The Fantastic Fourteen: Meet the Horses Who’ve Done the Badminton and Burghley Double

“I can’t quite believe it”: Piggy March adds Burghley champion to her resume with Vanir Kamira. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Last week’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials saw Piggy March take an emotional win aboard Vanir Kamira, which made her just the third mare to win the event — and the fourteenth horse to win both Badminton and Burghley since Burghley’s inception in 1962. And the previous thirteen? Well, they’re a real who’s-who of the sport. Here are their stories.

Anneli Drummond-Hay and Merely-a-Monarch – perhaps the world’s first truly remarkable event horse. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Merely-a-Monarch – Burghley 1961, Badminton 1962

In her early twenties, Anneli Drummond-Hay bought an advert seeking a talented youngster in Horse & Hound, and although she was offered plenty of duds for sale, one response made her look twice. She was mailed a photograph of a two-year-old – a lovely stamp of a horse, she thought, but a year or two younger than she wanted. She forgot all about the horse, but a year later, the owners contacted her to ask if she could post the photograph back to them as they were still trying to sell the horse. This time, she decided to go and have a look herself.

“I fell in love with him immediately,” she recalled. Merely-a-Monarch was ¾ Thoroughbred and a quarter Fell pony and just as classy as he’d been the year prior. Anneli borrowed the £300 purchase price and got to work with the talented, tricky youngster.

By the time he was five, Monarch had won a horse trials at Tweseldown and had also been victorious at the Horse of the Year Show, winning the Foxhunter (1.20m) class, the show hunter division, and the combined training championship. The following year, in 1961, Anneli opted to enter him for a brand new competition: the Burghley Horse Trials, which was opening its doors for the first time.

24-year-old Anneli Drummond-Hay hadn’t actually had much match practice with her remarkable six-year-old, Merely-a-Monarch, before she put in her entry to the new and prestigious event. Though she had plenty of experience herself, having previously won the Pony European Championships and topping the annual leaderboard of British riders three times, this would be an altogether different challenge. Undeterred, she and the horse — with whom she’d largely contested showjumping, and who hadn’t experienced any water more taxing than a puddle in the lane — set out with one goal in mind: simply come home safely. After all, she hadn’t even intended to enter Monarch, but her intended mount was out of action, and so he would have to do.

They would lead the dressage by 30 marks and, drawn last to go on cross-country, they were greeted by the news that everyone else in the field had had at least one fall, many of them at the Trout Hatchery, where a hole had formed in the footing on the landing side of the jump into the water. With this in mind, Anneli nursed her young horse around the course, choosing the less popular log option into the water and coming home with the only clear round of the day. An unsurprising clear round over the poles the next day meant that victory was theirs by an astonishing margin of nearly 34 points. The next year, they would also take top honours at Badminton — this time, by 42 points.

As part of her preparation for Badminton the following spring, Anneli sent Monarch to Ivor Herbert’s gallops for fitness prep. Because Ivor only allowed jockeys to use his track, Anneli had to sign the ride over for the day, and Monarch was sent out to gallop with Flame Gun, one of the most successful two-mile chasers of the time. Monarch outstripped the full Thoroughbred easily.

After taking the Badminton title, Anneli was so worried about her beloved – and now extraordinarily valuable – horse getting hurt that she opted to switch to pure showjumping. Women still weren’t allowed to ride on the eventing team at the Olympics, but had been let into the showjumping squad, and this was another enormous influence on Anneli’s decision.

Captain James Templer on M’Lord Connolly at Badminton, 1964. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

M’Lord Connolly – Burghley 1962, Badminton 1964

Captain James Templer was part of the illustrious King’s Troop when he contested the Open European Championships at Burghley in 1962, taking the victory and the coveted title of European Champion with the excellent M’Lord Connolly. The gelding was later moved to the US, where he was first given to Mike Plumb as a wedding present in 1966, but subsequently passed on to Kevin Freeman after the pair didn’t quite see eye to eye, and became the USEA Horse of the Year in 1969.

Though there’s not a huge amount of information that still exists about this partnership or the game, tough horse who was just the second ever to achieve this accolade, we do know his breeding: he was an Anglo-Arab, and thus the forebear of another, much more famous, Anglo-Arab who would go on to do the double some four decades later.

