“It’s an Event That Reminds Me Why I Wanted to Become an Event Rider”: Harry Meade Takes Bramham CCI4*-L

Harry Meade tops the Bramham podium. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There are few riders in the modern sport of eventing that evoke its history quite as clearly as Harry Meade when he rides into an arena, wearing the long red hunting coat, baggy-thighed breeches, and red-topped boots that have become his hallmark.

But the outfit isn’t a bid to mimic a huntsman in a Munnings painting, or a statement based in fashion at all, really. Instead, it’s an homage to lineage: his father, Richard Meade, was one of Britain’s preeminent event riders, and when you look closely at that well-worn red coat, you can see little emblems of history all over it. Not least, of course, in the Olympic buttons it bears. Tiny delicate engraved inscriptions ascribe them further: 1972, reads one, for the Munich Games at which Richard won team and individual gold; 1964, reads another, for the Tokyo Games. There is, no doubt, a button for 1968 – Mexico City, where Richard was again part of the gold-medal winning team – and for 1976, where he took part, and maybe even for 1980, when the Moscow Games were boycotted but Richard and the Brits, and most of the rest of the eventing world, rerouted to Fontainebleau instead. I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of those additional buttons, because I didn’t make Harry do a twirl, but the others are absolutely, definitely in situ.

And so we see the past and the present meld together in one man when Harry comes forward – a fitting visual, really, on this, Bramham’s 50th birthday. Even more fitting, of course, when it’s paired with a win. Today, it was.

As two-phase leader Tom Jackson rode into the ring on Ask For Manchier, it was to the sound of ring commentator John Kyle pointing out that he didn’t have a rail in hand – and, in fact, that a single rail down would knock him off the podium entirely.

As if on cue, Tom and his CCI4*-L debutant toppled the first fence before delivering a smart clear effort over every single other fence. Horses! Eventing! Who’d have ‘em!

But fifth and seventh place, which former under-25 champion Tom ultimately took with Ask For Manchier and Plot Twist B, respectively, isn’t too shabby – and for newly-instated event title sponsor Defender, there’s plenty to celebrate. They’ve long been supporters of Harry, who rode in a Defender-branded saddle pad today – and HRH Princess Anne, who presented the prizes, certainly looked to enjoy her chance for a catch-up with the son of her former teammate, who won the title himself back in 1975 with Jacob Jones.

All smiles for Harry Meade  – your 2024 Bramham champion. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s a first Bramham win for Harry, though, who held second place overnight with the former Sam Griffiths ride Annaghmore Valoner, ultimately finishing on the mare’s dressage score of 31.3.

For Harry, winning here is one of the high points in a career filled with major accomplishments.

“Bramham is an enormous stepping stone for horses, and there’s not many events that we look forward to as much,” he says. “It’s the real deal in terms of the course, and the atmosphere, and the big stage, but it’s also just from sheer fun and enjoyment. It’s the kind of event that reminds me why I wanted to become an event rider. It’s a special event that I’ve grown up wanting to ride at, and then wanting to win.”

Though he was guaranteed second place at worst after his fault-free round with Annaghmore Valoner, Harry wasn’t aware of the exact margin Tom had in hand – nor was he even watching to see if he might stand a chance of winning. Just producing the round itself, he admits, felt like a win enough.

“I actually don’t really look at the score boards. I just knew that I had to go in, and I knew the time was tight,” he says. “So I just focused on my game plan, and I was so pleased when I came out that we’d nailed it, in terms of the warmup and the performance in the ring. That, to me, was the success, and I’d sort of forgotten about the competition itself. I’d been so focused on delivering that performance that I came out and I was thrilled.”

Then, he says, “I was with my wife and Jess and Molly, my senior grooms, and then Oliver Townend came up and said, ‘you’ve won! Tom’s had the first fence down’ — and my first thought was, ‘oh no! Poor Tom!’  And then I realised.

“But that’s one of the reasons I don’t focus on the scoreboard, and I just try to focus on myself, because particularly when it’s a friend [ahead of you], you don’t like willing it.”

Harry Meade and Annaghmor Valoner. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry is particularly fond of the mare, who he’s been riding for about a year now.

“I totally love her,” he grins. “I’ve had a real soft spot for her; I just feel she’s really talented, and just a lovely, lovely person. There’s not an ounce of malice in her. She’s very sensitive; she’s a worrier; she’s one that you try and hold her hand, and therefore, to give her the chance for any latent talent to come to fruition, that feels as rewarding as any win or placing.”

