Ben Hobday made an emotional return to four-star eventing on Friday as he opened day two of dressage at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
Hobday, from Cheshire, received a rapturous reception from the main arena audience before and after his test as he recorded a personal best dressage score with Mulrys Error.
Hobday has fought back from being diagnosed with Burkitt’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma — an aggressive type of cancer — last summer at the age of 27, which meant a subsequent course of chemotherapy.
“Last year, we didn’t know what was happening — the future didn’t look too bright — and to be here is a dream come true,” he said. “I have still got to work on my fitness, but I am here, and that is what counts.”
Reflecting on his Badminton performance, Hobday added: “I am made up. It is the horse’s personal best at this level. He finds dressage quite difficult with those big legs, but he tried his best and I am quite overwhelmed.
“He can do all the movements, but in order to gain the marks he has got to stay relaxed so he doesn’t chuck anything away, really.
“When the crowd clapped as he came in, I was a little bit worried he might pull a few wheelies, but he kept it under wraps and I think he knows how important it is to us all.
“I am just the front man, though. The support team do all the hard work and put the hours in. He was a good boy. He’s not a dressage horse by any means, but he did his best. I am really pleased with him.”
As the dressage phase moved into its Friday afternoon session, Germany’s Michael Jung still held the lead, but 20-year-old Badminton debutante Emily King applied pressure following a brilliant display aboard Brookleigh.
At 20, King is the youngest competitor at Badminton this year, but nerves were never an issue as she recorded a score of 36.8 penalties, just 2.4 penalties behind Jung.
King’s performance came 25 years after her mother — six-time Olympian Mary — won Badminton in the first season of Mitsubishi’s title sponsorship.
“I was really pleased with how he (Brookleigh) went in there,” said King. “He warmed up beautifully and didn’t change when he went into the arena, which is what you want.”
Image: Ben Hobday rides Mulrys Error at Badminton, by Kit Houghton, courtesy of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials