Continuing our series on stars we can’t wait to see once shows start up again, Jennifer Donald meets an impressive stallion who has helped to put Ellen Whitaker back on the map
Arena UK Winston
Breeding: Irish Sport Horse, Waldo Van Dungen x Hamilton Tropics
Owner: Norman Oley
Rider: Ellen Whitaker
Breeder: Brenda Morelli of New Priory Stud
Greatest achievements: several team appearances, including double clear to help Britain finish second in the CSIO5* Nations Cup of Gijon, Spain (September 2019); won CSI2* grand prix in Opglabbeek, Belgium (June 2017); third in the CSI4* grand prix of Bolesworth (June 2019); successful in young horse classes and won the CSI3* small grand prix on the Sunshine Tour (February 2020).Horse of the Year show supreme pony Coco Bongo
Rider Ellen Whitaker
“After trying Winston as a four-year-old, I couldn’t buy him fast enough. We saw him jumping at Arena UK with Laura Mantel – he was pretty expensive and I said to Norman Oley, ‘It’s up to you’, obviously with everything crossed for a yes, and a few hours later he found me and said, ‘Let’s go for it.’
“He was explosive, a beautiful type, very blood and extremely balanced for his age. It’s a calculated gamble buying horses that young, but it was clear he was good and he’s matured and now has a couple of years of top-level experience under his belt. He’s actually very easy to ride for a 17.2hh stallion, but I have struggled – there were periods when I felt over-horsed. He’s powerful and I felt I needed more strength to get the best from him. But I’ve worked on that a lot and it has helped.
“He loves a big grass arena, he’s a brilliant water jumper, he’s so quick against the clock and my proudest moment came when he jumped double clear in the Nations Cup in Gijon last year.
“We have been through a lot together and it hasn’t been easy, so I’m forever thankful to Norman for his support. Winston means a lot to me and I would love to see him shine – we are working hard for it.”
Owner Norman Oley
“I’ve never met anyone who has such an eye for a horse as Ellen. I’d had a few horses with her before — such as Luibanta and Arena UK Lando — so when she spotted Winston we bit the bullet and bought him. The best thing is he’s put her back where she belongs at the top of the sport, because she had been really short of horses. She’s produced him slowly and worked so hard. I get to own this amazing horse, but in a sense she does too.
“To win gold at the Olympics would of course be the dream, and perhaps that could happen next year, but we just enjoy travelling around to watch him when we can and there will hopefully be more to come when life gets back to normal.”
Groom Abi Hemming
“He’s every groom’s dream, especially for a stallion! But when I started looking after him last year he was a bit wild — he used to take the mick because people were frightened of him, but he just needs someone with knowledge of dealing with stallions. I do everything with him and now he follows me around and he’ll do anything to make you happy. He’s still cheeky and has a nibble now and then but he gets really sad if he’s been naughty. He is such a character.
“You’d think such a big horse would eat like a gannet, but he’s very fussy, so I have to keep an eye on him and change his feed around a bit. He also won’t take food off people he doesn’t know.
“He loves hacking every day and we take him to the spa and treadmill twice a week.
“My adrenaline soars when he’s in the ring, I get so nervous, and when I saw the Nations Cup course in Gijon I thought, ‘My poor baby has to jump that – it’s huge!’ In the past he’d been a bit funny in jump-offs and had given up on Ellen. So after the first round, I took him back to the stable, said, ‘Come on pal,’ gave him a full bath to cool him off and spent a good hour and half with him until he went back in the ring.
“He jumped another clear and Ellen couldn’t believe it – he’d fought for her the whole way round. I’d just freshened him up and spent time with him, which makes him love me and in return he tries harder for her.”
Ref Horse & Hound; 25 June 2020
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