Sometimes in life, the greatest days are just around the corner, we don’t see them coming, but when they arrive, they make all the struggles, hard work and effort worth it. Little was I to know that following a tough winter with my homebred ‘Ritson’s Opinion’ aka ‘Babybird’ (now ‘Bird’, I’ll come to that later on…) a call out of the blue, would result in a magical day at Badminton with family, fans, owners and supporters.
When the phone rang a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to find Lindsey Ritson’s brother Keith, on the end of the line, enquiring as to whether my horse, called ‘Ritson’s Opinion’ had anything to do with Lindsey, who very sadly passed away in 2011. As I’m sure you all know, it had everything to do with Lindsey and I was both excited and a touch anxious to confirm that my horse was, indeed, named in memory of her. Later on that week, I was very touched to receive an email from his wife Fanny, saying how thrilled he was, and that it had been a real boost to Keith, who has found the last few years tough since Lindsey died. As ‘Ritson’s Opinion’ was entered into the young horse event at Badminton, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity for us to remember and celebrate Lindsey.
Of course life with horses rarely runs entirely to plan, and over winter, I was finding out that ‘Babybird’s’ opinion differed somewhat from my own. Three unplanned meetings with the ground, in the same week, prompted me to continue his education ‘off-site’. Hoping that a new environment with a fresh jockey would help him transition from argumentative adolescent to more mannerly gentleman. I know exactly what Lindsey would have made of his antics on two legs, sometimes rear and other times fore, and I’m sure the words ‘shoot it’ would have been uttered more than once. So I was delighted when Roberto (Bert) Scalisi agreed to take the ride and provide Babybird with a host of educational outings.
Starting with an immediate name change from ‘Babybird’ to ‘Bird’. Bert said ‘he will never grow up with the ‘baby’ prefix’!
So last Wednesday, a band of friends, family and supporters made our way to Badminton, with Bert on ‘Bird’, and myself on Jenny and David Watt’s super homebred, ‘Napoleon. In the glorious weather, we all raised a glass to Lindsey, just before Bert and Bird were due in the ring. I think we all collectively held our breath as Bert and ‘Bird’ hacked their way through the park to get to the young horse arena, but ‘Bird’ didn’t put a foot wrong. Agonisingly, they finished just one point adrift of the top ten in eleventh place, but given they were drawn first it was a very respectable outing, and a real milestone in ‘Bird’s’ career. Napoleon also put in a very good performance, the benefit that young horses gain from being exposed to Badminton’s intense atmosphere should never be underestimated.
It really was a perfect day in so many ways, it’s not often that one gets to combine the thrill of competing with the joy of remembering someone very special to us all. Of course, we shed a fair few tears, but I sincerely hope that everyone was able to take away the memory of a really wonderful day.
Bert seemed particularly impressed with the size of ‘Bird’s’ fan club, maybe he needs his own Facebook page…
Going forward, I have a couple of unaffiliated events planned with ‘Bird’, but as the the change of jockey and yard, seems to be doing him good, he will also get another run in May with Bert on-board. He is named after a very special friend and deserves the best opportunities to ensure he reaches his full potential. Let’s face it, any horse with a buck like his, must have a sizeable jump, just waiting to be tamed!
A huge thank you to Bert for all his work with Ritson’s Opinion and to Katharine Lowe and Nick Perry, who came with his wife Jane to take photos, they are great.
Even if you weren’t able to be with us on Wednesday, please raise a glass for Lindsey, our very dear and special friend who will never be forgotten.