Badminton first-timers: Isabel English — ‘we called him Rat to start with as I fell off so much in the first three years’

Isabel English might only be 24, but the Australian already has two five-star top 12 finishes to her name. Both came in Adelaide, where she was 12th in 2013 and eighth in 2014. Next week she heads to her first Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (1—5 May) aboard her long-term top horse, Feldale Mouse.

‘Bella’ and Mouse first met some 12 years ago.

“I’d outgrown my Galloway pony when I was 12 and so was looking for a new small horse to do pre-novices [Australia’s BE100 equivalent] on,” explains Bella. “Mum, dad and I saw Felicity Cribb [who was 10th at Badminton in 1994 aboard Carmody Street] at a showjumping show and she said she had something that might suit. She proceeded to jump him round a course in front of us and he was so naughty. She came out of the ring and said she didn’t want much for him anyway — we bought him, and that horse was ‘Mouse’.”

Mouse is a 15.3hh, 17-year-old gelding, who is by Connemara stallion Domo Cavallo Praize, out of a thoroughbred mare by Final Straw.

“To start with, we called Mouse ‘Rat’,” laughs Bella. “For the first three or four years I fell off him constantly — he would buck, bolt, spin and just dump me for no reason.”

One day Mouse’s antics led to Bella having a run-in with a tree and so her sister, Elizma, who now showjumps, rode Mouse while Bella recovered.

“Kevin McNab then competed him to CCI3*-S and CCI3*L when he was eight as Mouse had become too strong for me, so he got him more on the straight and narrow,” says Bella. “Then when I grew up and got a bit stronger, I got back on and we’ve gone from there. Mouse is still a bit quirky now — he can be weird to get on, but he’s slowly transforming into an old man and I know him so well, that his quirks aren’t an issue any more.”

In February 2016 Bella moved from Australia to Germany to base herself with none other than Michael Jung.

“The Jung’s are an incredibly generous family and I rode all day — it was really cool and I learnt a huge amount.”

Bella left Germany in November 2018 and moved to England, where she now works for Kevin and Emma McNab, with her three horses, including Mouse, based just down the road near Billingshurst.

“My horses are at a yard called Aqua Training Therapy, which is owned by Pip Stone. I decided I wanted to be there as there is a water treadmill which has been instrumental in getting Mouse ready for Badminton as we have to manage his feet very carefully.”

Bella has never visited Badminton before.

“I’m so excited now — a few weeks ago, things were touch and go as we were battling with a foot problem, but thankfully we’re now absolutely fine.

“We won’t be winning the dressage, but I’d hope for a score between 30 and 35 — he sometimes adds in some extra movements and he thinks the ‘rectangle’ is very over-rated! I’d then love to jump a double clear, but I’m not super-experienced at this level, so will settle for some cross-country time-faults.”

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).

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