Britain's next dressage generation led by 14-year-old

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter
Phoebe Peters - teenage dressage star

While Britain's dressage riders compete at the European Championships in Denmark this week, a double gold medallist will be watching at home.

It's not Charlotte Dujardin, who won with GB at last year's London Olympics - it's a 14-year-old named Phoebe Peters.

Peters won two gold medals at the Pony European Championships earlier this summer, a stopping-off point for young riders on the road to the senior team.

She began riding aged eight, made her international debut at 11, and now chats to Dujardin on Facebook in between events.

"I went to all of the dressage days at London 2012 [and] the way Charlotte coped with the pressure is incredible," says Peters, so assertive that were she a foot taller, she could pass for a senior rider. Confidence is not an issue.

"I talk to Charlotte quite a lot. I wrote her a letter after the Olympics asking if she'd be my mentor, so we talk on Facebook and she gives me advice.

"I talk to her about competitions that are coming up, her results, just general chat that helps me remain calm. It's really good."

Another Olympic champion, Carl Hester - who rode alongside Dujardin to team gold at London 2012 - had the foresight to single out Peters for future glory in Horse and Hound magazine earlier this year.

"We knew she was good, but I don't think the rest of the world did," Hester now tells BBC Sport.

"She appeared [at the Pony Euros] and blasted the Dutch and the Germans out of the water, as we did three years ago when we hit the scene.

"That's made everyone feel good, the whole way through our sport. We're riding on a high and if we have a good result at the senior Euros, that'll keep us feeling good till 2014."

Dressage gold and bronze for GB at London 2012

Peters is still some way from senior glory but, a year on from a stunning summer for British dressage, the battle is already on to preserve GB's place at the top.

Neither the fastest nor most furious of Olympic sports, dressage may give the impression that its wheels turn slowly. Competitors in equestrian sport can last far longer before retiring, and the same names can crop up year after year.

But that masks a sport of constant change. Riders rarely own their own horses so, if owners decide to sell, new partnerships must emerge and opportunities are created for other riders to muscle in on precious team places. Injury, either to horse or rider, has a similar effect.

As an example, Mistral Hojris - the horse known as 'Alf', ridden by Laura Tomlinson as part of the GB team at London 2012 - from this month's European squad with injury.

At 18 years of age that probably means we have seen the last of Alf, who was already doing well to hang on to his illustrious career this long after the Games.

Gareth Hughes and horse DV Stenkjers Nadonna have been called up as replacements, and Alf's expected retirement will leave a place at the top of the sport up for grabs - but Tomlinson has of course seen this coming for years, and been working hard to develop her own next generation.

"It's been a long journey with Alf, and in the last years he's been one of the most consistent horses at the top level," says Tomlinson.

"Alf's shoes are very big ones to fill [but] I've got two younger horses showing a lot of potential. I'm getting them out and educating them about going into big arenas and good atmospheres, getting them to be still able to concentrate on me. Hopefully, eventually, one of them can take over a team slot again."

Hester and Dujardin are by no means certain to be at the Rio 2016 Olympics, either. Both riders expected their horses to be sold after London 2012 - somehow, both have held on to them for this year's Europeans, but they know things can change in an instant and are, like Tomlinson, bringing on future rides.

Beyond 2016, Peters hopes she will be knocking on the door.

"We have looked at it," she says, laughing, when asked if there is a future Olympic Games ringed on the calendar. "But anything can happen. We've got to see what comes along.

"Carl [Hester] said he thinks he's spotted a future Olympic gold medallist and that made me feel more confident in my ability, to know Carl thinks that about me. It made me more determined. I thought, 'Yeah, I can really do this'."