Miss Consistent

Harriet Nuttall proved she's no Hickstead bridesmaid, when adding yet another major title to her CV last summer. Victoria Goff caught up with the reigning Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner 

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Harriet Nuttall is slowly but surely shrugging off the notion that she’s some kind of Hickstead bridesmaid. Having finished runner-up multiple times in the Al Shira’aa Derby and the British Speed Derby, it was beginning to look like Harriet was stuck with a bad case of seconditis here at the All England Jumping Course. Then she broke the curse by winning the 2016 Speed Derby, and last year she added another major Hickstead title to her CV with victory in the BHS Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

This year, she’ll cast off the Bridesmaid moniker for good when she officially becomes a bride – the 28-year-old rider from Somerset is due to marry amateur jockey Will Biddick in the autumn. “We’re busy wedding planning at the moment, though I’ve just been in Spain for the Sunshine Tour for six weeks so Will has been doing the organising with my parents,” says Harriet, who is marrying in the short break after her showjumping season ends in early October but before the point-to-point season kicks off for Will. “It was never going to be a summer wedding!” she jokes. “Fortunately my horses will be having a break at the end of the season, so we can have a honeymoon straight after the wedding.” Even her hen party has to fit in around Hickstead. “It will be the week after the Derby Meeting, when the horses will be resting. Everything has to fit around my showjumping.”

Harriet seems more focused and determined than ever, and a big part of that is due to Galway Bay Jed, her Queen’s Cup winner. The now 10-year-old gelding is taking her to new career highs. “I’d planned to do the Queens with Jed a few months beforehand, as I thought it would be a good class for him to gain experience. I knew he was capable of going clear, and he’d jumped well at the Royal International as an eight-year-old but he’d never done a big class here at Hickstead before.”

She had wanted to use the class to introduce Jed to Hickstead’s formidable 15ft Open Water, but in the end it wasn’t included in the course, following some heavy rain during the show. With her main jumping concern gone, Harriet and Jed went clear, joining seven others in the jump-off. Suddenly it was less about gaining experience and more about winning. “I knew Jed could be fast, as I’d won a ranking class on him on the Sunshine Tour and I knew we could beat the time if I let him go, he’s a big galloping horse and he suits a large open arena like Hickstead,” says Harriet.

Drawn last, she had to beat current leader Holly Smith and Quality Old Joker’s time of 34.10sec. “Holly was quick in places but her horse is more of A Touch Imperious type,” she says, referring to her Al Shira’aa Derby ride. “Quality Old Joker is slower in the air over the fences, whereas Jed is a lot quicker off the floor. So I thought if I kept doing the same distances as Holly but moved on a bit more round the corners, we could win.”

Harriet has twice been caught out by the final oxer in the Al Shira’aa Derby, but she wasn’t prepared to play it safe in the Queen’s Cup. “I had such a good shot to the last, I saw it from about eight strides out and I thought I’m just going to risk it, I’m last to go and I can’t come second again, it’s all or nothing. Jed loves a big stride and he’s so bold to a fence like that, especially a big oxer going downhill.” The crowd gasped as she approached the final fence, but they needn’t have worried – Jed flew the last, and landed nearly 1.5sec up on the time. “I was a bit shocked when I saw the time since it was the first time I’d gone for it in a class like that. My plan worked, for once!”

Following their success at Hickstead, Harriet was invited to be part of the British team at the Dublin Horse Show a week later. It was another step up for both Jed and for Harriet, who had never been on a five-star team before. Their Irish trip got off to a good start when they made it into the jump-off in the Sport Ireland Classic, then they put in a solid performance in the FEI Jumping Nations Cup. “In the first round we had two down and a time fault, but it was a big, technical course with two Liverpools and a long water. Then in round two we only had one down, and we finished the Grand Prix with one down too. It was a big step up for both of us, but he excelled. It shows how much of a horse he is for the future.”

She now has her sights set on further Nations Cup teams, and would love to be considered for the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon. “I’m pushing myself for WEG, but I have to show form, and I’ve got to keep him consistent and injury-free. I think Jed has got it all, but we have to keep proving ourselves and doing well.”

