Oliver Townend rides over the Grand National fences (alongside AP McCoy)

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  • He is a top British event rider but Oliver Townend jumped at the chance to swap saddles for the day and have a spin over the Grand National fences. Oliver tells H&H about his experience…

    When did you get asked to do the challenge?

    I was actually on holiday in the Maldives and I got a message saying Channel 4 Racing had asked me to take part. Straight away I said yes I wanted to do it. They were unable to supply me with a horse so I asked a good friend of mine, Jessica McKie, who trains point-to-pointers if she had anything I could ride. She offered me her experienced pointer Crazy Diamond, who is a 12-year-old gelding by Silver Patriarch. I came home early from my holiday — which didn’t go down too well with the girl I was on holiday with! But I was so excited and would have rather ridden over the National fences than be lying on a beach.

    Who did it with you?

    AP McCoy was having a ride around for Channel 4 Racing (shown today, 9 April with coverage starting at 2pm) and also former jockey Sam Thomas. Beforehand I told AP the horse I was riding had only done seven points and two hunter chases and his response was “well you’re a braver man than I am!”

    What was AP’s advice?

    Follow me and if he’s going like sh*t then pull him up!

    What did you think when you walked the course?

    I actually got driven round the course to look at the fences. The fences are, of course, very big but it is what it is — the world’s biggest steeplechase.

    What was your horse like?

    It was the first time I had ever sat on him but he is a very good horse and I knew he could jump — he’s won six times pointing but had never done anything like this before. I was probably more conscious that I was riding my friend’s pride and joy and I wanted to look after him. Afterwards I wished I had gone for it a bit more because he took to it so well.

    How different was it from eventing?

    We didn’t go at a full gallop or the same speed they go in the Grand National obviously, but the speed wouldn’t bother me. I was probably going the same speed I’d go across country during a three-star. The thing that would worry me is the 39 others runners around me.

    Did you ride short like a jockey?

    I borrowed Jess’ racing saddle but in the end I had to punch a few holes in my leathers to make them shorter. I didn’t ride jockey length but shorter than I would across country and I actually preferred it. I hadn’t ridden in a racing saddle since I was about 14.

    Can you sum up your ride around the National fences?

    I loved every second and it was a surreal experience — I’m pleased I completed and got round in one piece. If the opportunity came to do it again, I would jump at the chance. It was my first experience riding on a racecourse and the adrenaline rush was incredible — there were a few times during the ride I thought ‘wow I am actually jumping over the Grand National fences!’

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    What was it like jumping Becher’s Brook?

    I got so caught up in the moment I didn’t actually realise I was jumping Becher’s but my horse jumped it the best out of any of them. The fence before he slightly pecked on landing and I think it woke him up a bit. The drop after Becher’s wasn’t dissimilar to the Badminton Lake — I’m used to having to sit up.

    Don’t miss the full report from the Grand National in the 14 April issue of Horse & Hound magazine

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