Badminton first-timers: Caroline Clarke — ‘to ride here has been my birthday wish since I was seven’

Caroline Clarke, who is 24 and heading to her first Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (1—5 May) isn’t a full-time rider — she is a dentist, having qualified in July 2018.

“I saw Henrich Romeike, a German eventer who is also a dentist, riding at Badminton in 2007, where he finished sixth, and I thought ‘ah, well if he can be good at eventing and do that job, then I will too’,” laughs Caroline, who is based near Northallerton in Yorkshire, and combines a 9-5 job with three of her own horses.

And Caroline didn’t make life easy for herself while combining studying at Bristol University and eventing.

“The horses stayed at home with mum, so I would go weeks without riding sometimes, but I tried really hard to drive the 10-hour round-trip to ride as often as I could — in all honesty, qualifying for Badminton while in my final year was the hardest part of this journey.”

Caroline’s Badminton ride is Touch Too Much (Possum at home), a 12-year-old gelding, who she bought from Goresbridge as a just-backed four-year-old — Caroline was 16.

“We didn’t have a stack of cash to spend on a horse and Possum wasn’t spectacular when we saw him, but he didn’t do anything badly so we bought him.

“When he arrived on the transporter at home, he was riddled with mud fever and looked like a hat rack — I thought ‘oh God, what have we bought?!’ He is the worst hack as he is super-spooky, and in the stable he always looks like he might be about to kill you as he’s very scowly, but as I’ve produced him, he’s never said no.”

The pair have some solid form; they won the CCI2* (now CCI3*-L) at Blair in 2016, they jumped double clear in the CCI4*-L under-25 at Bramham in 2017 and 2018, finished third in the CCI4*-L at Blair in 2017 and have finished eighth in two spring advanced sections this spring.

“We first thought Possum was special when he won at Blair,” explains Caroline, who has just registered for an Irish passport (her mother’s homeland), with the idea of potentially riding for the country one day. “When I first walked Bramham, I thought ‘horses can’t jump this!’, then he made it feel like a walk in the park. He’s not an easy person to get a relaxed dressage test out of and he’s not naturally bold across country — I really have to mean it to give him confidence — but he is an amazing showjumper.

“I’ve been to watch Badminton a couple of times — I idolised Pippa Funnell and wanted to be her, and ever since I was seven, my birthday wish has been to ride at Badminton!

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“The cross-country course on the preview looks terrifying — I’m so excited to go but also petrified. I keep meeting other riders who are going and they say they’re not nervous and I wonder why?!

“It’s amazing that we’re even going to Badminton — my aim is that Possum and I get round and complete, that would be amazing. One day we will be back to win.”

Don’t miss H&H’s Badminton preview issue, including cross-country course walk with world champion Ros Canter (out 25 April), and our form guide issue with details of every horse and rider competing (out 2 May).