Keeping it natural: barefoot, bitless mare who lives out wins 5* at Royal Windsor

  • Royal Windsor Horse Show debutant Victor Bettendorf of Luxembourg blitzed the opening CSI5* jumping class from a late draw with his barefoot and bitless mare Big Star Des Forets, who lives out in a herd at home.

    The 33-year-old rider has been hoping to jump at this show for several years and after a successful 2022, where he won 54 international classes, leaving him currently 28th in the Longines world rankings, he was able to make his first appearance.

    While some were using the Defender Stakes as a warm-up, Victor was one of those out to win this 1.45m two-phase.

    Hopes of a home win had initially looked high when John Whitaker set a decent target with Paul Barker’s stallion Green Grass but the lead then changed hands in rapid succession.

    Portugal’s Duarte Seabra snipped 0.04 sec with the 13-year-old Irish Sports Horse HHS Washington, before Matt Sampson and MGH Candy girl shot to a 1.58sec advantage.

    Just three from the end of 32 starters, Matt’s hopes of a win were dashed by an attacking round from Victor and this keen and careful mare, who found 0.93sec of ground.

    The relatively new partnership joined forces in January and got to know each other in Vilamoura. They have come to Windsor fresh from a win in the 2* grand prix in Deauville.

    “I have always loved her for two years and tried to buy her but it was difficult to get her. Then we found a solution we were happy with,” Victor said.

    “She has a lot of blood and suits my riding style — she’s very careful and has the right mindset, she’ll fight for you.”

    The 12-year-old Selle Francais mare has slotted in well with Victor’s regime, where all his horses are kept barefoot and in small herds of five to 10.

    “I feel they’re much more healthy this way,” he said. “The sport is really something not natural, so at home I try to give them the possibility to be as natural as possible and put them out in groups so they can socialise.”

    Victor also prefers to ride his horses in a hackamore.

    “It’s my favourite bridle, so I always try it on every horse and if it’s working, then I go with that. I think it’s to do with the feeling — ever rider has a bit they like and this is the one that suits my riding,” he explained.

    Matt Sampson finished best of the Brits in the class, setting himself up for a promising week, where he will also be riding Ebolensky, who won the grand prix at the London International Horse Show last year.

    He took over the ride on MGH Candy Girl from Gemma Stevens, who has produced her through the ranks, in January.

    “She won a 1.50m class in Sentower Park last week and jumped really good on the Sunshine Tour which helped me get to know her. She’s brilliant, I love her.

    “She’s really my type of horse so was quite easy to get used to. She’s got loads of blood and she’s feisty. She loved it out there today. Gemma did an amazing job with her so I’m now reaping the benefits,” Matt said.

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