Today we bring you the last blog from our Badminton blogger Alyson Parker
The day before we were due to leave for BADMINTON … I had the entire contents of my lorry strewn around on the floor outside trying to work out how I was going to fit in two horses and all their stuff and all my stuff, including a wheelbarrow and a bike, for 4 days. I am a bit OCD about making sure I have EVERYTHING I could need and impressively I managed to load up and leave by 11.30am Tuesday morning with EVERYTHING on board! I had hacked out Joe with Lyn on Mo earlier so they had stretched their legs before the journey. The sun shone and the sky was blue … SOOO EXCITING!
Our convoy assembled at Reading services on the M4, Rachel and Sally in Rachel’s Landrover towing Sally’s caravan, and Harvey & Lesley in the Harvey’s horsebox with Claire’s horses (one belonging to Harvey). Claire jumped in with me as I was Billy No Mates and we distributed walkie talkies so we could chit chat all the way. We met the other caravan towed by David Britnell and his mum, Dawn, in her horsebox with David’s horse at Membury and made our way to BADMINTON – excitement rising and a proper flippety-dip of the stomach when we spotted the tradestands and signposting!
The horses all had to be unloaded and vet-checked before being allowed into their stables, their passports were kept by the stable manager, but soon we had them settled. Claire’s two mares were either side of my boys and annoyingly Joe’s door wouldn’t lock from the inside so I spent the first two days trying to stop him escaping every time I went in (when I finally reported the problem to the Stable Manager, it was fixed straight away such was their efficiency!!!). Claire, David and I cycled to the secretary to pay our £17 start fee and get our competitor packs and numbers, (two bridle nos to be worn AT ALL TIMES WHEN OUT OF THE STABLE on penalty of elimination) a paper number for dressage and big yellow numbers for SJ/XC with Mitsubishi on them – awesome!!!).
That done we went off to walk the course for the first time and savour the fact we were Really There! 🙂 The first few fences were straight forward but the barrels into the lake were a bit of an ask (we had seen them on the internet the Friday before but in real life they were Up To Height) and thereon in, the course got more and more challenging! How clever was the course designer? None of the fences exceeded dimensions but they were SO tricky. Towards the end of the course, the combinations kept coming and coming at difficult angles and with undulating ground and suddenly it didn’t seem so easy.
Our first evening meal was a real treat, I had cooked a shepherds pie, Harv had cooked a marvellous curry and Dawn came up with a pasta dish so we were well fed. Claire and I stayed off the wine but the others got stuck in and enjoyed themselves. That night was cold, I was glad of the extra tog duvet I had packed.
Wednesday morning we were up early. What a beautiful morning … blue skies and sunshine but not too hot. Sally went for a run round the 4* cross country course before assuming her main duties as chief photographer. Claire was due to do dressage on April at 11am and Joe was on at gone 2pm. I decided to ride Joe early and then again for a short while before his test, and to work Mo somewhere in between. (Mo was not competing on that day). Claire pulled off a superb test with April for a 29.5 with 2 mistakes and Joe scored a 30 so laying 2nd and 4th in the section we were well pleased. I took Joe back to the lorry to untack before he went back to the stables to save carrying the saddle etc. I put on a headcollar from my tack locker and was about to lead him back when I realized he didn’t have his numbers on. Claire was there and I asked her to get the numbers out the lorry, meanwhile Joe stepped back and caught his hind foot in the string which had been laid to mark the lorry lines in the box park. He curled up his heel with the string still caught and stepped back and back and back then panicked and ran sideways and flipped over onto his side …. OMG!!!!! He scrambled up, turned away and trotted off towards the dressage arenas – FGS – how awful …….. Claire leapt into action and ran down (bridle nos in hand) luckily someone caught him before he disturbed anyone’s test and Claire clipped the numbers on before we were in trouble! Yikes!
My heart was racing, surely that string would have done some awful damage … suddenly the vet was there in his truck had seen the whole thing and inspected the foot. My worst fears were realized … there were string burns in his heel and a number of other lacerations too. My heart sunk … please god don’t let this be the end of our competition at Badminton. The vet suggested cold hosing (where do I get a hose?) I cleaned it up and put gel on the wounds and kept my fingers crossed for the next day.