Jane Holderness-Roddam and Warrior. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Warrior — Burghley 1976, Badminton 1978

Jane Holderness-Roddam (nee Bullen) already had a Badminton win under her belt by the time the excellent Warrior came along — she’d taken the trophy in 1968 aboard the diminutive Our Nobby, with whom she also became the first woman to ever represent Britain in eventing at the Olympics the same year. Though she wasn’t originally particularly taken with Warrior, who she described as a very ordinary sort of mover, and who was sourced from the first-ever Badminton victor, John Shedden, she quickly spotted his innate natural balance, which made him great fun to ride across even the trickiest of terrain.

“He was a very, very good jumper,” said Jane in an interview with Elysian of the gelding, who she rode for an American owner called Suzy Hart. “It’s not that Our Nobby wasn’t, but he was just quick and fast and didn’t think about what he was doing. He just went instinctually. Warrior was very much a thinking horse. I really had to learn to think as quickly as he did because he would never put himself into any dangerous situation. He would stop quite often if everything wasn’t quite right. Thanks to him, I learned to ride properly. I had luck on my side with Our Nobby. However, Warrior was the one that made me into a rider because everything had to be right, and then he would do everything right.”

It was their second five-star win together, at Badminton in 1978, that Jane regards as the ride of her life.

“After the dressage,we were lying third,” she recounted to Horse&Hound. “This was an amazing effort by this horse, who was very correct but uninspiring. On the second day Warrior did a brilliant steeplechase. He flew round within the time and gave me a wonderful ride. He loved the fences on the cross-country course and ate up the ground. He lapped up jumping into the lake and got everything right. A great character, he loved the crowd; the more people and chances to show off the better. We finished that day in second place. The next day he was felt absolutely fine, and he knew how important the show jumping was. He did a superb round and we pipped Lucinda Green and Village Gossip to first place.”

After that, the pair went on to compete at the notoriously tough 1978 World Championships in Kentucky, and went on to Badminton in 1979 and Burghley in 1980 before his retirement from the sport. They also acted as the stunt doubles for the leads in the classic eventing film International Velvet.

Jane, for her part, earned the nickname ‘the galloping nurse’ because, at the time of her first Badminton win, she was working full time as a nurse in London. In fact, the 20-year-old worked seven night shifts back to back leading straight into Badminton. Despite lack of sleep and the rigours of her stressful job, she achieved the maximum possible bonuses on Saturday and delivered the pivotal clear round on Sunday. It was exactly what she needed to win what was deemed in a year with the biggest field yet – 55 entries – and what was, at the time, the biggest and toughest cross-country challenge in the world. Though eventing hadn’t yet reached the peak of professionalism that it has now, it was still unusual for a Badminton competitor to juggle eventing alongside a full-time job – indeed, the only person to win with such credentials since was Captain Mark Phillips, who won while serving as an army officer. In the years since, Jane has been a lady in waiting to Princess Anne, earned herself a CBE while running British Eventing, owns and runs the prolific West Kington Stud, and works closely with equine charities, among her many accolades and accomplishments.

Lucinda Prior-Palmer and George, right, enjoy their win. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

George — Badminton 1977, Burghley 1977

In 1977, then two-time Badminton winner Lucinda Green (nee Prior-Palmer) was back with a bang riding George, the 16.2hh grandson of 1948 Grand National winner Sheila’s Cottage. Though he looked the perfect stamp of an event horse, his competition record was so peppered with falls that Lucinda nearly turned down the ride. But her father had reached the terminal stages of his cancer diagnosis, and life in the Prior-Palmer household was a pretty morose affair, so her parents encouraged her to take the horse on as a welcome distraction. He arrived just a matter of weeks before Badminton and promptly went lame.

Lucinda managed to get him back on the straight and narrow with just enough time to run at a one-day event as practice. To her own great surprise, they won it – and Lucinda began to wonder if she should aspire to more than just survival at their big outing.

She changed her mind swiftly upon starting the second phase. Although George had performed well in the dressage to sit fourth, he set against her hand in the steeplechase and ploughed through most of the fences. But while Lucinda was losing faith, her support team wasn’t – her father even insisted on leading the horse around in the ten-minute box.

“It was their optimism and belief that finally shook me out of my own depths of despondency,” Lucinda recalled.

George responded in kind. As they set out onto cross country proper, he came into his own, jumping around faultlessly to finish within the optimum time and go into the lead. That Sunday was St George’s Day and, as though in recognition of the fact, he jumped yet another foot-perfect clear to secure a third victory for his rider. That autumn, he contested the Open European Championships at Burghley, winning both team and individual gold, and was retired to the hunt field shortly thereafter. Lucinda’s father passed away in the months following her Badminton victory.

