Young British eventer Bubby Upton has already put herself in the public eye as one to watch, and this week she is having a crack at her first Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian. Bubby is riding Cola, with whom she was 12th in her first five-star at Pau in France in 2021. But since then, there has been a new addition to Team Upton at their Suffolk base in the form of Katie Dutton, who is Bubby Upton’s groom at this week’s Badminton.
“I started working with Bubby, who has eight horses currently in her yard, in November 2020,” says Katie, who is 32 and has spent 17 years working in the equine industry. “I spent six months as a groom for Holly Smith and then lockdown number two happened in the November it was just a case of Holly not knowing if shows were going to happen or not. So she said, ‘I can’t guarantee when we’re going to get going, so it might be best if you look for something else’. I saw Bubby was advertising so I dropped her a message and the rest as they say is kind of history.”
There are a number of key people in Bubby’s corner, who all keep the wheels in motion, especially when Bubby has been away over the past four years while she has split her time between her horses and Edinburgh university, where she has been studying sports management.
“Bubby’s mum Rachel is brilliant – she’s there whenever you need her – I can give her a ring and she’ll do her absolute utmost to help me out, whether it’s coming to help me turn out or if I need something fetching,” explains Katie. “I also have the most unbelievable lady whom I work alongside called Emma Pearson and without her, a lot of it wouldn’t happen. She actually worked for the Uptons when Bubby was eight years old before having a break to have a family.”
Katie says that the reason Bubby and the people around her are so effective is all down to how well they work together as a team.
“We have great organisation, excellent communication and everyone’s always on the end of the phone – it works somehow and it’s worked incredibly well between myself, Rachel, Bubby, Emily and Nikki our physio too.
“It’s just an amazing set-up and we all want the same for Bubby. We all want her to go out and do well. We all want the horses looking to the best of our abilities. But I think the fact that we all want her to do well then kind of takes the pressure off her because she knows that the horses are all looked after and that’s one less thing she can almost not worry about.”
Katie, who initially stated working for a stud before going to the Quorn Hunt kennels, then went on to work for Vere and Clea Phillipps. She eventually ended up travelling the world with Vassily De Lassos, the top horse of Australian eventer Andrew Hoy.
“I went to the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, two Nations’ Cups in Aachen and I went to the Olympic test event in Tokyo too. I’m very, very lucky to have been a part of Vassily’s career for a couple of years,” she says.
Katie is bursting with praise for Bubby and her work ethic.
“Full credit to her drive and determination – it is incredible – and her attention to detail never drops. At the start of this year, she was still in Edinburgh two days a week on a Monday and Tuesday, so she’d make a plan for what the horses were doing,” she explains. “I’d do some lungeing, a couple of people would come in hacking, and then she came home on a Tuesday night and it was a case of five days and we’d do whatever the training schedule said – she’s just so focused. I don’t think many people realise just what she has spent the past four years doing – she didn’t opt for a local university to make things easier for herself.”
For Katie, the aspect of her job that she loves the most is easy for her to choose.
“I like seeing them go from the green babies where they have their first cross-country school to going to their first event; I love seeing them go up through the grades.”
Despite all her years in the grooming world, prior to 2022, she had never groomed at nor even visited Badminton.
“When we pulled in the other day, I was very much like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m at Badminton’, and there’s definitely a sense when you walk in that stable yard that you go ‘wow’ – the history and I think the privilege to be a groom at such a prestigious place is incredible. Now I think I’ve stopped going, ‘Oh my God, I’m at Badminton’, and I’m just taking it all in and trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”
There is one thing that Bubby has said Katie absolutely cannot do though.
“I’ve been banned from walking the course with Bubby because I was useless walking the under-25 Bicton track and just kept saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God. Oh my God’,” she laughs.
So, what about Cola, the horse that has helped fulfil Bubby’s Badminton dream?
“He is the best, but he’s funny – he’s got his people and he wants his own space, so if you want to enter that space, you do it on his terms, unless you’ve got a Polo, then you’ll win him over!” laughs Katie. “He loves his ears being scratched – if you just start rubbing up and down his ears, he’s asleep and he’s quite happy. He loves to graze but again, it’s kind of on his terms where you end up – his nose is down and off he goes. But actually, he arrived here and I think for the first hour, he was very much like, ‘Where am I? What am I doing?’ But then he settled down and said, ‘OK, I’m fine, I’ll just do whatever’.
“He’s awesome, he’s always been awesome and we’re not meant to have favourites, but he’s one of mine – the power when I’ve hacked him out is insane and he’s gorgeous to look at, which he knows as well.”
And what about Katie’s hopes for the rest of Badminton 2022?
“All any of us can hope for is that horse and rider come back safely and I want them to enjoy it too – it would put a cap on everything that we’ve all done in the past six months since Bubby initially said, ‘Right, we’re going go to Badminton’. We said, ‘OK then, come on’. All I can hope is that they come back safe and sound and they have a good time.”
Read our full Badminton form guide in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound (issue dated 5 May 2022). Our bumper 20-page Badminton report will be in our 12 May issue and keep fully up-to-date with all the action during Badminton week via horseandhound.co.uk, where a host of features and reports will be published.
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