Toledo De Kerser: ‘he’s gone from being a complete weirdo to this amazing horse’

  • Tom McEwen’s world team gold medallist was picked by William and Pippa Funnell to feature in this week’s magazine. Pippa Roome meets him

    Toledo De Kerser – what you need to know

    Age: 14
    Breeding: Diamant De Semilly x Papillon Rouge
    Rider: Tom McEwen
    Owner: Fred and Penny Barker, Jane Inns and rider’s mother Ali
    Breeder: Kerstin Drevet
    Greatest achievements: second Le Lion d’Angers seven-year-old World Championships 2014; first Bramham under-25 CCI4*-L 2016; 11th Badminton CCI5* 2017; fourth Burghley CCI5* 2017; seventh Badminton CCI5* 2018; 12th and team gold medal World Equestrian Games in Tryon 2018; 11th Badminton CCI5* 2019; first Pau CCI5* 2019; fifth Pau CCI5* 2020 (all class names updated to current format).

    H&H guest editor Pippa Funnell

    “I love Toledo’s type. He’s a good size – not too big or small – and covers the ground and has loads of scope. He reminds me of some of the cracking sorts Karen Dixon used to ride.

    “Toledo has fabulous movement and the wow-factor for dressage. He’s bold and can gallop – he has a huge, impressive engine. His showjumping record speaks for itself; he looks like he could do the pure showjumper job.

    “I’m well aware from talking to Tom that Toledo’s not as straightforward as Tom makes him look. It’s all about climbing into a horse’s mind and understanding how it thinks. Tom does a fantastic job at finding a way of bringing out the horse’s serious ability.

    “It was really unfortunate for Tom that I took his place at the 2019 Europeans after Toledo suffered a minor injury. I was convinced they would land an individual medal. It must have been bittersweet that they went on and won Pau, where the horse looked class.”

    Rider Tom McEwen

    “Toledo was found in France by his owner Jane Inns and Sammi Birch, and Sammi did amazing work starting him off. He then moved around a few different riders, before ending up with me as a bit of a last resort.

    “Toledo’s unbelievably sharp, but he’s gone from being a complete weirdo to this amazing horse. We’ve taken him slowly – if he’d run fast as a young horse, he’d have been crazy.

    “You can’t jump him at home – if you try he’ll bolt blind, or refuse to come in a second time or he’ll be like a crouching tiger and press himself to the floor, then go flat out. He’s never done a grid or polework. Rather than make an issue of it, we’ve just never made an issue of it.

    “We can work him on the flat at home. Nick Burton really helped me with him initially and more recently Ferdi Eilberg has worked with us to develop his trot, canter and way of going.

    “Toledo’s always loved hacking, cross-country and going to events; he’s a born competition horse. He’s learnt to trust me, because I’m the one sat on his back for events – the part he loves – so he let me in. He’s a real show-off and loves an atmosphere; his preference is a big event with more people and fewer horses.

    “I always thought he’d be a star. He’s only 48% thoroughbred and people questioned whether such a good jumper would have enough stamina, but I always believed in him because he has so much willingness. He’d keep going even if he was really tired, which touch wood he never has been.”

    Toledo De Kerser’s groom Francesca Gorni

    “Last year was the first season I had charge of Toledo and I like to think he likes me. He’s quite a particular person and it takes a while to earn his trust. After that, he’s pretty sweet.

    “He can be a bit of a devil to catch — the first time I caught him without a pocketful of Polos, I knew he trusted me.

    “He’s self-contained and likes you to be calm and not push the boundaries before he’s ready to let you in. He knows when Tom’s on the yard and pricks his ears a bit more.

    “Toledo’s a bit of a gent at home, but he does get very excited at shows. You have to leave him until last to get ready, then surprise him at the last minute. But somehow he knows if he’s going when the truck is turned on.

    “We try to keep him one-to-one at events and away from other horses, spectators and owners. He’s calmer at a three-day event except for cross-country day, when you have to be very organised so you can keep things as faff-free as possible when getting ready.

    “Toledo’s very talented and knows his job, but sometimes he looks to me for quiet comfort and reassurance – just a pat on the shoulder – and I understand his body language, such as a little side eye glance, to know he needs that.”

    Ref: 11 February 2021

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