‘I took me three laps to pull him up after his first jump’: meet Burghley first-timer Emma Thomas and her ‘wild child’ horse

  • This week, 24-year-old Emma Thomas is making her Defender Burghley Horse Trials and five-star debut on Rebecca Velarde’s 10-year-old gelding Icarus.

    “I can’t believe I’m here! I did the Pony Club jumping here nine or 10 years ago and I didn’t think the five-star fences looked like they were for me, but you dream and it happens sometimes if you’re lucky,” says Emma, who is based in Warwickshire.

    Emma Thomas bought ‘Stix’ as a five-year-old.

    “I started his career and it’s just been the most incredible journey,” says Emma. “He’s always been a bit of a wild child, but has also always had the talent and brain to be good. It took me three laps of a field to pull him up after the first cross pole I jumped on him! We’ve really formed one of the best partnerships and I think we’ve got ultimate faith in each other.”

    Emma says that she has used cavaletti as a training tool to help manage Stix’s enthusiasm.

    “I’ve done a lot of trot, pop and then stop with him, and I’ve also played around with a range of bits and that has helped. The bigger the fences, the more rideable he is now.”

    Emma, who studied biology at the Royal Veterinary College before being selected onto the Wesko programme and now rides full-time, scored 38.5 in the first phase with Stix and she was visibly very emotional when she came out of the arena.

    “It felt amazing – I normally get quite nervous riding him in the dressage phase as it’s not his favourite, but I actually broke into a grin on the centre line. I thought ‘I’m here’ – I stayed in the moment, but just for that little second I let myself take it in,” she smiles. “I think it actually really helped my test to think ‘I’m here, stop worrying’. I really wanted to get sub-40, so I’m over the moon.”

    Emma, who started off in a riding school before getting her first pony when she was nine, thinks that this year’s Burghley cross-country track will suit Stix.

    “He’s a real jumping and galloping specialist, so I’m looking forward to it.,” says Emma, who also shares her goals for the week. “I’d love to go double clear because he’s a good jumper, but overall I’d like to complete and not let him or myself down.”

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