With an enviable eventing pedigree and talent in abundance, it is no surprise that Lissa sat 12th on the original waitlist, with her feisty pocket-rocket, Malin Head Clover. After several withdrawals, the partnership have been accepted into the main entry list and it was revealed today that they will be 33rd in the running order.
At a mere 15.2hh, the affectionately-know “Ali G”, owned by the ‘The Ali G Syndicate’, will be one of the smaller mounts motoring around this year’s track in front of the millions who flock to Gloucestershire to watch Eventing’s elite show down.
Speaking about her ranking amongst the entries, Lissa said,
“They say in the past nine years, they’ve taken no less than 15 off of the waitlist, so I was pretty excited when I saw that we were within that number, however, I was surprised Ali had that many points due to his lacklustre season in 2016, where he was coping with a minor injury at the beginning of the year and then fell ill, along with my whole yard, towards the end. But thankfully he did extremely well at the one competition he did complete which not only gave us that elusive Badminton qualification but a fair few points also.”
Thankfully, the 15-year-old gelding, sired by Amiro is now back to full fitness and preparing for the season ahead, where the pair are hoping to crack the 4* stage. Speaking of her rigorous schedule, Lissa added,
“All my horses are in full swing, meaning we are now in a strict fitness schedule. I work back four days from the cross-country day at their next event and gallop them, then four days before that and so on. Within this pattern, the horses are slowly building toward their ultimate fitness goal.”
“I track how quickly they recover after each gallop, which gives me information for the next one in terms of how far I can push them and how well they’re responding to the work out. I do it very much by feel, and only run off a guideline that I then interpret to suit each horse at each stage. I’m always careful not to overdo it and strain them but obviously, there is a final aim to achieve. Lastly, before your competition, you would taper off slightly allowing your horses to reach their event full of running and ready to take on the World.”
Malin Head Clover also has the privilege of using the innovative water treadmill to help boost his fitness in preparation for the event. Lissa thinks so highly of this little horse, whom she describes as “human-like” in personality and feels that an extra workout in the water is just what Ali needs to kick on and be ready for his hot date in May.
The 28-year-old, Wiltshire-based rider is a real hot topic of the sport at present and has a blossoming future in front of her. Since making the decision to compete full-time, back in 2012, Lissa has been forging a stellar reputation for herself and slowly building a string of classy horses, capable of reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
Her prospective Badminton ride has only been in her yard since the summer of 2014, but has quickly climbed the rankings to be in contention for the pair’s first 4*.
“It was always the hope that we would take each other to 4*. I remember seeing him for sale and I had always dreamed of riding a horse at a higher level and he was the only one that was vaguely affordable. Compared to the prices 3* horses sell for, Ali was pretty cheap and I was completely one-track minded before I’d even saw him. He basically had to be the one, as he was the only chance.”
“I totally ignored the fact that he’d had three horse falls in the previous years. I remember looking at his results and it didn’t even register in my brain. Only after I bought him, did I think ‘oh gosh’. Prior to the sale, I’d not heard of Ali and after, all people were saying was ‘why have you bought that horse? It’s an accident waiting to happen.’ He had this real reputation that we were totally oblivious about, then true enough, my first competition on him ended with me in hospital for a week with seven broken bones!”
For such a small, nippy horse, Ali has proven a challenging ride. After initially being produced from pre-novice to 3* level by Rose Boyce, the gelding was then predominantly competed by Tom How, with a chance ride on the gelding for Ben Hobday at Aske, way back in 2010.
“Ali was previously ridden by a tall, strong and effective man, but I am no match in comparison, however, I’ve learnt you just can’t have control on him for him to be most happy across the country. I will never be strong enough, no matter what I do to improve my fitness – riding this horse around a novice is exhausting, let alone a 4*. He is unfavourably balanced naturally and likes to bare down with each stride, but is such a trooper – if he knows he’s meant to jump something, he will do his best to get to the other side, however, that’s an issue sometimes because he would rather go through something than stop.”
“Personally, I wouldn’t be watching my round and thinking ‘that’s how I want to ride in the future’, because you just can’t ride this horse conventionally, although I dare say – we have started to achieve a happy medium, well at least for the first half of the cross country! For example, if you’re coming to a chase fence in the middle of the course, you have to have the feeling of literally pulling him up and breaking the rhythm. Without this, he is likely to jump fast and over himself which could cause a catalyst of effects over the next few fences. Everything is sort of man-handled with him, which isn’t the best of fun but that’s what is safe and you must adapt to the horse you’re riding. He is such an honest being though. If he sees flags, you just have to balance him whilst he takes the obstacle on – no animal is braver.”
Malin Head Clover has flourished under Lissa’s meticulous guidance. He has always slightly struggled with his limited Irish paces in the dressage arena but shows immense boldness across the country to come home without jumping penalties more often than not, having only picked up 20 jumping penalties in Lissa’s 18 competitive runs on him. It is in the third phase, however, that there is an evident improvement.
Speaking about his show jumping ability, Lissa commented,
“My trainer, Major Richard Waygood and I have tried to create a rounder hind end within his canter stride – we call this “weight lifting”, as it teaches him to sit behind and free up his front end without relying on his rider. This has started to work well and is especially noticeable on the final day (once he’s had a cross country run to calm him!) as he got his first faultless round at this level at Blenheim CCI3*, followed by another at Strzegom CCI3*, where he was one of only three clears in the whole class. Now I feel we are at the stage where he is becoming a good show jumper, but it’s taken a long time to get there, trying many, many ways of riding him and finally, I think after breaking a few of eggs, we’ve made our omelette, as Richard would say.”
Despite the odd blip in the final phase, the dark bay gelding remains a horse many dream of having in their stables and is the ultimate professional, so the immense atmosphere at Badminton should not faze him. Lissa said,
“We call him “Mr Serious” when out competing, he’s so funny and possesses an incredible game face. He completely understands what is going on and is such a cuddly horse at home, sadly only because he is desperate for treats and loves attention, even though he portrays this rough-ish exterior. He lives for competing, I don’t think I will ever be able to retire this horse!”
Never mind retirement, once Ali has a taste of the 4* life, Lissa may never be able to bring him back down to horsey Earth again.
Written by Molly Shepherd-Boden