Each year, our pals at EquiRatings gather up their massive stores of data to pull out a handful of contenders for their fan-voted Horse of the Year award. This year, we’ve got a strong roster of horses to choose from, including several from this side of the pond. Here’s the skinny:
Eight horses will start us off, bracket style, with three rounds of voting determining the eventual champion. Click here to view the full ERHOTY page and to cast your vote.
Here are your first Quarter Final contenders — cast your votes for this round at this link by December 6.
Quarter Final 1: Ballaghmor Class v. Mai Baum
Ballaghmor Class tallied his third five-star win this year at Burghley, making him one of only 12 horses in the history of the sport to win three or more. The win came six years after Ballaghmor Class’s first five-star victory. That is one of the longest five-star-winning careers in eventing history (second only to La Biosthetique Sam’s seven-year span between first and last five-star title).
Ballaghmor Class is arguably the most consistent five-star horse of all time, having produced ten top-five placings at the five-star level, including a second-place finish at Badminton this year. His true-to-form consistency this season has given Ballaghmor Class the highest Elo of his career as he climbed with every single 2023 result. After his Burghley win, the 16-YO passed fischerChipmunk to top the Elo table for a while. Ballaghmor Class is, simply put, a five-star warrior and absolute workman.
Mai Baum ended the USA’s wait for a Kentucky win. Before this year, the US had waited 15 years to win their own home major.
At 17 years old, Mai Baum delivered one of the most-special victories of the year at Land Rover Kentucky, topping the field by 3.6 points and beating the likes of JL Dublin, Banzai du Loir, Z, Viamant du Matz, and Miks Master C.
The winning performance registered a 106-point High Performance Rating (HPR) which was four marks ahead of this year’s Pau-winning HPR and six marks ahead of the 2023 Burghley-winning HPR. In fact, Mai Baum’s win was one of the top three 5* HPRs this season (Badminton 111, Luhmühlen 108, Kentucky 106) and one of the highest-rated Kentucky performances we’ve seen.
A 2023 season made of: Galway Downs CCI4*-S. Won it. Land Rover Kentucky. Won it. CHIO Aachen. Podiumed it. That is one great season.
Quarter Final 2: Diabolo Menthe v. Vendredi Biats
This year’s Boekelo was the strongest non-championship 4*-L field of the past nine seasons (based on Elo Field Strength ratings) and Diabolo Menthe is the one who came out on top, beating 111 opponents to earn the title.
The win was achieved with a finish-on-dressage score of 25.4 and that result alone boosted Diabolo Menthe’s Elo rating by a major 28 points. He is now the highest-rated 10-year-old in the world based on Elo ratings, ahead of the likes of Izilot DHI, Greenacres Special Cavalier and last year’s ERHOTY winner, Zaragoza.
The Boekelo win followed a second place finish at Chatsworth 4*-S earlier this season where Diabolo Menthe was one of just nine horses to show jump clear (jump + time) of the 112 who tried. The Boekelo victory also registered a High Performance Rating (HPR) of 102, the same rating Amande de B’Neville earned for winning Saumur 4*-L just three months before she became Olympic champion…Paris here we come.
At the Europeans this year, in the face of tough cross country conditions and after disappointment in similar conditions just three months before (Badminton), Vendredi Biats dug in and rose to the occasion to lay down a cross country performance that was key to earning the European individual silver medal. His XC run as the team pathfinder, over tough ground, on a tough day was also critical to Team GB’s gold. A selection to any British team is hard-won but Vendredi Biats proved his mettle and punctuated his place on the team.
The Euros performance boosted Vendredi Biats’ Elo by an impressive 25 points in one fell swoop, such was the quality of the competition he bested. That makes him one of only seven horses in the world right now to have an 800+ Elo rating (802). The silver-medal performance also registered a High Performance Rating (HPR) of 106, making it one of best 4*-L/5* performances of the year.
It was Vendredi Biats’ second major podium of the year, after placing second at Luhmühlen in June. Two major placings and delivering for Team GB make it a standout year for Vendredi Biats.
