“It Was Probably One of His Best Tests”: Ros Canter’s 5* Champ Back with a Bang at Thoresby

Ros Canter and Izilot DHI. Photo by Hannah Cole.

And just like that, after a long, quiet, soggy off-season in the UK, we’re back in action at the first FEI event of 2024. This year, the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park – which is somewhere pretty north and I won’t be able to tell you anything with more specificity than that because I’m (kind of) a Londoner – has eased us in to its jam-packed double CCI4*-S offering, putting on just two hours’ worth of day one dressage in the walled garden to start the weekend today. And look, we could run you through that handful of dressage tests across the two sections, going heavy on the analysis right off the bat, but let’s be real: there was one stand-out performance, and that’s where we’re going to focus all our attention.

The primary CCI4*-S section, the prestigious Grantham Cup class, hosts roughly half of the 120 or so four-star entrants at Thoresby this year (the higher-FEI-pointed half, for what it’s worth). Today, we saw thirteen of them take to the ring, and subsequently, a thorough tour of the 30s and low 40s on the scoreboard. Except, of course, when reigning European Champion Ros Canter put the final halt and salute on her test with Izilot DHI. The pair’s test was much-anticipated for two reasons: firstly, for the simple fact that they were the first duo in the ring, and thus our first official British four-star competitors of 2024, and secondly, because the last time we saw the quirky eleven-year-old KWPN gelding (Zavall VDL x Un, by Cavalier), it was when he was winning on his five-star debut at Pau in October. That win, which followed just weeks after victory in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L, wasn’t a surprise where ‘Isaac’s’ talent is concerned – but it was, perhaps, a bit of a surprise because of how mercurial the gelding can be.

In 2019, though, we saw Laura Collett’s London 52 win Boekelo’s CCI4*-L, a victory that she has always professed to be the making of the horse, who had had a spate of up-and-down results prior to that. Now, he’s a three-time CCI5* winner – and it’s not hard to imagine that Isaac, too, could be entering his winningest era yet after tasting success last autumn. Today, his pathfinding test earned him a 25.6, which might not be one of his best four-star scores – he’s previously gone sub-20 at the level – but, Ros tells us, it felt like one of his top efforts yet.

“It was one of his best tests, if not the best he’s ever done,” she says. “He felt really rideable and with me, and not spooky, which is really nice for this time of year! He’s a really uphill horse with a very long neck, and it can be quite a challenge sometimes, because he can look like he’s peacocking. Today, though, he felt the best he has in his neck.”

One of the catalysts for that feeling, Ros explains, was a change in his routine over the winter.

“He’s not a hot horse, but he’s a spooky one – but he’s definitely gotten better this winter,” she says. “I’ve changed the way I do things a bit with him. I’m doing much less schooling at home and a lot more hacking. And then I go out and about to do his training. It feels like we’ve broken the habit, now, of spooking quite so much.”

Thoresby’s an exciting start to the season for Isaac — even with two very competitive phases yet to come — but it’s also a crucial stepping stone. Currently, Ros has the gelding double-entered for both Badminton, which she won last year with Lordships Graffalo, and Kentucky, and while she’s open-minded about which of the two she ends up at – “or he might go to neither!” – her presence at either event with the talented gelding will make her one of the firm favourites in either field. We’ll be taking a close look at the rest of the field here in tomorrow’s full day of dressage, but in the meantime, we’re already daydreaming about Isaac’s campaign to become one of the sport’s most successful five-star weirdos.

The Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby: Website | Live Scores | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

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