This year’s Badminton Horse Trials should have taken place this week, but the event was cancelled due to Covid-19, so we’re indulging in some Badminton nostalgia by talking to Piggy March about her 2019 win at the event…
Piggy March admits that the horse who would go on to be her partner in her first five-star win, Vanir Kamira, was nothing special when she first rode her as a six-year-old.
“I just had a phone call from her owner Trevor Dickens asking if I could take her in and start her as we do normally with event horses. She hadn’t evented yet and she was a really weak but very brave little horse,” Piggy recalls in an interview on episode 49 of The Horse & Hound Podcast, currently supported by Frosti-Tap.
After a few events, Piggy was moving yards and had to downscale, so Vanir Kamira – known as Tilly – went to Izzy Taylor, who moved her up from novice to advanced. Paul Tapner then took over for the mare’s first five-stars and when he retired, Trevor asked Piggy if she’d be interested in having Tilly back.
Piggy says: “Paul said she’s definitely a five-star horse – she doesn’t feel much until she gets to the big events. She’s quite hard work to manage and she feels quite normal just doing the smaller events, but she really excels on a big stage. Around the great big galloping beefy courses of Badminton Horse Trials and Burghley Horse Trials she comes into her own and feels a completely different horse. We’re always learning with horses and that one for sure surprised me in many ways – I’m very proud of her and I’m her number one fan, she’s a fabulous little horse.”
Piggy pays tribute to Izzy and Paul for their work in producing Vanir Kamira through the levels: “It’s not every day you get offered a horse that’s already gone round Badminton so you know they can do it. I was the lucky one – a lot of other people’s hard work producing her and getting her to an advanced horse and managing her and giving her the mileage has benefited me in the end.”
The year Tilly returned to Piggy, 2017, was the rider’s first back eventing after time out to have her son, Max.
“I think that year for me was a make or break year – I’d had a bit of a bad run before I took my time off with Max and you can fall out of love with what you’re doing,” she says. “I’d cut down on horses, changed my plan and the structure of the yard to not be trying to event 25 or 30 horses and not doing a good job. I gave this little horse a lot of attention because I had fewer horses, which I now try to stick to.
“My biggest thing was to enjoy riding the horses and feel like I was always getting somewhere with the horses that I had and every day I rode her I felt there was more to come and it could get better. At the one-day events she’s really hot and quite a tricky little mare – when she’s hot she gets quite divey at her jumps and snatchy. Bramham Horse Trials was a massive turning point – getting out of the start box and how good she did feel round a proper gallopy track with big jumps. She’d never given me that feel before.
“I remember riding like a moron at the water jump at Bramham. She did the impossible to do what she needed to do to get over the fence or clamber through it and I thought this is a very good horse – when she needs to be very good, she’s very good. It’s only when it became serious that she showed that class. After that I was actually very excited to go to Burghley and have a go. She was second that year and made it feel easy and it was very exciting, especially having had the time out. I was just very proud of her. We dream the dream and the horses can either take us places or they don’t and she was definitely a little horse who could sense my dreams and took me there.”
The pair’s first Badminton together in 2018 didn’t go to plan when they fell in the water.
“She didn’t really do much wrong,” says Piggy, explaining that the small fence on slopping ground into water and Tilly’s natural downhill style combined to lead to the fall. “It was a fence I didn’t love walking it, but it jumped perfectly fine all day. She just clipped the top of it, I think just slightly skimming, like she can do, and she just caught a toe on the way down and it really brought her down. I think if I was to ride it again another 100 times she would have got away with it and jumped it fine.
“It brought her down quite savagely, she went properly under the water and that was gutting because she’d got a 25 dressage that year and she was flying, she was up on the clock. It was one of those courses that suited her – it was Classic Moet’s year [to win Badminton] and they’d be quite similar in stamps and how they go. So I was absolutely gutted because she felt fab and it was just a very small mistake that was really very costly.”
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The following year, the pair returned and triumphed – a tribute to Piggy’s whole team in producing Vanir Kamira to be at her best, including Piggy’s sister Nini, who managed the mare while Piggy was at Kentucky Three-Day Event the week before.
Piggy explains the attention to detail required: “The days revolve around her. The weather, whether she’s eating or whether she’s not, there’s just such a fine line with her. She’s very marey, she can be quite crabby and ulcery, there is a very fine line of just getting her to feel comfortable and her feet good – she’s got real flat little feet, her soles are so close to the floor. She used to be so light, it’s taken quite a while to build her up and keep her that way, but the moment she’s at all excited she has hot cold sweats and then she can lose a lot of weight quickly. And she can tie up at the click of a switch. We have to be very aware of everything to try to get the very best from her and have her feeling in good shape.
“I think there were signs of a little bit of tying up when we were in Kentucky – the weather suddenly changed and Nini rang panicking. It’s never smooth with her and I certainly didn’t go into Badminton with confidence. I’m very confident I’ve got a five-star horse, but every inch, every little second, every hour of every day is trying to do the right thing by her.”
Hear more about Piggy’s week winning Badminton, what the victory meant to her and how it’s changed her attitude to eventing on episode 49 of The Horse & Hound Podcast, currently supported by Frosti-Tap. You can listen to it here or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.
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