What an eventful couple of days it has been!

I walked the cross-country course for the third time on Saturday evening with Cinda and Clayton [Fredericks]. We went over all my lines, strides and minute markers through the relentless rain. By the end of it my waterproof jacket was soaked through and my phone completely drowned.

The plan on Sunday morning was to walk the course yet again by myself at 7am. No matter how exhilarating the idea of Badminton cross-country is, nothing could be more depressing than heavy rain on the lorry roof at 6am. However, I managed to motivate myself out of bed and quickly jogged around the most important parts of the course.

Cross-country round one

First up Jeans. Fourth to go is not a pleasant place to be, especially at your first Badminton. I went out without any idea of how the course was riding for anyone else. Jeans left the start box like a bomb and even though we had my strong ‘Chico’ cross-country bit, he was completely uncontrollable at the quarry which gave me a rather uncomfortable feeling. We came in far too forward into the first big log and then had to pull hard right to make the turn to the other elements.

Another long gallop brought us to the famous Huntsmans Close, by which time he was more controllable. There was a large roll-top, followed by an upright gate, which meant we were already set up for the corner after it. However, even though Jeans was on the right line and right stride, he naughtily dropped his shoulder and glanced off it.

After jumping the Wadworth Barrels, we charged toward the Badminton Lake and its electrifying atmosphere. With the strong headwind and rain in my face, I made a slight mistake at the pickups and so yet again had to pull hard to get to the narrow wave into The Lake. Here Jeans made a mistake of his own and left a leg, which meant that we descended rather more steeply than was comfortable.

After a confidence building jump over the Marley Eternit Barn Table and the Countryside Complex, we approached the double of open corners in the HS1 Farmyard. In Horse & Hound, Pippa Funnell suggested they were ‘the softest fences I’ve seen this end of the course… a fence I’d be happy to jump on a bold intermediate’ and the general consensus from other competitors was not any different. If I had known how many problems they would cause throughout the competition, I would have ridden them differently.

I came around the corner and Jeans still had his run out in the Huntsmans Close fresh in his mind and so hesitated at the first. As I had him more strictly on his line, after a momentary hesitation he launched, falling splat in the middle of the open corner. Thankfully the frangible pins broke and we both flopped onto our sides and skidded on the turf with me still in the saddle.

Upon getting up my Point 2 air jacket inflated leaving me looking rather like the Michelin man. Jeans had a couple of minor scrapes, one on his knee and one on his heel but as it was the furthest fence from the stable, everyone felt it was prudent to trailer him back. A quick vet check followed by a doctor’s inspection proved we were both fighting fit; Jeans for another day and myself for later in the afternoon.

‘Ride, don’t just look pretty’

I went back up to the competitors’ tent to watch how the rest of the riders were faring, so I could make a plan for Maggie. Cinda met me there and told me that “riding at four-star means riding every stride, not just sitting prettily!” So, with those words ringing in my ears, I had a good few hours to rev myself up ready for Maggie’s round… and what a round it proved to be!

Before we started I kept reminding myself that she had never had a cross-country penalty to her name and this was not going to be the time when I messed it up for her. What can I say! She was totally and absolutely foot-perfect.

By the 8th minute she started to tire, after the intense Vicarage Ditch section, so I sat quiet and nursed her home. She absolutely gave her complete heart and soul and dug so deeply that she had absolutely nothing more to give by the end of it. I have never been so relieved to see the last fence and the finish flags and come home to the roar of the crowd! I could not have been any prouder of my little mare. What a monumental moment for both of us!

The final challenge

So unfortunately only the one for showjumping day. Team China roused ourselves at an ungodly 5.45am in the morning. At 6am we had both Maggie and Jeans out of their stables and trotting on the hard surface to see how they felt. Jeans was absolutely fine and Maggie very level, but understandably a bit stiff in front. A 20min hand walk later, she was absolutely fine and 100%. However, once again the trot up proved stressful, with a long deliberation on Maggie’s trot before they accepted her.

As Maggie was lying 29th after cross-country we were in the morning session. I got on with plenty of time to spare and made my way up to the collecting ring. The course was big and twisty for horses that had just galloped for 12 minutes the day before. However, Maggie once again gave me her all and tried her little heart out. Unfortunately I sat a smidgeon too quiet approaching an upright which we had down, but I was 100% completely and utterly chuffed with her!

We were thrilled to take part in the Competitor’s Parade before the top riders jumped. As all the other horses were prancing and dancing in front of the cheering crowd, Maggie observed her audience calmly as she walked around the arena. And Jeans had the enormous privilege of also attending the competitor’s parade, but this time under the master that is William Fox-Pitt.

Although we were all disappointed about Jeans’ fall, we had an incredible weekend and were very well looked after. I knew this was going to be something special, but nothing can compare you for the reality of Badminton! Bring on next year!

Alex

Read all of Alex’s Badminton diaries