When two-time Olympic gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin tells you she wants your horse, what do you say?
Amélie Kovac was faced with that dilemma in October. A last-minute addition to Dujardin’s clinic at Southern California’s El Campeon Farms, Kovac was excited just for the opportunity to ride with the British champion. But while she was warming up her 5-year-old Dutch gelding Toretto (Apache—Zenzi) the day before the clinic, Dujardin didn’t mince words. Calling Kovac over, she asked, “How much do you want for your horse?”
Kovac was astonished. “Honestly, I did buy the horse to eventually sell him. But my plan was to get him to Grand Prix or almost ready for Grand Prix first.”
Watching Kovac and Toretto in the clinic, Dujardin praised the horse’s natural rhythm and self-carriage, the activity in his hind legs and the looseness of the shoulders, and she asked if she could ride him. “I’m going to get on and have a little go,” Dujardin said with a laugh. “And then I’m going to steal him and take him back home.”
After putting him through his paces, Dujardin made it clear she was smitten with the youngster. “Amelie, you’ve lost him. He’s now mine.”
For Kovac, watching Dujardin ride her horse was a thrill. “Nobody has been on him but me. Charlotte has so much strength in her core. She goes from posting to sitting and stays in perfect rhythm. It was exciting to see what he can do. I asked my friend, ‘Does he trot like that when I’m on him?’”
As soon as the clinic was over, Kovac was in serious discussions to sell Toretto to Dujardin. By November she was accompanying the horse to his new home in England at the Gloucestershire facility Dujardin shares with Olympian Carl Hester.
“I was very flattered and very proud that someone like Charlotte loved the horse so much,” Ko-vac says. “Even if it was not my plan to sell him that quick, it was a very special opportunity. They have huge grass pastures, the stalls are big, the footing is incredible, and the care is amaz-ing. And he’s going to have the best rider.”
Toretto’s new life boasts something else, she says. “He can see Valegro from his stall.”
Before relocating to the U.S. in 2012 to work as an assistant to Olympian Jan Ebeling in California (she’s now on her own at Frontier Farms in Moorpark), the Cannes-born, French-Croatian Kovac rode for the Croatian equestrian team and competed in the under-25 Grand Prix at Aachen. She also worked in the Netherlands for Adelinde Cornelissen and later for Emmelie Scholtens and Jeroen Witte. “Emmelie and Jeroen are incredible people, and they taught me so much,” she says. “Finding good horses requires talent as well as knowledge, and those two taught me everything I know about quality in horses.”
She may only be 25, but Kovac has a good eye. She trained her first horse, Treffer, to Grand Prix before selling him to Canada’s Wendy Christoff. She then discovered Toretto (aka “Pumpkin”) as an unbroken 3-year-old through Scholtens, who rides his sire, Apache.
After making sure Toretto got settled in with Dujardin, Kovac paid a visit to Scholtens and Witte. There she saw a promising 2-year-old named Ivar (Desperado x OO Seven) owned by Ad Valk, who sold her Toretto and who also owns Apache, Desperado and Krack C, among others. Of Ivar, she says, “He’s so elastic. He moves and it’s effortless. I think he’s going to be a top horse.”
Kovac says she’ll miss Toretto, but enjoys reading updates from Dujardin. “Charlotte has quite a few nice horses in her barn, but she definitely has big hopes for him. I’m hoping to see him at the Olympics or the World Cup one day. He’s very athletic and has three very good gaits, and he really wants to work, so he has everything to get there.
“Regrets? For sure not, because I know he’s going to have a great life. And I’m very excited about my next horse. There’s no reason I can’t do it again.”