Master Wickham – the gift horse that went to Badminton

(Written by Claire Lewis)

Master Wickham, known at home as Darsi, ran his last race in January 2015 after a short career over hurdles and chase fences. He was in training with Paul Webber and owned by the Economic Security Partnership, but sadly lacked the racing spirit to make it as a successful racehorse! His owners were looking for a competitive home for him to enjoy his retirement and knew of the recent loss of my pony so asked if I would like to visit him and see what I thought. I made the decision to take Darsi on in February of that year as a bit of a project, with no expectations of what he may become.

Courtesy of Equipics, just 4 months out of training

The first year was all about retraining- from general day-to-day life being turned out and the novelty of being fed treats (the first time he encountered a carrot he stood and sucked it for 20 minutes!); to changes in his ridden work including his technique over a fence, and learning to “bend” on circles.

Darsi is a very laid back individual on the ground but can be quite sharp and often ‘opinionated’ about dressage work. He has loved jumping from day one, and is at home in an arena full of fences; however finds dressage very difficult and subsequently uses spooking as an evasion to schooling exercises – he is a master of the 180 degree spin!

Darsi has always shown a talent for eventing and over the last three years we have worked slowly towards our aim of competing at the Mitsubishi Cup Motors Badminton Grassroots 2019. Dressage has always been the weak phase as the white boards are often “horse eating white boards”, the letter “k” is always highly suspicious and needs to be given a wide berth, and of course flower pots are monsters that you cannot ride past! Despite this I have worked hard to settle him for this first phase, competing in pure dressage and using unaffiliated championships such as RoR and trailblazers to compete in fully dressed arenas. He has also competed at some of the County Shows and showing evening performances to help him get used to atmosphere and crowds. He is slowly improving and we can now produce a test in the twenties when the conditions suit him!

We have come a long way in a short period of time with the showjumping, having gone right back to basics jumping 60-70cm in year one. He was then moved quickly up the levels due to an injury in my more experienced horse who had an entry at both Hickstead and Wales and West amateur finals at the time! Darsi stepped up with ease and his confidence grew with every round. He took both major shows in his stride with clears at Hickstead and a championship win on his BSJA debut in Wales! Since then he has qualified or competed at all the major BSJA championships and is becoming quite a specialist against the clock with his “eventing” lines into fences!

His eventing career began a year ago in 2017, with a couple of runs at 80cm to get the hang of the cross country phase. He quickly moved up to 90cm and had a 2nd at Skipton Horse Trials which gave me a single regional final ticket for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup Badminton Grassroots 2018. The first regional final I entered was then cancelled due to heavy rain so we re-routed to Kelsall last September. Again the rain fell and conditions were tough, but we successfully negotiated a challenging jumping track to finish on our dressage score and qualify for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup on our first attempt!

The panic then set in, a year sooner than planned we were off to Badminton having only had four runs at this level! A winter of perfecting the dressage and showjumping phases and we were ready for the season to begin. I had three runs planned for him of increasing cross country difficulty ready for May but sadly the great British weather meant all our runs were abandoned and all schooling courses were closed so he would head to Badminton inexperienced at this level! In the weeks before the event I concentrated on arena eventing and managed to simulate the cross country combinations we were to face at Badminton in the school with showjumps.

Courtesy of Golden Eye Photography

Our trip to Badminton was a success and I could not have asked for more from him! His dressage was in gale force winds so unfortunately the dreaded flower pots were all moving so a bit tense for a 34! The rain then fell overnight and being drawn late in my section the ground was then heavy for the jumping phases which was not in our favour! A very unlucky rub on a showjump meant 4 faults and dropped us from 9th to 21st, however the cross country was fantastic! He took to the fences like a professional and stormed around clear inside the time- one of only 17 to do so in a section of 121 horses! To be placed in the top 20% at our first Badminton was a real achievement and I look forward to the future with this super talented little horse!

Darsi is a true grassroots amateur horse, and shows how time, patience and understanding can bring out the best in a horse! Here is a quick summary of some of his achievements to date:

  • Ponies UK RoR ridden champion 2015
  • RoR/BD series win at Intro and 2nd at Championships 2015
  • Wales and West BSJA Amateur Champion 2016
  • Clear at Royal International Horse Show Hickstead 2016
  • unaffiliated Dressage to Music Champion at Novice 2016
  • qualified or competed BSJA Scope Festival, National Amateur and Veteran Championships, and National Showjumping Champs Stoneleigh 2017
  • qualified BD Combined Training Championships 2017
  • ESUK Reserve Supreme Ridden Champion 2017
  • Trailblazers Champion Sports Horse, Champion ex-racehorse, Champion Working Hunter, and Reserve Supreme 2017
  • RoR Regional League 90cm showjumping winner 2017
  • BRC Novice Dressage National Champion 2017
  • 4th 80cm British Eventing Championship 2017
  • 21st at MM cup Badminton horse trials 2018
  • 11th BE Arena Eventing Championships 2018
  • 1st BE Floors Castle Horse Trials 2018
  • RoR 3 Phase Challenge Final winner 2018
  • RoR central region 2017-2018 Regional League points winner
  • qualified for BSJA Scope festival, Blue chip Winter Championships, British Novice second rounds, Amateur and Veteran Championships, and National Showjumping Champs Stoneleigh 2018
  • Clear Somerford BE horse trials at 100 level……

Badminton 2020 is now on the agenda, onwards and upwards!