “I knew if she wanted to be considered for Tokyo, she had to prove she could deal with the pressure of a senior championships, so she had to move up last year for the Europeans. So far, every time she goes out at senior level she gets a personal best.”
Anne’s hunch proved correct — Lottie’s in the Olympic shake-up on two horses, her championship ride Dark Legend (Darky), and the 11-year-old Everdale, who caused a stir at Olympia when finishing third behind Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester.
An affection for horses
Darky is next on Lottie’s 14-strong list for the day. His gaze follows her round as she collects his tack. Lottie’s affection for all her horses is palpable, but perhaps especially this one.
“Darky’s really attached to me,” Lottie laughs. “He likes to be stabled near the tack room so he can be near me and know when he’s going out for a ride. We tried putting him in a stable with an outside window, but he’s not happy when he can’t see me. He whinnied all the time.
“He’s so funny. He’s just coming back from a short holiday and he was really grumpy. He had his ears back every time I went near him because he knew I wasn’t going to ride him.”
At this time of year Lottie rides mostly in the indoor school, but as Darky is more experienced and used to going outside for turnout, she takes him for a gentle work-out in the outdoor arena, situated in front of the van Olsts’ home.
“All the horses go out in the paddocks in the summer but only Darky is turned out in winter — because he’s so hot,” she says. “The others go in the lunge pen or outdoor pen in winter because otherwise we’ll have no grass.”
Lottie’s Canadian groom, Sophie O’Bray, 20, rugs up Darky for his daily turnout, while Lottie turns her attention to her next ride, Kjento, who is waiting docilely in cross-ties beneath the heat lamps. Sophie does most of the tacking up and turning out, enabling Lottie to keep riding all day.
“The horses love Sophie, and she loves having the experience of working with these amazing horses,” says Lottie. “And she’s always happy to accompany me on our long days.”
Kjento is a five-year-old stallion by the van Olsts’ famous stallion Negro, out of a Jazz x Juventus mare, and big things are expected of him — and his offspring.
“He’s one of the most famous young breeding stallions in the Netherlands right now,” says Lottie, who is priming him for the KWPN stallion show in ’s-Hertogenbosch. “He has very correct movement; he scores 10s for canter and trot. He only has to do leg-yielding, transitions, medium canter and trot at shows, but he can naturally piaffe already. He hasn’t been trained at all, it’s just in him.”
Kjento shows no qualms in front of the camera as Lottie works him in, looking soft, supple and chilled.
“Negros are so different to Everdales,” Lottie explains. “They’re chunkier and more relaxed, but very beautiful. Their forte is a talent for piaffe and passage.”
Gertjan van Olst is watching on — he’s a huge fan of this young stallion. He knew Kjento was special from day one.
“I can tell what a horse will be like from a foal, nine times out of 10, because we know the bloodlines so well and how they stamp their stock — our stallions are stars and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he says. “We breed 10 to 12 foals a year, and buy in 90 more foals, but 95% will have our stallions’ breeding. Out of those 100, maybe one or two will be really special.
“Negro is still covering but he’s now 25, so it’s great for us that we have his sons, like Kjento, to breed from.”
The stallions’ breeding duties run alongside their ridden careers, and Gertjan’s management is a major factor in their success. Each morning at 6am, the stallions breed to enable fresh semen to go whereve required in the world.
“No one who does the riding has anything to do with the breeding, so the two jobs are kept completely separate, because the stallions are clever,” says Lottie. “They know which person means breeding and which means training, so we never let them get confused.”
‘Perfectly suited to Tokyo’s conditions’
Everdale is another breeding stallion on Lottie’s roster. She’s not riding him until her lesson later with Anne, and as we peer into his vast stable, he’s fast asleep in the deep bed of shavings.
“I lunged him earlier in a headcollar and boots, and then he has a nap — we are interrupting him,” jokes Lottie, giving him a cuddle with Bami tucked under her arm.
“He has a double stable because he’s so big [17.3hh] and very special. Although he’s so tall, he’s compact, but when he’s excited he grows even more. He is so talented — everything comes so naturally to him.”
Anne believes Everdale will be perfectly suited to Tokyo’s conditions, although she insists there are eight or so riders in the running for one of the three Olympic berths.
“Everdale is a horse from another planet — he’s amazing,” she says. “All the Everdales find work easy. They don’t breathe hard or sweat; they’re so blood.”
Another of Lottie’s powerful black horses, Glamourdale — like Everdale by Lord Leatherdale x Negro — is only nine, but he’s destined for stardom, too, having already been crowned world seven-year-old champion. He’s being primed for big tour this spring. He has a box facing outside, “because he loves people looking at him,” says Lottie.
By lunchtime, Lottie still has seven more to ride. Gertjan describes her work ethic as exceptional.
“Even if it’s late at night and we say she doesn’t need to ride the last one on her list, she always will,” he says. “She is so focused.”
Lottie admits the days go so fast she rarely has time for meals, but grabs sandwiches and coffee when she can. Anne laughs: “She eats five times what I do!” But despite the long hours spent in the saddle, Lottie exudes a smiley serenity. The busy barn’s prevailing peaceful atmosphere is broken intermittently only by Bami, yapping from under his blanket.
Ten days after H&H’s visit, Lottie was heading to Amsterdam CDI with Everdale. It’s time to leave her to get on with the serious work — “the amazing privilege” of three hours of lessons with Anne.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 February 2020