Meet Badminton five-star first-timer Hollie Swain whose ride was third in the BE90 Grassroots Championship

  • After a solid debut at five-star level in 2022, a first crack at Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian (4–8 May), seems the next logical step for New Zealand event rider Hollie Swain. But the 34-year-old, who has been based in Surrey since 2015, describes the prospect of riding at the Gloucestershire five-star as a “weird thing”.

    Hollie will be riding Solo, a 17.2hh 14-year-old, who she has been eventing since 2017.

    “Through the years with Solo I’ve had those moments of thinking, ‘oh, maybe he might be the one to take me to Badminton’,” she says. “Then you have ups and downs, but there’s a little bit of you that holds on to hope because he’s so scopey that you think he might be the one.”

    Hollie says that she has “worked in the process” of producing Solo to the top level and has “ticked the boxes” through their seasons together.

    “Then all of a sudden I was thinking ‘maybe we’ll put an entry in’ and then all of a sudden, we’re packing the lorry the day before and thinking ‘is this really happening?’”

    Solo, who is Danish-bred, was sourced from Denmark by his owners, John and Janette Bodenham and Emily Botsaris, and was originally produced in the sport by Emily Taggart. This won’t be Solo’s first time at Badminton as Emily Taggart competed him in the BE90 Grassroots Championship in 2016, finishing third.

    “It’s quite crazy because Solo has gone full circle,” says Hollie. “I watched the DVD of him competing in the Grassroots Championship with his owners a few months ago and it was hilarious. I hope he remembers how good he was the last time he competed at Badminton!”

    Hollie explains that Solo can be a little hot-headed and is very much “a creature of habit”.

    “He doesn’t like change and it’s always been a case of working with that, but also adapting with it as well, which is a challenge in itself.

    “It’s been a case of being aware that he very much is a creature of habit, but then obviously trying balance that with producing him in the way that you would like a normal horse to go at the same time.”

    Hollie and Solo completed two five-star events last year at Luhmühlen and Burghley, finishing 18th and 28th respectively.

    “I felt after Luhmühlen and Burghley that he understood his job so much more,” says Hollie. “He’s a horse that has got a mile of scope and a mile of stride, and he’s gained confidence within that doing those big events. In turn, that has given me confidence. I’ve always believed in him, he just needed to believe in himself. He was made for five-star as he relishes bigger tracks.”

    Hollie Swain: ‘I would have never have had a clue that one day I may be riding there’

    Hollie was born in Gore on South Island in New Zealand and comes from a family of racehorse trainers. She began competing through the Pony Club and started eventing at the age of 14. After school, she gained a degree in environmental science at Auckland University and during her time there, took time out, riding and competing in Atlanta, Georgia, for three months.

    On her return from Georgia, she worked for Jock Paget and Frances Stead at Muriwai Beach. In 2012, she relocated to the UK to take up a rider’s role at Jock’s yard in Wiltshire, before setting up on her own in Surrey.

    “I’ve been to Badminton before – I groomed for Jock there and also on a school hockey trip over to the UK around 15 years ago – a photo popped up on my Facebook memories recently of a school friend and myself on ponies stood in the Badminton Lake when we came over on that trip,” says Hollie. “I would have never have had a clue that one day I may be riding there in the five-star!”

    In terms of aims at Badminton, Hollie says that she will “take each day as it comes”.

    “I would love to tick off the three days, and just getting the experience and hopefully next year we could be back there, but as we know with horses, you sort of take each run as it comes and what will be, will be.”

    How to watch Badminton Horse Trials

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