Just after all this, my dear friend Christa arrived from Yorkshire. We have been friends for years, and she came to many events with us. I was SO pleased to see her. It worked out really well that Rachel and Christa were looking after me, and Harvey and Lesley were looking after Claire with Sally in charge of all media.. While Claire and I went off and walked the course on our own again Sally took Christa off to show her the course too. Later that evening, after a high spirited and cobbled together meal (no catering vans open on Wed night) Jo Chipperfield turned up with her mum, Glenda which was reassuring for us all, as Jo offered to walk the course again with us. Jo rides at advanced level and is a good friend so her opinion is very valuable!
Thursday morning was sunny and bright again … Jenga and Mo were due to do dressage early. I was so worried about Joe’s wounds, there was a bit of heat but no swelling and I rode him out as soon as I could to get him moving and to check his soundness. Thankfully he was sound and I returned him to his box and concentrated on Mo.
Mo is an 18 yr old Irish boy, and considerable warm up is needed to achieve the submission and flexibility needed, but he knew it was a special occasion and he was in a very co-operative mood. Claire’s Jenga had been superb but she was disappointed to score a 32. Little did we know how good that would be. Mo’s test was obedient, supple and very accurate with just one major spook/leap in the air in his walk when a mobility scooter trundled by in his sight line, which frightened him. His 40.3 score was really disappointing but I shrugged it off and was determined to enjoy the rest of our day.
Next up was Joe’s show jumping. Claire was clear on April as we went in to warm up. All went well and then it was our turn. We were lucky that the double stayed up as he hit the second element hard but not so lucky at fence 6 which he hit with his hind foot and it came down. Damn!!! I wondered afterwards if the cut foot was to blame for that. Who knows? Anyway, no time to hang around, we got ready for the XC and rode over to the collecting ring. My son Steve arrived just in time and joined my friends to watch.
That was when it really struck me that we were at BADMINTON. Before it seemed like just another event really, but walking along the horse walk into the park was very special. The stewards in their bowler hats greeted us, ticked us off their list and off we went to warm up. OMG. Not long now. Suddenly it was our turn to walk to the start box which was sited just alongside Huntsman’s Close and was much Bigger than normal start boxes. Well it would be wouldn’t it? At Badminton? Claire and I had joked before that it takes 15 secs to walk around a start box so you can measure how long you have when they count you down. We figured this was a 25sec start box. 🙂 So off we went … he made nothing of the first 4 fences, then we galloped out into the park in front of the house …… WOW! All those PEOPLE!!!! Over the chair then the turn to the lake. And the barrels. I felt Joe just momentarily hesitate as he took in the job in hand but he was never going to stop, he jumped the barrels into the water, turned and jumped the brush out … he slipped as he turned but got his balance and carried on … wow applause! There was a straight forward table fence before the first real question – the shooting butt to the angled skinny hedges. Joe made nothing of them, crikey what a relief …. off we galloped to the fence with the plastic flowers on top then the long run up to the brush fences next to the 4* steps. No problem there, then onto the village houses, Joe lowered his head to look but jumped and jumped again, round to the coffin, no problem there, and on and on and on and finally over the Book of Winners fence to finish. OMG he was CLEAR and in the time!
There was water laid on at the finish to wash them off but we didn’t stop to take advantage of that as I wanted to walk back to the lorry and wash him off there to allow him to get his breath back and cool down naturally. What a feeling! Clear! Round Badminton! Wow! I can’t tell you how much I savoured that moment of glowing happiness knowing we had done our best and done a clear XC round at the most prestigious venue in the world!
We had an hour to get Joe sorted out and back in his box and to tack up Mo ready for his show jumping. Claire was ahead of me on Jenga and when we got to the warm up I watched her jump a fabulous clear round to stay on her 29.5 dressage! 🙂 I warmed Mo up steering clear of people passing us too close on the off side. He hasn’t forgotten a painful crash we had at Blenheim last year when a passing horse hurtled into us and he lays his ears flat back when such a horse approaches. At last it was our turn and he jumped superbly, but hit fence 7 which was a narrow upright that we had a good shot at. Oh well nothing much I could have done, just 4 penalties to add. I took him back to the lorry and very quickly we were off to the XC collecting ring. As we rode there, I heard the commentator say Claire and Jenga had run past the brush at 16 – I felt gutted for them, they were on track to win. Later Claire explained that Jenga took a big jump over 15 and ran down the hill and she just couldn’t turn her to the angled brush at 16. She is the most talented of mares, and quite feisty and Claire rides her really well, they have been working really hard on her control and turns to fences, I knew she would be really disappointed.
