The Debrief: The Road to the Badminton Podium with Lucy Latta

Welcome to The Debrief, where we’ll recap the experience of a rider or equestrian following a big result or otherwise memorable competition or achievement. Click here to read more editions of The Debrief.

At the beginning of Badminton week, Lucy Latta was more famous for her family connections than her riding career. Her cousins are Irish eventing superstar Esib Power and Grand National Winning Jockey Robbie Power, and while she and RCA Patron Saint – “Paddy” – have completed at such prestigious competitions as Blair and Blenheim (both in the CCI4*-L, 2023 and 2022 respectively), she was still a relative “unknown”.

Now though, she is almost as talked about as the eventual winner of Badminton 2024, Caroline Powell. Despite an inauspicious start, she recorded the fastest cross-country round of the day, and ended the weekend in second place, just two penalties behind Caroline.

We caught up with Lucy a few days after her sparkling CCI5* debut to find out a little more how she makes it all work, the journey to the Badminton podium, and what comes next after pulling off such a dream result.

Tell us a little about your relationship with RCA Patron Saint, and how your partnership came about.

So, it is through a family connection; Lesley Crampton owns Paddy, and her husband, David, was in college with my dad, so that is how the connection came about. She thought of me to ride Paddy, way back at the end of his six-year-old year, when he was only at pre-novice level. He’s taken time – he’s such a big horse – so it’s taken time for him to develop and get strong enough to do the dressage and the show jumping at 4 and 5* level, but he has always been a really great cross-country horse, from day dot.

Much has been made of your family’s rich equestrian heritage – your cousin Esib Power is a successful eventer in her own right, while her brother Robbie is a successful jockey, and of course your grandfather rode around Badminton [William Powell Harris completed both Burghley and Badminton in the early 70’s] But what of your own riding – and eventing – career? When did it all start, and was it always eventing that you wanted to do?

Gosh, it feels like it’s been a very long time! I originally did show jumping on 12.2hh ponies, and I had a lot of experience at a young age doing that. I moved to eventing because I was lucky enough to have a pony who took me to the Pony Europeans. Together we won a medal of every colour, and it gave me early exposure to the pressure of top-level competition. From there I moved into Juniors – I was on the gold medal winning team at the Bishop Burton Championships. So again, that was all great experience.

Then moving into Young Riders, I had a lovely horse, DHI Broadway, but unfortunately, he was plagued a little bit with injuries. So I missed out on all three years of Young Rider Europeans through injury. In all honesty, that was a real eye opener for me, and the difficulties of the sport. I was in College at the time, so that actually made me even more determined to keep up with my education, and the “work” side of my life.

Irish Team Gold, Bishop Burton Junior European Championships 2014. Photo courtesy of Lucy Latta

Again, the fact that you balance your eventing career with a full-time job as brand manager for White Claw drinks has been zoned in on a lot, but was there ever a time when you considered making eventing your career?

No, there wasn’t really. I never wanted to give up the sport but I always wanted a small team of nice horses to compete, but also to go to college and work as well. I’m quite fortunate in a way – and I know that sounds odd to say – that COVID happened: because of the way that the world of work has gone, with being able to work from home, I never had to make the decision between a none-equestrian career and horses. I’m lucky that the timing was right for that shift in the way the world works.

Paddy is currently your only horse. Have you ever had more than one horse at a time, and would you like to make your string bigger?

Yes – my second horse actually only retired last year and at one point I had three horses on the go. It’s never gotten to more than four, and it’s just the way it worked out that I retired my second horse last year, through injury, so that’s how it ended up with me just riding Paddy.

I would love a couple of extra horses, but I would definitely be really selective about what I would take, especially in terms of time management. It’s a lot to juggle [riding] with work and everything, so yes, I would be quite selective with what I would take in.

Lucy and RCA Patron Saint, Badminton 2024. Photo courtesy of Lucy Latta

As for your “other” career, was this a job that you had always wanted to do, or did you come into this role through a similarly organic process?

Well, I did a Masters in marketing, and graduated in 2020 – peak COVID! So I was in the sphere of marketing anyway, and I was working in the pharmaceutical industry, which wasn’t really an area I was interested in, but then I got the opportunity to move into the drinks industry. White Claw isn’t necessarily that well known over here in Ireland and the UK, but over in the U.S. it is an extremely well-known brand, with a massive turnover and it’s a really fun brand to work on too, so I jumped at the chance to move across.

Is there such a thing as an “average” working day for you, or is each day different?

My days are a little bit different depending on whether I’m working from home or whether I am in the office. Work from home days are actually quite nice: in general, we’re able to start at 10:00AM – normally it’s 10:00AM to 6:00PM, obviously if days are busier, and there’s more work to be done, we might be working longer hours, but they are quite flexible hours. So on those days, I’m up and I do the horses in the morning so that I can start at 10:00AM and then work through to 6:00PM or whenever you finish.

