‘We thought we might have to give up on him’: the Badminton-bound horse who’s like an eel to ride

  • Felicity Collins and RSH Contend Or will take on their second Badminton Horse Trials next week, at the competition presented by Mars Equestrian (4–8 May), but there was a point when the young rider thought she might have to give up on turning the horse into an eventer.

    The 25-year-old rider describes in an interview on this week’s episode of The Horse & Hound Podcast, supported by Spillers, what “Mickey” was like when she first came to ride him, having purchased him with co-owner Avrina Milton as a result of a phone call on Badminton cross-country day in 2015.

    “He just was so spooky and really scatty,” says Felicity. “He was like an eel to ride. He’s very sensitive and I’ve never had a pair of spurs on him – I don’t think many riders that can say that when they’re off to Badminton.

    “He’s always been very brave with ditches and water and things like that, which was surprising considering how spooky he could be and how careful he is – you would never think that he would jump a big ditch or a huge drop into water and not care, but what he hated was colour change. He hated cross-country fences that were maybe white or had bright colours painted on them.

    “It wasn’t really a question of him not being straight on a line, but he would take one look at something maybe four or five strides out, take hold and just bomb off in the wrong direction. He’s not a nappy horse at all, but he was very, very strong as a young horse so when he did take a dislike to something, his eyes would pop out of his head, you’d think, ‘I know what’s coming’ and he would just whip off out the side and you’d be off down the hill before you knew it.”

    RSH Contend Or’s record from his early years is peppered with 20 penalties across country when he did such things and Felicity explains that at one point, she and her mother Vicky thought they might have to give up on him.

    “Only a few months after we had him, we thought maybe he’s just too careful. Maybe he’s a showjumper. But he was always innately brave, no fence was too big and he was such a quick horse as well, so we persevered,” she says.

    The Collins worked on desensitising RSH Contend Or to colourful fences.

    Felicity explains: “We had to jump him probably about four or five times a week, mainly in our field at home because I always found on grass that he was stronger, more excitable and sharper. So we would build skinny fences in the field with tarpaulin, with tyres, with blue barrels, with plastic, anything we could find that was of a different colour that we knew he wouldn’t like.

    “I would have to jump them 50 times in a session before he would actually jump them normally, without trying to run away from them or jumping 10 foot above them and running off on landing.”

    The rider explains that people are surprised that now, as a five-star horse, RSH Contend Or is still so spooky.

    “I think people have thought we’ve trained him out of it and he’s grown out of it, but on showjumping day at Bicton five-star, I couldn’t get him anywhere near the cross-country fences in the main arena that he had jumped the day before. Having to canter past them was a complete nightmare,” says Felicity.

    “He’ll jump the most amazing clear round then he’ll come out and I’ll be patting him, he’ll be spooking and I’ll be nearly falling off. I find it quite hard to be able to praise him after he’s finished a round. His adrenaline so high I have to watch that I keep my hands on the reins because he will just jink sideways and I’ll probably go out the side door.

    “At The Quarry on the cross-country at Badminton last year, he gave me a heart failure on the way in because he was just going sideways, spooking at all the boulders and stones around the fence. I was like, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to get him to jump the fence?’ But as soon as you point him at a set of flags and he understands he actually can jump over it, then it’s a different story.”

    Hear more about Felicity’s Badminton debut last year and her hopes for this year on episode, by tuning in to episode 136 of The Horse & Hound Podcast here, or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

    How to watch Badminton Horse Trials

    If you are interested in watching Badminton Horse Trials live from the comfort of your home, wherever you are in the world, you will need to subscribe to Badminton TV. To sign up, visit watch.badminton-horse.tv – click the “Sign Up” link in the top right corner of your screen, then follow the instructions. An annual subscription to Badminton TV costs £19.99 and gives you 365 days of access to all of the content in the Badminton TV library, the ability to watch the action live, and the option to replay all of this year’s action later.

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