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Piggy March: ‘Horses for programs’ – why Gatcombe is an ‘acquired style’ for riders

  • Piggy March, Badminton victor and the winner of six senior championship medals, on competing in the heat at Hartpury, why Gatcombe isn’t for everyone, and Britain’s dressage stars

    HARTPURY was incredible, so a big well done to the team there. It’s an event that’s changed massively from 10 years ago and the organisers deserve a slot to run a future senior championship if that’s their ambition.

    The effort put into the ground was the obvious positive – the going was exceptional, not just good “for this time of year” or “under the circumstances”.

    I only rode the four-star track and it provided a great pre-Burghley run. My only criticism was a few too many drops, but with the ground as good as it was, it wasn’t a big problem.

    In terms of coping with the extreme temperatures, the permanent stables at Hartpury are big and airy and the team made every effort to mitigate the conditions. The courses were shortened and finished under the trees with misting fans, a clever idea which worked well. I don’t believe there were any nasty incidents of horses – or people – suffering. It was a well thought out, happy, safe event.

    It was great for Vanir Kamira to score a good win in the four-star short as we aim for Burghley Horse Trials. She’s an evergreen little soldier and I’m very proud of her. She’s been such a servant for my career and a family horse for her owners the Dickens, who’ve had so much enjoyment with her.

    She’s 17 now and I don’t know how many more days like that we’ll have – we’re grateful for every event with her and every run is a bonus. She owes us nothing and we’ll carry on for as long as she keeps enjoying the sport as much as she always has.

    An acquired taste

    It’s a shame the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe had such low entries. It’s an amazing spectacle for the sport.

    I do think the venue is a very personal, acquired taste for riders. I didn’t compete there this year, but have in the past. I’m definitely not one who’s afraid to ride round an event where the cross-country is the most influential phase; I’d encourage those sorts of venues.

    But there are “horses for courses” and to be competitive at Gatcombe, horses do have to run fast on the camber, which is hard on them physically. It won’t suit every horse or every programme and different riders get the “feel good” factor from different places.

    The riders I’ve spoken to said the ground this year was as good as it’s ever been and I hope the effort the organisers put into watering and so on will be repaid with more starters in the future.

    I spent many years sitting in the bowl watching the good riders galloping around trying to win the British open when I was a kid, and it would be nice to see the event having that stature again.

    Spine-tingling Lottie Fry

    Well done to the British dressage superstars at their World Championships. Lottie Fry’s freestyle on Glamourdale was absolutely spine-tingling.

    The development of British dressage has undoubtedly been headed by the incredible horseman that is Carl Hester. His protégée Charlotte Dujardin is an unbelievable freak of a talent, producing another younger horse to perform again, this time in Imhotep. And now we have Lottie coming up as a new face to take things to the next level.

    It makes you proud to be British to see our team riding with such horsemanship and elegant harmony, even if you’re not a horse lover or a dressage lover. Our showjumpers and para dressage riders came home with medals too, so Herning was an all-round success story.

    The eventing World Championships is just a few weeks away. The British squad looks very strong and must start as the favourites – it’s a solid group, with the horsepower and temperament to deliver, and while there’s a long way to go, I’d hope that with luck on their side, they can bring home the gold.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 25 August

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