The days in the office are little more hectic though. All through the spring when I have to ride in the mornings in Wexford, it’s more of a 5:00AM start to feed and then ride Paddy super early before coming in and getting changed and driving up to Dublin for work, and still be at my desk for 10:00AM. Depending on traffic, that is quite a long drive – it takes 2 hours. So those days are quite long, but I am fortunate in that I have a place to stay in Dublin, so I do stay up there on those nights. But yes, it is a lot of early mornings and driving on the days I am in the office.

You moved Paddy to your cousin Esib’s yard in the build-up to Badminton, but where do you normally keep him?

It’s all a bit complicated! For most of the year, I keep him at the family home – and have done for like the last five or six seasons. But this year, maybe four or five weeks before Badminton, I moved him in with Esib up in Meath, just for a little extra help and guidance – she’s done Badminton six times! So I moved him up there to train, and it’s actually a little bit closer to Dublin for me, so not quite as much driving – though still about an hour!

After Badminton he’s back at home, having his break – he’s out having some grass! – and then after a few weeks I’ll probably move him back up to Meath to train with Esib again and focus on the next events.

When did you decide to step Paddy – and yourself – up to the next level, and aim for Badminton, both of your first 5*?

So we were at Blair [August 2023], which was very hilly, really soft, a proper cross-country track, and he jumped really well – he was double clear there – but I didn’t really dream of 5* or Badminton before that. It was only when I was walking the course with Caroline Moore, and she was like “what’s your plan after this, are you thinking Badminton?” This was before I had even done the cross country [at Blair] and I was just like, “can I do this first, like I’m not even qualified yet!” I was thinking, “Gosh she’s very confident in me!”

But the way it worked out, I got my qualification, and the way he went around that track just gave me a lot of confidence. I spoke to my cousin; she is really great at giving me guidance and advice on where to run the horses and how to prepare them, so she was the one that suggested that the way he had gone around the CCI4*-L at Blair, and then at Blenheim, two proper 4* tracks, he would be able to do Badminton. From there we committed to it and leave no stone unturned and go for it, and then it came off!

Lucy Latta and RCA Patron Saint. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Other than training with your cousin, did you change anything else in preparation for Badminton, and your 5* debut?

I think the biggest change really was that I didn’t actually compete in Ireland this year. Irish events typically don’t start until the end of March and this year – due to the weather – it was even later. So we had made a plan after Blair last year that we would just commit to the first events that were on. So we went to Oasby (7th March) – I was planning on doing Lincoln (15th March) but again, because of the weather, I didn’t end up going [to Lincoln] but I still stayed over for the week to train with Caroline Moore.

So yeah, I did a full week with her, did my Open Intermediate at Oasby, then was training with my cousin, then went back over [to England] to Burnham Market (12-14th April) to get a really good run, which was perfect timing, like three weeks before Badminton.

So that was the main change – really committing to going over to England and getting the tracks and to the events that were actually on over there. If I hadn’t planned to do that and stayed in Ireland, the events wouldn’t have been on, and I honestly wouldn’t have been able to go to Badminton.

To come second on your Badminton – and 5* – debut is a dream come true, but what would you say was the highlight of the week for you?

The cross country for sure! Like that feeling of being out there…I wanted to give it a crack. I thought he was well capable of doing it, but you also have to ride with your head when you’re out there on the cross country. I knew I had set out at a good pace, but I knew I’d have to keep an eye on how much was left in the tank if I needed to back off him and let him take his time coming home. I was fully prepared to do that, but he just kept picking up, he kept meeting the questions. All of the combinations felt really easy and fluent, and he just gave it his absolute all.

Could you sum up the feeling of crossing that finish line in a few words?!

I think the first word is definitely proud. Proud of Paddy and how he tackled the track, and the way he dealt with it: he didn’t feel any different to how he felt at any other events, and it is daunting going out there on that track!

Then another word I would use is just elated! I was just so, so happy that I was able to pull it off, and that I’d been brave enough to go for it!

Lucy and Paddy, Badminton 2024. Photo courtesy of Lucy Latta.

You say that everything felt very easy, but were there any “hairy” moments out there on the cross country?

Honestly, hand on heart, no! I’m dying to get the full cross country video and see it back because it felt very smooth from start to finish. What I was really thinking about, was about minute eight, when you’re starting to come back up the hill: I wasn’t looking at my watch anymore, I was just wanting to ride what was underneath me. I knew he’d stay galloping but if I needed to back off the pace to let him come home at his own comfortable gallop, that was something I was really conscious of, but he just kept picking up for me.

If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?

Yeah, I would go back and change the way that I rode to fence three in the show jumping! Exactly that – I just didn’t get my line quite right, I met the fence too close, and I didn’t give him the chance he needed to jump it. Easy mistake to make, but very, very costly at the end! I won’t let it take away from the week overall, but 100% I would go back and change it if I could.

