Meet this week’s H&H cover star: an anxious character, a great cross-country horse – and he’s Badminton-bound

  • This week’s Horse & Hound cover star, on the magazine issue dated 10 March 2022, is Pearl and James Chaffe’s HHS Noble Call, ridden by Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy.

    The grey was bred by Irish Olympic showjumper Marion Hughes.

    “She called me at the end of his six-year-old year and said she had a horse she thought I should look at,” says Padraig. “I tried him and thought he was a horse with real potential for five-star. He’d jumped 1.30m classes and I liked the stamp and feel of him.”

    Now 11, “Ben” has progressed quickly through the levels, moving up to five-star in his fourth season eventing last year. He is pictured at the one-off five-star at Bicton Horse Trials last September, where he finished eighth. The horse impressed there with his great early round early on cross-country day.

    “He’s always been strong in the cross-country and dressage is his weaker phase; perhaps going up the levels so quickly made it difficult for him as he got more tense because he progressed so fast,” says Padraig. “I had a great spin across country on him at Bicton and I’m really looking forward to getting him to Badminton Horse Trials this spring.”

    Ben is likely to do the advanced at Thoresby this spring, then Bicton open intermediate, then Badminton.

    “He’s proved he can be a five-star horse, so now he’s at the stage where we want to preserve him. The big thing now is to make his career as long as possible while working to improve his dressage,” says Padraig.

    Ben had a six or seven-week break after Bicton last autumn, then a month hacking.

    Padraig says: “He’s not done much competing since Bicton – a few showjumping shows – but he’s done quite a bit of winter training on the flat with Tracie Robinson and showjumping with Grant Wilson.

    “He seems to be finding the dressage easier and to be more relaxed at home this year, so we hope he can carry that forward to his events, though Badminton will be an atmosphere like he’s never experienced.

    “He can do everything – he’s a good mover, with good flying changes – but it’s just that tension creeps in. He’s an anxious horse and it’s a matter of being patient and waiting for all the pieces to fall together.”

    Padraig has found that the best way to manage HHS Noble Call before an important dressage performance is to ride him several times for a short length of time on the morning of the test “without stressing him”. When it comes to the final preparations, he’ll work the horse in, then get off him for 10 to 15 minutes, then “hop back on and go in the ring”.

    “We’ve found that’s the best way so far because when his adrenalin goes up, you can’t get him back down again without him chilling out. I’ve spoken to a few dressage riders about anxious horses and they’ve found this is the best way and it seems to work,” says the Irish Olympian.

    In terms of Ben’s performance in the other phases, Padraig says: “He’s always been very solid across country. He can lengthen, shorten, and no fence is too big. He has a very good front leg technique so if he runs in close it’s never an issue. He can be spooky showjumping, but he’s brave across country and gives you a very safe feeling.

    “In the showjumping, he’s naturally a very good jumper but he can make a mistake if he gets a bit worried. A horse like that is generally better at long format competitions because the cross-country takes a bit of the adrenalin out of them. He’s a bit of an overthinker and the atmosphere can get to him. But he jumped a good round at Bicton with just two poles down in the treble where I came in a bit forward, possibly.

    “He can learn to showjump solidly and hopefully with time the dressage will keep better and better. The cross-country is his strongest phase and at five-star, that’s the one that’s important.”

    And what’s HHS Noble Call like to look after?

    “He’s a very nice horse to deal with at home and in every way. He’s super easy in the stable and a very friendly horse,” says Padraig.

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