A FAIRYTALE came true for local rider Harry Meade, who completed his recovery from horrendous injuries to ride long-time partner Wild Lone into third place at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
As if triumphing over two shattered elbows, smashed in a horrific rotational fall last August, was not enough, Meade – who lives only three miles from Badminton, at Church Farm, West Kington – also had the satisfaction of completing one of only 23 clear jumping rounds cross country, beating what was quickly recognised as one of the toughest courses of recent years.
Only one fence down in Sunday’s show-jumping arena stopped him taking the title. The event was won by Australian Sam Griffiths on Paulank Brockagh, with everything hinging on the final showjumping phase.
Griffiths’ countryman Paul Tapner, who is based at the Wickstead Farm Equestrian Centre near Highworth, lost the top spot he had held overnight on Saturday when his grey Kilronan had four fences down.
British rider Oliver Townend, with Armada, the horse previously ridden by Marlborough-based New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, took second place, hitting two fences to miss the top spot by just 2.8 penalties.
Meade, the son of three-time Olympic gold medallist Richard, said: “It is way beyond expectations – everything just added up in the right place.
“I have coped really well. I feel great, to be honest. My arms were great on Saturday on the cross-country, and I was so relaxed going in there again.
“He (Wild Lone) did everything I expected him to do, but in eventing it can leave you 20th or it can leave you in the top three.
“On Saturday, I loved the fact it was raining, it was windy and they were hostile conditions. You could get your teeth stuck into it. This is just brilliant.’’
He produced Wild Lone as a four-year-old, and the horse’s career has mirrored his own, the bay gelding having become his top ride as he ascended the national rankings.
After finishing the first Badminton phase 46th on a dressage score of 51, his best ever four-star score, they collected just 16 time penalties across country to ride to eighth, a single showjumping fence down taking them onto the podium.
Meade added: “I just did what I’ve done for the last nine years. I was pretty relaxed – the last six months have put things into perspective so I wasn’t feeling overly ambitious.
“I simply wanted to enjoy it.
“The result has exceeded all expectations though.”
Saturday’s cross country proved as decisive as the riders had expected, even without the fierce winds and heavy ground, sodden by Thursday’s downpours.
Friday night dressage leader Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen, for the USA, were one of 18 combinations to retire part-way round.
By the end of Saturday the Wiltshire-based competitors had experienced mixed fortunes.
Lying second on Ringwood Sky Boy, with 61.6, having moved up from his Friday night equal 41st, was New Zealander Tim Price, based with wife Jonelle at Mildenhall, near Marlborough.
Price’s second – and more experienced – ride Wesko was eliminated at the lake, after he did all he could to avoid collecting 20 penalties for a runout at the last element, only to fall off over the horse’s shoulder seconds later, getting a ducking – and automatic elimination – in the process.
Price was full of praise for Ringwood Sky Boy, saying: “He did the job and did it really well. He is improving all the time and I was really pleased with him.”
Four showjump fences down meant they finished ninth, while wife Jonelle retired The Deputy after only three cross country fences, when he refused at the Little Badminton Double Rails.
Only 35 combinations completed the course, re-designed by Italian Giuseppi della Chiesa, five withdrawing before the start, 25 suffering elimination on the way round and 18 retiring en route, mainly after refusals or runouts on the course.
Among those disappointed was Australian rider Lucinda Fredericks, based at Little Cheverell, who pulled Flying Finish up between fences five and six. The pair had been lying fourth after the dressage.
It was also not the 23rd birthday Tom McEwen, from Badgerstown near Swindon, had hoped for.
His first ride, Dry Old Party, was retired while second horse, Diesel, 20th after dressage, finished Saturday bottom of the leaderboard after incurring 40 jumping and 68.4 time penalties. Three showjumping fences down saw them finish 31st.
Nicholson amazingly fell from Nereo, the last to go on the course, at the Gatehouse pond, leaving a leg on the last element and catapulting the New Zealander out of the saddle.
The duo had been going strongly up until then and, seventh after dressage, was poised to gallop into the lead as overnight leader, American Clark Montgomery, had retired Loughan Glen at Huntsmans Close after the horse visibly faltered when attempting one of the impressive fences.
Nicholson’s error on first ride Quimbo was equally uncharacteristic – the horse having a runout at the keyhole hedge on top of the Outlander Bank.
Course designer della Chiesa later admitted the Owl Hole fence had been one of the decisive ones of the day, saying: “It jumped nicely last year but this year caused many more problems than we had expected, so I would say that was one of the most important fences.”
It was not Sir Mark Todd’s day, either, the Badgerstown-based New Zealander was eliminated early on after a fall at the Shogun Hollow with NZB Campino having been fifth after dressage.
Second ride Leonidas II finished 16th with 81 penalties, having been equal ninth after dressage and two fences down on Sunday dropped them to 14th.
Nick Gauntlett, from near Malmesbury, ended Saturday 19th, with 89.5 penalties, on Grand Manoeuvre, but four fences down in the show-jumping arena dropped them to 22nd.
Among the 32 riders who completed was Australian Wendy Schaeffer, who was 12th on Koyuna Sun Dancer.
Schaeffer, previously based at the family Reybridge yard of current Great Britain eventer David Doel as she prepared for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, is near Maidenhead.
She said: “The cross country was quite similar to 1996, another year when there were penty of non-finishers.
“Jumping is my strength though so I hope it stays similar to this, it was a proper four-star test. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.”
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