Four-star horse retires: ‘To ride at the pinnacle of the sport as an amateur is special’

  • Bronze Flight, the horse who completed six four-stars with Irish amateur rider Alan Nolan, has retired from top-level eventing, aged 19.

    Carole Warren’s Bronze Flight, by Dynasty, put in a clear cross-country jumping round at Badminton in May, his final competition with Alan.

    “I was going to retire him after Burghley last year, but he felt so good that I got straight back on him on the Tuesday afterwards and we kept him going all winter, with the plan of running him at Badminton and then retiring him,” Alan told H&H.

    “We could have gone back to Burghley, but he’s done three Burghleys and you’d never forgive yourself if something happened, so it was the right decision.”

    Alan works full-time as business development manager for GAIN Equine Nutrition and so acknowledged that he needs a huge amount of support to compete at the top level. His horses are based at owner Carole Warren’s yard, 10 minutes from his house, and she does much of their work.

    “I try to ride three days a week when I’m building up for a big one — I get up really early or ride late,” said Alan, acknowledging the help of current and former grooms Andrew Rogers and Kathrin O’Connor, as well as the flexibility his dressage trainer Karen Nicholas and jumping trainer Sarah Verney show around lesson times.

    “I’ve only ever been to the gallops with him once — it doesn’t fit in with my day job so Carole did all his fast work for all his events. The team around me make it all happen and we just seemed to creep up the levels.”

    Bronze Flight’s real stable name is Colby, but he is commonly known as Precious.

    Alan explained: “I once said to someone that he’s terribly precious — he won’t go in the field if it’s muddy, if the lorry is moving he’s banging his door to get on it, if you don’t ride him first you know about it — and it’s just kind of stuck. Everyone knows him as Precious.”

    Bronze Flight started his eventing career with Fiona Menzies and then spent the best part of three seasons with Alberto Guigni, completing his first international events. After a couple of runs with Tamsyn Hutchins, he joined Alan in 2008.

    “He was sold to Carole as her hunter, but I think she’s only done three days on him in the past 10 years. He hunts fine; he only has two gears — one is stand still, one is go, but he’s not strong. But he spends the next four days box-walking,”  explained Alan. “I started eventing him and have taken him from one-star up to four-star. No one but me has jumped him for 10 years.”

    Alan said his favourite memories are finishing Burghley last year in 27th place — their third completion at the event and best result — and Badminton.

    “All the big ones are special. At that Burghley, he felt amazing all week,” he said. “He ate up the cross-country and while I never went fast with him around a four-star, he seemed to relish it last year.

    “Badminton is the pinnacle of the sport and to go there as an amateur rider among all the professionals, with the oldest horse in the field, was incredible.

    “I came over to the UK in 1997 or 1998 to go to Writtle College and I didn’t even know what Badminton was. The next year someone said, ‘Shall we go to Badminton?’ I got there, realised it was a horse trials and quite fun. It’s been a dream since then to ride there. Until this year, I’ve been working on the tradestands, for NAF and then for GAIN.

    “Everyone is so welcoming — it’s like a big family. You think the other riders should be concentrating on winning, but they come and offer their advice and support. To be part of it was incredible.”

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    Alan has two younger horses to ride for Carole — Conan III, a nine-year-old by Cry For Me, and Garcon De Lux, a seven-year-old by Lux X.

    “Hopefully they can follow in Colby’s footsteps,” he said.

    Bronze Flight will now go to a grassroots rider to give someone fun and experience at BE90 and BE100 level.

    “He would hate to be chucked in a field, so I owe it to him that he can go and have some fun,” said Alan. “He is perfectly sound and has the cleanest legs without a blemish on them, so while he’s fit and well and wants to do it, he can. He’s the type of horse who will say if he doesn’t want to do it any more.”

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