WILTSHIRE rider Laura Collett has enjoyed her first experience of riding Kauto Star as she prepares to assess his suitability for a potential dressage career.
The retired National Hunt superstar, who won five King Georges and two Cheltenham Gold Cups, was required to make an early departure from his stable in Somerset after a difference of opinions between trainer Paul Nicholls and owner Clive Smith.
While Nicholls hoped Kauto Star could remain with the staff at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Smith felt Kauto Star should try a new discipline.
He asked Collett, a decorated event rider at junior levels and aspiring Olympian for 2016, to work with the gelding along with long-time British manager and coach Yogi Breisner.
The 22-year-old Collett received Kauto Star at her base on the Membury Estate near Marlborough on Tuesday afternoon and tweeted this morning: "I am officially the LUCKIEST girl in the world right now.... I have just ridden Kauto Star...
"He is a truly amazing horse... Felt like a fresh 4yo which is all credit to @PFNicholls and his team. I am honoured."
Breisner, who is often used by trainers to get to the bottom of problem racehorses, coaches Collett on a regular basis.
He was put in touch with Smith by Di Arbuthnot, chief executive of the Retraining of Racehorses charity, which is affiliated with the British Horseracing Authority.
Asked about Kauto Star's attributes for potential success in the dressage arena, Breisner said: "This is up for us to assess at the moment."
"As we know he's had a fantastic racing career, he's been brilliantly trained and looked after by Mr Nicholls and his staff at Ditcheat and so this is just a matter of getting to see if he will settle into a different type of routine in life.
"If he does that comfortably, then maybe there's an alternative thing he can do, but we don't know that until we have started to work with him.
"Number one is how to look after the horse's best interests, his welfare and care and give him what he deserves in life after a magnificent racing career."
Breisner explained a little about what Kauto Star would be doing with Collett and himself.
He said: "It's not a matter of putting him through anything at all really, its just ride him away and see a little bit where we are with him and how he takes to a different routine.
"As a racehorse they go out in a string and they are worked very much to get them fit, etcetera and that routine will be slightly changed in that he would be doing work in an arena, and gentle exercises in that sort of way, and then we will see a little bit how we go after that."
Breisner did, however, scotch any suggestion Kauto Star could go on from winning a Cheltenham Gold Cup to an Olympic dressage medal.
"If a horse is going to reach Olympic level, they really need to start their education when they are young, sort of four or five-year-olds," he said.
"So it would be a tremendous exception if a horse could come out of retirement from racing and then go into an alternative career that was going to lead to Olympic level, never mind a medal, in any of the three disciplines."
Breisner's views were echoed by Arbuthnot, who pointed out a number of other names who had managed to achieve success in another field.
"The Retraining of Racehorses is all about life after racing. A lot of people do take these horses on and give them a second career, whether it's in the show ring, or the polo field or eventing or hunting or simply just happy hacking," she told At The Races.
"Neptune Collonges has been doing some dressage and Monet's Garden has been in the show ring up in the north.
"The Tatling appeared at a show class in Wales in the summer and is going to be doing a bit more and Straw Bear reached the championship at Hickstead, so there are a lot of names, which is great, but it's not just about the well-known horses.
"The trainer and owner decide for whatever reason the horse is retiring from racing and a lot of people then want to know their options and that's where the ROR comes in to try to help.
"He (Kauto Star) is a very fit, healthy horse and looks magnificent. He's in great shape and he's happily at Laura's this morning and eating well and looks marvellous, which is great credit to the Nicholls yard."
Although Kauto Star is now nearly 13, Arbuthnot said: "Age isn't a problem. We have veteran prizes in our show classes and there is always quite a few veterans, which are 15 plus, taking part in those.
"He'll be let down and then reassessed and retrained as any other horse would be.
"I'm sure they'll know fairly quickly what he will and won't be able to do and what he'll be best at, but it won't be done any more easily than any other horse that goes through the retraining process.
"If you ask most professionals, actually retraining something to be very successful in a new discipline will probably take about two years. It takes time, unless they are incredibly quick learners.
"He's gone in to be his best, Laura is a very good rider and she will just re-school him, see how he goes and then discuss with the owner a plan for the future.
"Let's hope he has a nice life and enjoys himself."
Eventing legend Mark Todd believes giving Kauto Star the opportunity to keep busy is the best course of action.
The New Zealander won a team bronze at the London Olympics - an incredible 28 years after his first medal at the games - and has earned four Badminton titles plus several more Olympic golds and world titles.
The 56-year-old has also bred and trained thoroughbred racehorses back in New Zealand when he retired, only to make a comeback in the saddle.
"I wouldn't want to get involved in the ins and outs of it, as I don't know the trainer and I don't know the owner, but my first thought was that I was glad he got the chance to do something else," Todd said.
"He's not old at 12, and it's nice he will be able to do something, as horses don't want to be bored. I retired Charisma (a double gold medal winner at the Olympics in the 1980s) at 16, and he didn't want to be just stuck out in a field.
"I've seen Kauto Star racing, he was an exceptional horse. I think it's unlikely he'll hit the heights at dressage but he's in good hands, he'll be well looked after, and they will work out whether dressage is something they can do."
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