Tales from Hartpury CDI: ‘It’s something I‘ve always dreamed of’ *H&H Plus*

  • Sarah Higgins was delighted with her ninth place on a score of 67.87 with Alfranco in her first international grand prix at the NAF Five Star Hartpury CDI.

    “I was a bit daunted, I have to say, working in with my heroes beforehand,” said the Cheshire-based rider. “‘Alfie’ is an absolute legend – he was trained by Gillian Davison, and Richard Davison and Hannah Moody have been helping me with him.

    “I actually don’t ride him very often – Sarah Rao, who owns him, rides him predominantly. I think I’ve ridden him three or four times in the past couple of months, and Sarah very kindly said that I could try to bring him here if I got a qualifying score at Somerford last month, because it would be good experience for me, and so it’s been a special day – it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing, and I’ve done it and done well.”

    Asked how she felt the test went, she replied with a laugh: “I’m tired! You have to be so focused all the way through. I made a mistake in the one-time changes and those are Alfie’s favourite thing in the world, so I’m sure he would have been thinking, ‘Come on, what are you doing? All you have to do is swing your legs back and forward a bit!’

    “That was a bit of a shame, and I’m just not bold enough riding my piaffes and stuff when I watch the other riders. I watched hundreds of videos trying to get every little bit of information about how other riders do it, and they are bolder in the piaffes than I was today, and I know if I can do that, I will hopefully be hitting the 70% barrier. When you’re doing that test, everything comes up so fast, and I came out thinking, ‘Was it good, or not good?’ I was trying desperately once I’d done each movement not to think about that one and to ride the next one.

    “For me it’s been a great experience, and Sarah Rao has some amazing younger horses I’m riding for her at the moment, which she will take on towards the end of this year. They’re edging their way up to this level as well, and so for me to gain the experience with Alfie, who is a seasoned pro, is invaluable.”

    The Negro son Alfie was placed at grand prix all over Europe when ridden by Gillian, and competed at five-star level at the Aachen CHIO in 2017 before being sold to the young Chinese dressage rider Sarah Rao.

    Sarah Higgins, with whom Sarah Rao is based, said:  “He has the nicest, funniest temperament of a horse ever. He is obsessed with food – his whole life revolves around food. He’s 16 now but still came out of the arena and cantered all the way up the track sideways to the stables, probably just because he knew his dinner was waiting for him.

    “He’s just a really cool bundle of energy and a very fun horse to have around. He’s a bit of a dream. I remember watching Gillian ride him at Bolesworth, about four years ago now, and thinking, ‘What a beautiful horse – it would be amazing if I could ever ride a horse like that’, and here I am. I rang Gillian straight after my test and said, ‘He’s just amazing!’”

    Sarah’s boyfriend, event rider Alex Hua Tian is due to represent China at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics, but Sarah is not accompanying him this time.

    “I’m not going to Tokyo – I’m staying here to man the fort,” she said.  “And this year the Olympics is going to be so different, and – laidback as Alex is – at the Olympics he’s terribly focused, and me dawdling around getting lost is probably not worth the mark or two extra he might get for telling him his shoulder-in is the right angle!

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