From Badminton to grade A showjumper: meet the ‘barely 15hh’ veteran superstar bidding for speed Derby glory

  • Not many horses have jumped round Badminton and Burghley then gone on to achieve grade A status as a showjumper. But 17-year-old superstar Drumbilla Metro is breaking the mould and at Hickstead’s forthcoming Al Shira’aa Derby meeting (20-23 June), the “barely 15hh” gelding and regular rider Simon Grieve will be making their debut in the show’s iconic speed Derby.

    The Irish-bred son of Metropole, out of a Touchdown mare, has been owned by Merna Merrett since she bought him as a four-year-old and she describes “Splash” as a “very special little horse”. He is one of two “horses of a lifetime” she’s been fortunate enough to own, the other being five-star showjumper Lammy Beach who has been a star performer for Holly Smith, William and Jim Whitaker and now Isabel Saywell, but was originally produced by Di Lampard.

    “Dreaming of going to Badminton and Burghley was enough but then to go to Horse of the Year Show and win a class, then to London Olympia and win were just beyond what I ever imagined,” Merna tells H&H.

    Both hugely successful horses were sourced by Vere Phillipps.

    “We’ve had several horses from Vere,” Merna continues. “Splash was four and Vere had not had him for very long and his wife Clea had been riding him. She said when she got off him, she was always very surprised when she hit the ground because he felt much bigger than he really was, which is literally just over 15hh – he’s tiny.”

    Drumbilla Metro: “I don’t think any of us dreamt he’d go as far as he did”

    Merna originally purchased the prospective eventer for her daughter Catherine, who Merna describes as having “a very good eye” having also picked out Lammy Beach.

    “I don’t think any of us dreamt he’d go as far as he did though,” says Suffolk-based Merna, who met Simon Grieve through local coach Debbie Edmundson, who had completed one novice event on Splash before spotting his potential and suggesting Simon took over producing the exciting youngster.

    The duo were selected for Le Lion d’Angers young horse championships in 2014 when Splash was seven, where the likes of Tom McEwen’s double Olympic medallist Toledo De Kerser finished on the podium.

    “He’s just gone on from there really,” says Merna. “He did a lot of three-stars – as they were in those days [now four-star] – and didn’t have cross-country penalties, that’s just not what he did, and he was always a very good showjumper, which is understandable given his breeding.”

    From Badminton and Burghley to grade A status

    After moving up to four-star level, they narrowly missed out on Badminton qualification at their first attempt, but made their debut at the sport’s premier event in 2018, also adding Burghley to their illustrious CV.

    “Simon was absolutely beside himself to ride there,” says Merna, who takes immense pride and joy watching her horses compete. “Then we went to Badminton again the next year and he just wasn’t quite right so Simon pulled him up, sensibly. He never really wanted to go eventing after that, but the good news is that he has another job now that he absolutely loves and he’s now a grade A showjumper.

    “He’s quite a grumpy little soul – Simon has a wonderful groom called Maggie, who Splash adores, but he’s not always keen on other people! But he and Simon have such a lovely understanding,” says Merna.

    As well as their recent successes in the showjumping world, Leicestershire-based Simon and Drumbilla Metro have also contested Hickstead’s eventers’ challenge twice and after some warm-up classes on grass at Bramham this weekend (8-9 June), Hickstead’s speed Derby is the next big goal for this remarkable team.

    “Simon has always wanted to do the speed Derby,” says Merna, who revealed some expert tips from Michael Whitaker have helped Simon and Splash increase their speed over the poles. “I’ll certainly be going to Hickstead to watch.

    “He’s a lovely little horse and because he’s so small, he loves running on any ground. He loves Hickstead – he just has to go a bit faster!”

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