Tag Archives: equestrian sports

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LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE MARES AT THE LONGINES WORLDS BEST RACEHORSE AWARDS

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Just as women are changing the game in today’s world of sport, business and politics, you may have noticed that the “fairer sex” of the four-legged variety, are making headlines in the equine world. A number of leading mares have claimed world titles prestigious accolades recently. And at the end of last month, the winner of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Awards was announced as Winx. The Australian flat race mare has won 29 consecutive stakes races including 22 Group 1s.

 

Winx is not the only mare to dominate the racing scene. The British thoroughbred Enable, who featured eighth in the 2018 Longines world rankings, has been one of the most dominant middle-distance horses in Europe for several years. Last year, after winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the second time she went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Making history in the process, as the first horse to achieve this feat.

 

2018 was also a great year for mares as well as girls in Equestrian sport. The 15-year-old mare Classic Moet, won Badminton under Jonelle Price- the first female rider to win in 11 years. Whilst show-jumper Simone Blum riding DSP Alice and Dressage stars, Isabel Werth on Bella Rose were individual winners the showjumping and dressage world titles at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon.

 

But back to racing and the grand affair that I was lucky enough to be invited to. On Wednesday, January 23, Longines and its long-time partner the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), hosted the 2018 Longines World’s Best Racehorse, World’s Best Horse Race and World’s best jockey ceremony in the Landmark Hotel, London. With an equal rating of 130, Winx and Cracksman were together declared the 2018 winners. Frankie Dettori celebrated the leading jockey award, a clear leader with the highest number of points. It was a French victory as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was chosen as the best horse race in the world.

 

For Winx, this was the third year in a row that the nine-year-old has won the award. In addition, she has been the highest rated filly/mare in the world since 2016 as well as the top-ranked turf horse. In 2018, her season culminated in her becoming the only horse in history to win the Ladbrokes Cox Plate four times. What is also significant about this tough mare, is her longevity in a sport which is rarely a long career for horses. Winx has consistently won over five seasons and is going into her sixth with no immediate plans to retire. Yet she has proved her versatility, speed, and staying power, by winning over a range of distances from 6 ½ furlongs (1300 metres) to 11 furlongs (2200 furlongs).

 

What is also unique, is that unlike many elite racehorses, Winx does not have a particularly long stride. Her stride was measured at 6.76 metres compared to 8.5 metres for other horses of similar calibre. Instead, her success has been attributed to a freakish stride rate that allows her to take 14 strides for every 5 seconds, compared to 12 for her rivals. According to Dr. Graeme Putt, who has studied the science of racehorse success, this is a unique advantage. “This means she can settle or accelerate at any time during a race.”

 

Winx was sold as a yearling for 230,000 Australian dollars (just under £128,000) at the 2013 Magic Millions Gold Coast sale. She has already amassed around A$23 million dollars (around £12.74 million) in prize money under trainer Chris Waller and her principal jockey Hugh Bowman. She is owned by Magic Bloodstock Racing, Richard Treweeke, and Debbie Kepitis. Most of her connections came over to collect the Longines prize and we were lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with Debbie Kepitis about the courageous mare who has changed their lives.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JopbA-fjSwM&feature=youtu.be

 

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The biggest win of my career: Longines FEI World Cup at Olympia

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British rider William Whitaker celebrated the biggest win of his career after claiming the Longines FEI World Cup Final at Olympia yesterday. Fighting back tears he said “This is the one class I think about every day. I’ve been coming here since I was two or three years old and to actually win it is a dream come true. To us British riders, the World Cup here is like a Championship and you only get one shot at it, a year. I have been thinking about it for a while and decided if I was clear, I wouldn’t hold back in the jump-off.”

 

Riding the stallion Utamaro D Ecaussines, who he partnered at the World Equestrian Games in North Carolina earlier this year, William posted the fastest clear in the jump off. “I knew I had done a good round but when I looked down at the list and it was the best riders in the world left to jump, I didn’t think it was possible.  It helps that I was on such a horse. He has such a good brain and mentality. He was nearly falling asleep in the warm-up but he just lights up and grows a hand when he gets in the arena. We’ve had loads of fantastic performances but we’ve never managed to win a Grand Prix so to win one and it be this one on homer turf, is so special.”

 

The 29 year old from Huddersfield, is of course part of showjumping’s most successful family. Both his uncles John and Michael together with his cousin Robert Whitaker were competing in the World Cup yesterday. His uncle Michael was next best Brit, finishing in 4th place. “I have memories of my uncles jumping here,” William said. “The thought of winning the World Cup was one of those things that got me out of bed in the morning.”