Lucinda Green and Beagle Bay. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Beagle Bay — Burghley 1981, Badminton 1984

Lucinda Green’s final Badminton victory — of a record-holding six! — came in 1984 aboard the great grey Beagle Bay, the part-bred Welsh pony with whom she’d won Burghley in 1981. Beagle Bay’s great weakness was his intermittent unsoundness, and Lucinda had been disappointed several times at three-days when she’d found herself forced to withdraw on Sunday morning. He also had a bit of pony brain about him, which meant that he could occasionally stop or duck out of a fence purely, it seemed, for the laugh. His “fat pony tummy,” as Lucinda called it, “must have housed a huge pair of lungs as he had tremendous stamina.”

Ginny Elliott and Priceless. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Priceless — Badminton 1985, Burghley 1983 and 1985

No matter what your barometer for success is, Ginny Elliott’s (nee Leng) Priceless –“the most intelligent horse that has ever looked through a bridle” — surely hits them. He helped Great Britain to team gold medals at the 1981 and 1985 European Championships and the 1982 and 1986 World Championships, as well as team silver and individual bronze at the 1984 Olympics, and he became the European Champion at Burghley in 1985, followed by World Champion at Gawler in 1986, making him one of a very small, elite group of horses to hold both titles concurrently. He also won both Badminton and Burghley, and until Andrew Nicholson’s Avebury came along and did the treble, he was the only horse to win the latter twice. Titles and accolades aside, he also never picked up a cross-country jumping penalty in a three-day, which is pretty remarkable by anyone’s standards.

Ian Stark once said that “in the flesh he looks like a very large pony, and when he wasn’t fit you might have wondered if he’d be capable of Three-Day eventing”, and Ginny herself referred to him as “an awkward chap” — but like so many of the sport’s most beloved horses, it was his quirks that made him great. He would buck, with maximum effort and multiple times, if he felt the tap of a crop, but was athletic enough to find his way out of a combination even if he did so in a tight double — and at Burghley in 1983, Ginny’s watch failed on course, and so in a bid to save time she became the only competitor to go for the straight route at the brandy glass fence. ‘Mr P’ never so much as thought about hesitating.

“He mapped out my life,” Ginny told Kate Green in an interview for Horse&Hound. “I would never have evented at that level without him or gone on to buy other horses. It was his brain, his attitude, his wilfulness and his guts that did it. He did what he did against all the odds. The long format was against him – in fact, it was against most horses – he was just a trooper.”

Tricky, clever, impossible to catch, and rather common, Priceless became the benchmark of the odd horse who comes good at the toughest levels, and Ginny’s novel approach to fitness — she worked in tandem with racehorse trainer Michael Dickinson to get him as fit as possible — inspired a whole host of new ways of producing event horses.

Ginny Leng and Master Craftsman in 1989. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Master Craftsman — Badminton 1989, Burghley 1989

Ginny Elliott did the double for a second time in 1989, winning both titles with the superb Master Craftsman. The precociously talented gelding went to the Olympics at the tender age of eight, and should have gone again four years later, but for an unfortunate bit of bad luck that kept an individual gold Olympic medal out of her hands:

“It was tragic; he was 12, and en route to the Barcelona Olympics,” Ginny told EquiRatings. “We had to go to a different gallop under team instructions. I unfortunately hit a damp spot on the gallop, he knocked himself and the next day he was unlevel but not lame. The day after that, he was marginally better but they were flying the next day and the reserve was waiting in the wings. “There was a week or 10 days until the competition started and you were thinking, ‘how am I going to feel if I get there and he doesn’t pass the third day?’ So we decided we couldn’t go; we couldn’t risk letting anyone down.”

But he certainly did get his moments in the spotlight, and when he took Burghley in 1989, months after winning Badminton, he did so in a year that it also held the Open European Championships — and so a rightfully deserved gold medal, and the European title, was his.

“He was still quite green and I didn’t know if he would be athletic enough for Burghley,” remembered Ginny in an interview with Horse Talk. “But he did a lovely dressage test and a fast cross-country. However, he was a difficult horse to show jump. I am a bit ‘blonde’ so I used to walk the track about 10 times and, of course, this time there was so much at stake. There was a dreadful moment when we landed over a fence and I realised I hadn’t a clue where to go next! Thankfully, it seemed as if a guardian angel had tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Turn right’. I did, and it was the right decision, but it was a nasty moment!”

