“So Alice, will you get into Badminton?”
This is a question I have been asked a lot recently. The honest answer is I don’t know.
We have entered Hilly (Fernhill Present) and now it is just a waiting game. I hope and pray we are not waitlisted.
You see I have this dream to be the first horse and rider combination to complete all six four-star events around the world. Badminton is the last one on the list. Did I purposefully leave Badminton until last? No.
Badminton has different qualification requirements to the other four-star events. You have to be in the top 50% of a CCI3* or top 25% of a CCI4*. After that they select you on how many FEI points you and your horse have. Up until now I have not had enough FEI points to secure a place at Badminton.
Our four-star completion in Adelaide at the end of last year seems like a dream. I can not quite believe we did it! I can say I am the first person in history from the Northern Hemisphere to travel my horse to Australia and compete at the world famous Adelaide event — it still hasn’t really sunk in. Even thinking about it now it seems like a crazy idea but I proved it was possible and I encourage anyone else who has this ambition to go for it!
Hilly just amazes me how tough he really is. After we arrived home and he had a couple of weeks off to acclimatise to the British winter (myself included), then he was turned away in his favourite field — my groom Jenny nickednamed his “man cave” — until the beginning of January. I think it is very important to let horses have a holiday not only for the physical side but mentally too it’s essential.
For me the Christmas period is always rather hectic. I am senior master of the Surrey Union Hunt so that means lots of hunting and lots of trying to be fairly organised with the hunt, but also trying to balance the eventing with the hunting. January, February and March are always the busiest months for me having all the hunters and eventers in work.
Also like so many of my equestrian friends finding good grooms seems sometimes impossible. Jenny McKibben is my head girl and this is her third season with me. She is part of my team’s backbone.
As I have written in previous blogs, grooms are so much more than just a stable hand. They play as much of a part in the success of a competition as the competitor and I thank Jenny for all her hard work, plus Hilly loves her which is a priority.
Hilly has always been fussy about the women in his life but he and Jenny are definitely close friends which is a rarity for him. He doesn’t like to be fussed over and he doesn’t care for too much attention. He likes his own
space but mostly importantly you have to respect him. In turn he will respect you. Jenny has found the key to Hilly and she is the one who deals with him on the yard.
I am away competing most weekends with Jenny, and Harriet Fettes is my brilliant “stay at home mum” looking after the other horses and keeping them ticking over. Harriet has a lovely way with all animals and we have been friends for the past 10 years. I trust her completely holding the fort. Steph Maynard and Becki Crossley are new recruits for this season and we welcome them to our team.
The months of January and February for my eventers consist of “epic hacking” to get them fit. With the ground being too wet to gallop I take full advantage of the Surrey Hills. My family home and stables are based on Holmbury Hill which is a wooded area, 216 meters above sea level and is also the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Close by we have Leith and Pitch Hill and these southern ridges are predominantly greensand which allows for brilliant sandy tracks out hacking.
Hacking is key for your horse’s core fitness. I do not have (and have never had) a horsewalker so hacking out is second nature to me. I believe that riding your horse out hacking is a brilliant way to help build muscle strength and muscle endurance, also it’s a good way to unwind and look like a mad woman chatting away to your horse if you’re by yourself or having a good gossip with friends!
I will hack Hilly up to two or three hours per day in these early months for the build up to Badminton as well as schooling and some canter work.
The thought of Badminton still seems like a dream away and I lie awake at night, my heart racing thinking about the buzz and noise of the famous Badminton crowds, not to mention the Badminton Lake!
It seems Hilly has hardly lost any fitnes since Adelaide and his ability to buck and scare the life out of his mother is still in full force!
Every year I think to myself: “How do I ride this horse?” He thrives on work and the rare day off for him would mean that I would need to bring out the super glue the day after in order to stay on him!
Until next time when I will talk about our canter work and first outing at an event since Adelaide.
Keeping everything crossed I get in to Badminton!
Alice and Hilly xx