This result, plus a third place finish in Blenheim’s CCI4*-L last September, confirms Harry’s belief that she could be his next top-level star – but even so, he’s keeping the horse, and her own unique needs, at the forefront of his priorities.

“You don’t get a much better preparation than to go via Blenheim and Bramham. For me, she has all the ingredients to be a five-star horse; she’s got the speed, the stamina, the bravery, the scope, and the training in all three phases. The one thing is she can get rattled very easily, so even on cross-country, if you have to squeeze her anywhere or change speed, that can slightly rattle her. It changes her breathing and it changes her heart rate, so I try to give her the smoothest possible ride everywhere. I’m very conscious that the higher you go up the grades, the more resilient they have to be in terms of coping with things going slightly wrong.”

A very happy ending: Harry Meade wins Bramham. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ve seen a dip in entries for both CCI4*-L classes here at Bramham this year, which is likely due to a combination of factors, including tougher qualification requirements for the level, the upcoming Olympics, and some riders’ preference for a more continental style of event. But, Harry says, it’s a hugely important part of the calendar.

“Without Bramham we’d be completely lost,” he says. “How would we produce horses for the big five-stars without it? It’s a fairly lone stepping stone, and it’s interesting that the entries aren’t huge – maybe some people avoid coming here, but I do the opposite. I like every horse to come via Bramham.”

Plus, he says, “it’s just so fun and beautiful! I drive in and I find myself saying, ‘god, I love this event’. And then I get out and say, ‘god, I love this event’ – and I keep saying it all day, every day, right to the end, and then I go home again! That’s a combination of a few things – it’s a beautiful time of year, a beautiful park, a beautifully-presented event, and everyone’s just so friendly. It’s horse-friendly and competitor-friendly – a happy, relaxed atmosphere with a real buzz. You can feel all of Yorkshire behind you.”

The main draw, though, remains the course.

“It’s the type of course and the type of questions in it,” he says. “That’s why we do the sport — to be tested with things that are tough, and it’s a proper, meaty test, a proper meaty challenge that you can hope to get your teeth stuck into and demonstrate how good you are.”

25 horses and riders ultimately went forward into the showjumping, down from the 26 that made it through this morning’s final horse inspection. That diminishment came as the result of the withdrawal of Aimee Penny and Freshman HH, who had been held but subsequently accepted at the trot up. They pulled themselves from contention shortly thereafter.

Clear rounds were neatly scattered throughout the class; the first rider in the ring, Emma Hyslop-Webb with GSA Lance, put a smart finish on a tricky week by delivering a faultless trip. But the tightly-packed scores also meant that even a one-rail round would prove to be expensive, and with twenty total rails falling across the twenty-five rounds, there was no shortage of movement.

Max Warburton and Deerpairc Revelry. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

25-year-old Max Warburton and his ten-year-old Deerpairc Revelry delivered one of the eleven clears inside the time today, and became one of six combinations to finish on their dressage score – an accomplishment that allowed him to complete his climb from first-phase fourth place to a final second place.

“I wasn’t quite expecting that result, but I’m absolutely thrilled,” says Max, who recorded his first-ever Bramham long-format cross-country clear yesterday after delivering a very respectable 31.5 in the first phase.

“I was thrilled with the dressage – it’s just always been a little bit of a weak phase,” he says. “We’ve put a lot of time, a lot of effort in, and that was definitely a personal best. And then yesterday’s course was fab; it was a joy to ride around Ian’s track, and the horse just ate it up. He was phenomenal.”

Max has long had the biggest of tracks in mind for the gelding, and this weekend’s performance gives him further confidence that he’s sitting on something that will, ultimately, become a Burghley horse.

“He’s a big rangy horse, and I’ve always said he’s felt like a very good one, but it would take a big, bold course to really suit him. And that was that – it really suited him, down to a tee,” he says.

The final result, he says, “is a dream – you work day in day out, and this is what you ride them for and what the hard work is for.”

Ros Canter and MHS Seventeen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros Canter and MHS Seventeen, who had been overnight leaders on the first day of dressage, took third place after finishing a formative weekend for the inexperienced horse with a smart clear round.

