Gareth Hughes: I have a plan A, plan B and plan C for the season *H&H Plus*


  • Every year we have a championship, but the Olympics is different — for any sportsperson, it’s the pinnacle of competition. The timing of the Tokyo Olympics adds a different dimension to championship preparations and can work both for and against riders.

    The biggest difference regarding campaigning and selection is that usually a team is chosen based on combinations’ results during the outdoor show season in the run-up to that year’s championship. Results from the previous year aren’t directly taken into account, although they do give an indication of how established a partnership is or what they are capable of scoring.


    But this year, with the Olympics in July, selection is much earlier. A long-list will be created in mid-May, so the selectors will look back to the Europeans and also to indoor show results over the winter. This changes some people’s plans. For example, I am aiming to take Briolinca to the indoor CDI4* in Lier, Belgium, at the end of February, even though we wouldn’t normally start competing so early in the year.The team will be picked in June and, as a consequence, some of the internationals usually used for selection are too late in the season, such as Hartpury and Hickstead.

    The other major change for 2020 is that the grand prix will no longer decide the team placings. Instead, it is being used as a qualifier for the teams for the grand prix special, which will be the test used to determine the team medals.

    The special suits some horses better than others. Riders will have to focus on going out and getting some results in this test as well as the grand prix. To help with this, Keysoe, Windsor and Bolesworth CDIs will each hold a special this year. This is fantastic as it allows us to get in the results needed without having to venture across the Channel too many times, so thank you.

    The heat is on

    The start of the year is always exciting. Everyone has an idea of who might make the team, but with new combinations and ever-improving seasoned pairs, we need to wait for everyone to get out and lay down some scores. We only have a few shows to prove ourselves and we all want our scores to improve each time.

    It’s also about proving our horses can cope with a championship environment, and stay sound and fit. With the long journey and the climate in Tokyo at that time of year being very hot and humid, these are all things we must be aware of and prepare for. There are a lot of balls in the air. Like other riders, I have a plan A, plan B and plan C for the season.

    Having just three in a team in Tokyo, rather than four, also adds to the pressure. This year, teams are able to swap in their travelling reserve after the grand prix and before the special, but only for veterinary reasons. Being the travelling reserve is a tough position, though. They must prepare their horse and travel all the way to Tokyo without knowing if they will compete.

    My plan is to take the year week by week and show by show, and do what’s best for my horse. We’re all only competing against ourselves, hoping we can post our best scores at the right time and be one of the three top-scoring combinations come selection.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 30 January 2020