Horses don’t make it to the top of the sport by chance. Although luck plays a part, larger factors contribute to success at the elite level: partnership with the rider, strategic training, an ample dose of talent, a knowledgeable team of professionals and a program of meticulous management and care. While thoughtful care might not bring every horse to the top levels, you can bet that each of the horses competing at the Olympics or topping national leaderboards has a personalized program to bring out the best in his or her health and performance.
Following, we take a glimpse into the daily management and care of leading sporthorses in each major English discipline: Donner, the agile off-the-track Thoroughbred eventer; Royce, a show-jumping celebrity; Private Practice, a hero in the hunter ring; and the dressage world’s rising star, Mount St John Freestyle. While each program is tailored to the specific demands of these icons, one common strategy is clear: There is no magic pill that these horses thrive on. It’s simply attentive care by professionals who listen closely to their needs.
Hometown: Gloucestershire, England
Basic Stats: 10-year-old, 16.2-hand Hanoverian mare
Dam: Donna Gracia (by Donnerhall)
Breeder: Stephan Kurz
Owner: Emma and Jill Blundell
Rider(s): Charlotte Dujardin, Emma Blundell
Groom: Alan Davies
Manager: Carl Hester
When Mount St John Freestyle made her World Equestrian Games debut at the age of only 9 years old, all eyes were on her. Dressage fans around the globe knew that Freestyle, as the successor of the legendary Valegro, competed by Charlotte Dujardin, had big shoes to fill. She also happened to be the youngest competitor in the field in her first season at Grand Prix. The mare did not disappoint, returning to Great Britain with a bronze medal in tow.
Emma and Jill Blundell purchased Freestyle at the Hannoverian Elite Foal Auction in Germany. The mare was bred by Stephan Kurz, who breeds a couple foals per year. “I really wanted a foal with Donnerhall in the pedigree to go together with the first embryo-transfer foal we bred—who was also a filly—so ours wasn’t alone to grow up, but we wanted to buy quality and a nice line,” Emma Blundell said.
When Freestyle was 6 months old, she arrived at Mount St John and grew up in the fields with their first homebred dressage horse, Mount St John Front Row, who is now one of their top broodmares. When she was 3 ½ years old, she was backed at Mount St John by the team. Blundell then competed the mare as a 4-year-old in the Young Horse classes. Even in her earliest competitions, Freestyle had great success, which included winning her and Blundell’s first two outings and placing at the national finals—Blundell’s first time ever riding there, as she had mainly shown hunters before.
“She was always very level-headed and has three good basic gaits,” Blundell says of the mare. “She is unfazed by anything going on around her, which helped a lot when so many other young horses were distracted and getting tense or spooking, which lost them marks by affecting their way of going.”
Dujardin began working with Freestyle when she was 5, and as they blossomed into an FEI (International Equestrian Federation) pair, they set things off with a bang—recording eight wins in their first eight FEI starts. It comes as no surprise to hear that things just come naturally for the talented horse, and on top of it all, she has great character to match. “I always describe her like a Labrador in a horse because she loves to please and to learn new things and always to get rewards,” Blundell reports. “She now is quite demanding for her treats and likes to paw the air to get them, which spectators witnessed during the prizegiving at Windsor 2018.”
Freestyle’s normal day includes training with Dujardin in the morning, going on the horse walker and then turnout in the field in the afternoon. On Wednesdays and Saturdays she hacks down the roads, and for aqua training, closeby. Sunday is a day off when she just goes on the horse walker and in the field.
The mare eats Saracen Competition-Fit-Mix, a feed originally developed for performance horses who need a bit more energy and power for their work. The feed, which contains high-quality protein, live yeast, chelated minerals and electrolytes, is fed to her three times per day. “She’s not a complicated eater,” Blundell adds.
Freestyle has weekly physiotherapy or massages. “She also uses a massage rug daily so she’s feeling in top form all the time, and often uses the infrared heat lamps to dry off and relax after washing off after work,” Blundell says.
Bronze medal, 2018 World Equestrian Games • Multiple wins at FEI Grand Prix level at Hartpury, Harthill-Bolesworth and Windsor in Great Britain and Nieuw en Sint Joosland in the Netherlands