For many horse people, Christmas can be summed up in one word: Olympia. It’s the show all the riders love, because even though they’re as competitive as ever, it gives them a chance to let their hair down. You never know who you’ll see in the audience, either – a friend found she was sitting next to Katie Price and her children.
Olympia always comes up with a fairytale story. This year the heroine was (no prizes for guessing) Charlotte Dujardin. She set a new world record of 94.3 per cent in the Grand Prix freestyle, a score which included 25 tens. Even five years ago, this score would have been unbelievable, but what makes it so special is the partnership between Charlotte and Valegro.
There’s more to this story than a horse and his rider, though. Every fairytale needs its facilitator and much as I admire Charlotte – who must be the only dressage rider to make it on to a postage stamp – I admire Carl Hester even more.
Many riders would have taken back the ride on Valegro, but Carl realised he’d put together a special combination and showed a remarkable generosity of spirit. Let’s not let the blinding brilliance of Charlotte and Valegro overshadow Carl’s own fantastic ride on Nip Tuck, either. At ten years old, Nip Tuck was the youngest horse in the competition and the way Carl rode him into fifth place, building the horse’s confidence for the years to come, showed another kind of selflessness.
It wasn’t all sweetness and light between the Olympia dressage boards. Social media has been dripping with indignation and venom over Laura Collett’s disastrous appearance with Kauto Star. The horse ‘shut down’ and Laura came under fire for the way she reacted.
From the videos, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Only Laura can know what went wrong, though plenty of keyboard warriors could, of course, have done much better. But there seems to be some assumption that Kauto Star was destined for the heights of Valegro and Nip Tuck, which was never the case and quite frankly, could never happen.
He was a phenomenal racehorse who won more than £2million and whose owner wanted him to have a good and interesting life after racing. If only all ex-racehorses were so lucky! Olympia wasn’t what people wanted to see and in hindsight – which is wonderful – the horse shouldn’t have been there. I bet Laura wishes she’d stayed at home.
But back to the good news. For me, the other great event at Olympia was the Olympia Senior Showing Series championships, where horses, ponies and even a few owners proved that you’re only as old as you feel.
For the past 12 years, I’ve watched Heather Linfield and her lovely coloured gelding, Broken Arrow, win countless showing championships. I saw her retire him from mainstream showing at this year’s British Skewbald and Piebald Association championships and couldn’t stop laughing – because Heather confessed that her biggest problem with doing veteran ridden classes was that 16-year-old Broken Arrow doesn’t appreciate the fact that he wasn’t supposed to gallop.
Here, he came fifth in the in-hand section and looked a picture. So did all the finalists, especially the winner of the ridden series: What A Spark is a 20-year-old former showjumper and working hunter who had a fantastic competitive life, is still much loved and cherished – and doesn’t look a day over ten.
These are the horse stories that have brightened my Christmas. I hope you have plenty of your own.