I remember it as if it were yesterday. In my sun hat and shorts crouched beside a lake. But this was not just any lake, it was the Badminton Lake, watching riders and their horses jumping enormous white rails into it, and then out over a monumentally big upturned boat.
It was 1989 and I was seven. I watched in awe as riders like Ginny Leng, Mark Todd and Ian Stark made the huge fences look so easy to the adulation of the crowd (or was it just me?).
The atmosphere was heavy with an overwhelming electricity that I had never experienced before; it excited me. I loved every minute of that first visit to Badminton Horse Trials. I found it inspirational in every way, and ultimately it was a weekend that changed the direction of my entire existence.
Twenty-seven years on, and after years of hard work, great times, tough times and a lot of luck (both bad and good), last Friday I was accepted in off the wait list to compete at my first Badminton.
That’s not to say we are guaranteed a run. There are so many things that can go wrong in the final preparations and Bozzie (Cornacrew) is of an age where everything needs to be right. I am in constant contact with vets and top professionals at the moment who I trust implicitly to make sure that he is absolutely right to compete.
He skipped around Weston Park advanced last week, powering through the mud that many found tough and relishing the bigger fences, seeming to really enjoy himself, so I am quietly hopeful that we will be able to fulfil that childhood Badminton dream.
His dressage however was a little, shall we say, fresh? His medium trot was excellent, but the rest was absolutely TERRIBLE. He cantered sideways on his trot half-passes and shoulder-in movements. He nearly galloped out of the end of the arena, mouth wide open and jaw crossed in the extended canter, before afterwards broncing his way back to the lorry, oblivious to the fact he nearly lost his rider in the process. I’m sure the little boy in this picture never envisaged that…?
The following week I went showjumping and competed in a couple of 1.30m classes which really got my eye in for the CIC3* at Belton the following weekend with King (Traveller Royale, pictured below) and Splash (Drumbilla Metro, pictured top).
Freddie (Me Fahrenheit III) also contested the novice at Belton and went really well, but didn’t read the skinny coming out of the water properly. He got away from me and I did not get him back in time, or make my line good enough so our mistake was a team effort. We will have both learnt a lot from the experience though.
Unfortunately the intermediate classes were cancelled on the Saturday, but it was a good call by the organisers saving the ground for the international classes albeit a little disappointing for those of us in the national ones.
The dressage was not my best in the three-star, although King did some nice work, but he is still green at this level and so picked up a 62. Splash did a lovely test, but for the man from the bar emptying his bucket right next to us during our extended walk, creating one or two extra movements. At S, rear and spin (I think we got a 10/10 for that), and at I, freestyle launch and rear again (which we must have got at least a 9.5 for). Unfortunately that did not constitute receiving anything like a winning mark. Both however jumped brilliantly with King rubbing two poles, but storming round the cross-country. He is such a super, genuine horse and for a big lad is very quick thinking too. Splash pinged round to jump a most convincing double clear. He is such an athlete. Both horses are polar opposite in both looks and how they ride, but have something very important in common; an enormous heart. I’m very excited about them and have a lot of confidence in both of their abilities.
I’m being kept busy galloping and swimming Bozzie, plus getting the babies out cross-country schooling and to shows which prevents me having time to watch the Badminton cross-country preview video too often (which I hasten to add makes it look enormous!). With Solihull, Whitfield, Withington and of course Badminton coming up there’s plenty to keep us busy, so I’ll keep you posted.