With our BE 100 section running on the Thursday we left for Badminton on the Wednesday. We could have gone Tuesday as the stabling fees covered Tuesday to Monday regardless of arrival / departure. Still it meant we had access for the whole weekend including the 4* event – special bonus for qualifying!
With my mum and dad arriving to house and dog sit for us, while we were away, it was the start of our adventure. Having to give everyone a big hug was quite emotional and then we were off on our travels, Nigel (my husband) did the driving, leaving me to concentrate (worry) about the day to come. We were met at the bottom of the drive by a “Ted the Clydesdale” mascot (he is at the Horse of the Year Show this year!) waving a union jack and wishing us luck – how cool was that, it did make me chuckle – I have some good friends!
The journey to Badminton took about 2 and half hours, not a bad run, and Reggae Man (aka Winston) travelled well. Before being allowed into the stables we had to have our passport and vet check because of the recent herpes outbreak. Given the all clear we were allowed to take him to his stable – his “home” for the next few days, a bucket of water and a haynet later and he’s happy.
Giles (my trainer) met us at the horsebox and while Nigel and some of our supporters set up “camp” we went out to walk the cross-country course for the first time – target – 2970m in 6min 13secs. The first thing I noticed was how soon the first jump was from the start box – less than 50yds, although quite inviting – and also that the horses would gallop alongside the show site (ferris wheel and all) on the way down from fence 1 to 3. With Winston having never been at such a big event, we would need to keep his concentration on the course. From there on in, there were questions the whole way around the course in terms of technicality and dealing with the undulations in the ground before and after fences.
Having completed the course and discussed our lines and walked and re walked the routes (including taking off my boots and socks to walk the water complex) we went back to the lorry, more supporters had arrived! I then had a quiet schooling session with Giles before putting Winston to bed for the night.
I then walked the course again with Nigel and my supporters explaining to them the lines we were going to take and the reasons behind that choice. This time it did seem less long and the jumps less scary, was it denial or familiarity?
Checking on Winston, when we returned, I bumped into a colleague, Jo, who I met competing at Aldon last year, just arriving. We invited her to park up next to us – always nice to have someone around to share your experiences with – but more of that later.
That evening we dined out with our supporters who had come down early. A late night check on Winston and to bed for me I wanted a clear head for the next day.
Thursday dawned and what a beautiful day you could tell it was going to be (excitement, exhillaration, adrenalin, it was all there!). Winston fed, watered and mucked out, I set out again with Nigel to walk the course for the third and final time (at 7am!). It was lovely first thing, although a little chilly, but I had my Day, Son and Hewitt jacket on to keep me toastie! Course walked, we returned to the lorry and a small breakfast of pain au chocolat – I’m not good at eating during an event.
My friend Jo was first to go in our section in the dressage, so we went up to support her and to also see how the arena rode. Wow oh wow, it was almost ridge and furrow, Jo’s horse lost balance more than once. Obviously going to be a challenge, but the same for all!
Then it was time to start getting Winston ready, Giles was coming at 10.30 to give us a little warm up, but our test was not until 12.25, so I got Winston plaited before our first work out, and his stud holes prepared. My friend Jen helped with this, who I met when working with horses some years ago had always wanted to groom at Badminton, so today I helped that dream come true for her!
Our dressage time loomed, we were on board and ready, no major dramas, so off we went. Winston again preformed an obedient test, but I was surprised about how nervous I felt going in and it took me the first few movements to settle my nerves! The judges were marking quite hard but consistently and we pulled off a 37.5, to leave us in 13th but it was all very tight except for the first two on 26 and 28 everyone else was within a fence or two of each other, the two horses above me were on 37.3 and Jo was on 36.5 in 6th, giving you an idea of how close we all were.
Dressage completed we rushed off to do the show jumping course walk. This was, as expected for this level, 1.05m + and asked plenty of questions around the course. Again, using the contours of the ground the course builder used this against us! A double, down hill to a related distance, to an oxer heading for the collecting ring probably wasn’t one of the kindest lines and then there was a skinny upright, which also caught a few horses out. As we were not on till later we were able to watch the first few horses jump round, the course was going to need riding all the way, lots of 4 and 8 faulters!.
As our show jumping time drew close, Giles met me in the warm up, over a couple of cross poles first, then an upright – boy was Winston feeling well!! A few more warm up fences, including an oxer, and then we were in. Over the first and on landing he had a little bronk with me, nothing to bad but I needed to get his attention back for the related distance up hill to fence 2 and 3, clear, then steady him back for the down hill turn fence 4 and 5, still clear although a little hairy coming into five, I lost my stirrup but got it back before our turn to fence 6 a triple bar up hill, then steady again for the skinny upright and another down hill double, still clear, three fences left, a turn away from the collecting ring back up hill to the planks and another related distance to an upright, the last fence awaited an oxer back down hill, don’t relax yet I told myself, he flew it and I did allow my self a little punch in the air as I also got a big cheer and a round of applause from all my supporters. I knew that would put us back in the mix as there were only a few clears. We moved up to 7th place.