 

Belgian rider Karel Cox claimed second place and America’s Laura Kraut finished third. Laura was one of five female riders competing, all of whom got through to the jump off, including Britain’s Laura Renwick.

 

 

 

Photo from hopedeamer1-17

WEG FOCUS: JONELLE PRICE- Riding the Crest of the Wave after the birth of her son.

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New Zealand’s Jonelle Price has been knocking on the door of a big win for nearly a decade. This year with her evergreen mare Classic Moet, she won perhaps the most famous equestrian events of them all, The Mitsubishi Badminton Horse Trials. In doing so, Jonelle became the first female winner in ten years and all this, just eight months after the birth of her son Otis. Then just a month later, she proved it wasn’t a fluke by winning Luhmuhlen on Faerie Dianimo. Jonelle has been a regular fixture on the New Zealand event squad and helped the team to win the bronze medal in London 2012.

 

This week the 37-year-old will be hoping to add another medal at the FEI World Equestrian Games, where she must be in serious contention for an individual as well as a team in Tryon. And why not? It has been a great year for the Price family and the stars seem aligned. Earlier this month her husband and fellow WEG team-member, Tim Price won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, making them the first husband and wife to win back-to-back titles since Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips did it in 1971.

 

Jonelle, who quit her law degree to follow her eventing dreams, is one of the most determined riders on the circuit and has success at all levels of the sport. According to the statisticians from Equi-ratings, Price is still “the fastest cross-country rider in the world” even after her break to have baby Otis.

 

For Jonelle, her pregnancy came as something of a surprise and was received with mixed emotions; “I hated being off. I was riding the crest of a wave, having just been third at Burghley (2016). Things were all going in the right direction and it felt like a spanner in the works. But reflecting on it, I realise now that in the scheme of your lifetime, it is not much really is it?”

 

Her sporting ambitions kept the 37-year-old looking forwards and helped her make a speedy comeback to the sport.

 

“It was a real focus throughout my pregnancy to stay fit. I rode pretty much the whole way through and I was at the gym and worked with a personal trainer the whole time so I didn’t lose a huge amount of fitness. Even though obviously your body changes a bit and that takes time to come back, I don’t think I lost the fitness of core stability.”

 

On her return, it was business as normal and giving birth had not dampened her competitive spirit or changed her feelings for contesting a high-risk and physically and emotionally demanding sport. “For me, that wasn’t a problem. You have more time when you are pregnant to think about these things and you wonder how it will affect you and hear stories of other women who decide to give up, in any sport. I think it’s a very individual thing and I was pleasantly surprised that I felt really normal. Nothing had changed and it really was just back to work.”

 

Whilst her family still live in New Zealand, the Prices are reliant on good child-care and Otis joins them at most events. “It hasn’t been as life-changing in the way I thought it would. I was worried about that but it has just enhanced our lives. He’s an incredible little boy and he doesn’t care whether we win or lose. It’s really refreshing, he still loves you the same and looks forward to seeing us at the end of the day, as we do him. For us, it really has been business as normal and we are lucky that in this job, he can come on the road with us. He is probably one of the most well-traveled one-year-olds you will find and he doesn’t know any different”.

 

Written by Ellie Kelly

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Trainers in Focus: Eventing Nick Gauntlett

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Nick Gauntlett - Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2010

In the first part of our “Trainers in Focus” Series, we catch up with popular trainer Nick Gauntlett. Nick is “a fellow of the British Horse Society” which means he holds the highest level of BHS coaching qualification and is also is one of a small and illustrious group to hold the title of “British Eventing Master Coach”. On top of that, he has competed at the highest level for a number of years and was the rider responsible for producing the great stallion, Chilli Morning to four star level.

 

What are the key things you focus on when teaching jumping?

 

Rhythm and energy. The consistency of these two things is far more important than getting to the right spot at the fence. Even over big fences, if you have great rhythm and energy, you can get away with being a bit off the right spot for take-off. Whereas, you can hit the perfect spot but if you don’t have the rest of it, the jump can feel awkward.

 

How do you teach riders to find a rhythm and see a stride?

I have a few methods, one is to get them to count in a regular rhythm whilst they approach fences. I also get riders to approach a show jump with their eyes closed or looking away. It works unbelievably well in proving to riders that they don’t need to look at a fence to find a stride.”

 

How do you know if you have enough energy approaching a fence?

“In terms of energy levels, you have to keep checking that the horse is truly in front of the leg. Imagine if you are driving a Ferrari and you hit the accelerator, you would feel a surge of power. Where as if you are driving an old Land Rover in the wrong gear, it is all going to feel a huge effort. Andrew Nicholson once said “if it feels nice, you’re not going fast enough”. I have changed this to “if it feels nice, you’re not good enough”. So you need to feel you are a bit out of your comfort zone and then there will probably be enough power.”

