Badminton first-timers: Emily King — ‘It’s surreal to be riding, not watching Mum’

The Badminton debutant talks about the pressure of being Mary King’s daughter and her ride’s peculiar jumping style

Emily King is not only the youngest rider at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (5-8 May) this year, she’s also got the pressure of a mother who is a household name — at least, among the kind of households who come to Badminton.

But Emily, 20, isn’t letting the fact she is the daughter of double Badminton winner Mary King bother her.

“I’ve grown up with her being my mum,” she says. “There might be a few more people watching me, but at the end of the day I’m going to go and do as well as I can and not think about that part too much.

“It’s surreal to be getting ready and going to Badminton myself. I’ve been going there to watch and support Mum ever since I popped out.”

Emily started riding her Badminton mount, Brookleigh, at the start of 2013, although it came about in “a roundabout way”.

Australian rider Clayton Fredericks, who produced the Rockwell son to three-star, was moving to the US and Brookleigh’s owner, Nikki Brooks, didn’t want the horse to go with him.

But Brookleigh had had an injury and was lacking recent form, which meant he wasn’t a great prospect for sale. Emily, who had previously tried the horse to buy to ride for an owner, was asked to take him on for a year in order to make him more saleable.

Emily had a fantastic season with Brookleigh, with a win in the TCN2* at Hambleden, third in an advanced at the Festival of British Eventing and second in the young rider CCI2* at Weston Park.

At the end of the year Nikki still wanted to sell, but Jane del Missier stepped in and bought Brookleigh for Emily to keep the ride.

“I really clicked with him and felt so lucky to be able to ride him,” said Emily. “Finding him an owner made him feel more like our horse and we could aim for bigger things. I wanted to see what potential he had.”

‘A peculiar style’

Brookleigh’s temperament stood out for the Kings’ from the start, because of his “amazing nature”.

However, he does have “a peculiar jumping style”.

“It feels more drastic than it looks,” says Emily. “He doesn’t bend his back and he leaves his legs a bit open, so to compensate he goes high over the fences. If he tucked his legs up, he wouldn’t have to jump so high.

“It took me a long time to get used to it, particularly because at the start I was quite young and hadn’t ridden a lot of different horses.

“We’ve used different exercises and I’ve trained with lots of showjumpers, but no matter how much we teach him he could put less strain on his body, that’s his way and it’s something I’ve had to learn and adapt to. It happens particularly in the showjumping, not so much when we are galloping across country.

“He doesn’t want to touch fences. I have to remember to come to fences with a lot of energy and give him more space than other horses in front of the jump. If I put him too close, that’s when he’s more likely to have a fence down.”

Emily and Brookleigh, who is now 14, finished last season with fourth at Pau on their CCI4* debut.

“That result really helped mine and Brook’s confidence, but obviously it’ll be very different at Badminton,’ says Emily. “We’ll just be going to do as well as we can in all three phases. I’d like to come away from it knowing we did our best and if that comes with a good result, that would be fantastic. I can’t wait to start the cross-country and see how Brook and I tackle it.”

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