That, though, is no surprise to Ros: “He’s an amazing jumper,” she smiles. “He’s probably the best I’ve ever had showjumping, and the last fence I did just before I went in, I think everybody stopped and watched him. So he does fill you with confidence, and he’s getting better and better. He used to be a little bit careful, a bit stiff, but now he’s getting really fluent as well. He’s just good fun to ride.”

Yesterday saw the pair add just 2 time penalties after a round that started reasonably green and gained in confidence and competence as it unfolded.

“I was absolutely over the moon with him yesterday,” she says. “He’s such a careful horse, and so it was always going to be quite a big ask of him going around Bramham, but I really wanted to come here and see what he was made of.  We had a couple of jumps, in the rail-ditch-rail and in the water, where he went a bit green but what I was so thrilled about was the way that he carried on afterwards and gained in confidence all the way around.”

Ros Canter and MHS Seventeen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though reigning European Champion Ros often refers to herself as not being a particularly brave rider, she, too, is a huge fan of Bramham and the unique development opportunity it offers for horses.

“I love the big bold course, although I suppose in a way I look at them and think, ‘gee, they’re everything I don’t like!’,” she laughs.  “But in a lot of ways, it brings out the best in me, because you just go out there and you know there’s only one way to ride, and that’s positively. So that’s why I love it so much.”

Tiana Coudray and D’Artagnan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Selina Milnes and her 2023 CCI4*-S champion Cooley Snapchat put a cap on a super week, finishing on their dressage score of fourth place ahead of Tom Jackson and Ask For Manchier. Sixth place went to Aaron Millar and Friendship VDL, who added nothing to their dressage score of 35.1, seventh place was the domain of Tom Jackson’s first ride, Plot Twist B, and Felicity Collins and her five-star partner RSH Contend Or were excellent all week for eighth place. Harry Meade took ninth, too, with Et Hop du Matz, who deputised for Annaghmore Valoner in the prizegiving, and the US had a double-hander in tenth and eleventh places, with Tiana Coudray taking her spot in the prizegiving aboard young, exciting D’Artagnan and Allie Knowles closing out a positive week with Morswood for eleventh.

Allie Knowles and Morswood. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Bramham’s 50th birthday isn’t the only milestone being celebrated this week: it’s also the final time we’ll enjoy an Ian Stark-designed course here, as the beloved Scotsman steps into something a bit more like retirement. Kind of, anyway.

And how does he feel about it, now that it’s all done and dusted?

“I’m relieved, first and foremost,” he laughs. “I was kind of dreading this week, and now that it’s over, I’m kind of resigned to it. It’s definitely happening. And that’s it. I’m happy about that.”

The dread, and subsequent relief, he says, came down to having had such a positive 2023 season.

“By the time I got to Maryland last year I thought, ‘oh, this has been a really good year’,” he says. “And I rang [my wife] Jenny, who was still in Scotland, and I said, ‘there’s a huge part of me that wants to bring my retirement forward a year, because it’s been such a good year that it can only go downhill!’ So it’s just a relief that it’s gone well, and there were good results, and people enjoyed it.”

Princess Anne and Ian Stark. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The closing of the course-designing chapter of Ian’s story represents the wrapping up of another long, happy opportunity to delve into the nitty-gritty of the sport he loves, and which he was at the top of as a rider for so long.

“It doesn’t matter how old you get to,  you’ll never stop learning about horses – and people, for that matter,” he says. That learning – and his devotion to passing on learning to other people – certainly isn’t ending, though.

“Every time I come out, I’m learning, and at home, I’m helping riders. I’m helping a Grand Prix rider and I’m riding that horse, and I’ve ridden others, and although I’m helping her, riding her horses has taught me even more. It’s great – I’m still learning!”

As for what’s next, Ian has two firm plans.

“I’m going to keep coaching, although I don’t know if I’ll sign up for another four years with America – we’ll see how Paris goes,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll be 75 when I stop – maybe I’ll be dead! But when you turn 75 you can get a free ski lift pass, so I’m holding out for that.”

That’s all from us from a bumper week at Bramham. We’ll see you next week auf Deutschland for the fourth CCI5* of the year, and stay tuned for lots more from Bromont today. Until then: Go Eventing!

The final top ten in the 2024 Defender Bramham CCI4*-L.

Defender Bramham: Website | Entries and Live Scores | Cross-Country Preview | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

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