Grand National winner Neptune Collonges has just won his debut dressage test, with a score of 79.57%.
The 11-year-old grey gelding was retired from the racetrack following his win at Aintree last year, and he spent a well-earned summer off at his owner John Hales’ place in Shropshire. John also owns Nick Skelton's former showjumpers Arko and Russel.
However, ‘Nipper’ hasn’t retired from life and according to John’s wife, Pat, dressage is just the beginning of his competition career with their daughter Lisa, who is now riding him.
“Lisa’s doing dressage so she can showjump him,” Pat explained to H&C. “People don’t understand a horse might be able to jump Becher’s Book but it doesn’t mean he can showjump!”
His first outing – and win – was at a local show at Kingswood Equestrian Centre in Albrighton last week (18 November). The pair only did a walk and trot test as Nipper’s canter is “coming along but still not brilliant”.
“He can hold it quite well although he still rushes into canter,” Lisa told H&C. “But his walk and trot has come so good I thought I might as well do something with him.”
Nipper has clearly taken to his new sport like a duck to water, although Lisa is taking things very slowly.
“We’ve started from the bottom again and are working our way up,” she said. “But I’d rather do that than go out showjumping now and have three down – I want him to do himself justice.”
The Hales family always knew that last year would be Nipper’s final season, as he had a high handicap and didn’t have the speed he once had. But they weren’t all in agreement that the Grand National should be his final race.
“He was no longer a Gold Cup horse and we knew he couldn’t take on the up-and-coming stars,” said Lisa. “But he’s a horse with massive heart and will always try his hardest, we just decided we didn’t want didn’t want to flog him like that by sending him back to the trainers.”
“But I was against him running in the National – I said why risk him in his last race?”
Luckily for them, the risk paid off and Nipper was first over the line, by a nose.
“He did our family proud, so we want to keep him in work as long as we can, but doing something he enjoys,” she said. “So if he doesn’t take to showjumping I’ll stick to dressage as he’s got lovely paces and he seems to like it.”