What was your first reaction when you saw the horse who would take you to a top-10 placing at the European Eventing Championships? One might expect the answer to this to be that the horse looked beautiful, talented or super-athletic, but for Kitty King, the answer was that Vendredi Biats was “a little bit disappointing”.
“It feels bad, thinking that now,” says Kitty, speaking in an interview for episode 45 of The Horse & Hound Podcast.
Kitty had gone to Lucy and Padraig McCarthy’s Devon base to see Vendredi Biats, then a five-year-old, after Lucy suggested the horse might suit her during a conversation while they were watching the Burghley young event horse class at Badminton Horse Trials.
“They had told me on phone that he was a little cold backed at times and could throw some funky shapes, but had been getting a bit better,” says Kitty, who loved the horse’s head over the stable door. “I thought, ‘Oh I hope that’s him, it’s a lovely head’ and it was. Then they pulled his rugs off and stood him up and I was like, ‘Oh, you’re a little bit disappointing.’”
Although the horse didn’t inspire Kitty when he was trotted up, she continued the viewing.
“I thought well, I’ve come all the way down to Devon and Lucy and Padraig are not a bad judge of a horse so it’s worth seeing some tack on him. He was a completely different horse under saddle – a lot more athletic, a nice mover with an easy jump,” she remembers.
Kitty had a syndicate of owners in mind – Diana Bown, Sally Eyre, Samantha Wilson and Sally Lloyd-Baker – and once he’d been vetted, the purchase was completed.
“We’ve had an awful lot of fun with him since – he’s quite a character and he’s good at bucking you off. He’s still got that streak in him when he wants, but on the whole he’s a very special horse to have in the yard,” she says.
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Vendredi Biats was very successful as he came up through the levels, including winning a four-star short at Hartpury as an eight-year-old, but his occasional mistakes tended to be high profile.
Kitty explains: “Because he was always putting himself well up there after dressage and showjumping, people always noticed when he then had a green mistake, whereas if he’d been middle end of the dressage and had a fence or two down then no one would have noticed he was at the event if he’d had a 20. He was young and they’re all entitled to make mistakes while they are learning.”
Vendredi Biats went to his first Badminton when he was 10 in 2019, but the competition ended in a fall when he went a bit green across country – he was held at the cross-country start for over 20 minutes, so he didn’t have the ideal preparation for his round.
“He hadn’t done a fence for over half an hour when we started – we just weren’t really switched on and warmed up like we would normally be, which may have caused some of the issues,” says Kitty. “So a couple of fences found us out and that was the end of our Badminton.
“But I think things always happen for a reason and we regrouped, he had a run round an open intermediate to see he hadn’t lost any confidence and then we went to Bramham Horse Trials, where he was absolutely fantastic and won the four-star long really well. He made it feel very easy and he felt like a real schoolmaster round the track.”
Despite Bramham, Kitty was concerned she’d be overlooked for selection for the European Championships “because he has had blips in the past and obviously Badminton didn’t go to plan so I didn’t know whether they’d forgive him – you never quite know what the selectors are thinking”. She applied to go to Aachen and was disappointed to be turned down, thinking she couldn’t be even remotely on the selection radar.
“Then I was speaking to [performance manager] Dickie Waygood at a team training and said I was really disappointed I didn’t even get a look in for Aachen and he said, ‘He’s done enough, that’s why you’re not there’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I thought it was the other way around, I thought you’d written him off’.
“So that gave me a bit of hope and when he went to Burgham and won up there, I was really hopeful I’d be getting a nice phone call in the not-too-distant future so I was really delighted when Dickie called me to say that I’d been selected for the championships.”
Hear how the European Championships went for Kitty and Vendredi Biats by tuning in to episode 45 of The Horse & Hound Podcast here, or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.
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