‘I’m not your typical event horse owner, but I love the sport ’: Greenacres Special Cavalier’s owner on winning Badminton

  • “You have to enjoy the good days,” says Greenacres Special Cavalier’s owner Chris Mann. He, alongside his wife Michelle, are now the proud owners of a five-star winning horse after the mare was ridden to victory at the 2024 Mars Badminton Horse Trials by Caroline Powell.

    “I’m full of clichés but I’ll just keep enjoying it – my motto is #lovingthejourney,” continues Chris, who is from Norfolk.

    Chris’ route into owning a five-star winner was one that rather happened by chance.

    “I’m a huge football, cricket and golf fan,” he states. “Back in the day, when my youngest daughter Sophie was 10, she crazed my backside because she wanted to ride ponies. My experience with horses was that I assumed everyone who had one smelt, so I resisted and resisted until I gave in and Sophie started riding.”

    Fast forward three years to 2013, just after Caroline scooped a team bronze at the London Olympics.

    “Sophie was attending a two-day Pony Club clinic where Caroline was the instructor,” explains Chris. “Sophie came home a bit frustrated as Caroline had picked up on a few issues, so she contacted Caroline directly on Facebook to ask if she could further help her.”

    Two or three days later, Sophie and Chris went over to Caroline’s yard with her pony on the lorry.

    “Caroline was a great help and after a bit of time, Sophie ended up keeping two ponies at Caroline’s,” says Chris. “Sophie then became unwell and so we sold those ponies. Caroline said to me ‘you’ve got into eventing in a fairly big way – would you like to become an owner?’”

    Chris and Michelle’s first horse was Sinatra Frank Baby, who went on to complete the cross-country at the five-star at Luhmühlen in 2017.

    “I will never forget the adrenaline rush seeing ‘Frank’ come over the finish line at Luhmühlen,” says Chris. “Unfortunately he couldn’t go onto the showjumping, but by then, we were well and truly hooked.”

    Chris spoke to Caroline, who last won a five-star in 2010, when she took the Burghley title aboard Lenamore, and said that if she could find another horse that was suitable, with a realistic price tag, he would buy into it. At this point, Caroline sourced ‘Cav’, gave her the “thumbs up” to Chris, and the rest is history.

    “I’ll never forget the day Cav first stepped into water on the lunge with Greg [Caroline’s partner]. To go from that to seeing her go through The Lake at Badminton – that was amazing,” comments Chris, who says he “doesn’t consider himself as being ‘horsey’”.

    “I love sport and the competitive side of it. I’m not your typical event horse owner – just a massive supporter of team Powell. It’s really been about my ambition to put Caroline back on the map.”

    Greenacres Special Cavalier’s owner Chris Mann: his Badminton experience

    Chris says that he and Michelle were “absolutely over the moon” with Cav’s performance at Badminton last year, where she completed by with 40 jumping penalties across country.

    “It didn’t look great on paper, but it would have been very easy for Caroline to pull her up.

    “While Cav was green, Caroline’s perseverance was fantastic and we were quietly confident that we knew could improve and the stars completely aligned this year.”

    Cav and Caroline produced a 30 dressage, which left them in seventh, then followed this up with a great jumping clear across country, picking up 13.2 time-faults, which put them into sixth. They then jumped one of three clears inside the time in the showjumping and that was enough to clinch the win.

    “It was a brilliant dressage test and even if she’d had a naive run-out across country, we would still have been happy.,” Chris explains. “But for me, for Cav to have been foot-perfect around the cross-country – that was almost as special as it could get.

    “She’s an incredibly good showjumper with a very good record and we were quietly confident that she had a clear round in her, but not for one second did we think the following five would have fences down and we would win.

    “Sophie was at Badminton until a couple of hours before Cav showjumped and she said ‘I’ve got a five-hour journey home, so I should leave – I’ll have Badminton on over the radio in the car’, so she wasn’t there for the win. She watched the cross-country from the New Zealand tent by The Lake and Michelle and I were at the start/finish. We walked over to the Kiwi tent after Cav’s round and as soon as I saw Sophie I completely broke down – that was my most emotional moment from the weekend. If it hadn’t been for Sophie, this would never have happened for us.”

    Chris says that he wasn’t nervous this year.

    “Last year I was a bag of nerves, but it got to Sunday this year and I thought that anything after that cross-country round would be a bonus. I didn’t shed a tear – I was so determined to enjoy the day.”

    According to Chris, there hasn’t been a “proper” party yet.

    “We went to Caroline’s yard on Monday night and had a few drinks and a BBQ. Caroline is competing at Aston-le-Walls this week, so we haven’t had a chance to do a proper party yet, but there will be something more official in the next couple of weeks – you can’t let these moments pass.

    “We’ve had disappointing days, but that’s eventing,” states Chris, who also owns four young eventers with Michelle that are based with Caroline. “If our youngsters jump a double clear in the novice at Aston on Saturday, you’ve still got to celebrate that in a comparative way. This sport has a habit of kicking you in the teeth, so you have to enjoy the good days.

    “We just want to support team Powell. We’ve got our formula and it won’t work so romantically every time, but hopefully we’ve got others that might replicate Cav.”

    In terms of hopes and dreams for the future, Chris is modest.

    “Everyone is saying the ‘O’ word to me,” he says, referring to the possibility of Cav’s Olympic selection. “We have to keep our feet on the ground and enjoy the moment and celebrate it. Basically, we’re looking forward to continue to support Caroline in the best way we can.”

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