Oliver Townend: I don’t want to be rough on horses *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    What a couple of weeks. As soon as I won Burghley last autumn, I thought about whether it was possible to get horses to Kentucky to pursue the Rolex Grand Slam.

    With no funding available through the British Equestrian Federation due to cuts after 2016, I started having conversations with my owners — it is a very expensive trip.

    Knowing how testing Badminton was likely to be, I chose my horses for there first, and it didn’t take much to decide which to take to Kentucky. I thought the feel and the layout of the cross-country would suit MHS King Joules and, as Cooley Master Class hadn’t run in a three-day event for 31⁄2 years, I didn’t want him to have to run on potentially deep ground at Badminton.

    I am incredibly grateful to my very generous owners for taking the gamble on me and allowing me to go to Kentucky, and more than anything I wanted to repay their faith by going well.

    When events started getting cancelled at the very start of the season, I concentrated on my own fitness very seriously and spent a lot of time in the gym, swimming and getting myself as light as I could to give my horses the best possible chance.

    I loved my week at Kentucky. It’s a very special venue, the people were fantastic and Derek di Grazia’s cross-country course was exceptional. When I walked it, I wondered whether two combinations were actually jumpable, whether horses would read them at all, and

    I was concerned. As it turned out, the horses seemed to read them better than a human did. It takes a great talent to create something that walks tough but rides so well.

    We won, and I jumped on a plane straight afterwards. I was really looking forward to Badminton week: yes, I was under a great deal of pressure, mostly that I put on myself, but sportsmen live for chances like this.

    I fully accept the warning

    Cooley SRS was my pacemaker and pathfinder more than anything else, but I had high hopes for both horses. Both dressage tests exceeded my expectations — under last year’s scoring system, Ballaghmor Class’ test was nine marks better than at Burghley.

    I got a warning from the ground jury about my riding on cross-country day, which I fully accept. When I watched the television coverage on Sunday night, I was so disappointed.

    I don’t want to be rough or tough on horses. Anyone who has visited my yard will have seen that the horses have the best of everything. No one loves them more than I do.

    I was doing my absolute best to get two horses who were green at this level home safely, but I feel I have let myself and my amazing team down. My competitive instincts got the better of me. I need to work hard on this and I apologise to everybody, especially my horses.

    Ballaghmor Class felt much more tired in the final section of the course than he had done at Burghley. But he came there at the end of a full competition season, not just two intermediate runs, and by the time he went at Badminton the going was very testing.

    I was so proud of the way they both showjumped. Cooley SRS’ clear was brilliant, the dream round. Things didn’t quite go my way with Ballaghmor Class and he had two down, but he felt and looked great.

    However, it was meant to be for Jonelle, and not for me this time.

    At the end of such a mentally and physically exhausting time, I was struggling with my emotions and I didn’t come across well in my BBC interview with Clare Balding, which I very much regret. But I am delighted with my horses; I won Burghley and Kentucky on four-star first-timers and finished second at Badminton on another one. They will all now enjoy the spring grass and I might finally get some sleep.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 10 May 2018