Though he achieved the same double as Priceless, “they were totally different horses,” says Ginny in an interview with Horse & Hound. “Priceless was barely 16hh, three-quarter bred, and had to put up with me learning on him. He was a fantastic mover – as though he were on springs – but more of a hunter type than ‘Crafty’, who was a beautiful, big thoroughbred. But they were both ‘good soldiers’ – brave and honest, and it didn’t seem to matter what you put them at. Priceless only had one cross-country fault in his life – I fell off him, he didn’t fall – and Crafty didn’t have a single one.”

Mary King and Star Appeal. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Star Appeal — Burghley 1996, Badminton 2000

Marvellous ‘Apple’ was one of the poster boys of the 1990s with Mary King in the irons, and although he was always rather overshadowed by the white-faced 1992 Badminton winner King William, he was an extraordinary competitor in his own right. His wins include Punchestown in 1995, team gold at the 1997 European Championships at Burghley, and a trip to the Olympics in 2000. Unlike King William, he was an excellent show jumper: “He wasn’t as beautiful as King William, but he tried his hardest, which is why he had so much success. You could be so accurate on him, he was brave and a very good showjumping horse,” said Mary in an interview with EquiRatings.

Apple came from the same Newbury dealers’ yard as King William did, and was sourced by Mary and owners the Pinders in 1990.

“Although Apple didn’t strike me as particularly attractive, he had a bold, purposeful outlook and a carefree attitude which I liked. He looked ‘all horse’ and I could imagine him galloping around Badminton Horse Trials,” recounted Mary. “We affectionately call him “Policeman Plod” as he’s unflappable, especially on hacks. He never spooks and always walks in a straight line with his ears forward. Despite his strength, he is a sensitive horse underneath, especially when working at home or competing, and he’s friendly in the stable.”

Remarkably, Apple’s greatest successes came after injuries that could have been career-ending: he broke his leg in the field after sustaining a kick from another horse, and dealt with a serious hoof infection after stepping on a nail, too. But with care, close attention, and the help of Devon’s rolling hills, he made it back to tip-top shape and fitness each time.

Pippa Funnell and Primmore’s Pride. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Primmore’s Pride — Burghley 2003, Badminton 2005

Though his Badminton win in 2005 is the more recent memory, it’s Primmore Pride’s 2003 Burghley win that sticks in most people’s minds — because it was there that the 7/8 Thoroughbred gelding helped Pippa Funnell seal the deal and become the first winner of the Rolex Grand Slam, and the only rider to accomplish it in the old long-format version of the sport. Their Burghley win was their third of the bunch: Pippa had taken Kentucky that spring with the gelding, and Badminton with Supreme Rock. In 2005, when Primmore’s Pride took Badminton, he became the first-ever horse to win three different five-stars.

His career began on a high, with a win in the Seven-Year-Old World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers in 2000, and would go on to loftier heights still, including an individual bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The Grand Slam win helped Pippa become the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year, and she made it to the top five in the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, too. Like Priceless before him, he benefits from Ben Faerie Thoroughbred lines — though he’s a grandson, while Priceless was an own son. Still, the toughness and grittiness that was bestowed upon both was plain to see.

“From a youngster he’s had more ability and potential than I ever had,” said Pippa in an interview with The Independent in 2004. “He was bred for it, his dam went twice around Badminton and his sire was ridden by Mark Todd. He’s always had this amazing, scopey jump. He is very, very good, but because he is so big, he needs setting up some time before he jumps. You can’t spin him around like you can a smaller horse. But he’s very fit and he’s quite brilliant.”

Andrew Hoy and Moonfleet. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Moonfleet — Burghley 2004, Badminton 2006

When Moonfleet helped Australia’s Andrew Hoy to the Badminton victory in 2006, he helped to banish something of a demon from the 47-year-old’s back: he’d been trying for 27 years to nab the title, and had finished in the top ten in his last five runs there. His first attempt had come four years before the birth of third-placed Oliver Townend, a fact that the latter was keen to share with journalists, probably much to Hoy’s chagrin. But what a story, and what a horse: the Irish-bred gelding had been bought by his owner, Sue Magnier, at the Tattersalls Derby Sales as a 50,000 guinea three-year-old, intending to add him to her string of top-class racehorses. But he wasn’t impressive at all as a point-to-pointer, and fell in his second start, after which he was trialled out eventing by junior rider Tom Magnier of the Coolmore Stud. Then, as an eight-year-old, he swapped to Andrew Hoy, who had been training the pair. Three years into their partnership, they won the CCI5* at Luhmühlen, which was followed by a fall at the World Championships an a period of severe unsoundness.

