In 2019, Caroline Clarke was entered for her first Badminton Horse Trials, packed and ready to load the Imperial Heights son Touch Too Much onto the lorry for the journey to Gloucestershire, when disaster struck.
“He kicked himself in the leg – it swelled up and we couldn’t come to Badminton. I rang up that morning in tears,” recalls Caroline, 28.
Her five-star debut did come later that year, at Burghley, but she retired across country, and with Covid scuppering their plans for 2020, it proved a long road back to the top for this pair.
But they have finally made it to Badminton and Caroline describes it as “a dream” to be here with the horse she and her mother Penny bought from the Goresbridge sales when she was 15 – “not the fancy sales, the bog standard ones!”
“We shipped him over and he arrived with mud fever. I thought, ‘What have I bought?’,” recalls Caroline. “But we have learned everything all the way together. He has taken us all over the place.”
Indeed, this very special horse has since seen Caroline through Pony Club and university, up to international eventing, and now reached the very top of the sport.
“He was just perfect in there,” she said after her Badminton dressage test, which earned them a very respectable score of 33.9. “He was really good, he didn’t react to the atmosphere, he did all his little changes in the right places – he was a really good boy. And it was so nice to be in there in front of that crowd – to go up the centre line at Badminton is a lifelong dream.”
North Yorkshire-based Caroline is a true amateur, working three days a week as an NHS dentist, and roping in her mother and her brother to help keep Touch Too Much and her other six horses on the road.
“I couldn’t do it without my family,” she says.
When it comes to her Badminton debut, Caroline is taking things on step at a time, waiting until after she completed her dressage test to walk the cross-country course “and start losing sleep over it”. But she is also keen to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy every moment of her first Badminton experience – starting with this evening’s famed cocktail party at Badminton House.
“Isn’t it a wonderful part of not being a professional – you can just have a really nice time,” Caroline laughs.
How to watch Badminton Horse Trials
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