Kauto Star – a progress report

Kauto Star – a progress report
Kauto Star at work in dressage arena

Kauto Star. Photo by John Lawrence

Not long now until the Cheltenham festival which, for me at least, will not seem the same without Kauto Star.

But I am delighted to read that he is putting his best foot forward for Laura Collett as she trains him to become a dressage performer.

Laura tells Ian Chadband of the Daily Telegraph that the challenge is akin to “teaching Usain Bolt to become Nureyev.”

Along with the expertise of Yogi Breisner, Laura has been carefully easing Kauto Star into his new career. With great care and consideration.

She says that progress has been “better than anyone could realistically have thought.”

Personally, writes Vernon Grant, I have experience of the world of dressage and I know how hard the participants work, how caring they are of the horses involved and of how skilled a discipline it is for both rider and horse.

While I was surprised that this was the next step for Kauto Star, I do not in any way criticise dressage and agree with the owner of Kauto Star, Clive Smith, when he says that: “People have talked about him now swanning round on the dance floor or tap dancing, Kauto in a tutu. It’s a ridiculous caricature, a childish, ignorant attitude.”

And the skilled Laura Collett is right when she says: “People trying to belittle the dressage discipline are very small minded. Yes, it’s very different to racing but if the horse is happy, why shouldn’t he have the chance to do something else? Otherwise, he would be bored.”

Those who cared for Kauto Star so well during his many years with trainer Paul Nicholls had grave doubts that Kauto Star could be disciplined enough to be a dressage performer.

But each to their own. They knew how to look after and train Kauto at the highest level of National Hunt racing. Now he is in good hands again.

Laura Collett adds: “Horses are very quick at telling you if they don’t want to do something. There’s no way of making them do anything they don’t want.

“He’s definitely taken to this challenge, willing to work with you and not against you. When he’s worked something out, he doesn’t forget it.

“What he’s found hardest, and what’s going to take him longest, is how to do a steady canter because he’s only ever known gallops. He’s getting there but finds it quiet hard to hold it because the muscles he uses most in dressage are not those needed to stretch himself in racing.”

When Kauto Star left the Paul Nicholls stable for his new way of life the bookies added to unrealistic expectations when they immediately began pricing up Kauto Star to win Gold at a future Olympics. That was silly and just another sneaky way of trying to part punters with their money.

But the former deputy editor of Horse and Hound, Pippa Cuckson, had an interesting take in a letter she wrote to the Racing Post. She is now the Equestrian correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

She said: “If Kauto Star managed to win a mere amateur level elementary dressage test (the equivalent of a class 4-5 race) it would still be the most incredible advert for ex-racehorses. That would see Kauto Star leaving two important legacies rather than just one.”

Well said Pippa.

Laura Collett told the Telegraph that she will not send Kauto Star out to compete unless and until he can deliver a good dressage performance.

She said: “If I felt he couldn’t do himself proud, I wouldn’t want to take him out. Because of who he is, he deserves that.”

Quite right.

During my meetings with Kauto Star I always felt he knew how special he is. Not in a butch way, like former stablemate Denman. But more in the style of a child showing off.

And, according to Laura Collett, a move of home has not changed that.

“Oh, he does love himself. He thinks it’s all about him,” laughs Collett. “Which obviously it is!”

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