Ride of my life: Debbie Topping

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  • Debbie recalls her ride on Junior at Badsworth open team chase

    I can’t decide if riding Junior in team chases is a pleasure or a punishment, but it’s certainly a privilege.

    He’s the lead horse for The Forge Flyers, and nothing will ever match the very first time I took himteam chasing. It was terrifying, but it made me realise what a brilliant horse I was sitting on.

    To jump a big, solid fence at point-to-point speed, a horse has to be extremely careful and very quick-witted. Good team chase horses are not easy to come by.

    Junior’s a freak. He is only £80 off being a grade A show jumper and was already known as the best lead horse in the country when Ann Wilson offered him to me.

    When I went to pick him up, I nearly died. He was windsucking happily, and there were huge lumps and bumps on his legs. I couldn’t believe he’d be sound. Four days later, we were at Badsworth.

    During those four days, the only thing I learnt was that he was prepared to tolerate me being on his back, but I wasn’t allowed to be in charge.

    Everyone agreed that we should run Junior in his usual position. Badsworth is a fabulous course for team chases: about 30 big, bold hedges with good ditches underneath.

    Having never jumped anything decent on him, I decided to send him off as fast as I could to build up a lead from the other three. This would give me a chance to concentrate on riding the fences.

    At the start, I kicked him. It was the last time I ever dared do that. Junior took over, and went absolutely flat out. I was no help to him whatsoever. So long as you can stay on top of him, Junior will jump the course on his own.

    We went down a line of hedges like it was a chicane, jumping at insane angles. On no other horse would I be happy to come down a to a 6ft hedge and ditch, out of control, knowing that I had no say in how to jump it.

    My abiding memory was standing off fence six and realising that Junior had stood off it further than most horses could even jump. And he landed so safely that it dawned on me how special he was. He knew his job inside out.

    Seconds after a finish, he is like a little lamb. All he wants is a roll and a scratch. And despite the legs, he is 100% sound. He has a towel over his door so he doesn’t wear his teeth down, and he takes his little sucking rag everywhere.

    I dread the day I lose him, but if it happens on the team chase course, that is theway he would choose to go. He couldn’t stand seeing the wagon go team chasing and not being on it. Retirement would kill him.

    Junior is 17 now. He is still the best in the country, and to this day I can’t ride him. We’ve moved toLeicestershire, where Graham Smith and I train racehorses, and the day we get a horse with Junior’s ability and mental attitude, we’ll have our Grand National winner.

    Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (17 October) where Charlotte Hollingsworth talks about her ‘ride of a lifetime’ at Burghley on The Cool Customer.

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