Twenty-one-year-old Harry Mutch will be the youngest competitor at this year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (1—5 May), but he took a slightly unconventional route to the five-star event.
“I started riding when I was 13 by complete fluke,” says Harry, who is based near Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear. “Mum and dad were booked to have a riding lesson together, but the car broke down, so dad had to stay with the car and I was dragged along to take dad’s place — I wasn’t at all happy about it at the time, but I actually ended up really enjoying it and that was it, I was hooked.”
Harry’s Badminton mount is 13-year-old gelding, HD Bronze, or Fernando, as he is known at home. Caroline, Harry’s mum, bought Fernando from Ireland when he was five.
“When Fernando arrived, mum said ‘that horse will take you round Badminton one day’,” explains Harry. “Everyone thought she was mad because I’d only been riding a year at the time, but now it’s actually happening.”
Fernando has had a slightly chequered past. Harry wasn’t established enough to ride him when he arrived so he was sent off to be produced by professionals.
“In four seasons, Fernando went through six different riders,” says Harry. “He’s extremely sensitive and when I first started riding him it took me two years to work out how I was ending up on the floor when I rode him — he’s that quick and sharp, I didn’t know what had happened. But I’ve now spent years watching and trying to figure him out. I learnt that the way to keep him happy in his work is routine. He picks up on the slightest change and will worry about it, so it’s my job to keep everything the same — both on the ground and when riding him.”
Fernando has overcome other set-backs too. In 2015 he was involved in a horsebox incident, which saw the sad passing of his stablemate, but he came out unscathed. Later that year, he fractured his stifle jumping around a novice track with a previous rider.
“He underwent an operation and then had six months off,” explains Harry. “It was after that I decided I was ready to get on and give eventing him a go.”
Harry left school after “disastrous” GCSE results and went to work for several people, including Oliver Townend, Helen Bell and Caroline Casburn, to gain more experience. It was then at the end of 2017, he set up on his own at home, and now has 10-12 horses in at any one time.
Harry has actually never visited Badminton before, so it will be a week of many firsts for him and Fernando.
“It’s good in a way because I can treat it like it’s any other event,” says Harry, who trains with Chris Bartle. “It’s surreal though too, because nine years ago, I didn’t even know what Badminton was. But when I found out my great uncle rode round Badminton and Burghley a few times in the 70s and 80s, I thought that was quite cool and I’d like to give it a go.
“Although Fernando is 13, he’s about 10-years-old in his brain and is still very green on the flat, but I have every confidence it will be all there in a couple of years because he can really move. He is the most amazing jumper — nothing is ever too big for him, and the faster I go, the better he jumps — I’ve never ridden anything like him before and he makes my job easy across country. He popped around the CCI4*-L at Barroca d’Alva in March [where the pair finished second and gained the final part of their Badminton qualification] like it was nothing.
“I’m excited about Badminton as I know Fernando has got it in him to go well. The cross-country course looks awesome and my horse is really good at thinking for himself so it should suit him. I just want to enjoy it — I’m on a horse that I know on the right day could be competitive. I’m going to give it my best shot, and whatever happens, happens.”
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).