Italian army, Nicholson’s yard – Giovanni Ugolotti’s journey to WEG

Photo: Trevor Holt ©2014


From the ranks of the Italian army to the top ranks of Eventing, Giovanni Ugolotti, will be competing at his first World Equestrian Games (WEG) next week. He will be riding Stilo Kontika, a 13 year old Irish gelding, who is owned by him and his fiance, Kathryn Robinson.

Mandatory army service
Giovanni was born before 1985, so it was a mandatory requirement to serve in the Italian army for one year. He had an affinity for riding and as a child was a pony club member. He later went on to compete at the Italian Eventing championships. So when the opportunity came up for him to ride in the army he was happy to except it. After serving six months of typical army duties his assignment changed and he was only expected to ride horses.

He said, “After my first year they asked me to stay and I stayed for four years. The salary got a little bit better as it went form 400 euros to 1000 euros a month. Not a lot of money but better than nothing. It was not really an army job as it was more riding the horses for them.”

The Italian army maintains the horse regiment as a matter of tradition. They have a breeding program and breed about 50 horses a year so they need people to ride the horses. Giovanni worked with all the horses. The army would start the horses at four years of age and would show them at all the young horse classes from four to seven years old. If they were good enough, they would be ridden at the advanced level. The main issue was the soundness of the horses as they were not strong horses. Because they were competed from such a young age, they were broken by the time they reached nine or ten. Not many reached the top levels. The purpose of this program was to get athletes to major games. Giovanni competed the horses mostly in Italy but also all over Europe.

Andrew Nicholson
Giovanni left the army and relocated to England where the real Eventing action took place. He had met his fiance, British based rider Kathryn Robinson, in Italy. She was there for the winter months so it worked out quite well for him to move to the UK.

Four months after arriving in the UK, he began working for Andrew Nicholson. He reveres this experience has an education that has contributed greatly to his successes today. Giovanni said, “He is amazing. He is an amazing jockey first of all. He is a really nice person to deal with. Just by watching I learned a lot from him. How he trained his horses, how he cantered his horses, how he jumped his horses, everything. A good part of the stuff I know now came from what I learned there. My experience at Andrew’s also led to him giving me the ride on my first four star horse, Stormhill Kossack. The horse was owned by Debbie Ewing, one of Andrew’s owners. Although the horse was a four star horse, he was not good enough to be one of Andrew’s top horses. So he gave me the ride on this horse and we ended up getting some good results at three and four stars. Slowly I started to find more owners with horses for me to ride. But, I got my start from working at Andrew’s and the ride on Stormhill Kossack.”

The task at hand
But now the focus is on his partnership with Stilo Kontika. He is a strong cross-country horse. “It took me a while to learn how to ride him, probably because I ride in a much different way than his previous rider. At the beginning I especially struggled to turn him in some combinations. But then we started to get some good three star results. Unfortunately Badminton this spring did not go to plan, said Giovanni.

Few riders can say that Badminton went to plan this spring and Giovanni has put that behind him and looks to compete at his first WEG. He said, “I am ready, the horse is ready. I am excited; I am not the type of person that gets overly excited because I like to keep my feet on the floor. I am not really a nervous person I am easy going. I plan on going and giving it my best shot.”

WEG preparation
He has been managing to get the training he needs despite not being based in the country he rides for. He said, “It is not easy because of course I am not in Italy. To be honest we do not have a coaching plan like other teams. We just get some funding from our federation and we can get our own trainer.” Giovanni trains with Danish dressage rider Henrietta Anderson and for show jumping they ride with New Zealand show jumping team coach, Luis Álvarez de Cervera.

Giovanni feels that winning a team medal is not a realistic expectation. He said, “We would like to think we have a good chance. For some of the riders it will be their first championships. I think that our main goal will be to get a qualifying result for the Olympics. I hope that I’m wrong, but I don’t think we  have a strong enough team to win a medal at the championships. That is my opinion and hopefully I am wrong. Top six will be a really good achievement for us.”

Giovanni’s website

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