Quarter Final 3: Lordships Graffalo v. HSH Blake
Lordships Graffalo won Badminton by 15.0 points, the largest 5* winning margin in the modern era of the sport. He then went on to win the European individual gold by 6.7 points and that was against international competition with renowned low-scoring ability and, indeed, against one of the strongest fields on record according to the Elo Field Strength rating (second only to Pratoni 2022).
Registering a High Performance Rating (HPR) of 113, Lordships Graffalo’s European gold set the new standard for 4*/5* performances, the best HPR ever (rating starts in 2008).
We’ve seen this horse coming (it’s not even his first ERHOTY rodeo): Lordships Graffalo was the highest Elo-rated horse for his age as both a 9-YO and 10-YO and is now the highest-rated 11-YO ever (rating starts in 2008). It’s a table-topping Elo trend that mimics La Biosthetique Sam-FBW’s record. Plus, Lordships Graffalo was only the third combination since 2008 to win Badminton from the front as did a certain La Biosthetique Sam in 2016.
Lordships Graffalo is, on many metrics, one of the best we’ve ever seen. For this point in his career, he is going toe-for-toe with La Biosthetique Sam who is arguably the greatest horse of all time…for now…
HSH Blake is the newly-minted Pan Ams individual gold medallist…and he’s only 8 years old. In fact, HSH Blake is one of the top ten 8-YOs of all time based on the Elo rating (which goes back to 2008), he is the best ever 8-YO for the USA, and he is the number one 8-YO in the world this season.
Having just stepped up to the four-star level this year, HSH Blake finished top three in both of his four-star appearances, including a second-place finish at the Strzegom Nations Cup where he led dressage and added just XC time to his score. Of all HSH Blake’s six international runs this year, he was never out of the top five, including two wins.
HSH Blake boosted his Elo rating with each successive international appearance this year. Continually upward. Consistent. While not quite having the top-level experience yet, a good showing at the CCI4*-L U.S. selection trial might put this horse in the Paris conversation. And as far as Los Angeles 2028 goes…watch out.
Quarter Final 4: Virgil v. Colorado Blue
Eight years after his five-star debut, 18-year-old Virgil won Adelaide 2023 by 9.5 points and became the oldest five-star winner of the last 16 seasons. It was Virgil’s first five-star win and he delivered it on a 28.5, adding just one second on the XC to his dressage score.
Adelaide was Virgil’s second international run of the year, having won a CCI4*-S before the five-star victory, giving Virgil a two for two record this season.
Virgil is particularly appreciated in context. He’s been to Tokyo: top 10. Pratoni: top 15. Burghley: asked and answered, top 20. Luhmühlen: top 10. And here he was in Adelaide, still competing at the very top level 8 years after his five-star debut…and he wins it. Seven times, Virgil has produced a 95-or-higher High Performance Rating (HPR). A 95+ is an elite achievement and top do it over and over is a testament to a top-level stalwart.
This year at Badminton, we saw Colorado Blue go head-to-head with Lordships Graffalo in the cross country phase. It was Colorado Blue who was the fastest on the day in those notoriously testing conditions; 10.8 time penalties for him, 11.6 for Lordships Graffalo, and everyone else?: Twenty-one-plus time penalties. The result was a deserved climb up the leaderboard and the first Badminton podium from an Irish combination in 40 years.
Colorado Blue is in fact one of the top-rated cross country horses in the sport. His five-star XC jumping reliability puts him in the top 0.1% of horses worldwide and his five-star speed is among the top 0.05%.
Five months after Badminton, Colorado Blue went on and did it. At Maryland, he jumped double clear (XC and SJ) to produce the first five-star win for Ireland in 58 years. He had added just 1.2 XC time penalties on a day when only one horse was under the time and he was the only double-clear SJ round on the final day.
A classic sporting story – highs (Badminton and Maryland) and lows (Burghley) and when it ended with that big win, we could practically hear the whole eventing world cheer.