British team showjumper Sam Hutton is based with AS Sport Horses in Belgium – he looks back on his championship debut at the 2023 Europeans in Milan, Italy
The European Showjumping Championships in Milan, Italy, was a rough week – we certainly didn’t achieve the results I’d hoped for. But I’m now more determined than ever to prove myself.
It was my first-ever championship and nothing can prepare you for being there under that kind of pressure. Obviously you want to perform at your best, but my horse, Oak Grove’s Laith, didn’t feel his normal self, and that was gutting.
The first day he jumped really well, even though the ground was terrible. Then on day two, I started to feel he wasn’t jumping as well and then he got worse. On the last day, he felt like he gave up. I don’t know if it was too much for him or he was tired. We just weren’t good enough, so it felt like a very long week!
I only started riding Laith in April and we had a few good results at the start and that’s when I got the call asking me to do the Falsterbo Nations Cup.
You don’t get told until after Hickstead whether you’re on the team or not, but I was told to make a plan working back from the championships anyway. So I tried to get him in the best shape possible – he was as fit as he’s ever been.
The only thing I regret, and maybe I would do it differently next time, was doing a show as big as Dublin two weeks before a championship, but when you’ve never done one before, it’s hard to know what’s best.
I was given the choice between riding on the Nations Cup team at Hickstead or Dublin and I chose the latter, because I thought that it would suit my horse better and be the best preparation, being closer to the championships. I’m really glad I went because I was third in the grand prix with my other horse, Casablanca-H, but I’m not sure it was such a good idea for Laith in hindsight. But these are the things you learn from experience.
So I’m gutted, I wish things could have been different, but you’re working with an animal, not just yourself.
A less than firm footing
There was much talk at the championships about the state of the ground. There had been a huge storm and when the horses arrived on Sunday, the stables
were flooded, everything was under water and it wasn’t draining away. But the organisers worked hard to get the stables dry by building trenches and pumping all the water out.
The aftermath of that was that the ground in the ring on the first day was soft and it got even worse as more people jumped. However, on the second and third days, it was better, just not quite perfect.
I’ll never forget riding into the ring for my first championship round, that was an amazing experience. Another of my highlights was watching Ben Maher jump – his rounds were unbelievable.
The team spirit was brilliant, everyone was willing their team-mates to do well and supporting each other throughout the week.
Then as well as team managers Di Lampard, Stanny van Paesschen and Tina Goosen, there’s a huge support team trying to help us get the best results. Everything is organised for you, leaving the riders to concentrate on achieving the best performance possible.
British Showjumping gives us so much support and everyone – from Oak Grove’s Laith’s owner, Valentyna Kukova, to Abdel Saïd and AS Sport Horses – has played a role in giving me this huge opportunity.
I’ve always wanted to do the Olympics, so I’d love the chance to prove myself – I’ll definitely come back fighting.
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