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Page last updated at 07:14 GMT, Monday, 21 December 2009

Olympia show sees 60m of horses wow equestrian fans

Eric van der Vleuten of the Netherlands rides VDL Groep Tomboy to victory at Olympia

Video - Van der Vleuten wins Olympia jump-off (UK users only)

Lizzie Greenwod-Hughes
By Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes
BBC Radio 5 live's equestrian reporter

Olympia is Christmas - that's what riders here say about the London International Horse Show.

For six days every year, many of the world's top riders spend the week leading up to Christmas at the Olympia Grand Hall, just down the road from Kensington High Street, to compete in the festive indoor showjumping event.

British show jumper Ellen Whitaker
Ellen Whitaker riding Kanselier at the London International Horse Show

It's great for the riders, with a relaxed, festive atmosphere and good prize money - and it's also good for their families, who enjoy spending the winnings in the glamorous shops nearby.

The horses are stabled on site in temporary wooden stalls at the back of the main arena.

It's an extraordinary scene, with about 120 competition horses collectively valued at approximately £60m happily munching hay, just metres from the hustle and bustle of central London.

As well as the showjumpers, there were 14 dressage horses at the start of the week, including the Dutch rider Edward Gal's incredible black stallion, Moorlands Totilas.

He must be worth at least one-tenth of that £60m after breaking another world record with his 92.3% score for the kur.

Before Totilas strutted his stuff on Wednesday night, Toni Terry - the wife of England captain John - performed a pas de deux with her trainer Vicki Thompson-Winfield.

Toni is a big fan of dressage and owns several top horses. Unfortunately, John wasn't here to watch her because he was down the road playing for Chelsea.

Fellow celebrity rider Katie Price did a similar display at the horse show last year, but a straw poll around the media centre here has Toni voted as the better rider!

The riders' area backstage is known as Raymond's Bar after Raymond Brooks-Ward, who founded the modern version of the event more than 30 years ago.

It's like a Who's Who of equestrianism, with jodhpur-clad jockeys milling around, waiting to ride their horses in the tiny warm-up area.

The ever-present Whitaker clan is out in force again this year. John is still on crutches after breaking his ankle a month ago, but he's still here along with his son Robert, brother Michael and niece Ellen.

They are officially a showjumping dynasty, with eight of them currently competing internationally.

Ellen is the most glamorous of the Whitakers. The 23-year-old blonde is called the "darling" of British showjumping.

The crowd goes wild every time she enters the arena, and she's already won four classes here.

Ellen is also a rare type in sports stars, someone who always has time to say hello. She even greeted me with a hug.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be for any of the Whitakers in the week's biggest class, the Rolex FEI World Cup qualifier.


Ellen had two fences down on Locarno, just back to fitness after almost a two-year lay-off.

Robert retired Lacroix after an early fence down, while Michael had four faults in the 11-horse jump off on Amai, the horse he won the Verona World Cup qualifier on in November.

Dutchman Eric van der Vleuten was fastest around a tricky jump-off course, but the consensus here was that it wasn't a vintage Olympia World Cup.

The field contained some big names, including Van der Vleuten's compatriot Albert Zoer and last year's winner Edwina Alexander, but the first-round course was described as "not that big" by a couple of the riders, including Michael Whitaker.

The 8,000 sell-out crowd didn't seem to notice, though. They love this event, and as long as the riders keep coming, this will always be the very best way for any horse fan to start the Christmas holidays.

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see also
Van der Vleuten seals Olympia win
20 Dec 09 |  Equestrian
GB allowed back into Nations Cup
06 Apr 10 |  Equestrian
A French adventure
24 Sep 09 |  Equestrian
Equestrian sport on the BBC
05 Sep 07 |  Equestrian

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