As ever with horses, your toughest and best times are yet to come. Sadly last week at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials it was the former for us.
Malin Head Clover (Ali) felt incredible. We’d been trotting him up twice a day every day for as long as I can remember in the lead up to Burghley — I think everyone creates some level of paranoia when leading up to a huge event.
We arrived at Burghley on Tuesday afternoon and super groom Kirsty Eames took Ali for a deserved walk and graze after his travel, while chief truck driver Ali Gill (one of Ali’s eight owners from the Ali G Syndicate) and myself prepared his stable area. I don’t feel you can ever be too vigilant when it comes to your horse — whenever I go somewhere, be it temporary stabling or fixed, I disinfect the area before my horse ever reaches it. I carry with me an old “Round-up” weed killer backpack spray filled with diluted Virkon. I then go around pumping and spraying the area thoroughly, it takes less than five minutes and could prevent an illness or infection.
On Wednesday morning, I rode Ali round the amazing Burghley Park grounds and he was firing on all cylinders — shooting off every time I picked up the reins, chomping at the bit and feeling like an absolute king. I also schooled for a while and he felt loose, free and generally just up for it.
Mum turned up at midday and as we were at his stable, suggested we give him a quick trot up before we walked the course. Both our mouths dropped when we saw the result. For whatever reason, he suddenly was not right. We felt his legs; no heat, no swelling, checked his feet, nothing immediately obvious there either. It was a complete mystery, we waited for a vet to double check but I knew in my gut this was the end of our Burghley dream.
At his age, many competitive horses come out the stable a little stiff and need work to loosen up before you can present them in front of the ground jury. If Ali always came out like this, then I would’ve done the work necessary to prepare him, but this was so different to how he normally is it was out of the question. Although we were at my lifelong dream of a competition, there wasn’t an ounce of me that wanted to risk my best friend when he was so obviously in a different condition to the norm.
Gutted doesn’t come close to it, but the camaraderie of the other riders meant so much; everyone knows how many hopes and dreams are catapulted into the stratosphere when something like this happens and I felt so touched by everyone’s kind responses.
I stand by my belief that Burghley would suit this horse down to the ground, with every hill and every fence I can just hear him shouting “YES!”. He is nippy, intelligent, talented and resilient and I would’ve given anything to have a go on that amazingly built course with this little man.
‘I have no idea why or how this…
I always said I’d retire Ali after this event, it hasn’t been a decision made lightly and it now makes it extra tough that we didn’t get our chance. From the moment I sat on him I knew Burghley was the course for him. There is something deep down inside me that is flirting with the idea of having one last crack at it next year. Just Burghley being the final aim and no other big competition – I so want Ali to fulfil his destiny, he so deserves it. Anyway – we shall see…