At the point of his career zenith, Moonfleet benefited from a serious secret weapon: Hoy was, at the time, married to German eventer Bettina Hoy, who’s one of the sport’s most accomplished dressage riders and did much of the gelding’s schooling ahead of Badminton in particular, because Andrew was in the States winning Kentucky aboard Master Monarch. “Moonfleet told me he’s going to do a 36,” she said to Andrew when she handed him over for his test — and she was very nearly right. He did a 36.5 (or 24.3 in new money). For Bettina, too, riding the horse was crucial: after a tough few years, which had seen her lose Olympic individual gold on a technicality and suffer the death of a horse in competition, it was schooling the Thoroughbred that helped her stay focused and love her work again.

“Without Moonfleet I wouldn’t be competing any more,” she said to The Age. “He brought a smile back to my face.”

 

 

Lucinda Fredericks and Headley Britannia on their way to winning Badminton in 2007. Photo used with permission from Kit Houghton.

Headley Britannia — Burghley 2006, Badminton 2007

Just two mares have managed the double, and the first of those is as unconventional a champion as the most recent. Lucinda Fredericks’s Headley Britannia, who she described as “small but [with] such a huge heart”, was “a true professional and made my career what it is, and without her I wouldn’t be where I am. She was my best friend. She touched so many lives and always brought a smile to everyone’s face. Brit’s competitive spirit, maneuverability, sheer guts and a will to win propelled her to the top of the equestrian sport of eventing.”

And small she most certainly was: at 15.3hh, she looked almost comically small galloping up to Badminton and Burghley’s enormous fences, but she never showed a moment’s fear. In her impressive career, she also won Kentucky — making her the second horse, after Primmore’s Pride, to win three different five-stars — and retired at the age of 19, continuing to compete at the lower levels for another two years before being euthanised after a cross-country schooling accident. Her ashes were scattered on Salisbury Plain, but her legacy continues on in the sport in a different way: her foals, which were born by embryo transfer, are actively competing on the circuit now.

Brit was originally intended to be a sales horse, and was sent to Lucinda in 2002 with that in mind, but nobody wanted to buy the undersized, quirky mare, and so she stayed in Lucinda’s string. That autumn, she won Blenheim, and years later, she went on to win a team silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

William Fox-Pitt and Tamarillo at Badminton in 2011.

Tamarillo — Badminton 2004, Burghley 2008

Many years after M’Lord Connolly flew the flag for Anglo-Arabs, another came along to capture the imagination of the eventing world — and though he passed away seven years ago, you can still see him competing (sort of, anyway!): his clone, Tomatillo, is entered for this month’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S with Aaron Millar aboard.

The quirky gelding wasn’t always the most straightforward of partners: “He can be everything all at once — spooky, lazy, sharp, exuberant, sensitive. He’s extraordinary and unique,” said William Fox-Pitt to Horse & Hound. Nevertheless, he placed at the top level a number of times and won medals at European Championships, Olympics, and World Championships across his extraordinary career.

Bred by the Guinness family out of a former Intermediate horse of Lucinda Green’s and by a champion endurance stallion, Tamarillo was tough, clever, and surefooted, but: “he looks more like a seahorse, and the thought of eventing him was a joke,” laughed William. “Apart from being obviously talented with incredible paces and jumping ability, there was nothing to suggest he’d make an eventer — he was like thistledown floating around in the wind. But he’s more athletic than all the horses I’ve ridden put together. You never feel the ground beneath him; he can sail through a bog, making the ground feel like the fairway on a golf course.”

Well into his retirement, Tam’s quirks continued to shine through, and he’d spend his days shying and spinning on his way around the village hack he’d done nearly every day of his career.

“His personality has been both his gift and his Achilles heel,” said William. “He’s probably one of the most talented athletes the eventing world has ever seen, but his career has been one of great highs littered with ‘what ifs’.”

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

La Biosthetique Sam FBW — Burghley 2015, Badminton 2016

We’re a lucky bunch to have seen some record-setting horses in the last few years, but it’s hard to argue that any horse has been more successful in our generation than Michael Jung’s La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Though quite ordinary in his conformation, movement, and jump — he memorably crossed his front legs over a fence and was deemed by the stallion licensing committee as “non-descript — his head is too big, he has no presence and a funny jumping technique!”

