Ten years ago, a 14-year-old Tom Jackson was on the lookout for his first horse after he grew too big for his pony.
“We went to a local dealer, cheekily more for me to get a feel of what a horse felt like to ride rather than to actually buy one,” confesses Tom. “I sat on this gangly, cheap four-year-old that cribbed. He was completely inappropriate and not what we were looking for, but we bought him.”
That four-year-old was Waltham Fiddlers Find (or Wesley as he’s known at home), who has taken Tom from Pony Club, to British youth teams, senior European selection, and now his first four-star at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
“I liked him because he was so athletic, but I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing — I was this teenage kid, bobbling about, trying to get him to do what I wanted,” laughs the 24-year-old from Ashford in Kent. “I didn’t want to be a professional rider back then, but Wesley changed that.”
And so the partnership blossomed. In 2010 they won the junior one-star at Weston Park and the following year they won team gold at the junior European championships. In 2013 they won team silver at the young rider Europeans and team bronze the following year. They then went on to win the under-25 championship at Bramham in 2014 and then once again won team bronze at the young rider Europeans. This and more strong results at three-star level culminated in selection for the senior European championships at Blair in 2015. But disaster struck.
“Just before Blair we found a small tear in one of his suspensory branches which ended our senior team dreams abruptly,” says Tom. “We gave him plenty of time off but then during the winter of 2016, we found his sesamoid ligament was also damaged, which forced him to have most of last year off too. It was so disappointing, but the worst thing was seeing Wesley so depressed while stuck in his stable on box rest.”
When the vet gave Wesley the go ahead for Badminton earlier this year, Tom says it was a case of “now or never”.
“Wesley has clocked some miles up over the course of his career, so we thought we’ve got to go for Badminton now, or we might not get another chance,” he explains. “It has always been a dream to ride at four-star, and now it is about to become a reality.”
Wesley, who is owned by Tom’s parents, Ian and Sara, is something of a comedian in the stable.
“He loves to make fun for himself,” says Tom. “Pulling off his headcollar and then running off and also removing his own rugs are among his favourite tricks.”
But all is forgiven when it comes to performing on the competitive stage.
“He is amazing. He’s a phenomenal cross-country horse, a good jumper and is solid on the flat,” says Tom, who trains with Pippa Funnell and Sammy Newbury.
Tom cites Badminton as the reason he wanted to become an eventer.
“We have gone every year as a family while growing up — we’d be there all week — and I think that Badminton is what really inspired me to give it a go,” says Tom, who now has 16 horses to event which he states “keeps me out of trouble”.
“I want to do as well as I possibly can at Badminton,” he says. “I don’t want to tempt fate, but it would also be quite nice to be the best under-25 rider. But to be honest, Wesley is such a special horse and he owes me nothing. I think we’ll all be very emotional if we get round.”
Read the full Badminton preview in Horse & Hound magazine, out on Thursday 27 April.