Ride of my life: Jill Thomas

  • Jill Thomas recalls her ride on Egyptian Khalifa at the 1993 European Championships

    I bought “Kelly” as an unbroken three-year-old for just £200. He was nothing to look at, but he took to endurance like a duck to water.

    We received a last-minute call up for the 1993 European Championships, following a tragic accident on the way in which one of the team’s horses died.

    When we arrived, we were told we were in with a good chance and I went out to do my own thing.

    The start was nerve-wracking. It was a case of trying to keep him out of trouble. When you’ve got a mass start before dawn, with around 100 horses fit and raring to go, the last thing you want is to get kicked.

    The first part of the course is a blur to me now. I was trying to get him settled and working correctly. I didn’t want to be right at the front, but not too far off the pace.

    We finally gotto the front alongside one of the top Swedish riders, only to get in a tangle at a gate. We came cantering round the corner and someone shouted “mind the gate”. We were on a perfect line and didn’t stop and I heard the crunch as the other rider hit the gatepost.

    On our own from then on, I began to worry about whether I would remember the route. I can vividly recall going through what felt like a gap in the hedge and finding myself in a pick-your-own field. I thought I must have gone wrong but then people started to clap, so I kept going.

    Cantering along an old railway track, I didn’t see the 95-mile vetgate until the last minute. I slammed the brakes on and thought I’d blown it – but his pulse came right down and we went straight through, winning the ride and breaking the British and European records.

    I’ve often thought I would love to do that course again with him – it felt as though we’d got everything spot-on. To train a horse yourself and have them work aswell as Kelly did on that day was unforgettable.

    Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (23 May) where Biddy Wingfield Digby talks about her ‘ride of a lifetime’ at Cattistock point-to-point on Caesar IV.

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