Riding at Badminton is every horse-mad kid’s dream. I worked out reasonably quickly however that I possessed neither the skill nor the bravery to tackle the 4 star course. When BE announced that the Grassroots Championships would now be held at Badminton however it presented an opportunity to riders such as myself to live the dream.
I’m a 37 year old married Mum who works full time to support my eventing habit. I’ve owned Kenco, or Wexford Star, since he was a very green 5 year old. We’ve had a long and not very distinguished eventing career before we finally sorted the dressage with the help of our fantastic trainer, Samantha Morrison, last Spring. This resulted in a highly unexpected 4th place at Berriewood in 2012 and the longed for Regional Final place.
To my even greater surprise, and that of my family and friends, we then managed to turn this into a 2nd place at our RF at Kelsall Hill last September and suddenly we were heading to Badminton!
Our preparation, like many others’, was disrupted by the weather and our planned 2 runs were reduced to just one at Eland Lodge. We returned to our very undistinguished dressage performances but the following double clear put a smile on both of our faces.
So the big day dawned, I headed down to Badminton with my faithful Jack Russell, Pip, plus my sister Nicky and my Mum and Dad.
We arrived at lunchtime on Wednesday and settled Kenco. I’m always very surprised at how easily horses settle down in temporary stables surrounded by strange horses. My sister and I then went to walk the course, I had seen pictures online and thought it looked tough and I wasn’t wrong! There were just so many opportunities for a silly run out and I thought the water at 6 was particularly tricky as well as the skinny brushes at 9.
After a lovely pub meal nearby my sister and I settled down in the lorry. I’m not sure how the 4* riders prepare but I suspect they’re not struggling to drop off on a slowly deflating air mattress that they’re sharing with a needy Jack Russell on a sloping floor of a lorry next to the loudest generator known to man. Our neighbours decided that 11pm and 6am were ideal times to start their generator, which didn’t add to the quality of our sleep. I decided to give up at 6am and went and fed Kenco and take a final look around the XC course.
As is often the case it don’t look half so bad the second time around but I was still undecided about whether to go straight at 9.
Dressage was dressage, what else can you say! I was a little disappointed as I don’t think I got him going as well as he can. Our 38.3 mark however put us about middle of the field which was fair I thought. I then had to focus on the dreaded showjumping.
I used to showjump as a child and should in theory be reasonably good at this phase…but I’m not! I know what I’m meant to do and we both jump fantastically in our lessons with Sam Wall but it can all go to pot in the arena when I’ve ‘got to go clear’. Kenco felt on top form in the warm-up, he needs to be a little full of himself and sparky to jump well and he certainly was. Nicky knows what to say to me in the warm and keeps me calm, I’d already told everyone else to stay away from me at this point!
So in we went and Kenco jumped really well, he really ballooned the fences and gave me a great feeling. Coming round to the stile there was a voice in my head telling me not to over ride it and pull him into the bottom as it’s the same as any other fence, just narrower. So I decided that steeplechasing it was a bright idea instead! Cue a falling pole and a very hairy moment at the following double which luckily stayed up. So in typical eventer style I was chuffed with 4 faults!
A quick change and we were off to the cross country. I was really nervous at this point but as the officials stopped the traffic on the roads and the crossings for me and I rode into Badminton Park I decided to stop being an idiot and just enjoy it. By the time I reached the warm up I was grinning like an idiot, which I think made my sister even more worried that I may have lost the plot!
Kenco warmed up well and was chomping at the bit to get going. So into the start box we went and next thing we’re heading to the first. I won’t subject you to a blow by blow account but Kenco was a little ‘looky’ over the first few and peered at the water under number 3. Number 4, the first combination, was my first indication that he was listening and locking on to his fences. As we galloped out of the woods and out in front of the house I was smiling to myself and had to remind myself to focus on the job in hand.
I set him up carefully for the water and he had a little look and then leapt in, this resulted in us landing in a bit of a heap but I turned him and kept kicking to the duck out. We weren’t elegant over this but we were clear! Even as I approached 8 and 9AB I was still unsure about which way to go but I got a great shot over 8, kept a tight hold and turned him for the skinny brushes. He locked on and jumped through really well. I relaxed slightly after that as I knew he was on my side and trying his best. The other combinations all went to plan although he did ‘slide’ over the log at the top of the quarry but made the 2nd element well.
Next thing I know we’re over the last and through the finish and I couldn’t have been happier. It was such a thrill to ride that course, I was pleased that it had been challenging enough that you had a real sense of achievement on completing (although I may be saying something different if we hadn’t jumped clear!).
I was one of the last to go cross country and was hoping to finish in the top 20. I was just relaxing back at the box and Kenco was happily grazing when my Mum and sister came back with the very unexpected news that we were 6th! This meant we were heading for the mounted prize giving, my friends helped me get Kenco plaited up again, he seemed a little shocked to be attacked by 5 women and I think would have preferred to go back to the grass. So after much cleaning and polishing I headed for the stables where were meant to congregate. I was therefore very disappointed to be told there was no mounted prize giving but instead I had to fling the reins at my father and leap into a 4×4 to be transported to the house.
It was a shame that the organisers hadn’t properly informed people of the change of plan and I still can’t really understand why it was necessary. The prize giving was still special however and I was so pleased to have scraped my 6th place and be part of it all.
With the help of a few glasses of Pimms that evening and by relocating the lorry away from the ‘generator from hell’ we were able to get a little bit more sleep to prepare us for the shopping on Friday.
Kenco appears to have developed ‘diva’ type tendencies since his success. He managed to embarrass me by going for a little trot around the Grassroots field on his own the following morning and was very unKenco like and lively when my sister took him for a leg stretch around the field.
We tucked him back up in the stable and headed to the shops! I treated myself to a little something from HiHo Silver, encouraged by a most welcome glass of bubbly, and continued to investigate what felt like every shop onsite. We fitted in the odd dressage test as well as a few of the food outlets as well. It was a lovely relaxing way to end the whole Badminton experience. I’d love to have stayed for longer but my bed at home was calling and I wasn’t prepared to face another night on the dreaded air mattress!
We hit the road and headed back up to Shropshire arriving back at the yard at about half 7. Our homecoming was slightly spoiled by the discovery that some thieving b*****d had nicked the electric fence energiser that morning. I never understand what makes something think they can just nick things like that… if you want something, go and buy it like the rest of us do!
So I spent the rest of the weekend glued to the TV coverage and washing endless piles of horsey stuff.
Next stop Llanymynech, I’ve decided to put on the brave pants and entered the Novice as I know we’re capable as long as I ride properly. I’ll let you know how we get on but mean time it’s back to the day job… yawn.