‘She rang me up and said ‘I’ve got your Badminton horse’: how a cross-country day call led to a five-star partnership

  • Felicity Collins and her “horse of a lifetime” RSH Contend OR (“Mickey”) have forged their path together through the levels to the senior ranks. This week, the pair will add their Badminton Horse Trials debut to the impressive list of “firsts” they have achieved as a partnership.

    “He isn’t quite my first horse, but he is my horse a really big ‘firsts’,” says Felicity, of the 13-year-old KWPN gelding (by Nintender). “He’s my junior and young rider Europeans horse, the horse I made my five-star debut on and he’s already given me my first five-star top 10 finish.

    “I won my first ever international on him at the under-21 championships [at Houghton in 2017] when he was only an eight-year-old. We have just learned together, grown up together and he’s taught me a lot.”

    The pair’s journey to Badminton is paved with medals. The duo helped the British side to team bronze at the 2016 junior European Championships, adding young rider team bronze and team gold to their collection and the 2017 and 2019 Europeans.

    Their break-through moment into the senior ranks came at Bicton CCI5* last year, which replaced Covid-cancelled Burghley in the 2021 calendar, where they finished 10th with a double jumping clear.

    Their arrival at Badminton also signals a particularly special round at the pub.

    “I bought him from Sarah-Jane Knight, who I already knew because I had bought another horse from her the previous year,” Felicity explains.

    “She rang me up seven years ago, Badminton was on the TV at the time and we were watching the cross-country, and said, ‘I have got your Badminton horse’.”

    They went to try him and made a deal on the price.

    “I remember that she said, ‘OK – but you’re going to owe me a seriously large drink when you get to Badminton!’ She wrote a lovely comment on my Facebook page and I have said that I will absolutely uphold my word and buy her that drink. It certainly will be a very large one!” says Felicity, with a laugh.

    “It’s been so many years in the making, especially with having two years of Covid in between. He was a very tricky young horse, but this is a horse that we have always thought and hoped was going to be a Badminton horse.

    “He has been really naughty and really difficult at times. He’s made me question whether I would ever get to the bottom of him and be able to ride him and show off how capable he is. But I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to show and prove how hard we’ve worked to get to this point. We have got the most amazing partnership and I’m just so lucky to be able to ride him.”

    Mickey is owned by long-standing family friend and supporter Avrina Milton, and Felicity’s mum, Vicky Collins, who finished 16th at Badminton in 1996 aboard Welton Molecule.

    Felicity showed Avrina the videos of the then five-year-old Mickey and the pair forged a plan to go and see him, bringing Vicky along with them.

    “I’m 24, but he is my horse of a lifetime. Avrina has been a family friend since before I was even born and used to support my mum in owning horses,” says Felicity.

    “He was very well behaved when I tried him. It was a very hot day and he was very relaxed and very well behaved. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, he’s so easy’. He was gorgeous to ride and had the most amazing jump. I just absolutely fell in love with him.”

    She adds: “There’s a video of me jumping an oxer and my mum says to Avrina, ‘we’re not going to get her off him are we?’. Because they just knew.

    “My mum said that I had this look on my face that she’s only seen on me once before. That was when I rode my first pony for the first time down a driveway when I was three and I had this look, which was sort of smug and proud and excited. Mickey gave me that wow-factor feeling.”

    That easiness was quickly dwarfed by the cheekiness in Mickey’s character, which became apparent when they got him home. Not long after arriving at Felicity’s yard, she went to give him a jump, building a small fence using red poly blocks in the school, which is when Mickey’s spooky side truly appeared.

    “All hell broke lose – I lost my stirrup and nearly fell off backwards, he was so scatty,” she says, adding his six-year-old year features a smattering of 20 penalties across his record owing to that spookiness, before the penny suddenly dropped.

    “He really grew up in the second half of that season. He finished the year at the six-year-old championships and was phenomenal there.”

    And while he has his spooky moments (“he still hates those red blocks!”), his talent and partnership with Felicity have proved the core ingredients to their success.

    “He’s a real character. He is just a gorgeous lovely, funny horse. He’s one of the best jumpers on the circuit at this level – he’s phenomenal. So I’m very lucky,” she says, adding his personality also shines through in the stable.

    “The other day my groom went in to his stable and found that he had managed to either find or steal a piece of cardboard and he had it in his mouth.

    “Then he found a high-vis jacket, which he dragged into his stable to play with as well. He bites the backs of your boots, he’ll pull the poppers off your coat. He’s always been like this and I thought he’d grow out of it, but he never has. In the cross ties today he was pulling things off the wall, untying himself. He’s just like a toddler.

    “He is so talented, he’s so special, but he is just our pet as well. He is the most amazing character and we love him so much.”

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