 

What are common rider faults which you often see?

The position of the leg and upper body position is often at fault and one that is likely to effect the safety and security of the rider. I tell people to imagine their horse has disappeared from underneath them and ask themselves whether their feet would still support them, whether they are jumping a cross-country fence or down a huge drop. When a rider is ahead of the movement, with their full weight resting on the horse on take-off, the horse’s jump will inevitably be compromised and from a safety point of view, this is a big concern.”

 

How do you develop a more secure seat?

If you are relaxed and soft in the knee and thigh, you will have a more secure lower leg. Whereas if your knee and thigh is tight, it will become a pivot, which will send the lower leg backwards and the body forwards.

 

Why is a light seat and soft knee so important?

It is amazing how relaxed you can make a sensitive horse feel by being soft through your knee and thigh and having a light seat. I often see riders, see a stride and then start driving with their seat, three strides out. This frequently ends up with them missing the stride and you send the front of the horses forwards and the back end, backwards. I tell riders to imagine having drawing pins in the seat and knee areas of their saddle, to encourage them to be light

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What’s your advice for shaving seconds off your cross-country time?

Many people think it’s just about riding faster but actually, you can save more time by just kicking away from each fence. So think of it as saving a second per fence by just landing and kicking as it gets you back into your rhythm as quickly as possible.

 

What should I think about when planning the perfect cross-country round?

When deciding your approach to a fence, remember that you have walked the course and understand the problem ahead, whilst it is completely new to the horse.

I put fences into three groups:

  1. Fence with a sloping profile e.g. steeplechase
  2. Fence with an upright profile e.g. five bar gate
  3. Combination fence- rail, ditch rail

 

Jumping a fence with a sloping profile, a rider should feel confident to let the horse jump out of their stride without changing the rhythm.

 

Jumping an upright fence- we call these “new old fashioned fences” as we see an awful lot more these days. Course Designers at top level talk about designing to encourage “rider responsibility” and this will trickle down to designing at lower levels. As a rider we need to learn from the outset, to get into that defensive position. Keep the energy but allow the horse to see and assess the fence when approaching an upright.  

 

For a combination fence, you should be thinking about which gear to be in and this depends not just on the type of fence but also the experience of the horse. For example, if you are approaching a rail-ditch-rail, all the horse sees as they approach, is the rail. You need to convey to the horse that there is something a bit different about this. It’s like dropping from fifth to third gear- the car slows down but the revs go wild. You mustn’t take the energy away but you have controlled the speed, allowing the horse to understand what is ahead.

The more experienced the horse, the quicker they understand and react to the problem and yours and your horse’s experience should dictate what gear you choose. If you’re just moving up a level, you probably need to give your horse more time so will need a lower gear.

 

I always tell riders to be careful watching other riders jump through fences and basing their decision on that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is right for your horse’s level of experience. Intermediate can be the worse for that as you have horses just moving up from Novice level. Then you also come across a four star horse having a spin and they make it look effortless. 

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Written by Ellie Kelly

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BADMINTON- The year of the legends

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BADMINTON- the year of the legends

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The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials never fails to make a big splash in terms of gripping action and great moments. There’s a good reason it is one of the top five most attended sporting events in the UK and it is one of just a handful of equestrian events which is broadcast on national television these days. But what played out this year was nothing short of epic. It is fair to say that the tales thrown up at the 69th edition of Badminton, should probably go down in the history books.

 

It was a great year for the girls. Jonelle Price became the first female winner in 11 years with the evergreen mare Classic Moet, a talented and long-term coupling who have been knocking on the four star door for several years. The last female winner was in 2007 and another much loved female partnership of Lucinda Frederick and Headley Britannia had their day.

 

Jonelle’s win really emphasised the significance of a strong relationship between horse and rider. Speaking after her cross-country round she said: “I felt the pressure on the cross-country that she could go near the time but you just have to get out there and do your job and I know her so well. It’s a real partnership,” she explained. After scoring one of the few clear show-jumping rounds to secure her win, Jonelle summed up her emotions: “Being a CCI4* winner is an elite club to join and it’s been something that has eluded me for a while now, so to now join it – especially here at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials – is very, very special.”

 

The fact that Jonelle won one of the most hard-fought Badminton’s we have seen, just eight months after giving birth to her son, was not only an incredible feat but particularly inspiring for all women, girls and working mums, whether their biological ticks or not. When she was asked whether motherhood had made any difference to her mentality or the way she rode, Jonelle responded: “No, the only difference is that when I went to get on for cross-country, I had “Incey Wincey Spider” stuck in my head, so that was certainly a first.”

