Sunday, May. 19, 2024

Ringside Chat: Morgan Barbançon Is Making Her Mark At AGDF



Morgan Barbançon flew three horses from Geneva, Switzerland, to Wellington, Florida, this year to ride at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival for the first time, and she’s making the trip count. She’s already won three Grand Prix-level classes on three different horses since arriving to Florida in January, adding a fourth win today in the MTICA Farm Grand Prix for the Special CDI3* aboard Habana Libre A (71.17%) held during AGDF 5.

WEB Morgan Barbaçon Habana-8050

Morgan Barbançon rode Habana Libre A to the top of the MTICA Farm Grand Prix for the Special CDI3*. Mollie Bailey Photos

“He felt a little bit tired today, maybe the heat,” she said of her 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood (Zizi Top—Daiquiri A, United). “The times ran quite quick. I badly calculated my time today and I was missing five minutes of warm-up to really work into the piaffe-passage so he was a bit surprised in there, so I didn’t get the optimal warm up that I would have liked to have. I’m very happy with him, but I’m a little disappointed with the test. I thought we could have done better than we did today.”

She cited her canter work and one-tempi changes as a highlight.

“He’s the good student,” she said. “He wants to do everything [well]—almost too much sometimes—so that he winds himself up. So it’s always reassuring him and giving him as much confidence as possible, and that’s what I’m trying to do now. I’m really not pushing him to his limits. I’m really just trying to first give him confidence that he knows his job, knows what to do in the ring, then we can start pushing a notch up.”

She also rode the other two horses she brought—Deodoro and Bolero—in
Thursday’s Havensafe Farm CDI-W Grand Prix for the freestyle
, placing second with Bolero.

web 2 Morgan Barbançon and Bolero-3060

Morgan Barbançon and Bolero placed second in Thursday’s Havensafe Farm Grand Prix for the freestyle CDI-W.

Barbançon, 30, is already a veteran of two Olympic Games and has two world championships under her belt. She left Sir Donnerhall II OLD, her partner for last year’s Blue Hors Dressage World Championship (Denmark) at her home base in Geneva. The daughter of a Spanish mother and a French father, she rode for Spain until 2019 when she started representing France in international competition.

Barbaçon is aiming towards this year’s Omaha FEI World Cup Final with her veteran partner, the 17-year-old Sir Donnerhall II OLD (Sandro Hit—Contenance D, Donnerhall 11), and the Paris Olympics with up-and-comer “Habana.”

The Chronicle caught up with the rider, who speaks six languages, to hear about her trip to Wellington and her plans for the future.

This is your first year coming over to Wellington. What inspired your trip?

It’s always been a dream of mine to come over here. My boyfriend [Jos Verlooy] was riding as a jumper here. I’ve been coming here with him, and I was like, “I also want to ride here,” but I never had the chance.

I had too many horses at home and the organization was just insane. This year I sold five horses at the end of the year, just emptied the stable in one go—it was my lucky shot. And I said, well I have three Grand Prix horses, why not fly these guys over and see. So I just booked a flight and came over.

I’m really happy I did that, and I absolutely love it. I’m definitely going to plan a bit better for next year, a bit more ahead and just get everything even better organized. It just was like come on, let’s do it.

Tell us about your background.

I rode in my first Olympics in 2012 when I was 19, with Painted Black, for Spain. Then I went to [the 2014 World Equestrian Games (France)] and the World Cup Finals. I did Tokyo for France, my second Olympics. I was supposed to go to [the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games] but my mare broke her hip before Rio, so that was a bummer.

I grew up in Switzerland and went to school there. I got my bachelor’s degree in Holland in international business.  Then I lived for nine years in [the Netherlands] to train and ride and get experience.


Who do you train with?

[British dressage rider and two-time World Equestrian Games medalist] Gareth Hughes. We train online with a Pivo camera four times a week. It works great. I love training with him, and he’s helped me so much. It’s the system that I like, very horsemanship-focused.

Are your parents involved in the horse business?

No, but my parents love horses. My mom [Marie Carmen Mestre] used to ride dressage when she was younger, and my dad [Thierry Barbançon] a bit of jumping. He did a bit of everything, including three-day eventing. But no one is really involved with the horse [business.] My mom helps me at the shows when Gareth is not here. She is a good eye on the ground for me. We kind of do this as a family.

