Dressage rider and former National Champion Spencer Wilton is the first reserve for the British team contesting the European Dressage Championships in Aachen (August 12-16).
National Champion with Dolendo in 2007, he made a successful return to international grand prix this year with Jen Goodman’s Supernova II, his reserve partner.
Spencer is based in Berkshire where he runs his own yard with partner Darren Hicks.
How does it feel to be team reserve?
Good — although I did compete in a Nations Cup team with Dolendo in 2006, this is my first inclusion on the squad for a major championship. I was rather hoping they might have taken a risk on us in that fourth slot as it would have been a great experience but I totally understand why they didn’t. But Supernova is still on his way up and still has time yet. I am a non-travelling reserve so at the moment we are just doing the logistics as to what will be the absolute latest I leave the UK — although the situation at Calais is not making that easy — in order to get to Aachen, bearing in mind that the last minute time allowed for a reserve to come in is two hours before the trot up.
Tell me a bit about where you are based and your daily routine.
I have been based at Headley Stud, near Newbury, for the last two years. I rent 11 boxes so I have a small and manageable yard and spend the rest of the time teaching and travelling to teach, although teaching has been limited this year, as I have been away competing so much. I have two full-time staff and Darren works with me too.
This has been my first international season since 2007 and I have recently done four competitions on the trot. I intend to concentrate on that now and it’s good to be back at the level. The downside, however, is that I have much less time for teaching and therefore less income.
I have another two shows lined up after Aachen, which takes me up to the National Championships — it’s been a big commitment. But I want to get the outdoor shows under our belt, as I don’t think Supernova is going to suit indoor shows — he likes to spend a lot of time just walking and hacking about at a show so don’t expect to see us at Olympia.
How did you come to get the ride on Supernova?
I was at Badminton and Carl [Hester] was doing his dressage demonstration — I looked at the screen and saw this great big horse about to do the most amazing piaffe. Then, a bit later, Carl said he had to sell him so I rang Jen Goodman and got her to google up the YouTube clip of him at Badminton and we went to see him.
At that time he was a seven-year-old. He is actually British-bred and was bred by Mrs Kirby, who was a great breeder and Hanoverian supporter. He is by the lovely De Niro out of her mare Walpurgis (champion of the British Hanoverian Horse Society show for three consecutive years) who was by Weltmeyer. He has a full brother who is competing at small tour with Rosie Moreton-Deakin. He was originally produced by Melanie Phillips of Ruxton Horses who sold him to Carl as a five-year-old and has the stable name of Neville.
How many other horses do you have?
Well, there is a bit of a gap between Neville and the rest; I still have Sambucca who is now castrated and has also been side-lined with a few irritating issues, Doogie who has also been out with a few problems and Alfons (Inter I national champion last year), who is also coming back and they are all competing at small tour. Then there is a huge gap………
What do you do outside of horses?
We have been fairly busy this year, as we recently bought a house nearby and it turned into much more of a project than I thought, which has taken a lot of energy and time. However, I am about to start on the garden, which is the bit I like, and that is going to be my autumn and winter project — although I have a lot of ground elder to get rid of first.
Do you breed horses?
Well, I have but it wasn’t totally intentional. I have a mare that I bought as a two-year-old. She had a bone chip in the hock that needed removing, which was fine, then she needed another operation and needed a year off so I put her in foal. Just before she was due, she colicked, which transpired it was because the foal was stuck, so she needed another operation to free the foal. She was cut open and put back together and gave birth naturally 12 days later. Then she had to be operated on again to fully repair and mesh the cut, as it was thought it wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand breeding or work. I finally brought her into work and she got problems with the original hock… We now have two foals out of her, one by Sambucca and the other by Glamourdale.
Who does the cooking?
We both cook but we got really lazy this year as there is a lovely M&S food outlet close by. However, we realised it was costing us far too much, so we now have an Abel & Cole veg delivery every week. It’s like a surprise box of veg and it has been really good for our culinary skills — we’ve even had to look up some of the veg on the internet.
What was your last meal?
A vegetable lasagne, as I was using up all the veg before the new weekly delivery. I did it all myself — I never use a made sauce now.
Who is your horse hero?
Isabelle Werth just fascinates me. I could watch her ride for hours — she is extraordinary. Her timing is immaculate and her system very clever. She is so horse aware and can create a huge amount of propulsion from not very much. Her horse Bella Rose is not the most talented but what she has done with her is amazing and she has huge belief in her horses. I have watched the Bonfire versus Gigolo video many times.
Which horse taught you the most?
It’s a toss-up beween Escapado and Dolendo… Escapado because he gave me the feeling of what riding dressage should feel like when it is right and easy. If you don’t get that you never know what you are aiming for and he gave me the ideal to strive for. Dolendo because he took me further than I had been before. He had to be taught to enjoy work but you couldn’t dominate him. I had to learn to work with him and make him believe it was all his idea — and I loved him dearly.
Which is your favourite venue?
Having never been there before and having just shortly got back, I would have to say it’s Hagen. It is a beautiful and pretty setting, very horse friendly, with plenty of arena space and lovely hacking track, which is pretty important when you have a Neville, and also great hospitality and good organisation.