‘He understands every word I say’: meet Badminton’s prize-winning groom with her intuitive, arrogant star

  • Christoph Wahler’s groom Lily Kirchheim won the prize for the best groom at the trot-up on the final day of Badminton Horse Trials, an event presented by Mars Equestrian. She looks after Carjatan S, a grey gelding by Clearway, who finished 22nd with a fabulous clear across country for the sole German rider at the CCI5*.

    “I am always so happy with the horse,” says Lily, who has been working for Christoph since 2017. “Christoph sometimes says he can do better, but for me if we are coming home with a fit and healthy horse, that makes the trip worth it.”

    The was Lily’s first visit to Badminton – it’s an 11-hour drive to Calais from their base in Germany – and she admits “the experience has been overwhelming”.

    “I never thought there could be so many people,” she says. “I felt really appreciated. We all felt like stars with everyone watching – though it was exhausting! Luckily, Carjatan loves long drives. He has a big box in the lorry where he can stand free with his hay, looking out of the window.

    “He loved the attention at Badminton. When he was out hand-grazing, he would strike a pose like a model – the photographers loved him. He is very arrogant as he knows he is special.

    “It is so lovely to be in proper stables and Carjatan enjoyed it. I got very used to the view of the house – I wouldn’t mind waking up to that every day.”

    Christoph Wahler’s groom Lily Kirchheim

    Lily Kirchheim (centre) wins the groom’s award for her exceptional care of Badminton contender Carjatan S

    Carjatan can be a handful to look after and Lily says she has never met a horse with such a big character.

    “He’s not really like a horse, more a member of the family,” she says. “He can really get on your nerves, but at the end of the day he always makes me laugh.”

    She gives the example of when she had him beautifully plaited and bathed ready for the final showjumping phase at Badminton, when he decided to roll.

    “I had him so nice and white – and then I had to wash him and plait him again!” she says. “He really loves to get dirty and hates being washed. I use purple shampoo to keep him white and I just keep washing. I don’t mind it when he rolls, because it looks so comfortable and he loves it. And his favourite food is his mash – he has one every evening.”

    Lily describes his particularly special personality: “He really understands every single word I say, but more than that, he understands our emotions and body language. I’ve never known a horse like that. And although he likes strangers, he is really attached to his people – me and Christoph – we are his family.

    “He isn’t so cuddly, but he seeks attention all the time. He’ll put his head out of his stable window and lick you or push you. He’s a definite extrovert.”

    Lily’s story is a boost for all those from a non-horsey background wanting to get involved. The 22-year-old had limited equestrian knowledge when she started an apprenticeship aged 16 at Warendorf, where the German Equestrian Federation is based.

    “I met Christoph there in 2016 when he was based there, and started working for him in 2017,” said Lily. “It was like jumping into ice-cold water – I had never had anything to do with horses, so I’ve learnt everything by myself through working for Christoph.”

    How Carjatan’s Badminton Horse Trials panned out

    Carjatan was runner-up at Luhmühlen CCI5*, and was tipped for a top placing here, but he underperformed in the first and third phases. However, a scintillating cross-country round left a gloss on a most enjoyable trip to Britain.

    “We can be really happy he completed and the cross-country was amazing,” says Lily. “He really loves it, and the most important thing is that he makes it look so easy, which is encouraging for everyone to watch. And he was so fit at the end. When he finished he was crazy – he trotted all the way back to the stables and I had a hard time holding on to him.”

    The horse can do a stunning dressage test, but he was lit up in the first phase and Christoph did well to contain his enthusiasm and keep the score to 32.5. They blitzed round the tough cross-country track for just 3.6 time-faults.

    “It was absolutely incredible the way my horse did it today, because this course doesn’t suit him perfectly,” said Christoph, 28, after his cross-country round. “He is a big, rangy horse with a long stride and for him it was hard work, getting all the turns and the combinations, but he was so honest. He always kept looking for the next jump and I tried to support him as much as I could. If I don’t make a mistake, for sure he won’t make one.”

    This won’t be the last time we see them on British soil.

    “He can sort out the dressage, and the jumping just wasn’t his day [12 faults],” Lily says. “I can’t wait to come back.”

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