how this Badminton first-timer produces her horse at his best

  • Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan will start their first badminton horse trials with a real shot at placing when they travel to the event presented by Mars Equestrian next month (May 4-8).

    The US pair finished 12th at the Kentucky Three-Day Event and 10th at the Burghley Horse Trials in 2019, followed by a podium finish, third, at the Luhmühlen Horse Trials in Germany last year.

    “I’ve wanted to go to badminton for the last two years, but the world had other plans,” says Ariel, referring to the event’s cancellation due to Covid-19. “It was on my wish list and I think the track would really suit my horse. I’m lucky to have him, he loves to travel and I’m lucky to have the support of his owner, Anne Eldridge, so – although it’s hard not to go to Kentucky because it’s such an amazing event – I thought I could do it, so do it.”

    Ariel stayed between Millstreet and Burghley in 2019 with Canadian rider Mike Winter from Gloucestershire and his British wife Emma and will return there for a few days before badminton.

    “My horse feels very comfortable there and the people are nice,” she says.

    Ariel Grald chose Leamore Master Plan – known as Simon – as “a very lanky, awkward five-year-old” in Ireland.

    “He’s always been special. When I tried him he was everywhere – he’s a big horse at 17hh and very weak – but he was always a spectacular jumper. He eats up the lanes and the bigger and harder they are, the better he rides. I have to manage his enthusiasm at all stages but I have so much faith in his jumping ability and sitting on top of him in the starting box I know he is very capable at this level.”

    The 33-year-old rider says Simon is “the cutest horse in the whole world” to work on the ground with, but he’s always had a quirk under saddle, which is typical of his father Master Imp’s horses.

    “There’s a lot of squeaking and he can be cheeky, but never in a malicious way,” she says. “He’s become more professional over the years and he enjoys the one on one chats I’ve had the chance to share with him on our trips together. He likes to be the center of attention and is always a happy guy.

    “He’s one of those horses with endless energy and you can’t drag him down – when he’s having an exciting day he doesn’t get tired. If he’s doing something wrong you need to keep his confidence up, tell him he’s not bad, work his brain and give him time to calm down because in dressage he can get quite agitated, jumping around and bucking. In jumping he just gets very playful.

    “It’s about keeping your brain focused and trying to get more relaxed so you can actually exercise him, which gets better and better with age. As a young horse I always felt like I was just saving him from exploding, but now I can go in and ride him and ride the test.”

    Ariel Grald also had to physically build up the now 13-year-old.

    “He leveled up quickly and while he was capable in jumping, the dressage strength wasn’t there. I have to remind him that he has four legs and put them all in the right place. When jumping, it is also important to keep the canter in the right form and stride length. He’s a long horse, there’s a lot to collect, but I’m 1.60m tall so we’re a good match.”

    The rider took a different approach to building up to Luhmühlen last year than at her previous major events.

    “I’ve done a lot with him in the second half of 2020 as events reopened and he got so fit that I ran away cross country with his four star long this fall and he was wild in show jumping. ” She remembers.

    “At the beginning of 2021 I really wanted to go abroad again, so I decided to go to Luhmühlen after badminton. I took it slowly and calmly with him. We only ran an advanced and spent a lot of time on the flat and doing show jumping. I took him to shows with my other horses and only drove dressage or didn’t compete at all.

    “It was a bit scary for me to go to Luhmühlen after only having one run as he’s my only horse at this level – and my first four and five star horse – and I need the practice, though I wanted to try something different and I think it was worth it. I was able to put three good phases together. It was a learning experiment and I now know that he doesn’t need to walk much or gallop for months. We have a formula on how we can prepare ourselves so that he is not too fit, since then his rideability decreases.

    “He’ll have one more run before badminton than he did before Luhmühlen because while Luhmühlen definitely has five stars, badminton is on a different level.”

    Ariel Grald always studies videos of a new venue before she rides there so she can get the best feel for the layout and talk to riders who have been there.

    “The World Eventing Championships are on my mind, but I’m not planning much beyond spring – we’ve been working hard since Kentucky and Burghley to improve dressage so we can be more competitive in badminton and we’ll see where that takes us leads,” she concludes.

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