Racing legend Kauto Star steps out in new sport

SUNBURY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Three day eventer Laura Collett with ex racehorse Kauto Star at Kempton Park racecourse on December 26, 2013 in Sunbury, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Story highlights

  • Steeplechasing great Kauto Star shows off some moves in his new sport, dressage
  • Two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner has been learning dressage since late 2012
  • Dressage debut comes in a demonstration at the Olympia Horse Show in London
  • No plans for Kauto Star to add an Olympics appearance to his many racing honours

(CNN)If Usain Bolt ever takes up figure skating, he will know how Kauto Star feels.

The 14-year-old racehorse, one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time and a two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, made his dressage debut at London's Olympia Horse Show on Tuesday.
Dressage, which involves horse and rider working together to produce a complex "dance" routine marked by judges, is how Kauto Star has been spending retirement since his last National Hunt race in 2012.
    Laura Collett, a leading British event rider, has been helping the horse to learn the intricacies of a sport that rewards precision and poise above power and pace.
    "He's changed shape a lot since we got him," Collett told Horse and Hound magazine in the build-up to Kauto Star's demonstration dressage test at Olympia.
    "He hadn't done any flat work at all. But he's got a brilliant temperament and he's very willing. He got the hang of it very easily.
    "He needed to soften his whole body -- he was just used to going in a straight line. So he's done a lot of gymnastic exercises and things to supple him up.
    "He tries really hard. When you've taught him something once, he remembers it. The hardest thing for him was the canter -- he only really knew about going fast."
    Having spent a career streaking past thousands of spectators lining a racecourse, Kauto Star appeared a little unprepared for an indoor arena crowd as he took his first, dainty dressage steps at Olympia.
    "It's the crowds being up high and so close, it's quite intimidating," Collett told the BBC afterwards. "He didn't show himself off to the best of his ability -- he got a bit of stage fright and shut down.
    "Most horses who come into an arena like this have been doing it for eight or 10 years, and build up gradually. He's been thrown in at the deep end."
    Kauto Star is not in contention for Rio 2016. Britain has one of the world's leading dressage teams and no matter his racing pedigree, there simply isn't the time to bring him up to the required standard.
    Instead, dressage is seen as a way to offer the horse an interesting retirement -- although that wasn't met with universal approval when the decision was made, two years ago.
    Owner Clive Smith sent Kauto Star to Collett's Wiltshire yard in December 2012, against the wishes of the horse's longtime trainer, Paul Nicholls.
    The dispute over the horse's future brought to an end a partnership responsible for almost a dozen major victories on the racecourse, a career bettered only by 1960s legends Arkle and Flyingbolt.
    Now, by contrast, Collett says there is "no pressure" on Kauto Star to perform to any standard in his new sport.
    "The main thing is the horse is happy and relaxed," she said this week, "and he has a varied lifestyle."