 

Classic Moet- a pure thoroughbred also became a mum last year (theoretically), in the shape of two embryo transfer fillies by the stallion, Upsilon.

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In addition, there were four female riders in the top ten this year and a female dominance we haven’t witnessed at the British four-stars for some time. Britain’s Ros Canter and Gemma Tattersall took 3rd and 4th spot respectively, two ladies who should surely be heading to Tryon for the FEI World Equestrian Games in September this year.

 

With an all-star cast on the entries list, there was inevitably going to be drama, masterful riding and great action. Eric Winter made his stamp on Badminton last year, with a big bold course, which caught more than half the field out that time. This year, the general consensus from riders was that the jumps were marginally kinder but still imposing and a true four star but with the added challenge of seriously holding ground conditions and the fact that many British based riders were lacking match practice after so many early season events were cancelled.

The wet winter and further rainfall on the preceding days had taken it’s toll. When the sun shone on the first two days, it worsened conditions further making the ground tacky and together with a warmer climate it was even more energy-sapping. The result was that no rider made it around the 4.2 mile course inside the time. Yet the 74 % completions and only one serious horse injury to report, made for a fairly happy Course Designer.

Photo from hopedeamer1-12

We had three Horse Scout advocates competing: Giovanni Ugolotti, Joseph Murphy and Oliver Townend. All finished in the top 27 with a clear cross-country. Oliver was still on a high from his win at Kentucky and was hungry for the Rolex Grand Slam. He was named the new World Number One for the first time in his life. Despite some impressive performances with his two horses, he had to settle for runner up to Jonelle with Cooley SRS and fifth with Ballaghmor Class.

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Last year’s winner, Andrew Nicholson was never going to rest on his laurels and had saved Armada for the big occasion. Certainly fitting that he chose to retire his legendary and most noble steed at Badminton, in front of a teary eyed crowd. It was a poignant moment when he was led out of the arena, after a formidable 13 year career which included finishing in the top 12 at 10 four star events. As well as winning Pau four-star in 2012 and Badminton in 2017, with Andrew, Nereo was a mainstay of the New Zealand team for some time, winning team bronze and individual fourth at the London Olympics and individual and team bronze at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

 

Emotions were raw by the time it came to Ben Hobday’s announcement that he was retiring crowd favourite Mulrys Error. The unorthodox eventer, who jumped a number of clears at four-star level and became affectionately known as “super cob” will now have a less demanding job of educating Ben’s stable jockeys. He may also be seen at some Eventing Grand Prix in the future.

 

Another “end to an era” looked like it was going to take place at Badminton, as Michael Jung was muttering something about retiring La Biothetique- Sam FBW (aka Sam) this year. The 18 year old has been quite simply the most successful eventer of all time, having won the World Championships, the European Championships, two Olympic gold medals and four out of his seven four star events, mostly finishing on his dressage score.

 

However, this year Badminton was not to be for the dynamic duo. One suspects Michi brought Sam to Badminton to win it and with an uncharacteristic two rails in the showjumping, he is unlikely to bow out with him just yet. Sam still looked like a five year old and was as spring-heeled as ever in difficult conditions, so it would be wonderful to see him at Burghley. Michi gave us an education in cross-country riding and Sam gave us one heart-stopping moment at the first corner jump into The Mound, when he left a leg, otherwise it was poetry in motion to watch.

 

We also said a final farewell to Mike Tucker, he stepped down from his BBC role last year but sadly succumbed to a heart-attack just months into his retirement. The “Voice of Equestrian” will be sorely missed. His communicated our equestrian sport with charm and wit. Mike often said the wrong thing but in this crazy age of political correctness, we loved him for his slight defiance.

 

I was there in my role as Assistant Producer for the BBC, which means I get to help make the Highlights Show, which goes out on the Sunday afternoon. I advise them on what should be covered in first place in our mini-documentary and do a number of off-cam interviews with riders. It means I really am in the thick of it and ensconced in the stables or riders lorry park for much of the week. Most of the BBC crew have never ridden a horse in their lives, which I think helps give another perspective, as we also have to educate and entertain the horse-ignorant as well as the avid enthusiast. This year, we all agreed was the best yet in terms of twists and turns, stories and fairy tale endings. Interviews with William Fox-Pitt, returning to Badminton for the first time since his serious brain injury in 2015 plus Andrew Nicholson, Piggy French and the blacksmith who had been the resident farrier at Badminton since 1953, left us all a bit emotional.

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Written by Ellie Kelly