Tell us a little bit about Sir Donnerhall II OLD, the horse you’re aiming towards the FEI World Cup Final.

“Gus” is my partner in crime, let’s put it that way. This horse is, like, everything to me. He had a huge accident when he was 7. We almost had to put him down. He opened his leg totally, he got stuck in his stable. It’s a very sad story what happened to him. They didn’t want to give me a double box, even though he’s a huge stallion. He kicked into the box and got stuck in there. We had to saw him out. Ligaments open, bone cracked, literally destroyed.

The vet there said we have to put him down; we can’t save him. He was 7 years old, and we had just bought him six months earlier.

I called my vet and said, “We have a huge, catastrophic accident here. What are we going to do?” He said, if anyone can put him in a truck, we’ll try to save his life. So, poor thing, he dragged himself into the truck. Literally, that leg couldn’t move. My groom, myself, my dad, all pushing him to go forward, and he gave his life to get into that truck. We managed to save his life.

Then it was like three long weeks of waiting that he wouldn’t get sepsis or an infection. Thank God we got out of that.

The vets were like “Super, we saved his life, but now he’s going to be a beautiful field horse. Don’t ride him, he won’t be able to hold on that leg.”

So we gave him a couple months on the aquatrainer and physiotherapy. We got the world’s best vets, world’s best physios, who gave their all for him. He was going every day in the aquatrainer and everything, and I said, “OK, maybe now we can try to ride a little bit to see what we get.”

First time I got on I thought I was going to fall to the ground. The first time we trotted, he [almost fell down]. So I went out hacking first just to get him stronger in deep sand. We went out walking and we started trotting and cantering in there, and I started building him up.

Poor guy, he has a heart like no other horse has. He’s maybe not world No. 1, but he has a heart that’s bigger than anything.

All the vets that know what happened to him still can’t believe what he’s actually doing these days. I get a bit annoyed at the judges when they say, “Eh he’s not good enough in the piaffe or this or that, or he’s a bit slow.” If I broke your leg and you tried running again, you wouldn’t run the same.

He is what he is—he doesn’t have the most talent in the piaffe, but he’s more than correct. And he just tries his heart out all the time. And he’s done over 300 Grand Prix [classes]. He looks like a 10-year-old. My student is riding him now, and she told me, “He went off bucking with me this morning.” He’s one of a kind.


This will be his fourth World Cup Final. We qualified for six, but COVID got in the way.

How is he in the big indoor environment?

He loves it. He’s a showman. He absolutely adores this, so it’s going to be super exciting for him.

Do you have a training business?

Yes. I teach a lot, I love teaching, it’s my big thing. I do a bit of dealing as well—trying to find some nice horses—but teaching is my big thing and training horses obviously.

Are you thinking about the Paris Olympic Games?

Yes definitely, with Habana Libre A. “Habana” is my baby. We bought him when he was 4 years old and he has a heart of gold as well. He’s actually the best horse I’ve ever ridden, besides Gus and Painted Black. So I think he’s going to be my shot to do well at Paris. I don’t want to jinx it though.

Habana is my big hope for the coming years. I produced Gus and I produced Bolero and I produced [Deodoro].

Deodoro is a challenge. He’s broken a lot of bones in my body. I think he has all the potential in the world. Quality-wise he’s mega, but mentally—maybe he needs to go to an asylum or to take some Xanax.

But no, really, he’s a cool dude. He won at [the West Palm Beach CDI] this first weekend. He was super relaxed. When he’s relaxed, he goes really well. But some days he’s like, “I’ll give it a try but I’m not giving you my soul today.”

Do you have a lot of young horses?

Oh yes, that’s what I do.  I get them young and bring them along to Grand Prix and try to keep them. I have a really nice 6-year-old at home who’s super, and a really good 5-year-old too.

I was lucky enough that my parents got me some mega horses when I was younger— Grand Prix-ready horses—that I could learn on and make my experience and get my riding better, but now I actually like to produce them. I don’t want to buy ready ones anymore. I just want to buy myself nice young ones and get them going. I have a ladder now: I have my older ones and my younger ones and I have my really young ones, 3-year-olds. I have a line I can keep building up the young ones slowly because I have enough at the high levels. I’m lucky to have four Grand Prix horses. I can’t complain.

Want more from AGDF? Click here. Find full results here.




Follow us on


Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse