The New Zealander talks about his unorthodox introduction to riding and the jumps he is most looking forward to at Badminton

Twenty-six-year-old Jesse Campbell is no exception when it comes to the laid-back New Zealand charm. But he can’t hide his enormous excitement about riding at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (5-8 May) this year.

This is no surprise as it was watching Mark Todd and Bertie Blunt at the 1996 Badminton Horse Trials on television that sparked Jesse’s ambition to event. At 21, Jesse and his ride Kaapachino moved to England and they are now preparing for their Badminton debut.

“None of my family were horsey and I started riding because a little Shetland turned up with the herd of cattle that grazed near us,” says Jesse.

“The farmer said I could ride him. My mother told me that I had to fall off nine times to be a good rider — I fell off eight on the first day he was so naughty.

“My first memory of eventing was watching Mark Todd and Bertie Blunt in 1996 at Badminton, so it is a big dream to compete there myself. I am a horse geek and have watched a lot of past Badminton footage. I am really very excited to be going there myself.”

Jesse’s ride Kaapachino, a 13-year-old ex-racehorse, came to him by chance.

“The girl who produced my pony and I got talking at an event,” explains Jesse. “She said she had this lovely horse but didn’t want to ride him and would I ride him in the pre-novice championships at Puhinui International Horse Trials. We won and I later bought him.”

An epic journey

Since then Kaapachino has given Jesse young rider success in New Zealand, travelled across the world, won a CCI2* and a CIC3*, been on Nation Cups teams and has put Jesse in the selectors’ eye for Rio.

When asked whether he thought that Kaapachino would be special as soon as he sat on him, he replies endearingly, “No and I still don’t” — as if he was pulling the leg of a good mate.

“But he gives you everything and tries so hard,” he adds.

The fact that Kaapachino gives it his all has led to some disappointing three-day showjumping performances. The most notable one was having four down at their first four-star at Luhmühlen while lying sixth.

“I went to Spain over the winter to train with Luis Alvarez Cervera, the six time Olympic showjumper. Kaapachino is not a lost cause in this phase and is good at one-days,” he says. “He just puts everything into the cross-country and finds it difficult on the last day.”

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Luhmühlen was not meant to be his first four-star as the horse was originally entered for Badminton last year.

“Kaapachino got very sick. He had had a tie-back and hobday and the stitches got badly infected. We thought we might lose him,” he explains. “The vets reacted so fast and he pulled through, but he didn’t get quite fit enough for Badminton.”

This year Kaapachino proved his fitness with a good final run at Belton.

“I have watched the online Badminton course preview video and it looks good,” he says. “I am looking forward to the Vicarage Vee — that looks quite fun as well as The Lake. I am not one to get worried, Kaapachino is a fantastic cross-country horse and I am really excited.”