Sweeping the country from one equestrian event to the other, Piggy French has somehow managed to slot in a quick interview with Everything Horse (EH) this week too. The fresh-faced eventing superstar stopped to talk more on her Badminton win, Vanir Kamira, competing and also took time out to answer a few questions on training too …
So first Piggy, the obvious question, how are you feeling following your 2019 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials win?
It’s been fantastic. The amount of cards, messages, gifts and everything else I’ve received has been really overwhelming. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to win one of the big events and to do it at Badminton in front of such a wonderful crowd and surrounded by some good friends, was a very special moment. We have been busy since so haven’t really had a chance to sit down and enjoy the moment properly yet but we will do when things are a little quieter.
Did you ever think Vanir Kamira would be the horse you’d ride to victory at Badminton?
She is a true 5* horse who thrives on the extreme questions they ask. She’s not easy but she’s finished 2nd and 5th at Burghley in 2017 and 2018 so you always go to a 5* with her hoping to be competitive. If everything falls your way you then have the chance that it might be your day, which it obviously was at Badminton. I’ve had horses who are easier and nicer to ride but she is such a trier that it more than makes up for it. She would do anything for you and keeps fighting right to the end which is so important at that level.
She [Vanir Kamira] would do anything for you and keeps fighting right to the end which is so important at that level”
You previously referred to Vanir Kamira, or ‘Tilly’ as being a difficult mare, is there anything you’ve done differently since taking back the reins in 2017?
I had her as a young horse a long time ago so a lot has changed since then but the fundamentals remain the same: you have to do everything you can to get every horse under your care feeling and performing at their best. She is harder work than some to achieve that, but we have a regime that works well for her so we stick with it and just get her to the big events in the best possible form we can.
Which horse(s) do you have hopes for riding at Burghley?
I would plan to take Vanir Kamira back to Burghley again. She has gone well there the last two years so it would be nice to have another go and see whether we can win it!
Have you had any thoughts on the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing?
It’s a massive prize in our sport so I suppose as soon as you win one of the legs it has to cross your mind. That said, it doesn’t change anything that we would do with the horses because you’re already trying to do the best job possible anyway. Of course, it would be a great prize to win but I have an awful long way to go!
Since Badminton you’ve competed at Aston-le-Walls and Chatsworth and no doubt by now and a handful more, how do you keep going? Do you keep to a healthy lifestyle or is it hard to when traveling and competing so much?
I try to eat and sleep well. I like to be in bed early so that helps and when we’re at home and away I am conscious of trying to eat healthily. However, when you’re at event after event, it can be hard as choice can be limited.
Your son is adorable! Has he found his place in the saddle yet?
He has a pony called Pinky and does enjoy going for rides and I love taking him when I get the chance. He likes jumping and splashing around in the water – the normal things that boys like to do when riding!
You’re consistently on top form! Being apart of the Gold medal winning team at the World Equestrian Games in 2018, and now Badminton with other success in between, what do you consider your reason for success?
Work hard and work with the horses. They don’t need to be amazingly talented but if you can train them well and get them to believe in you then that special partnership can take you a long way.
When you get time away from eventing, what other areas of the equestrian industry do you enjoy?
I enjoy watching the National Hunt racing in the winter and the show jumping on TV. My partner, Tom, has just started breeding some show jumpers so he’s always watching jumping to learn about the stallions and bloodlines. I’ve no idea on the breeding but enjoy watching the horses jump; they’re amazing athletes and it would be great fun to maybe ride a few horses with that ability one day.
Who is your equestrian hero and why?
Mary King was always my hero growing up. She was the best at what she did and enjoyed enormous success at the top level. I used to write letters to her twice a year (my mum wouldn’t let me write any more) and she always wrote back so I really was her Number 1 fan! I finished 2nd at Badminton in 2011 when Mary was 3rd and she started the final press conference with that story which was all very embarrassing!
A few training tips for our readers
What would you say to riders who want to try cross country but haven’t the nerve to do so?
Start small and keep building. Cross country can be intimidating as it’s you and your horse on your own in an open space and fixed fences. Start at a level you’re both comfortable with and gradually step up when you both feel ready. Riding is all about confidence as a partnership so just keep building that and you’ll be going in the right direction.
What tips do you have for riding a difficult horse?
Horses can be difficult but they have to want to work with you. Vanir Kamira isn’t an easy horse: she is hard to get right on the flat, runs with her head down on the cross country and has her own style in the jumping but she really wants to work for you and tries her damnedest to do the right thing which is so important. A horse that just doesn’t want to work for you is a difficult starting point. Eventing, in particular, is so much about your partnership with them and if they don’t want to do it then you haven’t got a partnership, you’re having to make them do it and that doesn’t really work.
For more information on Piggy French (now March), horses and to keep up to date with news visit her website.