He might be the youngest competitor in the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials field this year, but 20-year-old Irishman Cathal Daniels is optimistic about the week ahead.
“I can’t wait — the mare’s on brilliant form,” says the man from Co. Kildare.
The mare he is talking about is Rioghan Rua (which translates to Red Queen in Gaelic), and she is also one of the youngest horses in this year’s field at 10.
Although ‘Red’s’ record states she is 15.2hh, Cathal says she “measures about 155cm”, which is closer to 15.1hh.
Cathal got the ride on Red, who is owned and was bred by Margaret Kinsella, when she was six.
“Margaret called me after I set up my own yard and she asked me if I would like to have a go competing Red,” explains Cathal, who runs his base of 15 horses from his family home, where they also own their own pack of 12 couple of hounds. It didn’t take long for the pair to clock some serious results.
As a six-year-old, in 2013, Red and Cathal won team gold at the junior European championships. In 2014 they won another junior team gold, plus individual silver and they also finished 16th in the world young horse championships at Le Lion d’Angers. In 2015 they represented Ireland at the young rider Europeans winning a team bronze medal and they were also members of the winning Irish Nations Cup team at Boekelo. Further strong results in the spring of 2016, saw Cathal and Red longlisted for the 2016 Olympic Games.
“Her record is impeccable,” says a proud Cathal. “She’s a real competitor and each time I’ve asked her a question I’ve been like ‘oh my God, there’s more here.’ She’s unbelievable across country — real point and shoot — she doesn’t know the fences are bigger than her and I can’t wait to have a crack at the Badminton track.”
Obviously Red is pretty small in comparison to her fellow equine athletes.
“She’s not much to look at in the stable,” says Cathal. “But she knows when it’s show time and she even performs at the trot-ups — I often have to tell the ground jury to take a couple of steps back to keep out of the way!”
Cathal describes Red as “nice to deal with” but a typical chestnut mare.
“She’s on edge pretty much all of the time and is very particular about certain things. For example she will only be turned out in the field with the certain horses she likes,” explains Cathal, who left school at 15 to pursue a career in horses, where he particularly enjoys producing youngsters.
Meet the four-star first-timer who will be tackling
We meet the four-star debutante and the horse
This confident young rider has never been to Badminton before as a spectator.
“I must remember to look at the cross-country preview,” he says honestly. And when it comes to his Badminton aim, he is the most honest of them all.
“I’m going to give it my best shot to win the class and see where I end up.”
Read the full Badminton preview in Horse & Hound magazine, out on Thursday 27 April.