Festive stars: Bubby Upton — ‘Every time I ride Cola, I don’t want to get off’

  • Over the festive season, we are shining a light on up-and-coming talent across the equestrian disciplines. These are riders you really need to keep an eye out for during the 2020 season...

    Edinburgh might not be the obvious university choice for a keen event rider whose horses are in Suffolk, but if medals are an indicator of success, the system is obviously working for Bubby Upton.

    The 20-year-old is studying sports management at the Scottish university and finished best of the Brits at last year’s young rider European Championships, taking home individual silver and team gold.

    “I hope my degree will help if I event as a career,” says Bubby. “It’ll help me to make financial sense out of this and make it a successful business.

    “I’ve always juggled education with riding as I was away at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire and commuted back and forth at the weekend and Mum would drive the horses to school.

    “We are based just outside Newmarket, which is half an hour from Stansted and the most regular flights to Edinburgh are from Stansted. That makes it affordable and do-able — if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been allowed to apply to Edinburgh.”

    Bubby has a “lovely yard with all the facilities” at her parents Rachel and Hugo’s home.

    “Mum is an absolute rock and I couldn’t do it without her,” says Bubby, who also has a new groom starting and describes her previous groom Flora Atkins as “the backbone of the team”.

    Bubby also values the help she has from her team of trainers, including Judy Harvey, who has trained her since her pony days, Tracie Robinson and Ruth McMullen, another who has helped her since she was “tiny”. Tina Fletcher and John Ledingham also train her for jumping.

    Next season will mark a change for Bubby as Fernhill Rockstar, her first serious horse, is stepping down a level.

    “He’s been a huge part of my career — I got him in 2014 when I left the pony ranks and he took me round my first four-star, my first advanced and my first senior Nations Cup,” says Bubby.

    “He’s been the most incredible horse for me and for him to leave my yard will be a very big hole, but he is finishing on a high after third place at Millstreet CCI4*-S. I still own him and he is being leased to a girl who is still in ponies to show her the ropes at a lower level and teach her what he taught me. It’s definitely the right time for him to step down and he deserves that — he’s given me so much.”

    Bubby’s five or six-strong string for 2020 will be headed up by Cola, the horse with whom she won individual silver and team gold at the 2019 young rider European Championships.

    “The Europeans were incredible — it was my first team gold and particularly special to do it on a horse like Cola who I think the world of,” says Bubby, who was a junior individual gold medallist in 2017 on Eros DHI, as well as a double team medallist at that level, and a pony double silver medallist in 2014 on Alfie.

    Cola indicated he would be a special horse when he won the seven-year-old national championship at Osberton in 2017.

    “From that point on I knew I had a superstar and every time I ride him, I don’t want to get off,” says Bubby. “He’s pure class and if I could find another like him, I’d be a very happy girl.”

    Bubby will aim Cola at the under-25 CCI4*-L at Bramham next season and hope to achieve their qualification to compete at five-star in 2021.

    She has one more year in young riders and will aim Catherine Joice’s MJM Bobby Dazzler at young rider trials for the championships at Hartpury.

    “I take huge pride in representing my country, so I’d love to be selected in my last year,” says Bubby. “It’ll be even more special with the championships in England.”

    Bubby also has Cannavaro at four-star level, a five-old called Cooley As Ice who is owned by Fiona Van Tuyll and Erica Burrows, and Eros DHI, who will start the year later due to a niggling injury but will be aimed at a long format four-star by the end of 2020.

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    As well as the Europeans, Bubby says her Nations Cup debut at Houghton was a highlight of 2019.

    “To finish on the podium was amazing, especially alongside Piggy French, who is a hero of mine and a good friend and mentor to me,” she says.

    Bubby’s year also finished with a bang when she took the Barbour Foundation under-25’s star of the future award at the Animal Health Trust dinner.

    “I was nominated two years ago and didn’t win, so I thought it would be a repeat of that, so when they said my name it was incredible and to receive it from the Princess Royal and Zara Tindall was the cream on the cake,” she says.

    Bubby’s ultimate ambition is to represent Britain on a senior team and make a success of eventing as both a business and in terms of results. For now, she says her “amazing group” of non-horsey university friends help keep her grounded.

    “They know nothing about horses and I love spending time with them — it keeps my head clear,” she says. “If things have gone badly at an event and they don’t know about it, it puts it into perspective.”

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