‘I took one look and passed him by’

  • Badminton Horse Trials is a short hop from home for experienced five-star rider David Doel. The Chippenham-based 29-year-old will make his debut at the Gloucestershire CCI5 *, presented by Mars Equestrian, with the 11-year-old Galileo Niewmoed.

    “It’s almost our closest event,” says David, who is a frequent name on startlists at mainland Europe events. “I’ve been very lucky, I’ve done the other five-stars in Europe, so it’s been a bit of a long time coming really.”

    Badminton will be David’s 12th five-star start and Galileo’s third crack at this level, with their best top-level result 15th at Pau in 2021.

    “He’s done a lot of events abroad and not that many in England, just because of how things have panned out,” adds David.

    The pair finished fifth on their pre-Badminton run at Kronenberg CCI4 * -S in the Netherlands at the end of March and count six other top 10 international finishes on their record as a combination.

    But their solid partnership is not a story of love at first sight – rather their strong bond is the result of perseverance rewarded. And it was by chance that they met at all.

    David went to try a different horse with Joy Dawes, when she mentioned that she also had Galileo for sale.

    “He had slightly straight hind-legs, boxy joints just where he was maturing a bit, and slightly flat front feet, so he was in heart-bar shoes at the time. I took one look at him and thought ‘no, not for me’ and just passed him by really, ”he says, with a laugh.

    Joy asked David if he would ride Galileo a few times and sell him on for her. The pair finished second in their first two novices as a combination, including a regional final, and went on to take third place at the novice championships at Gatcombe that year.

    “He just kept doing the job. To begin with he was a bit backwards and I had to kick him quite a lot, but he’s always had plenty of scope, ”says David. “The more I’ve asked of him, the better he’s got.”

    David’s long-term owner Gillian Jonas bought the horse for David to ride after Gatcombe, and their partnership has gone from strength to strength.

    “[The following season] he was second at Haras in his first four-star and that was when I suddenly went ‘he is a special horse’. He was eight and jumped straight round that pretty decent four-star track, ”says David, who credits trainer Adam Kemp for his help in producing the horse and getting him going forwards.

    “It’s taken a little while and I had to kick for quite a long time. Suddenly, in the last two years, he has learned to go forwards. He’s starting to mature into himself and he’s changed quite a lot as a horse. “

    Time, which has proved crucial in his production as a sport horse, is also the key to earning Galileo’s affections in the stable.

    “If you walk by him, you would say he is really grumpy. So if you’re in a rush, you won’t like him, “says David. “If you stop and spend a bit of time chatting to him, he is actually really affectionate. He comes across as a bit of a grumpy one, but as soon as you stop and start to chat to him, the ears come forward, the nose comes out and he loves having his nose blown on. “

    David will wear the number 113 bib with Galileo, meaning their dressage will be towards the end of Friday afternoon. He is also on the waitlist with Chirstine Lees’ 12-year-old mare Ferro Point, who will start her Badminton campaign on Thursday morning, if she gets in.

    “She’s completely different to Galileo,” he says.

    Galileo is probably 17.2hh, he’s quite big and impressive and she’s this little 16.1hh thoroughbred mare that is a real enthusiast. She’s not the easiest on the flat, but hopefully if she gets in, will give me a fantastic first spin around Badminton. She is bold, she gallops and she loves her cross-country.

    “Christine bought her as a three- or four-year-old in Ireland and I’ve produced her all the way through.”

    The mare finished “mid-table” at Pau in 2020 and will head to Luhmühlen, if she does not get the Badminton start list this year.

    “Christine who owns her lives at Luckington, so it would be lovely [if she gets in]. She sees Badminton going on every year and it’s one of her real dreams to get a horse there, ”he adds.

    Eventing was a “natural progression” for David, who grew up on a dairy farm and whose mother, Maggie, a BHSI who evented to advanced and competed to grand prix dressage. He credits his wife and his parents for all the support they have given him in his career.

    “My dad and I actually own an ice-cream company together, so I do that as a bit of a sideline in the little spare time I have,” adds David.

    “Dad makes it and I sort out the selling side. A lot of work gets done at 6am and 10pm catching up with things. Dad’s given a lot back to me, so I like supporting him with that. I like chatting to people and I quite like selling things – I don’t like selling horses, but I like selling ice-cream, it’s much easier! “

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