Lucy Latta and RCA Patron Saint. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Were you at all nervous before your show jumping round? To be third overnight at your first Badminton is an amazing achievement, but it must have been accompanied with quite a lot of pressure?

Yes, as you say, it was an incredible achievement to be sitting in third overnight, and I was able to enjoy it for the day that it was. Once I knew that Paddy was feeling good in himself, I was just like, “take a breather and enjoy it.” Obviously, on Sunday, to get through the trot-up was the first port of call, and then I walked the [show jumping] track, before the morning horses jumped. I knew then, when I was walking it, that it was a serious track; the distances were all extremely short, which is very difficult for horses to do after an 11-minute cross country. So instantly, I was like “this is going to be tricky.” It was big and it was wide – it was fully up to height, so I knew it was going to be a tall order. Also, the crowds – it wasn’t too bad in the morning – but when I was warming up, the crowds cheering after everyone jumped, and then the almost deathly silence when people are actually jumping – there is a serious atmosphere in there. So, I just was just like “keep your head on, stay focused and try to keep your cool, and do the best that you can do.

Were you able to have any quiet time with Paddy once the event had finished, and the press conferences were all over?

The press conferences and everything went on for a while, and it was great, but I went back down to the stables after that and got to have a chat with Paddy in his stable. He loves a cuddle, and to chat! He’s like that most days – he loves the attention, he’s an absolute sweetheart in the stable. But he knew he’d done a great job!

You briefly mentioned “the next events” earlier – do you have a plan for the rest of the season? After finishing on the podium at Badminton, do you dare to dream of Paris?!

It [the next event] all really depends. The Irish team for Paris will be selected – I think – the second week of June, so if we get the call up, that is like the dream! But if not, I’ll reroute and focus on Burghley. I think he would be really suited to that course the way that he went around Badminton. So, one of those will be the overall aim, whichever way it works out, and then he will have a couple of smaller runs in between to prep for one of those.

Prior to your amazing result at Badminton, were the Olympics something you even dared to dream about?

I mean, we had some really good results [before Badminton], but it’s obviously really competitive [Olympic selection] with only three slots, it makes it so tough to make an Olympics and I kind of thought what with just having the one horse, and the fact that I am not really doing it full-time, I probably didn’t really dare to think too much about it. I just kind of wanted to focus on what I was doing, stick to my plan, and do that to the best of my ability, but to come second at Badminton, that really threw my name into the mix, which was wonderful. I mean, I didn’t dream on my 5* debut, that I would come second!

Has the result changed anything for you, other than a potential Olympic call up?!

Not really, it’s just back to the grindstone! Obviously, I was delighted with my horse, and very proud of how he turned up all week. He was exceptional on Saturday and that’s a day I will never forget. That cross-country round is probably going to be the round of my life – he was just phenomenal. Even the way he handled the dressage – he’s never been in that big of an atmosphere. The way he came out and show jumped – it was a really difficult track and for him to have gone so fast the day before and to come out and still jump like that the next day was just really exciting for the future. It was just a dream week!

Looking again to the future, after everything you learned at Badminton, is there anything in particular that you will be focusing on in your and Paddy’s training?

That’s the really exciting thing about last week; obviously it was a brilliant week, but there is still so much to work on! That was only our first 5* test, and the first one in that atmosphere, and he did some really nice work, but there’s still stuff to build on there, and a lot of things that me and Esib want to work on. I think he really does have the potential to do a smart test. It’s just a matter of working on how to bring out the good work that he can do in the actual arena. So definitely lots to work on in the dressage, and then we will keep working on the show jumping, as we have been for the last six months to a year, so hopefully that keeps on improving. Lots to work on, as always, with eventing!

After such an unbelievable Badminton debut, what advice would you give to your younger self, who must have dreamt of this moment?

Stick with it and keep the mindset of wanting to keep improving. Make the mistakes, that’s all part of the process, but keep wanting to make that 1% difference all of the time. That mindset is what is going to get you through the grades. Take your time to get through the grades though, and just keep trying to improve little by little, in small bite sized pieces.

Pony Europeans in Arezzo, Italy. Photo courtesy of Lucy Latta

While Paddy is on holiday, how are you filling your spare time?

Well, I am actually enjoying a little break from riding now, which is quite nice, but I don’t want to not ride for the full three weeks he’s going to be off, so I’ll go volunteer with my cousin Esib; she’s got a lot of horses in so on the weekends she will be glad of the help! My brother also trains racehorses and stuff, so I ride them out whenever I have the free time, too. So I am keeping my self busy – I will have a break this week but then back to riding, and normality after that!

Whether it be Paris or Burghley that is next for this incredible pair, one thing is for sure: Lucy Latta is no longer an unknown name, and her version of ‘normality’ may never be the same again!

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