Badminton Horse Trials: Stathern rider Emilie Chandler soars to best-ever finish on emotional return

Emilie and Coopers Law clear an obstacle in a cross country course made even tougher by soft going PICTURE: Peter Morris EMN-180805-143731002
Emilie and Coopers Law clear an obstacle in a cross country course made even tougher by soft going PICTURE: Peter Morris EMN-180805-143731002
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Cooper’s Law timed his form to perfection to give Emilie Chandler her highest-ever finish at the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials last weekend.

The Stathern rider and her 14-year-old gelding finished 20th among an elite 78-strong international field at the four-star event.

Emilie and Cooper's Law claimed a perfectly-timed personal best dressage score PICTURE: Peter Morris EMN-180805-143806002

Emilie and Cooper's Law claimed a perfectly-timed personal best dressage score PICTURE: Peter Morris EMN-180805-143806002

It was an emotional and, at times, nerve-racking return for Chandler who was competing at the blue riband event for the first time in 14 years.

She won the Badminton first-timer prize in 2003 after a 23rd-place finish with Bridgestone, but 12 months later, injury to her horse forced her to withdraw during the shoe jumping finale.

Chandler (37) then turned her focus to building up her own eventing yard in the Vale of Belvoir village, effectively starting from scratch with a new crop.

“It was lovely to be back there,” she said. “It’s a very special event and I don’t think there’s any other like it in the world, so I felt very privileged to be there.

“I went in looking to get as good a performance as we were capable of, and I was thrilled with what we achieved.”

Having qualified for last year’s Badminton showpiece, a late injury to Cooper’s Law – stable name Spider – put the long-awaited return on ice.

And perhaps it was these memories which fuelled the nerves at the pre-competition inspection.

She explained: “I was very relieved when we got through the first trot-up because the build-up is always nerve-racking, especially with older horses because a little injury can rule you out.

“You know whether your horse is sound or not, but Badminton make quite a big thing of it; it’s almost like a fashion show.”

Following Wednesday’s pre-amble, they had a long wait until Friday afternoon before opening their competition with the dressage test.

But it had no ill effect as they produced a personal best score of 27.9, in what is Spider’s weakest discipline, to head into Saturday’s cross country lying joint-23rd.

“He surpassed my expectations in the dressage and kept his cool to pull out a personal best performance for both of us,” she added.

“In the cross country I would liked to have been a bit quicker, but the ground was quite soft and he began to tire towards the end, so I had to nurse him home.”

They picked up 16.4 faults on the notoriously difficult cross country test which forced the retirement and elimination of almost a quarter of the field.

Moving up four places, she headed into the final day in 19th, but Saturday’s exertions finally caught up with Spider in the show jumping arena.

Four poles down and 16 faults left them with a highly creditable final score of 60.3, and 20th place.

“I was a bit disappointed with that (show jumping) at the time, but on reflection I think Saturday took a lot of energy out of the horse and forced a couple of mistakes.

“The most pleasing thing was he looked well, sound and happy, which is the main achievement after an event like that. It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster.”

The experience has earned Spider a breather for the next few months, while Chandler weighs up the prospects of another four-star bid at Burghley in September.

The pair finished 21st at the Lincolnshire course three years ago, and have a four-star best of 14th, at Pau, last autumn.

She added: “He is 14 now so I don’t want to run him for the sake of running him.

“But I have got some other horses coming up the levels so hopefully they will be at some nice competitions.”