Today sees the start of The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials – the ‘FA Cup Final’ of eventing. Mayfield’s Tom Crisp is proud to be riding Irish gelding Coolys Luxury for Great Britain, and Hannah Patterson sits down with the 36 year old to find out what it’s like to go from local gymkhanas to international competitions
The substantial livery that is the headquarters of Tom Crisp’s Team Crisp Eventing is nestled away down a dirt road in Mayfield, East Sussex. It is so well hidden that you would have no idea it was there unless you looked for it – quite the achievement as the yard is extensive and covers over 60 acres of the surrounding countryside.
It is here that Tom, his wife Sophie and their two young sons call home. The facility was originally owned by Sophie’s parents and together they all pooled their resources to run the business as it is today.
When we ask Tom for the number of horses they have living with them, he laughs and says “Too many.”
It’s one of these many horses in particular that we have come to talk about.
The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials kick off today. The five-day equestrian extravaganza is one of only six four-star horse competitions in the world. “It’s the Formula One of eventing. Our Wimbledon or FA Cup final.”
This year Tom returns to Badminton to compete with the 16.3hh bay gelding named Coolys Luxury, whom he lovingly refers to as Cooly, currently owned by The Swift Syndicate.
Team Crisp has high hopes for Cooly this year, aiming for a top ten place at Badminton before competing in the Burghley Horse Trials. There is no naivety here, though. This is not his first visit to Badminton and competition is fierce.
“It doesn’t take much to make an error when competing at this level,” he says. “These are some of the best horses and riders in the world.”
So, what goes into selecting a horse to compete in events such as Badminton?
“A lot of luck,” Tom says, “Good event horses come in all shapes and sizes but they have to be able to cope with immense amounts of pressure both mentally and physically. They must have the heart of a lion. No horse is the same and that is what has always kept me interested.
“Cooly is a really wonderful horse. He’s exceptionally keen and loves his job. It is always such a pleasure to work with him.”
Tom talks about horses in the same way a father would talk about his children. There is a very genuine love evident when you watch him amongst them. It would be easy to assume that Tom had always been around horses from the day he was born.
“Not at all,” he says. “We had no horses when I was very young. The first we bought lived in the bottom of our garden where we had one stable. I was always interested in these magnificent creatures. They have had a significant relationship with us throughout history – from farming to war, they’ve always worked with us.”
Moving from an interest in horses to eventing was a natural evolution for Tom, who is competitive by his own admission. He played rugby when he was young and competed in gymnastics from five to 13. It is perfectly clear talking to him that he is a driven man.
After starting his eventing career participating in local gymkhanas with his father leading him around the courses, Tom sometimes appears surprised that he is now representing Great Britain in four-star events.
But last year’s Badminton did not go to plan – either for him or Cooly. During the dressage it became evident that there was a problem, and after discovering an abscess in Cooly’s foot they had to withdraw from the competition and save him for another day.
Tom is not disheartened, even though Badminton has ‘beefed-up’ the courses this year in order to push both the riders and their horses to the brink.
“By all accounts, they are upping their game there this year. The cross-country course has certainly been developed technically from what can be seen in the preparation videos.
“But no matter what happens, it’s truly an honour to be there and representing the country. Nothing beats that feeling.
“It’s a lifelong dream to participate and it’s thanks to everyone involved in Team Crisp Eventing, along with The Swift Syndicate, Swift Bedding, Ssanyong Motors UK, Baileys Horse Feed and Voltaire Horse Saddles.”
The Badminton Horse Trials are not all that await Team Crisp in 2016.
Tom has every intention to return to Burghley with Cooly to achieve yet another high rank on the four-star eventing circuit.
“We’ll give Cooly a break first, of course. He’ll deserve a reward,” says Tom.
And how do you reward a horse that has just competed in one of the most prestigious horse trials in the world?
“Apples, carrots and some time in the fields. But eventing horses are unlike any other. They’re eager to work. If you leave them turned out for too long they become restless.
“So it’s a quick break then straight back to it.”
The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials run from Wednesday May 4 to Sunday May 8.
16.3hh, bay, gelding
Sire: Olympic Lux
Dam: Tell Me Sunshine
Owner: The Swift Syndicate, c/o Team Crisp, Mayﬁ eld, East Sussex
In 2013 Coolys completed his ﬁ rst four-star at Pau with Tom Crisp