‘I hope this will encourage others’ – owner-breeder tells the story of Laura Collett’s Badminton ride

  • Lucy Nelson – owner-breeder of Hester, who is one of two home-bred mares entered for the Mars Badminton Horse Trials with Laura Collett – describes the journey to five-star as “extraordinary”.

    “I feel so lucky to have a horse make it this far,” she tells H&H. “Breeding is a foolish thing to do, not for the faint-hearted, and then to stay owning all the way through – it feels like the best thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also a mammoth ask and I hope my story will encourage other small-time breeders not to give up.”

    Lucy rode as a child, worked in London and started the charity Tommy’s, now the largest UK charity researching the causes and prevention of pregnancy complications, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.

    “When my eldest daughter was about 10, we decided we didn’t want our children to be London children, so we moved down to Somerset, near Wincanton, and they had ponies,” says Lucy.

    Lucy bought Hester’s dam, a grey mare, from hunt groom Jo Brady, paying £4,000 for her, and credits her jumping trainer Charlie Micklem for encouraging her to make the purchase.

    “She had hardly even been sat on when I got her as a three- or four-year-old,” remembers Lucy. ”She always wanted to please and was just a great little mare. She didn’t have a big floaty trot, but we did some nice dressage up to elementary and hunted with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale – she was always a fantastic jumper. She would jump five-bar gates if she wanted to be in a different field.”

    At the time when Lucy decided to put the mare in foal, she was primarily breeding dressage horses under her Forest Lodge Stud banner. She was taking flatwork lessons with her “great friend” Isobel Wessels, who is on the ground jury for the dressage at Paris 2024, and made a trip to Verden with her and her husband Justin to look at Hanoverian stallions, with a view to choosing something which could sire a foal which would be an improvement on her mare, particularly in the trot.

    “I didn’t know anything about her damline, though we found out she was by [the Irish Draught] Blue Henry,” says Lucy, who selected Heinrich Heine as the stallion she wanted to use.

    The result was Hester – a Cornish name, chosen because Charlie Micklem was brought up in Cornwall and because, Lucy says, “my brother had a lovely Cornish girlfriend called Hester, her name had to begin with an H because of her sire and I just liked it”.

    Hester, who will be ridden at Badminton by Laura Collett

    Hester as a three-year-old. Credit: Lucy Nelson

    “From day one, she was incredibly bold. I start all my horses with natural horsemanship – I work with Connie Colfox in Dorset now – and we put up flags and tarpaulins around the arena. Hester didn’t pay any attention to them,” says Lucy.

    Hester started her international career with Tim and Jonelle Price, with whom she won the CCI2* (now CCI3*-L) at Camphire in 2018, and then had a spell with Alex Bragg, netting two top-five places at CCI4*-S, before she moved to her current rider, Laura Collett, in 2021.

    “My farrier Tigga Barnes asked if I’d considered sending her to Laura. I took her up there for an ‘interview’ and she said she’d keep her,” says Lucy. “She’s been amazing with her and very clever with her dressage, which is her weakest phase.”

    Last year Laura and Hester won a CCI3*-S at Aston-le-Walls and were 14th at Blenheim Horse Trials CCI4*-L. A few weeks ago, they scored 28.9 in the dressage at Thoresby, which set up a great pre-Badminton run. The pair jumped a double clear and finished seventh in the Grantham Cup.

    “It will be the most exciting thing to go to Badminton,” says Lucy. “I remember almost crying when my daughters won the egg and spoon race, but this is something else. It’s going to be very difficult to watch her going round the cross-country, but very exciting.”

    Hester’s dam had two more foals before she was put down, but sadly various health problems and accidents meant neither have made it towards the upper echelons of eventing.

    Lucy still breeds two or three foals a year and has just sent a four-year-old by the popular thoroughbred stallion Heraldik to Laura Collett. She has Hester’s embryo transfer foal, by Future Guilty Pleasure (an eight-year-old who has competed to two-star under Izzy Taylor), due at the end of May and has another frozen embryo from the same pairing which she hopes to bring to fruition next year.

    “With the struggle of getting semen from Europe, I thought let’s support British stallions, so I chose Future Guilty Pleasure,” she says.

    Hester is not the only home-bred mare who Laura Collett is riding at Badminton this year. She is also entered on Bling, owned and bred by Yvonne Ferguson.

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