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Brilliant Badminton

It was so special to be back competing at Badminton.  This was my tenth Badminton but after an absence of three years, I’ve been looking forward to it since the 4th September - the day after Burghley!  Away Cruising was very settled all week and has been feeling great throughout his five month build up.


I deliberately gave him little work in the days preceding his dressage and a short warm up on the day of his test as he usually performs better when fresh.  He warmed up beautifully and felt great when he entered the main arena and unaffected by the crowds and photographers.  He isn’t usually affected by atmosphere but just after the bell rang he caught sight of the big screen showing the live coverage in the arena and rooted himself to the spot with his head in the air. All things considered he performed a great test with no mistakes and, unusually for him, nailed all four flying changes, but at all times had one ear and one eye on the big screen which meant that his mark of 33 was perfectly respectable but not up with the leaders which is where we’d hoped to be if he could pull off all his changes on the day.  This was his first trip to Badminton so he will have learnt from his experience of life of the centre stage!


When I walked the cross country, I thought the course had much more flow to it that last year and whilst it possibly lacked the formidable fences that one’s used to seeing in a four star course, there were half a dozen places that you could slip past a flag and pick up 20 penalties.  The going was in places quite holding - which was unsurprising given the sodden Spring we’ve had – so this made the course more challenging than it would have been on faster ground and the result was a very fair cross country test.  Away Cruising is a big horse who has the manoeuvrability of an aircraft carrier so I was mildly concerned about some of the fiddly turning fences.  I planned from the outset to take a couple of the less circuitous long routes and the coverage of the early competitors showed that this was perhaps the right thing to do.  On my way from the stables to the collecting ring I took a view that I had very little to lose by going for it so decided there and then, that subject to Away Cruising feeling on top of his game, that we’d go every direct route and take the shortest lines possible.


It was bliss to be on an open galloping course where I could unleash his long stride.  He felt so confident and enthusiastic  from start to finish.  Because of his lack of manouverablily and the time it takes for him to set up for and accelerate away from combinations it was great to be able to stay in a rhythm.  He was the only horse of the day to be “on time” at the fifth, sixth and seventh minute markers and at that point I turned my watch off knowing that the holding ground would take it’s toll and I wanted to ride the horse I felt beneath me rather than simply to the clock.  He finished the course still with his ears pricked and jumping well and recovered very well in the cool down area.


One of the great virtues of eventing is the requirement to ride with feel and in the appropriate rhythm for the course.  I thought this year’s competition was a great test and the horses that were well produced and well ridden stood a far greater chance of coming out fresh for the show jumping.  Jess, my head groom, and the rest of our team did a first-class job post cross country and on Sunday morning he breezed through the final Horse Inspection. 


The show jumping has always been Away Cruising’s achilles heel but I have made it my mission to leave no stone unturned in his show jumping preparation.  Rowland Fernyhough has played a big part in our training and together we gave him a little jump in the morning before warming him up for his round in the afternoon. 


The show jumping course was big and very cleverly designed with a tight time.  There were very few places that you could cut inside and take a shorter route so it required riders to be in a committed forward rhythm but challengingly, contained several related distances that were on the short side so it wasn’t an easy course to ride.


Although there had been a lot of poles falling all day, including for some of the horses that are usually very strong in this phase, I felt very comfortable with my plan.   Away Cruising jumped his socks off and just had one unlucky rail.  I was so excited that in an uncharacteristic loss of control I crossed the finish line, took off my hat, and celebrated at a gallop! 


It was a great relief to move up not down after the show jumping; we finished in 16th place which was a super result considering the near disaster with the big screen in the dressage and the fact that it was Away Cruising’s first Badminton.


It was so rewarding to finish the event with a horse who’d clearly come on from the positive experience of the week.  In the lap of honour he pricked his ears and towed me past everyone ahead of us, leaving the arena at a stretch gallop; it two me two laps of the collecting ring, which is as big as the main arena, to finally bring him back to a trot, by which time all the other competitors were on their way back to the stables.


I found Away Cruising in Ireland as a four year old and hoped that he might one day compete at Badminton, so it’s hugely rewarding to have achieved this.  His owner, Charlotte Opperman, has been terrifically supportive and patient and we have enjoyed so many shared thrills and concerns on the journey thus far.  I’ve always felt that enjoyments and challenges are what bring everyone connected together and we’ve certainly had a lot of fun along the way. 


This was my tenth Badminton, and knowing it’s such a challenge to get round each one, I had a feeling in my gut all week that having previously had nine sublime rides perhaps my number would be up this time!  Thanks to Away Cruising we made it ten from ten and in the process earned a second Armada dish, which are probably the most coveted awards in eventing.


Away Cruising will wind down this week and will then enjoy a very quiet month in the field. All being well he will head to Burghley in the Autumn.


A huge thank you to Jess, who's looked after Away Cruising immaculately for the past seven years, and to everybody’s who’s played a part in helping us - I’m hugely relieved not to have messed it up for you all!


Above:  The Cordings lime green trousers were a talking pointfor the rest of the event - sometimes life's too short not to be bold!  Photograph thanks to William Carey Photography


Above: Jess with Away Cruising who was looking a million dollars all week thanks to all her hard work.

Photo thanks to William Carey Photograhpy


 Above:  All set for the first Horse Inspection.  


Above: Charlie was pleased to have spotted a mirage of his daddy on the Fairfax stand!


Above: Despite the tension caused by the big screen, Away Cruising did some super work in the dressage. 


Above: Away Cruising after his test.  Photograph thanks to William Carey Photography


Above: Studying the Vicarage Vee


Above:  I dropped in to the Pony Club stand to have to chat about safety as part of BETA Safety Week.


Above: Behind the scenes in the Portcullis stable yard.


Above: Early morning canter on cross country day.


Above:  Cross country time...


Above: Popping out of the quarry.  Photograph thanks to Chantal D Crosby


Above:  Away Cruising making nothing of the huge corner at the Outlander Mound.

Photograph thanks to Tim Wilkinson Eventing Images


Above: Flying the Vicarage Vee.  Photograph thanks to William Carey Photography.


Above:  It's a real team effort post cross country. Away Cruising made a great recovery.


Above:  Someone wanted to have a go too! 


Above: Leaving the arena at at gallop after the lap of honour!   Photo thanks to William Carey Photography


Above:  Quick post match analysis with Clare Balding. Photograph thanks to William Carey Photogrpahy


Above: Away Cruising enjoying the prize giving.  Photograph thanks to Sarie Weaving


 Above:  All smiles at the end of a great week.  Away Cruising with his groom, Jess, and owner, Charlotte.


Above: Celebratory refreshments! 


Above:  The team at Church Farm welcomed Away Cruising home in style!  

   What a week we had at Bramham, with Annaghmore Valoner winning the prestigious Defender CCI4*L, alongside...Full story