Currently based at Sportstal Vanderhasselt near Brussels, Belgium, Bhaskar DasGupta went into the COVID-19 pandemic fresh off a podium finish in Angelstone International’s Kubota Grand Prix and is coming out of it with a string of horses honing their talents with some valuable European experience.
“Safe to say the pandemic has been difficult for everyone,” explains DasGupta of his decision to base overseas early in 2021. “In Ontario we had a great string of horses and riders ready to compete. All the uncertainty regarding travel to Florida for WEF, the risk of show cancellation, and the health measures made the trip not ideal, so we opted to stay home for the winter in 2020.
“That took a large portion of business and training out of the picture for the year. That encouraged me to try something new and get the horses I currently have to move up a level and into some international events. It’s been a silver lining of the pandemic that I’ve made this move.”
One of the reason’s DasGupta made the move overseas is his familiarity and success in dealing with the European system – one that favours the correct method of developing young talent by making their early show experiences plentiful, positive and straightforward.
Sportstal Vanderhasselt is central to shows in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, all within a few hours’ drive. “For young jumpers it’s certainly an advantage,” he explains. “The attention to their development is more appropriate. Often in Canada we have five- and six-year-olds jumping lightly modified versions of the open jumpers and sometimes the grand prix. Horses learn by repetition, although they are jumping bigger fences in Europe the courses are built to be inviting and encourage a good jump. It promotes consistency and confidence, when the horses are more mature the courses become more intricate.”
DasGupta first moved to Belgium ten years ago with Eric Lamaze, where he gained valuable experience on the European summer tour. “That was when Hickstead was just untouchable and the system in the barn day in and out was incredible,” he remembers. “It was a great system to witness the daily workings of, and always something you want to emulate.”
“Success is a moving target and perfection is always out of reach, which is good, otherwise it would be boring.”
Prior to 2011 he rode with Chris Delia for almost eight years – starting with his pony jumper all the way to Young Riders and his first grand prix classes. “In more recent years I’ve worked alongside and gained a lot of insight from Yann Candele, Juergen von Butlar and Eric Flameng. Over the years there’s been a lot of influential people who provided valuable techniques and knowledge that is constantly being applied to our daily routine. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of brilliant horsemen and horsewomen, as well as amazing vets, farriers and therapists.”
DasGupta’s approach is to define success as consistent improvement. “The sport keeps changing, and we as athletes need to adapt accordingly,” he explains. “We want to take talent and improve it, both with the horses and riders. It is not just results, but results are a demonstration of the process. Success is a moving target and perfection is always out of reach, which is good, otherwise it would be boring.”
DasGupta is excited about the future, with two talented FEI horses that he really believes in. “They are just mature enough now to really be competitive this year. We are starting off showing easy enough with FEI** shows, and then go bigger from there and ideally get named to the Canadian team somewhere by the end of the summer.”
His top horse at the moment is E-Toulana, a 12-year-old mare by Toulon x Calvados owned by Abigail Bibbing who started competing in the 1.50m in Wellington in 2020 and the grand prixs last summer – finishing on the podium at the Angelstone International.
“I’ve had her in my stable for almost two years now, although I spent a year following her prior to that after trying her for a client,” he says. “She is very hot, very athletic and has the biggest heart of any horse I have ever sat on. Whatever you ask of that mare she will find a way to deliver. She was a little green for the level when she arrived, but just soaks up every experience and applies it beautifully. It is impossible not to have the utmost respect for her, she’s truly a very special mare and I really look forward to what is to come with her.”
Then there is Hooligan DG, a nine-year-old stallion by Hickstead and out of his first grand prix horse and Young Rider partner Anamika. “He’s a very athletic stallion and incredibly cocky. Hooligan is a great partner to have, he’s very talented, wonderful to work with and very fun to ride. He always puts you in a good mood. Those are some big shoes to fill for him, but he is pretty special. His reaction to tough situations is fantastic, when it’s difficult he digs in, figures things out and just gets better. He really has a warrior mentality.”
“Horses consistently motivate me … they are very therapeutic animals and you just get a sense of joy and peace around them.”
There is also the young horse Ossington DG, a seven-year-old also by his mare Anamika and by Cabrio van de Heffinck. “Ossington is a big horse, and was slow to mature physically, but the jump is out of this world. We have taken our time with his development so he is considered green for his age. For a horse with his jumping ability it is more important to get the balance and the quality of the gallop first.
“I’d love to get him into the Championship for young horses in Lanaken, but that is depending on his overall development. If I think he should wait we will wait. From there the big tracks will come together more effectively. He’s very sweet, surprisingly a little lazy to ride, and sleeps about half the day.”
DasGupta’s motivation comes from the process of developing his partnership with the horses, a more holistic approach than defining success simply on results in the ring. “Horses consistently motivate me,” he says. “They are very therapeutic animals and you just get a sense of joy and peace around them. The training and the application to the ring is what really motivates me that little bit extra. When you take a horse that does some talented things and present a situation to encourage those attributes, a positive reaction is the best feeling. Building that partnership and working as a team to both be better is really special. When that partnership gets more in tune and the incremental improvements keep consistently being demonstrated, the feeling is impossible not to chase.”
Favourite Netflix show: Sherlock and now Lupin (although my French needs improving!)
Last book read: Mythos by Steven Fry
Fave restaurant: Swatow, a hole-in-the-wall Chinese I’ve been going to since 1992.
Embarrassing moment in the ring: I walked the course with a student who was apprehensive about a spooky fence. I told her the horses don’t look at that particular jump, it spooks the rider and in turn the horse. She jumped it no problem but when I went in on a young horse immediately after, it took one look at the spooky panel, did a 180 and left me in the dirt eating my own words.
Coffee or tea: Both!
Favourite band: Right now the Dolly Rocker Movement or Dennis Lloyd.
Competition superstitions: I’m not very superstitious, but I don’t like using any equipment for the first time when it’s in the ring
If you could ride any horse in the world: Bianca is such a cool mare, although Balou du Reventon just to experience the feeling that horse must give.
What couldn’t you live without: Coffee, friends/family (four legged and two), and being able to tell a good story.