Friday Video from SmartPak: Surviving the Golden Button Steeplechase

“Bad news for the down-dumbing, time-serving, health-and-safety nicks, for the country that brought you cheese-rolling, the Cresta run, and walking slowly towards the enemy has come up with another semi-suicidal sport, and it has the innocent-sounding name of the Golden Button.”

Spanning three miles of Ledbury hunt country, and covering 22 colossal fences, the Golden Button Challenge isn’t for the faint-hearted — in fact, it’s earned the reputation of being Britain’s toughest hunt ride. This year’s iteration took place on the 23rd of February, and 62 brave — and perhaps slightly bonkers — starters came forward to give it the old college try. After a little bit of rough and tumble (and just one minor injury, to a rider), 33 of them would cross the finish line.

The Golden Button is a steeplechase in the most classic sense: there’s no racetrack, just open country crisscrossed with sprawling ditch-and-hedge combinations and looming gateways. Riders know where they need to start and where they need to finish, and what happens in between is up to them. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it draws in some of the UK and Ireland’s finest under-the-radar cross-country riders.

I caught up with Jemima Taylor to find out more about the madness that ensued between starter’s orders and the final flags. Jammy lost her Golden Button v-card in fine style last week – she not only completed, but finished 25th, riding her own Kitkat. 20-year-old Jammy is, perhaps, the perfect model of a Golden Button entrant — that is, she can ride enviably well, and she’s completely and utterly nuts. In 2016, she decided she wanted to find a creative way to raise money for two worthy charities, the Kent and Sussex Air Ambulance and the James Wentworth Stanley Memorial Fund, which raises awareness of mental health issues and works towards suicide prevention. The idea she landed on? Ten days of bareback hunting. We’re not talking about a couple of hours of meandering along at the back of the field, either — Jammy stayed out for up to seven hours each time, jumping the biggest fences each day had to offer aboard her feisty little mare. She raised £10,000 for the charities.

“I hadn’t had an adrenaline kick like that since doing the bareback hunting, and I thought, ‘well, how mad is it? I might as well give it a go!'” says Jammy of her decision to enter the Golden Button. To do so on the tricky mare she’d produced from a five-year-old, she thought, would be even more special.

“Kitkat had been sent over from Holland, and it’s safe to say we bought a mentally deranged mare! It’s taken about six seasons of hunting for her to finally calm down.”

Jammy had attempted to event Kitkat, to no avail: “One weekend you could get a great dressage and a double clear, and then the next weekend, she’d buck round the dressage test or refuse to go into the showjumping warm-up, so we decided it was getting too expensive. We ended our eventing career on a cricket score because she napped halfway around the showjumping course and then refused at the easiest cross-country fence. But once she’s on the hunting field or doing a scurry, then she’s at her prime and will jump anything you put in front of her.”

This isn’t to say that the Thoroughbred cross has become anyone’s ride.

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Clearly she'd rather still be on holiday 🐎

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“God forbid you try to take her out hacking alone,” says Jammy wryly. “She’ll throw a temper tantrum like no other. But for me, she’s the horse of a lifetime and is the most fearless thing. She’s only 15.2hh, but she has scope to burn and she’s out-jumped a lot of horses that are at least a hand bigger. Although, if you ask someone else to jump a crosspole on her, she won’t have any of it.”

And so the gutsy combination headed to big hedge country, ready to test their mettle. I need a stiff drink just thinking about it, but then, I suspect I’m not a prime candidate for the Golden Button.

“Surprisingly, I wasn’t that nervous — once I was on and we were walking around the paddock, I just got tunnel vision and only wanted to get round clear and in one piece,” explains Jammy. “When you’re actually on the course, it really is every man for himself. I honestly couldn’t stop smiling the whole way round — once I’d got through the finish line I forgot everything that had just happened!”

So what’s next for Jammy and Kitkat? Well, they haven’t got any more seriously mad adventures lined up — not yet, anyway — but they’re planning to fit in some nice, sedate sort of activities together. Like team-chasing. And hunt scurries. We’ll wait at the bar.