‘He’s not Valegro, but he’s with me every step of the way’: former five-star winner on comeback trail at Badminton

  • Chilli Knight is one of three five-star winners in the Mars Badminton Horse Trials field and he put himself bang into the reckoning after dressage. Gemma Stevens and this Bicton CCI5* winner – a son of Badminton winner Chilli Morning – moved into equal ninth towards the end of the 81-strong field on day two.

    The bonny chestnut isn’t the biggest of movers, but Gemma was pinpoint accurate and presented the gelding beautifully. Their marks ranged from fours (extended walk) to a nine (for the mid-test halt), but the changes and canter work were solid and rewarded largely with sevens for an overall score of 31.7 to slot into the top 10.

    “That little horse, he was exactly the same in the ring as he is out here, 100% with me every step of the way – he couldn’t have done any more,” said Gemma. “He is what he is – he’s not Valegro or London 52; he’s not a big mover, but he’s so well trained and so obedient.

    “It’s a tough track but I’ll let the handbrake off tomorrow, he’ll be very happy with that.”

    We’ve seen little of Chilli Knight since his five-star win in 2021, as he had time off through injury. Following a whole year on the sidelines, Gemma started bringing him back to fitness.

    “It’s been a long road back from injury to here and a slow process,” she said. “We got him in from the field after having a whole year off this time last year with this Badminton in mind. He’s been doing all sorts of different things in a slow and thorough way, to have him as strong in his body and as fit and lean as possible.”

    Gemma added: “I fell out of the lorry door on Tuesday and thought, “I’ve managed to get the horse here in one piece and it’s taken a year and now I’ve fallen out of the lorry!”

    Happily Gemma looks to be riding at full strength despite her little mishap.

    Laura Collett rides Badminton debutante

    Another top-ranked rider caught the eye with their Badminton Horse Trials dressage performance – and their mark has potential to be stellar in time.

    Laura Collett rode Hester into a top-20 position, creating an elegant picture on this charming grey mare contesting her first five-star. The first part of the test was right up there with the leading trio, trending on sub-30, but late flying changes scoring twos to fours for all four movements scuppering a potentially great result.

    Laura admitted: “I saw my marks when I looked up at the scoreboard during the walk on the diagonal and thought can we stop now? Do we have to go into canter?”

    Once those changes are established, Hester is going to be a horse to follow in this phase.

    “She really doesn’t enjoy dressage and to go into an atmosphere like that on Friday afternoon, I was a bit nervous as to what might occur but she listened to me,” said Laura. “The changes are what they are because we haven’t been able to get stuck in as she gets anxious. But if we get the changes over the winter, we’ll be back fighting next year.

    “She’s a lovely lovely horse and she’s just starting to trust me — we’re getting there. This week is all about giving her a good experience.”

    Progress made in Badminton Horse Trials dressage

    Last time Selina Milnes took Gelmer to a CCI5*, he scored a 41.6. At this, the horse’s second five-start attempt, he posted a fantastic 32.5. Gelmer is a bright and powerful horse and Selina was able to show off his expression without him getting tense.

    “We did not expect that from him,” said Selina, who broke her tibia skiing earlier in the year. “We’ve had him out of  the stable since 12 o’clock trying to relax him just mooching about because he’s been on one. He went in and didn’t spook; he was with me the whole way.”

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