5* First-Timers of Badminton: A Tick of the Bucket List for Georgia Bartlett

Photo courtesy of Millstreet International Horse Trials.

When Georgia Bartlett walks through the hallowed arches of Badminton for the first time, she will literally be living the dream.

“It has always been my dream to compete there, more so than any other event!” Georgia told me when I spoke to her back in March. “I’ve been going there since I was tiny — it’s only an hour and a half from our yard in Newbury, so I guess you could say it was my local event, too.”

Eventing is most definitely in this talented young rider’s blood: her grandmother was a selector for the FEI Pony Event Team, and her parents actually met whilst training for the Junior Europeans. Her mother, Katie, would go on to become National Junior Event Champion in 1987 and her aunt Charlotte represented Great Britain that same year as part of the FEI Pony Event team in Saumur. She made the team again the following year, this time winning both team silver and individual bronze. Charlotte was also part of the gold medal winning team at the Junior Europeans 1991 and then went on to compete at Burghley. No pressure on Georgia, then!

Luckily, the 22-year-old is already proving to be a chip off the old block, and has a wealth of experience far beyond her years. Her first taste of success was with Craydon Reuben, with whom she won the Stonar Schools National Eventing Championships at the tender of nine. Munro Highlander then gave Georgia entry to the world of British Eventing. Together they won the Pony Club Eventing Championships in 2015, before Georgia’s upper trajectory continued with Monarch of the Glen, enjoying huge successes in Pony Trials. The pair were placed in every single one that they contested in spring 2016.

Despite these undeniable highs, Georgia is no stranger to the devastating lows of our beloved sport, too, when an injury saw Monarch of the Glen side lined later that same year. However, it is testament to Georgia’s focus and determination that was not put off by such a setback. Instead, and with the help of her ever supportive mother, Katie, she began searching for her first horse, with the aim of competing on Junior eventing teams.

Enter Spano de Nazca, Georgia’s Badminton 2023 ride, and the horse she describes as “my best friend.” Their origin story reads like a Hollywood meet-cute, only instead of locking eyes across a crowded room, she clapped eyes on him across the warm-up at Nunney Horse Trials, where French rider Louis Seychal – then a working pupil for none other than Andrew Nicholson — was preparing to take him to around the CIC-2*. Katie wasted no time in approaching the horse’s owners, and asked if they would consider selling them to her. The rest, as they say is history.

Nono has now been part of the Bartlett family for seven years, and the 11-year-old Anglo Arab has taken Georgia all the way up the levels, from BE100 to this, their first CCI5* at Badminton.

“We have a very special relationship – he owes me absolutely nothing – but to be going to our first Badminton together is very exciting. To have a horse ready to go [to Badminton] is really special but for it to be the one that has taken me all the way up the levels makes it even more so.”

Not only have this partnership gained an immeasurable amount of experience at all levels in their time together, they have also notched up an incredibly good record along the way — unsurprising, perhaps, given Georgia’s form in her younger days.

In 2017 – their first season together, it must be noted — they were National Regional Champions, came second in their first ever Intermediate at the notoriously beefy Bicton and were if that weren’t enough, they were then part of the silver medal winning Junior Nations Cup Team in Waregem. Their purple patch continued in much the same way the following season, this time representing Team GB at the Junior Europeans in Fontainebleau, winning another silver medal, and coming a very respectable 11th individually. Shortly after their return, they won the Open Intermediate Under 21 section at Wellington.

The years that followed have seen this remarkable form continue, with various top 10 placings at 3*-S in 2019, yet another team silver at the Junior Europeans that same year, and a second place in their first ever Advanced to round off their season.

Even the dreaded COVID didn’t put a stop to their success: despite the almost non-existent 2020 season, they still managed to step up to 4* and add yet more top ten placings to their ever-growing tally. Similarly, a broken arm for Georgia and a minor injury for Nono earlier in the year did not hold them back for long in 2021. Georgia still achieved her goal for the season: to compete in the under-25 CCI4*-L at Blenheim. Not only that, but a classy double clear over the toughest track they had faced saw them finish a very credible 11th. 2022 was no different, culminating in a third place finish in the 4*-L at Millstreet.

With those successes in the books, a first trip to Badminton seemed to fall at the most opportune possible moment. Unfortunately, the Great British weather has meant that their run up to the big B has been far from ideal, as is the case for so many UK based competitors. Rain, snow, hail… you name it, we’ve had it, and as a result, most of this year’s spring events have been a write-off. Amongst them were Cirencester and Oasby, both of which Georgia had entered with Nono.

However, by some small miracle, Stuart Buntine and the BEDE event team did manage to keep the show on the road at the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park in March, and in doing so, gave Georgia her first run of the season – and a top five placing, to boot, in the prestigious Grantham Cup.

“I was actually considering withdrawing him, after running my other horse in the two-star, because the ground was so wet,” Georgia admits. “But I am so glad I didn’t – especially given how the ground actually was on Sunday.”

Not only was it a nice birthday present for Georgia (she turned 22 on the Sunday of the event), but Thoresby also provided a great confidence boost before her first 5*. That being said, this steadfast young rider doesn’t tend to feel the effects of nerves.

“I don’t get particularly nervous, I’m just keen to get there and enjoy the whole experience,” she says. “I don’t even have an ideal result in mind. For me, I just want to appreciate every moment of my first time there and have fun with my best friend.”

If the support team that she has accompanying her is anything to go by, then there is no doubt that she will have a riotous time – amongst Georgia’s cheerleaders are various friends, family and owners, along with her aunt, who will be joining the party on Saturday – all the way from Singapore, no less!

Leading the Bartlett support team – nay, village – will be Katie, Georgie’s biggest supporter. “I couldn’t do it without my mum. We have a very special relationship, and she’s my groom at events, as well as being a vital part of the home team, too. She is a combination of nerves and excitement ahead of this week [Badminton], and can’t wait for us to get there!”

On this occasion though, it is groom Susie Cooper who will be seeing to Nono’s every demand, upon Laura Collett’s recommendation. In fact, last year’s Badminton champion is another cog in the well-oiled Team Bartlett wheel: they have trained with her for three years now. She also helped to keep some of Georgia’s horses ticking over when she broke her arm in 2021. Georgia also trains with Adam Kemp and Caroline Moore, and of the latter, she says: “she has changed us beyond belief, having been on the journey with us right from the start. There is no doubt that she has been instrumental in our success so far.”

But there is no doubt that Georgia’s unshakeable belief in her special little horse (he’s only 15.3hh with his shoes on) and the incredible bond they share has also helped them along the way. Cited on more than one occasion as “one to watch,” Georgia’s long list of achievements belie her relative inexperience at the top levels.

Since their run at Thoresby, the final preparations have been fairly straightforward: “In the build up to the event, we have kept it pretty low key, practicing the five-star test — which is new to both of us — along with our usual show jumping and cross country training, and of course, the all important fitness work. He will have an easier couple of days before we leave, so he’s fresh and ready to go at the weekend!”

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