Four months on from Britain’s first Olympic gold medal in dressage, two of the country’s leading horses may be lost for the 2016 Rio Games.
Uthopia, a Dutch-bred stallion that helped to win team gold at the London games, performed for a final time two days ago with his rider Carl Hester, finishing sixth at a World Cup dressage event at the Olympia Horse Show in London. Hester, who owns half of Uthopia, will put the horse up for sale once legal issues surrounding the ownership of the remaining 50 percent stake are resolved, he said in an interview.
“If I had a choice, the horses wouldn’t be sold,” said Hester, who trained 11-year-old Uthopia up to Olympic level from the age of four. “But it’s time to move on really, and try and get ahead with my mortgage and things like that. I am not 20- something anymore and I haven’t got that many years left as a competitor. It’s just nature.”
Hester, 45, also owns half of Valegro, a Dutch-bred 10- year-old gelding that won Olympic team and individual gold with Charlotte Dujardin. Hester is mentor and coach to Dujardin, whom he hired as a stable-hand six years ago. The pair are trying to find investors to buy the remaining 50 percent of Valegro so the horse can stay at their yard.
Top dressage horses can achieve prices of up to 15 million euros ($20 million), although Hester declined to say how much Uthopia and Valegro would be worth. They could compete for another country in Rio if they’re sold abroad, or fail to qualify altogether if they don’t establish a rapport with new riders.
Dujardin, 27, competed with Valegro for the first time since the London games two days ago, setting a world record score of 84.45 percent to win the World Cup dressage freestyle- to-music event ahead of former Olympic champion Isabell Werth of Germany on her horse Don Johnson.
Valegro’s performance, to “Land of Hope and Glory” and the bell chimes of Big Ben in front of a sellout crowd at Olympia, may go some way to keeping him in Britain, Hester said.
“The whole idea was that Olympia would be another launchpad for people to see him,” said Hester, who learned to ride on a donkey when he was growing up in the Channel Islands. “Several people have said ‘Let’s talk.’ There is no hurry, there is no desperate need. I own him, and Charlotte has worked for me for six years and we are friends. We’re going to try and sort it out between us.”
Britain wouldn’t be the first country to lose its best Olympic horses to cash-rich buyers.
In 2010, dressage fans in the Netherlands mounted an online protest after former German Olympic showjumper Paul Schockemoehle bought record-breaking stallion Totilas from Kees Visser. Schockemoehle paid a record 15 million euros, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported at the time. Totilas didn’t enjoy the same success with his new rider, Matthias Rath, who withdrew from the London Olympics with glandular fever.
Hester says he has two other talented young horses that may make it to Rio.
At the London Olympics, Britain’s dressage team beat Germany, which had won every Olympic team gold in dressage since 1976 apart from the 1980 boycott year in Moscow. The home team’s performance was rewarded with more funding this week.
UK Sport, the country’s elite-sport funding agency, boosted equestrianism’s cash by a third to 17.9 million pounds ($29 million) in the next four years to the Rio Games.
The extra money is “a huge shot in the arm,” for the sport, Hester said.
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