As she enters into a new phase of her showjumping career, she’s now receiving coaching from none other than Olympic gold medallist Nick Skelton. “He’s been a big help, especially when it comes to planning which shows I go to,” she says. “He kicks me into touch and sharpens me up a bit, and I need that. It’s really exciting.” Nick is helping her with both Galway Bay Jed and A Touch Imperious, and according to Harriet, he’s a fan of both horses. Certainly when it comes to jumping in the Hickstead Derby, you can’t get much better a trainer than Skelton, who famously won four times.

Harriet and A Touch Imperious have got a remarkable record in the Al Shira’aa Derby, having come third in 2014, second in 2015, 2016 and 2017, then third equal this summer when a foot in the water cost them a clear. A win in this famous class still remains one of Harriet’s biggest goals – and it’s surely a matter of time before luck ends up on their side.

Now 14, A Touch Imperious (Henry) will be concentrating more on Derbies, with Galway Bay Jed taking over as her main string. “Henry is an amazing horse, he’s a very good Derby horse and a good Grand Prix horse, but Jed has got speed with it. They have to have so much blood to do the bigger classes and Henry lacks that. He’s scopey enough for the height, but the technicality of it can sometimes catch him out, whereas the more technical it is, the better Jed jumps.”

Both horses came over from Ireland, and Harriet has produced them both from youngsters up to the top level. “Jed came from Goresbridge sales in Ireland, though he was bred in England and sold as a foal. He was a big, hairy bear, but a nice model, and Dad and I thought if he didn’t make a showjumper he could event, hunt or do workers, he was just a nice type of a horse. But it turns out he’s more than just ‘nice’, he’s got it all.” When the Nuttalls bought him, he’d been broken in and done a few months of work, but he was very green and didn’t show much style over a small fence. “Because he was so big, we didn’t do much with him until he was a late six year old. It was nice we could start him how we wanted, and it was the same with A Touch Imperious, we have been able to produce them slowly in our own way.”

They may have similar backgrounds, but Jed and Henry are very different. “Jed is the cutest horse. He’s very needy, a real softy, and he chews everything within reach. Jed knows he’s handsome and he plays on it, he gives you the puppy dog eyes. Whereas Henry is an absolute thug, he throws his weight around in the stable and is generally a bit of a brute!” In the arena, Jed is focused on the job at hand, but outside it’s a different matter. “He goes into dream world. He’s pretty laid back about life in general.”

Harriet has now had four horses who have dazzled at Hickstead. There’s Highland Cruiser and Silver Lift, with whom she has dominated in the British Speed Derby in recent years, there’s A Touch Imperious with his three Al Shira’aa Derby second placings and two third placings, and now there’s Galway Bay Jed. Having one horse be repeatedly successful here is impressive, but having four in as many years is something else. “I think it’s the Irish-bred horses, they seem to suit Hickstead because they’re brave and they go well on grass,” she says.

Her own upbringing predisposes her for success in the International Arena – as well as showjumping, she’s evented and she hunts all winter, so she’s no stranger to galloping and jumping at speed. Equestrian sport is in her blood – her grandmother was heavily involved in showjumping as a course builder, while her father Rupert rode for the Schockemöhles as a teenager before becoming an amateur jockey. He’s been instrumental to Harriet’s success, especially in helping her find her top horses. “Dad has got such a good eye for a horse and I’m lucky that he supports me as much as he does,” she says.

They’ve certainly discovered some impressive horses over the years, and Harriet has repeatedly proven that she can produce them to the top level. Now she’s found Galway Bay Jed, her horse of a lifetime, she’s determined to make the most of it, but however far her showjumping career takes her she will always love coming back to Hickstead. “Riding up the chute into the International Arena, it’s like coming home. All my summers revolve around the two Hickstead shows. I grew up watching Hickstead on TV, and I love it here, the atmosphere, the crowd, the arena with its perfect going, everything.”

She may give all the credit for her success here to her equine partners, but perhaps it is actually Harriet herself who is the Hickstead specialist, and having so many horses go well here is simply a by-product of that. Finishing in the top three in the Al Shira’aa Derby every year for five years is an incredible feat, as is finishing first or second in the Bunn Leisure Speed Derby three years running, and now winning the BHS Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Forget the Hickstead Bridesmaid – if anything, Harriet’s new nickname should be Miss Consistent.

 

 

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