Gareth Hughes: We could have a medal-winning team *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Aachen is like no other show — it’s similar to the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in the way it brings all the disciplines together. It’s like a horsey Disneyland, and would be one of the most intimidating places to ride, but also one of the most exhilarating.

    Because this year’s championship is in September rather than August, this show attracted most of the world’s top horses and carried even more significance as part of the selection process for WEG teams, compared to years where teams have already been chosen by mid-July.

    WEG isn’t just about medals, but also qualification for the Tokyo Olympics in 2022, which has a knock-on effect on the funding.

    Laura Graves threw down the gauntlet, and Verdades has everything it takes to win gold in Tryon. But the fact she and Isabell Werth also had disappointing tests shows what a fine line you’re treading when riding for such power and expression.

    For me, the rider of the show was Kasey Perry-Glass. She’s not a new face — she’s an established member of the USA team — but she’s always been in Laura’s shadow. Her grand prix special was harmonious, light, fluent and correct.

    The lead-up to WEG is a bit of a pressure-cooker situation; with a later championship, it’s a matter of keeping horses sound and on the road for longer, keeping the intensity of training up while also keeping everything working. The people behind the scenes and the chefs d’equipe dread getting phone calls to tell them about little niggles and injuries, and that’s why they leave it quite late to select.

    All horses get injured; there’s never been a championship for which every nation has been able to send their strongest horses and, with a couple of top horses currently out of action but enough time left for them to possibly make a comeback, it’ll be interesting to see who gets on the plane to America.

    Keep evolving

    It was unfortunate that Britain couldn’t send a Nations Cup team to Aachen. However, it was great to see Emile Faurie back with Delatio, who hasn’t been out since February but looked world-class. Lara Butler pulled out her best tests of the year, and where better to do it than Aachen? Rubin Al Asad looked fit and Lara rode with maturity.

    I’m lucky to have two horses in Don Carissimo and Classic Briolinca who have both had a great year so far. I’ve done my part — the rest is up to the selectors — but if I don’t get to ride at WEG, my consolation prize is that I will still be going as technical advisor to the Swiss team, and trainer to the Australian event team.

    It’s busy and hard work, but I find coaching at the top level satisfying, and it fulfills other ambitions. You have to keep evolving as a rider, and coaching helps as you can see what works for others and take it home.

    Selection for WEG is especially tough this year, because we potentially have a medal-winning team. It’s about compartmentalising it all, controlling the controllables and doing the best you can, and also looking ahead to next year’s Europeans and beyond.

    We’re lucky to be part of a sport in which age is just a number; one we can continue doing for a long time. When you find you’re getting older and too stiff to get on a horse, you just buy a taller mounting block.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 August 2018