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Gareth Hughes on workforce dynamics and why the fourth rider is so necessary

  • Gareth Hughes is one the six riders shortlisted for the British team at the dressage World Championships in Herning, Denmark, this summer. If he is selected for the team, with either his top mare Classic Briolinca, or second horse Sintano Van Hof Olympia, this will be Gareth’s fourth major championship, since making his team debut at the 2013 Europeans in none other than Herning, riding DV Stenkjers Nadonna. 

    “One thing I have learned about being on a team, whether you become the drop score or not, is that the whole team dynamic is so important,” says Gareth, on episode 111 of The Horse & Hound Podcast, supported by NAF Five Star Superflex.

    “The end result isn’t just about the riding – it’s about team spirit, supporting each other, giving each other confidence. 

    “Even though it’s a team medal, it’s an individual sport,” he adds. “I think of a team as a little bit like a band. You need your lead singer, the one who’s going to go out and lead from the front and kick out a big score. Then you need your second rider, who’s happy to be second, but will still really go for it. And it’s the same for the third. Then there is the fourth rider, who knows they might be the drop score but will still really ride for it and give that support. 

    “If there are too many individuals on a team, then you end up all trying to be the best rider on the team and that doesn’t work. It’s all about knowing where you are, where you sit, supporting each other and doing everything you can for each other. 

    “And then when you hit the special, the individual test, you can go for it.”

    Gareth speaks from experience, having previously had the dropped score in team championships. He’s also been on the other side of the fence, though – he and Briolinca were the best performing British combination at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam, having finished seventh in the grand prix special and 10th in the freestyle

    Gareth Hughes and Classic Briolinca at the European Dressage Championships in 2019. By Peter Nixon

    “I do think I’m a good team member. I’m very supportive,” he says. “I’m not young, and trying to prove things; I know where I sit and I’m very comfortable with how I ride and what I can do. I’ve been very lucky in my life and I’ve fulfilled all the ambitions that I had. I’ve never had an ambition to win an individual medal, because I truly, honestly, don’t think I’m good enough to do that, so I have never strived for that,” he explains. 

    “In dressage, you take a horse and you know what their ‘gold medal’ is. With some, if they don’t get 80% you feel as though you’ve lost, but with Sintano at last year’s Europeans, for example, I knew that if he got 72-74%, that was his gold medal, and he scored 74.39%. With dressage, you know what you’re striving for, and there’s probably a lot less luck involved [than in other equestrian disciplines] because you ride in the same arena, with the same letters and the same test.”

    So, which member of the team “band” does Gareth see himself as?

    “Probably the bass player, the one who holds it all together and gives support,” he laughs. “And I’m really comfortable with that.”

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