Mo and I were sent down to the start box quite quickly and walked round it on a 40 second countdown. As the starter got to 10 seconds, I walked into the box and was ready to go when an alarm sounded and the course was held. Mo thought it was his signal to go and did a huge leap in the air and I struggled to stop him bounding across the start line. The previous competitor had fallen at the lake and the horse was loose heading back this way. Luckily he didn’t appear, and I think they were reunited quite quickly. The red light turned to green and the course was live again, and we were once again counted down. This time, Mo’s reaction was more modest and we set off at a good pace. 1, 2, and 3 were straight forward fences, 4 was a double of angled skinny wishing wells and then out into the park. That was my most memorable bit of that course … I knew that Mo would be a distinctive horse appearing out of the trees and after we jumped the chair, we swung round to the water and John Bowen’s words echoed in my ears “Don’t be complacent”. I tapped Mo on the shoulder with my stick and sat back with my leg firmly on but he had no intention of doing anything but jumping over the barrels into that lake, he was foot perfect over them and the subsequent brush on the way out Big applause from the crowd as we galloped off towards the next fence. Wow what a feeling! 🙂 I wasn’t complacent and I rode every step but Mo was loving every moment of this course, he sorted out the combinations and had his ears pricked all the way round. The last fence after the logs at the quarry was the Book of Winners which was quite an unusual fence, I felt Mo really look at it but needn’t have worried as he jumped it cleanly to finish! OMG two round clear at Badminton! Some of our old Pony Club friends were at the finish including our local DC, Diane Pegrum and her friends and family and Rachel had cycled over from the start box. We were all chattering at once, on such a high. Diane told me that Joe was in the line up for a place in his class so I felt very happy as I kept Mo walking and soon left them and walked back across the Slaits to the lorry where we washed him off, de-studded him and let him relax to eat some grass.
Sure enough, Joe was 8th in his class and Mo ended up 13th (his dressage score had been good enough to win without that pole down and his 5.6 time faults on the XC). Our friend David Britnell did brilliantly with his 27.5 dressage and pole down to come 5th in his 2012 BE100 class and we soon clambered into Steve’s truck to rush over and watch the prizegiving which was for the first six in each class in front of the fabulous Badminton House. Steve really enjoyed driving through the park and onto the grass in front of the house behaving like an Official Vehicle – nobody seemed to mind! Sadly I just missed out in both our classes in the KKO award (Keep Kicking On – awarded to the golden oldies over 40) and missed out on the EHOA prizes too. Oh well. I picked up my lovely rosettes from the secretary one for a place and one for completing for both horses.
Shortly after we made our way to the Mitsubishi Marquee where there was a Hog Roast for competitors and their guests and Nicola Wilson presented Claire with her trophy for winning the Foundation Points League 2012. It was a great feeling being able to relax with our friends and we spent the evening socializing in the various bars. Eventually we all piled back into my lorry and I cooked bacon sandwiches and made coffee for everyone, although there were some pretty sore heads on the Friday morning!
Christa and I got up early on Friday and rode out on Mo and Joe to stretch their legs. After a much needed shower (the showers and loos were fab on the Grassroots site – nice and clean with background music!) we went over to the trade stands and did a bit of shopping and watched some of the 4* dressage. We said a very sad goodbye to Christa who had a taxi waiting to take her to the station at 11.30. The day flew by and I was conscious of getting my boys back, and soon we were packing up to leave and start the journey home. As we drove out in the sunshine, we felt filled with sadness about our fabulous experience coming to an end.
How magical it all seemed riding round that famous park, those memories won’t be fading any time soon! We arrived home later than expected having done battle with the M25 traffic but there was time to turn out Mo and Joe for a leg stretch and some grass before settling them for the night. I had bought tickets for the 4* show jumping so we could drive back on the Monday. I am so pleased I did: Sally, Claire, Rachel and myself had a lovely day on the now familiar site, with time to wander round, eat, drink, spend more flipping money, and watch the very very exciting finale to the main Badminton Horse Trials. I so felt for Michael Jung when that last show jump came down … that often happens to me on Mo. It was also very emotional when the three horses were officially retired from competition – Headley Brittania, Inonothing and Lenamore. The latter especially struck a chord with me because Mo is my Lenamore and I guess Mo will be doing a bit less in the near future.
What a fabulous experience. Thank you to all my lovely friends who helped and made it so very special. We will be trying our best to get back there next year!
All photos unless otherwise stated © Katie Mortimore