Felicity Collins on preparing for Badminton with RSH Contend'Or
As everyone knows, Badminton is one of the pinnacles of the equestrian world and the sport of eventing. There aren’t many horse lovers who haven’t grown up watching Badminton on TV, and dreaming of one day being there - whether it be as a spectator, owner or rider. I am lucky enough to finally be making my debut at Badminton this year as a rider, with my gorgeous, talented, amazing horse of a lifetime, RSH Contend’Or - aka Mickey. It is not only a lifelong ambition from a child, but also a long road from realising you may have your first Badminton horse in your stables, to actually getting there - qualified, prepared and in one piece.
Badminton has been the aim for Mickey and I since pre covid, which did cause a delay in our debut. We actually picked up our final Badminton qualification at Blenheim in 2018, but Mickey was only a 9yo at the time. However, as a young rider with a very special horse I have spent years carefully producing, this perhaps has not been a bad thing, as it has allowed us to spend two years consolidating ourselves. Despite Covid complications throughout 2020 and 2021, we still managed a number of super 4* results, an Advanced win and placing 10th with a double clear at Bicton 5* (the Burghley replacement) September 2021, which was a confidence boost and high to end the season on - the Badminton dream was truly alight for 2022.
Mickey had a couple of weeks hacking after Bicton to bring his fitness down, followed by 6 weeks holiday. He came back into work (like a fluffy teddy bear) in mid November for 4-6 weeks hacking, slowly introducing trotting and inclines to build muscle and a base level of fitness, so that he was ready for schooling and jumping around Christmas time. Every horse is different, and every yard is different, so the winter routine varies from horse to horse. We attended some dressage competitions by mid January, and began SJ/XC training on a surface by the end of January. He is a sharp and enthusiastic horse, so I can’t just take him to an event without some decent practice as we would most probably fly past the fences at full speed! He does need a good amount of work to keep him occupied, but he still finds energy to spook at almost anything!
We started ‘proper’ fitness work around beginning of February. Due to my location in East Sussex, I don’t have local gallops that are easily accessible. However, we are lucky to have the south downs within a 15 minute drive. It turns out I actually prefer this method, especially for Mickey. The downs have incredible ground all year round, and the most amazing natural gradients. I prefer to gallop on grass rather than a synthetic surface where possible, as it is more natural for horses and replicates what they’ll be galloping on at events, so conditions the legs and joints to this. With Mickey, the downs allow me to keep him interested, which is a bonus for a clever, quick thinking horse like him. I can loop around rather than going up and down the same track, and change it up with walk and trot, steady canters or fast gallops up the hills and practice gear changes which again are required at events, rather than galloping flat out in a straight line.
My plan for the season was always for a couple of OI’s, and two 4*’s at Thorsby & Burnham. Again, every horse is different, some only need a couple of very quiet runs and they’re ready. With Badminton being so early, there were a lot of discussions with Mickey’s owners and my trainer, Caroline Moore, on where to enter and how fast to run cross country at each, to best prepare us. There was a fine line on making sure he was not too fresh but also to not overrun and risk injury - which I can tell you is a serious paranoia for every rider entered for Badminton!
Thankfully, I feel like we have got it just about right, jumping 4/4 double clears and feeling better with each outing. Poplar and Tweseldown OI’s got both of us quietly into the swing of things, whilst Thorsby and Burnham have prepared us for a more international feel with crowds and atmosphere, with a steady last run at Burnham to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Of course they aren’t comparable to Badminton, but to be honest, no event is!
The next 3 weeks in the lead up don’t get any less stressful, but there’s some confidence to be taken from having successful prep runs. Now I will continue with the last of his fitness work, some dressage practice, and have one last jumping ‘tune up’ with my trainer Caroline. We won’t jump anything big or too difficult, as it’s too late to make a real difference now, but a few exercises to make sure we are feeling as ready as we can be will be the aim.
Lastly, it’ll be final prep and packing the lorry, making sure we have our Hy Equestrian favourites. Mickey will be bathed in the Hy Equestrian Magic Miracle Shampoo before we leave to make sure he’s sparkling (and hope it does what it says on the tin by making a ‘magic miracle’ happen!), and he will wear the fantastic StormX Original MeshX Cooler Rug for travelling. We have our Team Hy Equestrian Syngery Flex Jackets ready, plus the silicone Roka Rose white breeches and Lydia Lace show shirt will definitely be in my travel bag - they brought me good luck at Bicton, plus they looked gorgeous!
So, it’s finally happening…our Badminton debut is just around the corner. What will be will be, we will give it our best shot, and I must thank my whole team of sponsors, owners, staff, family and supporters for getting us here. However, my only true aim is to make sure my wonderful, darling boy Mickey comes home safe and happy - he owes me absolutely nothing, and I could not love him any more for giving me the opportunity to fulfil another dream, and just being my best friend.