‘He always looks for the flags’: meet Badminton Horse Trials leaderboard leapers James Rushbrooke and Milchem Eclipse

  • James Rushbrooke and Milchem Eclipse were among the big climbers after cross-country at Badminton Horse Trials, rocketing 40 places up the leaderboard with their jumping clear.

    This is the second Badminton for James and “Barney”, who also jumped clear across country at the 2022 five-star, presented by Mars Equestrian.

    Watch James Rushbrooke talk about his partnership with Milchem Eclipse

    The result was made all the more special as Barney’s breeder, Ralph Conroy, who last saw the horse as a four-year-old, was at Badminton to witness the 11-year-old gelding’s performance.

    “For a young horse, he isn’t experienced but he just has this amazing brain where he goes, ‘I know what the job is and I’m going to do it well’,” says James, who is also a master with the Badsworth and Bramham Moor and credits hunting for helping him tackle the Badminton cross-country course.

    “He always looks for the flags, even if I’m on a bit of a dodgy stride. It’s like he says, ‘huh – idiot above, I’ll move my neck and my shoulders to get over it, don’t worry!’ He is just an amazing horse.”

    The Irish Sport Horse initially joined James’s yard with a view to be sold. But he stayed, and has answered every question as he has progressed up through the levels.

    Last year, I was nervous of everything – driving into the lorry park, the trot-up, every part of it. This year, I felt more confident, like I knew where everything was and what I was doing,” he adds.

    “Then I got the most horrendous shakes this morning, which I didn’t get last year so I don’t know where they came from!”

    The pair added 38.8 time-faults to their first phase score of 37.9, putting them on a total of 76.7 and in 17th place ahead of the showjumping.

    “Nothing really fazes him,” adds James. “He can be quite cheeky and silly. The older he gets, the whizzier he gets when he gets to a competition or away from home. I rode him this morning and he was a total sod, going sideways everywhere and I thought, ‘I’m going to save this energy for later – I don’t need the energy loss either.

    “He is certainly getting this stronger, happy chappy, attitude – he gets to these places and just loves it. He just loves going round these big courses and having fun.”

    James added his cross-country performance hasn’t sunk in yet.

    “Last year, it took about two weeks. I think it will do, when I get back to the lorry I’ll probably crumple. I think the only thing holding me up right now is my body protector!”

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