But few horses have gone on to do for the sport what the gelding, who cost just €10,000, has done. His Badminton and Burghley wins formed part of the second-ever Grand Slam victory, and he was an extraordinary stalwart for the German team, becoming the first horse to ever hold the European, Olympic, and World titles at once. He won his five-star debut at Luhmühlen, too, and between 2010 and 2014, he had 17 FEI top three finishes in a row. When he and Michi secured their first Grand Slam leg at Burghley in 2015, they did so despite a broken ankle for the rider, who zoomed around on a Segway all week and put his faith in his remarkable, clever gelding, who was something of an FOD machine throughout his career.

“We have a little place in Germany where breeders or owners can bring their young horses, and then we can ride them and see what’s there,” said Jung in an interview with the Chronicle of the Horse. “We’re usually there looking for horses who could go to the young horse championships. Sam was quite good as a young horse, but he wasn’t really a special horse from the beginning; he was always just good enough. But then we started to train him, and he just kept going and going, and learning always, and then, after three or four years, he had grown up and kept getting stronger and better. He was always very trainable.”

The gelding, who retired a few years ago, had his quirks, though. He couldn’t be ridden in prizegivings, and Michi actually rode his Badminton lap of honour on a borrowed police horse, and he had to travel loose in a box stall set-up, too: “He doesn’t really like when he doesn’t have much space; he’s very nervous about it,” explained Jung. “With this set-up we found he traveled very easily and was very relaxed. He can get his food from the floor and move around, and if we stop somewhere he has much more space to be comfortable.”

He also wasn’t keen on other horses, but that’s something that seems to have abated in his retirement, and he enjoys his days out in the field with fellow five-star champion fischerRocana and her foal.

Piggy March and Vanir Kamira: Burghley champions at last. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Vanir Kamira — Badminton 2019, Burghley 2022

Has a Badminton winner ever been quite as popular as Piggy March in 2019? It would mark the start of an incredible year for the rider, who had never won a five-star before but who would finish 2019 holding the record for the most international wins in a year. But her journey to superstardom hasn’t been straightforward — a spate of terrible luck before the 2012 Olympics nearly bottomed out her business and sent her spiralling into a black hole that she didn’t believe she’d ever come out of. But the eternal grafter persevered, ditching the detritus of a bad break-up and replacing those who hadn’t believed in her with a circle of supporters and friends who always would, and after a while, everything began to put itself back together again.

That’s partly because Piggy is every inch as plucky as her horse of a lifetime, the now-seventeen-year-old Vanir Kamira who, as a consummate five-star horse, could have lost the best years of her life to the pandemic. But no good woman is kept down that easily, and she’s returned to the Big Bs in as good of form as we’ve ever seen, taking last week’s Burghley title in fine style.

“For these wonderful old horses, to miss two full seasons of their careers, and from being fourteen and running well at Badminton and Burghley… they’re not tennis rackets or footballs; you can’t put them in the cupboard and do nothing,” said Piggy last season at Bicton. “‘Tillybean’ doesn’t run very much; she doesn’t really do one-day events, so I came here just hoping her experience from previous years was going to carry us through. I knew how to get her fit, but still, in the back of your mind you think, ‘I hope she remembers!’ And, ‘I hope I remember how to ride!’”

She needn’t have worried. From the start of the course until the very end, Piggy and Tilly gave a masterclass in accuracy, confidence — and old-school event horse fitness. This has always been the mare’s best quality; she’s learned to put together a mid-20s dressage test through correct, sympathetic training, and her showjumping will always be just a tiny bit scrappy, but get her out on a mountainous eleven-minute track and she’s wholly and completely in her element.

“She was like, ‘come on, mother!’ She puts her snout on the floor and truffle snuffles the whole way around like ‘come on, let’s go!’ – we don’t give anything much height, but we’re flying along,” she says with a laugh. “She looks for the flags and the moment I try to slow her up a bit or think ‘let’s give this a bit more time’, she’s like, ‘nope, we’re going!’ But the confidence you can have in a horse like that who knows her job, and wants to do it — she’s a gritty, hardy little mare.”

“It’s these little horses that make it for us,” said Piggy.  “She’s a pain in the ass 362 days a year, and she’s really tricky to manage. She’s not the nicest of things to ride, you know, and she’s difficult, but she’s amazing – I say it all so fondly, because we all love her to bits. She’s a true five-star horse that comes to form at Badminton and Burghley. The rest of the time, she feels pretty ordinary, and you have to work pretty hard for what you can get. She doesn’t find any of it easy, and if I’d built that course at home and practiced it on the same side of the arena, I could do it fifty times and never have a clear round. There’s something about her, and those great little mares that just do enough when they need to. If they’re on your side, they’re just incredible.”

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