Zara Tindall: cross-country day nerves, dealing with the crowds and redundant superstitions

  • Zara Tindall (née Phillips) is back at Badminton this year for the first time since 2013, riding the 16.1hh gelding High Kingdom. H&H catches up with her on the Musto coursewalk to talk pre-Badminton nerves, warming up and superstitions

    First impressions

    “It’s a big track and definitely feels like a proper four-star. It’s everything you want at the top level.”

    The ground

    “The ground is good for High Kingdom (‘Trev’) at the moment and although it’s been sunny [21 degrees on Thursday] it’s still got some give in it. I think it will be softer than we think.”

    The heat

    “Trev was clipped this week — as it’s been cold he’d grown quite a thick coat — so hopefully he will be fine with the heat and will go faster!”

    Route planning

    “I’m planning on taking the direct route everywhere — that has to be your plan A. Trev is a good jumper which means he’s quite capable and experienced enough for this course. But I will still need to walk the longer routes as a back-up plan.”


    “Some of the big names might not be competing [Andrew Nicholson, William Fox-Pitt and Pippa Funnell] but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier. We’ve still got Michael Jung to beat — everyone has to beat Michael.”

    Warming up

    “My cross-country day warm up starts with a leg stretcher and then I spend around 40 minutes in walk, trot and canter with a few jumps — but I don’t overdo the jumping. You want to get them up in the air, but this is the wrong place to school them.”

    Dealing with Nerves

    “You’d be crazy if you weren’t nervous for Badminton but it’s better when you get out there — you just want to get on with it. You have to channel that energy and excitement and you can’t think about floating around, you need to go out with a purpose and take on the challenge.”

    The crowds

    “I manage to switch off from the crowds, and focus on what I have to jump. The only time you notice it is if you’re trying to cut a corner and people are hanging over the fence. Trev is experienced with crowds but at The Lake there are always a lot of people which can be a problem if the horse is inexperienced. Toytown used to arrive at events and say ‘I’m here’ — but Trev needs the crowds to get him going. Having said that he was pretty wild in the trot-up on Wednesday!”

    Mental focus

    “Badminton can be a test of mental ability and sometimes you have to keep yourself to yourself. You need to pick who you talk to about a course and remember that you know your horse the best. You’ve got there under your own steam so it’s important to stick to your plan and not to do anything too crazy.”

    Horse fitness

    “Trev swims twice a week and we do lots of hacking which is good for brain and body. You can still work them without annoying them too much out hacking and the hills around me at home [Gatcombe Park] are really useful for fitness.”

    Rider fitness

    “It is easier to be riding fit but you need to be everything fit too. I go out on my bike and especially like swimming because you can just switch off.”

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    “I used to have a supertition with some socks for cross-country day. But after a few things go wrong wearing those socks you realise it’s not worth it! At the end of the day you just have to get on and go out and attack it.”

    Zara Tindall is an ambassador for Musto. www.musto.com

    Don’t miss the full report from Badminton Horse Trials in the 12 May issue of Horse & Hound magazine

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