Well, what they say is right. There is no other event like the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in the world. When Jenny and I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, the atmosphere hit us as soon we walked through the famous stable archway. There is excitement in the air — if you could smell it, this is it.
We walked through the yard and there are people milling about round every cobbled corner. The stables are absolutely beautiful, all with a deep bed of clean white Bedmax shavings.
The history of Badminton almost speaks to you from out of the stable walls. Hilly is stabled under the clock tower and I feel very privileged to be based here. In my little block there are three other horses and riders along with Hilly, Laura Collett, Gemma Tattersall and my cousin Tina Cook. I couldn’t have asked for better stable buddies.
All the horses seem to know they are at a big event. A lot of them, including Hilly, have been slightly on their toes and like their riders looking rather excitable.
Jenny and I settled Hilly in and finished unpacking the lorry before taking a deep breath and having a cup of tea.
” Well, we’re here!” I said, gleaming to Jenny.
Jenny smiled and sipped her tea. This isn’t only a huge event for the riders — it’s as important for the grooms. Every single groom here at Badminton has worked their socks off to get here and let’s not forget the grooms at home too, working their socks off keeping all our other competition horses fit and ready for the rest of the season. I not only thank my team, but on behalf of other riders I would like to thank their teams too.
Late on Tuesday afternoon I take Hilly for a hack around the stunning Badminton estate. We have been spoilt with the super hacking route and canter tracks and I for one am very grateful for this.
I have mentioned before that Hilly wouldn’t be the biggest fan of the dressage — I nickname it the stressage phase and unfortunately he can find it fairly stressful. I try and not practise too much dressage with Hilly at a competition as this can wind him up more and he becomes more tense.
Hilly isn’t the greatest of movers — if you were compare him with some of his rivals in the dressage ring, he genuinely struggles with some of the more advanced movements, just because of the way he is built and his shape.
Put it this way — Paula Radcliffe and Linford Christie were both athletic champions in their own right, but Paula would not win a 100m race against Linford and vice versa, not because they would not be fit enough or didn’t train enough, just because their bodies are completely. It’s a little bit the same with horses and dressage. I can’t expect Hilly ever to do a test like Valegro, so I hope he tries his best and pray that achieves a good mark — and I need to try my best too!
I woke up on Wednesday morning in the lorry and looked in the mirror to see a huge spot on my chin. “No!” I thought. “Isn’t this only supposed to happen on your wedding day? Not the trot-up day for BADMINTON!”
I quickly picked up my phone. Who do you text in a situation like this? Your vet!
I use PJ McMahon’s practice and one of his vets is a good friend of mine, Brian Sherry.
I’m going through Hilly’s vet kit and I am looking for something to put on this monstrosity. Hibiscrub, ice-tight?
I text Brian: “What cream can I put on a spot? My spot not Hilly’s spot. Hilly doesn’t have a spot, don’t panic — going through vet kit for myself.”
Two minutes later my phone rang.
“Alice, don’t panic, Katherine and I are coming up today to see you and we will stop at a chemist and buy you some human cover up!”
This is what friends are for, to keep you calm in a crisis.
Katherine is also a brilliant friend and she was on spot duty with make-up bag in hand before the trot-up. It’s always difficult to know what to wear for the trot-up. Something ideally that the fashion police wouldn’t critique you for, but also you want to stand out a little bit. I opted for a knee length red dress with little black boots with a heel. The heel later proved a mistake. Running was an issue.
Jenny had done herself proud and Hilly was gleaming from head to toe. At Badminton you trot up in front of the main house and a crowd was beginning to gather. We were ready. Hilly, myself and the spot cover up.
Ben Hobday trotted up Mulrys Error four horses before me and as he was accepted the crowd’s cheer echoed through the stables. It put the hairs up on the back of my neck. As we walked through the tunnel in front of the house I was taken aback by the huge crowd watching — by far the biggest I have seen for any horse inspection. Hilly has never been worried by crowds and to be honest he isn’t a show off and probably finds the whole saga of pampering him to look beautiful for the trot-up a huge waste of time.
Hilly casual strolled up to the ground jury as I am trying to remember the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other.
“Hello,” I gleam brightly at Marilyn Payne (president of the ground jury), Andrew Bennie and Angela Tucker.
They gave me the nod to trot forward and off we went! I took two strides of running and thought, “My mother was right, these heels are far to high for this!”
Read more from Alice Dunsdon:
I got to the end of the trot-up, right, just need to turn around and run back. I had this huge plan in my head I was going to run like one of those girls out of Baywatch, only with much smaller breasts and less blonde hair. I was going to smile broadly so all the cameras would snap away at me. This, however, all flew out of the window and all I was concentrating on was running in a vaguely straight line and how I shouldn’t have worn these heels!
As I trotted back I heard Hilly as laidback as ever plodding away next to me. He makes me smile. He honestly hates the spotlight and would much rather be back in his stable or out cantering around the countryside.
“Fernhill Present accepted.”
” Good boy,” I say, patting him.
As we walk back through to the yard, I turn to Jenny,
” I could not run in these heels!”
“Don’t tell your mother she was right!” said Tina’s groom Rachel Tolley said as she walked past with Tina’s horse Star Witness.
Mum came up to me and we had a chuckle about the heels. Day one is complete and we are happy and relaxed at the moment. We do our dressage test Friday 10.02am.
Until next time, lots of hacking and walking of the course!
Love Hilly and Alice xx