Sam Hutton: ‘Tight times in these big rings can catch riders out’


  • British team showjumper Sam Hutton, who is currently out in Florida competing at the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival with AS Sport Horses’ string of horses, talks about changing his riding style and the joy of spreadsheets

    I’ve been in Florida competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) since 6 January and we’ll stay until 3 April. It’s an incredible set-up with the showgrounds in the middle, and all the barns and houses around it. Riders come from all over the world and will rent however many stables they need for the number of horses they bring.

    I have six of my own horses here, plus four horses for clients, and it’s a great experience for them. You can pick and choose your classes and they range from national competitions to four- or five-star weeks, when there will always be a two-star running alongside. So there are plenty of options if you want to drop a horse down or if they’re ready to step up into the bigger classes.

    You can end up running back and forward between rings, though! There are at least 12 rings being used for competitions here, then two minutes up the road is Global, a separate venue where they have the dressage and a beautiful jumping field – it’s brilliant.

    They’ve improved the footing in the main arena and in a couple of other rings, too, and they’re building a whole new grass stadium and a few other rings closer to the show. They’re really developing the whole place.

    Into speed mode

    The time allowed is the biggest difference competing here – it’s a lot tighter! So you have to get into speedy mode as soon as you arrive. The time is always tight in grands prix, but the rings are really big here, which can also catch you out – especially during the first few weeks when you’re finding your feet – and it takes a bit of getting used to.

    Although it is expensive, there are so many advantages to coming here – the horses are much more relaxed with the Florida sun on their backs and I like them to have as much field time as possible. But you have to be careful you don’t overdo it and burn the horses out too early. There are a lot of shows and you can get a bit too excited wanting to jump everything. So I’ve made a plan with all my horses to get in the rhythm for the season ahead in Europe.

    At the beginning of the season, I make a spreadsheet for each horse for which shows I want them to jump at and what their goals are. You’re working with horses, so of course that changes week to week, but it’s nice to have something to aim each horse towards. Hopefully we’ll get there!

    “An unbelievable opportunity”

    My top horse at the moment is Melusina BVL Z, who I’m aiming for the Nations Cup here hopefully. Then I’m also excited about Casablanca, who I got halfway through last season, and a new 10-year-old mare called Verona 13, both of whom I’m planning to step up to the next five-star in a fortnight.

    I was placed in a three-star grand prix with Cian O’Connor’s former top ride, C Vier 2, whom AS Sport Horses found for new owner Isabella Russekoff. I was keeping the horse in shape while she was at school and he was amazing to ride – it is an unbelievable opportunity to ride a horse like him.

    The show stepped up to five-star competition for the first time last week, so this is when new combinations and horses start to come to the fore for the year ahead. There’s a lot to look forward to.

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    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 16 February

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