Sam Hutton: ‘Jumping in Florida is a world away from Europe – in more ways than one’


  • British team showjumper Sam Hutton has been based at AS Sport Horses in Belgium for several years, but is currently out in Florida competing at the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival with the stable’s string of horses.

    HERE in Florida we feel a world away from what’s happening in Ukraine, but seeing all the riders in last week’s Nations Cup wearing the country’s flag on their arms and displayed on all the hospitality tables was a poignant gesture to show that it’s on all our minds.

    I last came to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) five years ago and there have been so many improvements since then – not least the new footing, which is so important because we all want to take the best care of our horses, and for any showground that’s a major investment.

    We’ve been here for the full 12 weeks with 20 horses from AS Sport Horses stables in Belgium. It’s a great way to get the horses (and ourselves) up and running at the start of the year – the palm trees and the lovely weather are just an added bonus!

    I came to the Festival with an open mind because my ranking wasn’t very high, so I started in the three-star classes in week one and luckily I got straight into the four-star and then I found out at the last-minute that I was able to compete in the recent five-star, too, after some riders dropped out.

    It meant my best horse H&M Kirlo Van Den Bosrand could step up to compete in his first five-star grand prix, an opportunity he wouldn’t have had in Europe where it’s so hard to get into the five-star shows.

    He just had the last fence down to finish seventh, so it was a lovely introduction and will hopefully see him in good stead for the rest of the year.

    “The time allowed is much tighter”

    THE competition is really tough here – the biggest difference to Europe is how tight the time allowed is, which makes it very fast, especially with so many of the world’s top riders competing. You have the likes of McLain Ward, Kent Farrington and Ben Maher, all of whom are hungry for success whether it’s in two-star or five-star classes.

    Representing Great Britain to finish fourth in the Nations Cup was a big highlight and team spirit was high. Performance manager Di Lampard watched all our team horses jump throughout the week, then we had meetings to decide things like the team running order, we all walked the course together and Di was in the warm-up helping us.

    The first round started in daylight at 4.30pm and the course jumped really well. However we were under lights for the second round which a lot of horses struggled with and the course rode much harder so there were a lot of ups and downs. It was a very different experience.

    There are dozens of stables close to the showground, so you rent however many stalls you need and the national riders can even hack to the show each day, although the FEI horses have to be stabled on site.

    There are also classes for five-, six- and seven-year-olds which on the whole are easier than in Europe. This is partly because the tracks are slightly smaller, which I think is a good thing, and you don’t have the huge numbers of entries – a point Graham Fletcher made in his comment last week (opinion, 17 March). Those classes are so much more competitive and can lead to horses burning out by the age of eight.

    Paying your way

    BUYING and selling horses is a huge part of WEF, too – and part of the reason people can afford to come here, because it’s certainly not cheap!

    If you want to compete in the FEI classes it’s $3,000 (£2,300) per horse per week and $800 (£600) to compete in, say, two national classes per week. In the FEI classes you could certainly win that back but you couldn’t cover your costs in the smaller classes – and even those are really competitive; everyone is fast and there are lots of good horses.

    All in all, it’s been a great kick-start to the year and what’s even better is that I have some really exciting eight-year-olds back home so there’s plenty to look forward to when I return from WEF. Fingers crossed it’s going to be a good year.

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 24 March

    You may also be interested in…

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...