‘Ben Maher said “Just lean back, squeeze and cluck!”’: young showjumper relives her ‘nerve-racking’ first Derby experience

  • Young British showjumper Emily Moffitt enjoyed a successful trip to the five-star show at La Baule, France, last weekend (10-13 June), jumping double clear for her country in the Nations Cup as well as making her debut in a Derby – an experience that made her feel “so nervous”.

    “I said to [my trainer] Ben Maher that I felt as though I was about to go in and jump-off for the Olympic gold medal, I was so nervous!” Emily told H&H. “He replied that I was supposed to go in and have fun, but I said ‘No seriously, I’m so nervous’. 

    “He was laughing so much about it!”

    Emily was riding her great campaigner, the Poden Farms-owned 16-year-old stallion Copain Du Perchet CH, and the pair looked absolute naturals over La Baule’s legendary Derby track which includes a bank, water splash, open water (pictured above) and some coloured poles round the 22-fence course. The pair returned home with just four faults, finishing fourth to the British winner Holly Smith on Fruselli.

    “I’d put my sticky spray on all over my saddle and just went in thinking that as long as I stayed on it would be ok!” revealed Emily. “But it was so fun and Copain was amazing – he had his ears forward and it was like he was asking ‘Where are we going, what’s next? Let’s do it!’”

    Making her debut in a Derby certainly wasn’t Plan A for the Olympic nominated rider but Copain had all the credentials, having done the Fasterbo Derby, finishing third, and won the Aachen equivalent with previous rider Cian O’Connor

    “We’ve never trained for it, we’ve never done anything,” said Emily. “But Ben walked me up and down the bank and explained what I needed to do – ‘Just lean back, squeeze and cluck!’”

    Another of Emily’s concerns was remembering the course, which snakes the length and breadth of La Baule’s huge turf arena, but she also credits her team-mate Holly Smith for giving her plenty of pep talks.

    “She said to me, ‘It’s fine! You’re going to have fun, just go in there and enjoy it’,” said Emily.

    So could we see her coming down the renowned banks at Hickstead and Hamburg in the future?

    “If there was a show that had another Derby I’d certainly bring Copain because he loved it so much,” enthused Emily. “He’s 16 now and it’s important to let him have a bit of fun; we don’t bring him out as often as we used to. But it was a lot of fun, so I’d definitely do another one on him.”

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    The previous day, Emily had jumped a double clear on the 12-year-old Winning Good to help Great Britain finish fourth in the Nations Cup.

    “It was awesome. Winnie couldn’t have jumped any better and it was definitely the day to be jumping out of his skin,” said Emily. “Even in the warm up he was incredible and Ben said to me ‘Emily, you’re not trying to win the warm-up you know’!

    “But Winnie just gives me confidence that he’ll jump anything you put in front of him, which is amazing because I know on other horses you can go in thinking, ‘Gosh this is going to be difficult’. We made a plan and I knew what I had to do to nail the plan and that if I gave him a solid ride, he would try his best. It ended up working out perfectly.”

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