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Badminton winner retires – and returns to the stable she was born in: ‘I’ve never ridden a horse who tries so hard’

The 2014 Badminton winner Paulank Brockagh has returned to her breeders in Ireland – and the stable where she was born – to retire.

“Brocks” was being aimed at her seventh Badminton this year when the event was cancelled owing to Covid-19.

“It would have been great to produce another good result and then retire her on the last day,” said rider Sam Griffiths.

With this eventing season up in the air, the rider and Dinah Posford – who owns the 17-year-old mare with her husband Steve and daughter Jules Carter – decided it was time to finish Paulank Brockagh’s career and she has returned to breeders Frank and Paula Cullen in Co. Wicklow.

“Dinah’s had horses with me for 20 years now and she’s a proper owner. She does everything for the love of the horse and never wants to push them. The most important thing for her is that they come home safe.

“Brocks was starting to feel her age, she had a lot of miles on the clock and she didn’t owe anyone anything. She still looks a treat, so although I was upset to see her leaving I’m really pleased that a horse of her calibre finishes her career happy and sound,” said Sam.

Dinah added: “At the end of day she’s retiring fit and healthy, and she deserves it. I think it would have been tempting fate to do any more – I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to her.”

Paula said: “When we sold Brocks in 2010 I said to Dinah that if she ever bred from her I’d love to have first refusal on the foal. So when I got the call to ask if I’d like to retire her here I couldn’t hold back the tears!”

The call was particularly poignant because Brocks’ dam, Calendar Girl, only passed away three months ago at the age of 29, although Brocks will be surrounded by many of her siblings in the Wicklow hills.

Paula plans to settle Brocks in before turning her out for a summer of complete freedom so that she switches off from competition mode. She may be put in foal in future.

Paulank Brockagh completed Badminton six times in a row, from 2013 to 2018, finishing 10th in 2015 as well as her career-defining win in 2014 when she moved up from 25th after dressage to take the title after a tremendously wet cross-country day.

She led the Australians to team bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016, finishing fourth individually, and was 16th individually at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. During her career she was also seventh at Luhmühlen 2019, eighth at Pau 2017 and ninth at Burghley 2015 and 13th there in 2013.

Paula’s breeding prefix, Paulank, is a combination of her own name and that of her husband, Frank. She was initially known as a top producer of Welsh ponies, but Brockagh put her on the map as a breeder of sport horses.

The mare was produced in Ireland by Joseph Murphy, Daryll Walker and Heidi Hamilton, before joining Sam and soon making her mark with eight place in the seven-year-old World Championships at Le Lion.

Dinah Posford heard about Brocks from her friend Juliet Donald, with whom she already co-owned another of Sam’s top rides, Happy Times.

“Happy was full steam ahead at the time, but when Juliet told me about Brocks I went to see her and thought there was something about her and that it would be lovely to have a mare, so we bought her,” said Dinah. “The fun we’ve had with her and the joy she has brought us – you couldn’t make it up!”

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Brocks put in the best performances of her career on the tough cross-country days, such as Badminton 2014 and Rio 2016.

“I’ve never ridden a horse that would try so hard,” said Sam. “She was a naturally good jumper, needed some training on the flat, but an incredible cross-country horse. I really felt that I could point her at a house and she’d try to jump it!

“She would give you so much confidence. She wasn’t the quickest but where she came to the fore was at five-star level, she had such endurance, she could just keep going and keep trying, especially on the last day, she’d still give it everything she had.

“In Rio the cross-country was really tough and when I was the first to go for the team and so many of the other teams’ first riders were struggling I was filled with trepidation. So to get such a brilliant ride and then to do two showjumping clears, that was a real thrill. In Rio the proper jumpers really came to the fore.”

While she is always on her rider’s side when ridden, Brocks can have her own opinions on the ground.

Sam said: “When she doesn’t want to go somewhere she just bolts off in the walk. She used to make me laugh – you’d take her somewhere like Badminton where the horses are allowed to graze on the front lawn and she’d set her eye on where she wanted to go and just storm off, the groom would be water-skiing at the end of the lead-rope and Brocks wouldn’t give a damn!”

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