Seven years ago, event rider Patricia (more commonly known as Tricia) Pytches had all but given up on riding.
“I’d had a very sharp horse that dropped me a lot and I just couldn’t face it any more,” says the 61-year-old, who is based in Leicestershire.
But a phone call from well-known dealers and close friends of Tricia, Vere and Clea Phillipps, changed that.
“Vere called me in September 2011 and said ‘we’ve found just the horse for you’,” she explains. “I said I didn’t think I was interested, but Vere insisted I went to look at it.”
The horse Tricia tried was a grey five-year-old named CES Ballycar Chip (known as ‘Chip’ at home), that they had purchased as a just-broken five-year-old at a sale at Millstreet Horse Trials that summer.
“He couldn’t canter around the school — he was as green as a cabbage — and I couldn’t face jumping even a cross pole on him. But I got on with it and was jumping 1m by the end. Two weeks later I took him cross-country schooling and that’s when I turned to one of my daughters and said ‘I think this could be a four-star horse’. He just gave me ‘that’ feeling.”
And Tricia knows what a four-star horse feels like. Some 37 years ago she tackled her first and, until recently, only four-star at Burghley riding a horse called Wild Alliance.
“We didn’t complete Burghley — my horse broke and after thatI didn’t want to compete at a long format four-star any more.”
In 2012, Chip, a grey gelding by Chippison, started his eventing career as a six-year-old with Tricia.
“I believe in taking horses slowly, both in terms of going up the grades and on a cross-country course — obviously I approach the fences at the correct speed, but I would never go for the time.”
Then as an eight-year-old Chip did his first CIC2* at Floors Castle, where he jumped clear across country, had one fence down in the showjumping and did a very respectable dressage test.
“After that I didn’t think he was quite right so took him to Oakham Vets so that he could be checked out.”
Surprisingly given that Chip was barely lame, the vets found he had a completely fractured splint bone. Tricia was told that because the fracture was so bad in that it had split into several pieces, it would require 18 months of box rest to repair if left there. So the decision was made to operate and remove the splint bone completely.
“The bone was removed in the June and Chip was back competing by August as it was an easy fracture to remove,” says Tricia.
But that wasn’t the end of Chip’s problems. It was the Monday of Blenheim Horse Trials in 2015, and Chip and Tricia were preparing to compete in the eight- and nine-year-old CIC3* class, when he had to undergo emergency colic surgery.
“It was awful, but to prove just how tough this horse is, six months later to the day that he was operated on, Chip pinged around Lincolnshire Horse Trials open intermediate like nothing had happened,” laughs Tricia, who has also had her fair share of pain having suffered a slip disc.
“I couldn’t stand up for six weeks as it affected the femoral nerve that ran down the front of my thigh and groin area. I still can’t ride in a straight cut saddle and have to walk cross-country courses with the use of an electric bike.”
And so Chip and Tricia started to climb their way through the levels, jumping clear around five three-stars in 2017.
“I had to go and see a psychologist as I thought Chip was out of my league,” she confesses. “I called Clea one day and said ‘I have to sell Chip — he’s too good for me’ to which she said, ‘put the phone down and the kettle on — I’m coming round.’ As the psychologist pointed out, Chip doesn’t know he’s too good for me, so I’ve kept going with him.
“He doesn’t suffer from a lack of scope — he makes three-star feel like BE100 — he finds it so easy. But speed is my biggest nemesis — I think we’ve made the time once, when we were held mid-course at a BE100,” she laughs. “I just don’t want to break or scare him.”
But clearly Tricia hasn’t scared Chip at all, as last week (24-28 October), the pair completed their first four-star, with a double jumping clear at Pau.
“I never believed we were there doing it until we had actually done it,” says Tricia, whose groom was one of her two daughters, Katie. “I took each bit one step at a time and buried myself in the lorry on the morning of cross-country. I rode in my own way and Chip tried his hardest to put his head and neck in-between each set of flags. And I was so lucky to have help there in the form of one of my trainers, Emilie Chandler.”
And so to round off a year where Tricia and Chip finished eighth in the CCI3* at Millstreet, where he was first sourced, they have now added a top 50% finish in the CCI4* at Pau.
“I’m in complete awe of Chip and I love riding him every day. I would love to do another four-star on him — perhaps Luhmuhlen next year, but by that point I will be a grandmother! My real dream would be to take him to Kentucky. We’ll see.”
Read the full report from Pau in the latest issue of Horse & Hound magazine, out now (dated 1 November 2018)