Back at the lorry we then got prepared for the cross country phase. Jen checked all his studs for me and I changed into my cross country colours. I had also booked a head cam to record my round so I needed to give myself time to go and get this fitted. All set, of we went for the start it was a long hack to the cross country collecting ring so we gave ourselves plenty of time and this also gave my supporters time to get out on course!
Again I met Giles at the warm up, we had plenty of time so just let him have a stretch first, then we picked him up and had a canter and popped a couple of fences, we were ready for the final test. Our number was called forward to the start box and the rest was down to me and Winston!
He was feeling well and didn’t seem to notice the showground over the first three. It was while approaching fence four, a double of off-set skinny wishing wells on a curving line, that I first felt Winston look around but I got his attention back and he popped through beautifully, I heard a round of applause in our wake. A long gallop next out of the wood and into the park and it was here I first got a sense of the occasion galloping out in front of Badminton house and lots of people around the course, more than we’ve ever had before!! I told myself to concentrate on the job in hand, uphill to a bench first and then the water complex.
This was a strong ask for BE100 level, a big jump directly into water over barrels then a curving line through the water to a big hedge out. The water momentarily stopped his momentum on landing and we broke to a trot but I kept him together and pushed onto the hedge, which he popped with ease! A few of my supporters were here so there was a big cheer and another round of applause as we set off for another long gallop, to the Alzheimer’s table, then a big brush that needed jumping on a slight angle, 5 strides to get your line for the skinny corner brushes with two strides in between, again he jumped this easily and on we continued, a roll top with flowers down hill and then a big pull back up hill to another brush under the trees, he was still feeling well at this point. We steadied for the next fence, another double of houses on a curving line with a drop on landing over the first skinny house into a little dell and then back up and out over an even skinnier house, another round of applause, I could get used to this!
We kicked on again for a short burst towards the coffin, I steadied him for this, we turned into it on our line, then damn, not enough power and not enough leg!! Winston saw the ditch the other side and stopped, cursing myself, I turned around quickly and represented, a bit more power this time and he popped over, over the ditch and up over the skinny out. Cursing myself, again, we kicked on, got my mind focused back on the course that was done, no more mistakes allowed.
A hedge downhill, turn to another big hedge, another gallop. It was the long gallops between fences that we have not experienced before and bringing him back for the fences was testing us both, we were riding a mini Badminton course! The next combination loomed, a stone wall to a sloping table at the top of a steep incline, then a quick turn and steep drop off over a log step, turn and 4 strides to a skinny brush, this rode really well and I was pleased with how Winston handled it. Another long gallop back up hill, to what was probably the only “let up” fence on the course, a flat trailer, don’t make a mistake here! Onto the quarry, over a log, steep drop down to the quarry with only 4 strides curving line to another skinny log, nearly home just the past-winners book fence to jump now, keep his attention, he jumped this well and we were through the finish. Still cursing myself I gave him a big pat. Jen was there to meet us, we stripped him down and she washed him of and walked him back to the lorry for me.
At the lorry park we were met by my friend Jo, not good news, she managed to be (as we now know!) the only person over the whole weekend to get dumped in the Badminton Lake! Apparently a big jump over the barrels followed by a sharp left and Jo was flying face first into the cold and muddy water! To add insult to injury Jo lost her hat silk and the fence judge suggested she go back in and get it, as she was already wet! Still at least Jo and her horse were ok, if not a little soggy!
We finished 18th, the “stop” prevented a final score which could have placed us 3rd – Grrrrr – but that’s eventing and we have the consolation that Reggae Man was the youngest horse there, lots to look forward to with him.
We are now looking at our plans for the rest of the season where we are moving up to novice for the next 4 or 5 events and have a Novice run at a new event, Rockingham Castle on the 17th May. We are starting to play with the big boys now and I have Andrew Nicholson, Ollie Townend and Izzy Taylor to name but a few in my section! (Ok all-be-it on their young horses too)
All being well we hope to run our first Intermediate in August and then a one star in September, but need to get our qualifying runs first.
Badminton was a fantastic experience and to cap it all on the Friday morning before we headed home we went and walked the “Big” course. We were lucky enough to follow Yogi Brisner around doing a course walk with Laura Collett and Nicki Roncoroni, this was really interesting and wetted my appetite to come back in 3 years and do the real Badminton!!
Reggae Man is fed Foundation.