‘The thought of riding again was out of the question’: an emotional Bubby Upton takes Badminton dressage lead after serious injury

  • An emotional Bubby Upton is in the lead at the end of the first day of the Mars Badminton Horse Trials dressage on a score of 27.3. Bubby, who was riding Cola, has made a remarkable comeback to the saddle following a serious injury she sustained in a fall last year.

    “If you told me seven months ago that’d be here, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Bubby, 25. “No one will ever really understand or know what we’ve been through as a team – this is very magical.”

    Bar their last flying-change, Bubby and Cola, a 14-year-old owned by Bubby’s mother Rachel, scored between sevens and eights consistently throughout their test. Highlights included their first entry, which was awarded two eights and a 7.5, plus some walk work, their rein-back and some of their early canter movements.

    “He was amazing in there. He did everything that I asked of him,” explained Bubby. “I didn’t quite ride his last change well enough, which is usually a solid one for him, so I’m a little bit frustrated about that, but just being here feels like a dream come true.”

    The young event rider suffered a fall when schooling on the flat at home in August 2023. She sustained a complete burst fracture of vertebra L3 and a horizontal fracture of L2, among other vertebrae fractures and her comeback has been nothing short of miraculous.

    “I think subconsciously, I always wanted to be at Badminton this year,” said Bubby when asked whether she thought riding here would be possible. “Obviously, in the first few months I was learning to walk again, so the thought of even just riding again was out of the question.

    “When I was able to get back on a horse, I really had to learn to do it all again. I kept falling off to the side because I had no strength on my right-hand side, but it got better and better. The more work we did in the gym and in the pool with the Injured Jockey’s Fund at Peter O’Sullevan House in Newmarket, the stronger my riding became and it was January time when my riding was ok. My first jump was very painful, but we just kept pushing and we never stopped dreaming of this.”

    Bubby said riding is “pretty painful”, adding “but I really don’t feel in a position to ever complain about it”. She explained that she has “different methods” to help deal with the pain.

    “I have padded seat-savers that I ride in the whole time, but I was told a few days ago I can’t ride in my tests with it, so this was the first test I’ve done without it. It made me become a little bit rattled a few days ago, because it absorbs all the shock through the saddle that my spine can take, so I grinned and beared it in there but really, just being in there, all the pain goes away and doing what I love makes it worth it.”

    Speaking of Cola’s dressage performance, Bubby was quick to credit her trainer Amy Woodhead.

    “Amy and I have worked tirelessly on his dressage because he’s a horse that found it very easy at three-star, but then when it came to the changes in four- and five-star, he really struggled. He’s actually a really long horse and although he looks very beautiful, he’s not the easiest to get that kind of collection with.

    “We’ve worked really hard on trying to improve him, but it’s all come down to his strength. When you have the strength and his rideability, and you get him in that correct window, he’s a dream. But if he’s not in that window, then he’s quite hard work.”

    Looking ahead to cross-country on Saturday, Bubby, who was eighth here last year and followed that up with 14th at Burghley, said there is “no other horse she would rather be sat on”.

    “Of course, it’s absolutely enormous and there’s a lot to be jumped out there, but I’m really excited for it.”

    Zara Tindall and Class Affair posted a mostly solid Badminton Horse Trials dressage test, bar a costly mistake in the second flying change. They scored 37.2 to move into 11th place after their test and hold 22nd place overnight.

    “I’m not pleased with the mark but bar a couple of mistakes, he was quite calm and dealt with it,” explained Zara of the 15-year-old’s performance. “He hates people, but he’s older and anticipates stuff now and is thinking about the next galloping part – this is the boring phase for him.”

    At the end of day one of the Badminton Horse Trials dressage phase, USA’s Boyd Martin holds second on 29 with Tsetserleg TSF, with his compatriot Tiana Coudray in third on 29.8, thanks to a polished test aboard Cancaras Girl.

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