‘I could ride every inch of grass’: Gemma Stevens conjures magical test at Badminton

  • Oliver Townend is holding a 0.1pen lead on day one of the Badminton Horse Trials dressage, presented by Mars Equestrian (5 May). Third to start, Oliver’s score of 23.2 on Paul and Diana Ridgeon’s Swallow Springs is proving hard to catch, but Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno are pressing him by the narrowest margin on 23.3, as the last rider before the lunchbreak on day one. Gemma’s fabulous test relegated Tim Price to third on Vitali, with Tom Jackson (Capels Hollow Drift) fourth on 28 at this early stage.

    Gemma certainly caught the eye on Christopher Stone’s Jalapeno on their score, which is both horse and rider’s personal best. The chestnut mare is bidding to emulate her sire Chilli Morning, the 2015 Badminton winner. With rain in the forecast, speedy horses across the country will have an advantage, and Jalapeno is 85% thoroughbred. She produced a stunning test, with her elegant extended trot and immaculate halt for a nine the highlights. Gemma was able to push Jalapeno for some high marks, and was appropriately rewarded with consistent eights, while her flying changes were more established than most in the field so far.

    Watch Gemma talk about her test with Jalapeno in the video below

    “It was really enjoyable – the horse is lovely to ride, very soft and fluent and she felt completely relaxed, and I could ride every single inch of grass,” said Gemma of the 15-year-old. “I could sit up, enjoy it and try to smile. It’s my best score at a five-star – I’ve grown up! – and it is very different to the days of riding Arctic Soul here, who wasn’t always straightforward in this phase. I’ve been working really hard on my own fitness, a lot of Pilates, and I did a 20-minute session before I got on to stretch and engage my body. I felt relaxed, chilled – yes you get heart flutters, but not tight or tense.

    “Jalapeno is really blood, and no stone has been unturned with her prep. She’s been swimming and galloping once a week since January, because I wanted a long slow process and I’ve been so careful. I hope I’ve got her ready. Hopefully her blood will carry her through.”

    Badminton horse trials dressage: ‘I wouldn’t swap my horse for the world’

    Austin O’Connor scored 31.9 on the Salty Syndicate’s Colorado Blue, a personal best at the level for this brilliant jumper. The Jaguar Mail 14-year-old looked relaxed and rideable, with a consistent string of sevens. The flying changes let him down, but strong walk and canter marks helped mitigate the errors.

    “I’m pleased with lots of aspects – we’re very close to the sharp end. It’s still three or four marks better than last year so that’s a good improvement and I think there’s another three or four marks in there. The changes are his Achilles’ heel, but they’re going in the right direction.”

    Colorado Blue has a fabulous cross-country speed record, and looks one to watch on rain-softened ground.

    “It’s a very big course; it’s quite intense, and will take a bit of jumping,” Austin said. “I wouldn’t swap my horse for the world, and we’re not far off [the leaders]. We’re at the races, which is good.”

    ‘Bring on the jumping’

    Hector Payne and Dynasty finished third on their last five-star run together, at Pau. The grey, who is owned by David and Margie Hall and Jeremy and Judith Skinner, produced a polite and largely accurate test here at the Badminton Horse Trials dressage, with some lovely canter work, for a five-star personal best of 30.7.

    “He’s never going to lead this phase, so I’ve got to be happy with 30,” Hector said. “On to the jumping. The ground is incredible, especially considering the rain.”

    The youngest rider here, 21-year-old Alice Casburn, is looking to build on her super five-star record on her home-bred Topspin, following great jumping rounds at both Badminton and Burghley last year. They scored 38.1 in the first phase last year here, so 35.8 was satisfactory for a horse who thrives on the jumping phases.

    “I’m really pleased, it’s the phase he finds incredibly difficult,” said Alice. “He was so relaxed and happy to be there. The more time we can go in there and relax, the better he’ll be. It’s all down to me now.”

    Aistis Vitkauskas made history as the first Lithuanian rider to ride on the hallowed Gloucestershire turf. However, his horse, the Kloeve-Mogensens’ Commander VG was very rattled by the atmosphere and Aistis did well to complete, giving his partner plenty of reassuring strokes.

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