Badminton first-timers: Emily Gilruth — ‘I never thought he’d go beyond novice’

  • The mother-of-two introduces her unlikely four-star horse and talks about her preparation hiccups

    Emily Gilruth has known her ride for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (5-8 May), Topwood Beau, almost all his life, having broken him in as a three-year-old. But she never expected him to be the horse on whom she would make her debut at the Gloucestershire four-star.

    “Someone bought him from Cavan sales and send him to me to break in — he was the last one left at the end of the sale,” she says. “Then he came back as a four-year-old and I bought him.

    “I though he’d be a nice horse to keep for a year, do a few novices on and then sell to a junior. He wasn’t very big — he’s grown to about 16.1hh but he was about a hand smaller when he came — and I never thought he’d have the scope to do more than novice.”

    But at every level, Topwood Beau, who is now 13, has kept rising to the challenge.

    “He won his first novice, which doesn’t mean much, but he was a little trier and as I didn’t have anything to bring on at the time I thought I’d keep him a bit longer and see how far he’d go,” remembers Emily. “We did a few intermediates and I thought, ‘He can jump a bit bigger…’”

    ‘The hiccups are one of those things’

    The son of Beau Royale has had some good placings on the way up the grades, including second at Ballindenisk CCI3* in 2015 and fourth at Blair CIC3* in 2014.

    However, the run-up to Badminton has been less smooth, leading to Emily sometimes wondering if it was ever “meant to be”.

    The pair went to Burghley last autumn, but Topwood Beau nearly went down in the water at The Lion bridge — the spot where Michael Jung actually fell.

    “That really frightened him — I think he had water in his ears and half of me was wet as well,” says Emily. “He jumped into the next water in a really worried way, so I pulled up.”

    The pair headed back to Ballindenisk CCI3*, but Emily fell off three fences from home and landed on her feet. Frustrated, she managed to finish the season with fifth in the advanced at Little Downham.

    The start of this season has been equally chequered, because although the pair were second in an open intermediate at Oasby and ninth in the CIC2* at Burnham Market, they’ve also had two eliminations.

    At Burgham, Emily had a fall when Topwood Beau pecked on landing after a fence.

    “I hunted three days a week all winter on all sorts and never fell off, so I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

    Then at Weston Park the pair broke a frangible pin when the horse stopped at a fence.

    Emily explains: “I don’t know if he didn’t read it or didn’t see it, but he sort of pushed the fence and it fell down.”

    The fence was re-built and she continued to the finish, but was eliminated for exceeding the time limit as the clock was not stopped during the repairs.

    “I’ve also had three weeks of terrible flu,” says Emily. “But I think the hiccups are just one of those things and I’m really looking forward to Badminton — he feels on great form.”

    ‘Things are quite hectic’

    Emily, 39, has two daughters — Scarlett, six, and Immi, four — and says life is “a bit mad really” but a good support team makes it work, from the girls on the yard to her husband Tom and her mother Shirley Carter.

    “The kids love eventing and are mad keen on ponies so Mum looks after them at events and will bring the caravan to Badminton,” she says. “Tom will bring Scarlett down after school on Friday.”

    Continued below…

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    Funnily enough, Emily has ridden round Badminton before — when fellow Badminton competitor Beanie Sturgis invited her to hunt with the Beaufort around the area. But this is the real thing.

    And her aim for the week?

    “I want to complete,” she says.

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