“I went in [to the Grand Prix test] and my personal experience was she lifted her head, because everybody’s at eyesight. Now, with Ross I’d be like, ‘Yes, this is great, his head is up and his neck’s a bit more out’, but Elvive doesn’t need to do that. I need to keep her a little bit more through. Consequently, I didn’t have her through enough and the whole thing was off the bit for a large portion of it. And then because of that there was tension and I made a lot of mistakes. “She’s very sensitive, in a good way – she offers you the world – but she’s not experienced yet. Everything she does, she does with a lot of power. So if tension comes in, then it can look a bit stressed.”
Following a disappointing test, Lyndal – who says she’s her own biggest critic – had to regroup the next day for the Freestyle. She reluctantly watched the video of her test, which she found hard but knew was important from a learning perspective. “You have to kick yourself in the butt, and then you reassess, and you change what you can in a short period of time.
“I never like to let my horses down. I’ve always ridden not for myself, but to do the best I can for them on that day. And I knew I didn’t do that in the Grand Prix with Elvive. So I knew that the best thing I could do for her was to do better. The moment I got on before the Freestyle I had a different perspective. I went in to give us confidence again, because I wanted it to be a smooth test. I just really stayed focused and put the Grand Prix test out of my head.” Lyndal rode for slightly longer on the morning of the Freestyle, and rode more lines from her test to prepare; they won with 76.855% and it was Elvive’s best international Big Tour score to date.
“I was relieved!” says Lyndal of her feeling post-test. “You learn from these things. Sometimes you can’t predict how a horse is going to react or how the experience is going to be. In this situation I had to learn from it quickly. But that’s what we do and then that’s what makes us better.”
Interestingly, even at big competitions Lyndal likes to plait up her own horses as she finds this an important part of her preparation. “I like that one hour; I like that time to play with the horse and really know where they are mentally. It makes me feel connected with them before I start.”
Lyndal believes that Elvive doesn’t really have any weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to work on and improve. “She has a walk for a 10, and I know that when tension comes into the test, I lose that. So I want to work on that a little bit at the moment. Everything else is feeling very good.
“She can switch on and off very quickly. But if you switch her on too far, then the adrenaline comes in. I’m going to start practising just the first few lines before the walk and create a little bit more power in that passage. And then try and go into the walk and then use a lot of repetitious aids like a halt and just waiting, a bit of leg-yielding using the walk on a curved line, that sort of thing. Because if I can increase the adrenaline before the walk and learn how to turn it back down for that, then it’ll work and I’ll be fine.”
Lyndal says her two horses couldn’t be more different. “Ross, you sort of push him together and create him and it’s fun and like riding a little pony. With Ellie, less is more; after riding Ross this is something that takes a bit of skill that I’m still developing. I’ve never ridden a horse like her in my life and might not ever again, so I need to learn to just let her do her job and me be encouraging to that. When I learn that a little bit better… then yeah, it’s on!”
On the topic of horses, Lyndal says her husband, Swede Patrik Kittel, has a very exciting team of his own. He still has his two proven Grand Prix stars, Delaunay and Well Done de la Roche, as well as some up-and-coming horses – one in particular Lyndal says to keep an eye on. “Patrik has the most amazing gelding, Touchdown, who debuted winning with over 80% internationally. That’s a medal horse. For me, he has no weakness, and he’s just an exceptional horse.”
Exciting performances from the couple’s horses haven’t been the only thing to cheer about; Patrik’s long-time groom, Marie Johansson, recently took out the FEI Best Groom Award in recognition of her dedication. “The best grooms out there, they sacrifice their whole lives for these horses and riders. Marie is the perfect example of that. She’s been with Patrik longer than I have, and she’s basically my sister,” says Lyndal.