Just before Piggy March entered the dressage arena on Thursday at the MARS Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, she tickled Brookfield Cavalier Cruise with her “tickle stick” on his hind end. Her goal was to remind him to keep his hind legs moving forward.
The 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse stallion is over 17 hands. “He’s got a great big, empty frame still,” Great Britain’s March said after she rose to the top of the leaderboard on the first day of CCI5* dressage.
By empty frame, she said “he’s a horse that over time feeding and muscling is going to fill his frame. Rather than just having him fat, [we want him to get] really strong. That’s all going to come in the next year or so where he’s at with his work.”
After the second day of dressage, March and “Fletch” sit behind countryman Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent, who scored 23.1 in dressage on Friday. March and Fletch head into Saturday’s cross country with a score of 24.2.
In addition to working on building Fletch’s muscling, March said she works on improving his suppleness. “He takes quite a few goes to limber up, shorten up, lighten up. He wouldn’t be one that you hadn’t ridden for a week, and then got on, picked up the reins, and trotted off, and thought, ‘Oh, that’s really nice.’ He’s like a bit of a boat in some ways to try and get to the right place.”
All of that, plus his naturally laid-back personality, means that it’s important that he’s always in front of the rider’s leg, March said. “Transitions or mini-transitions within a pace is really important for him. I never just trot. We’re never just cantering … . But before a test or something like that, it has to be transitions within a pace so he stays awake and engaged.”
As for jumping, French has been careful not to overjump him. ‘He’s a nice jumper. He’s a straightforward guy.’”
March said she rode Fletch briefly when he was 7 years old. Then he had some time off because of a bone issue that required a lot of rehab. British Olympian Tom McEwen rode him at the CCI3* level in 2022. Other riders included Sophie Callard and Harry Meade. March started riding him again this spring. “But my time with him as a 7-year-old horse, he was a very mature horse in his mind then. You know, he’s not changed since the time I had with him.
“He’s an absolutely charming character,” she continued. “You could not wish for a nicer, more genuine type of horse.
Coming to Maryland
Because of his time off, Fletch is low on competition mileage. This is his first five-star. The pair placed second in the Bramham CCI4*-L in June.
March said Bramham’s cross-country track is big and tough, so she didn’t think Fletch needed another four-star track. But running him at the Defender Burghley Horse Trials in Great Britain in September might have been too difficult this year because the terrain can be challenging for horses. Similarly, France’s Les Etoiles de Pau CCI5* in October is flat but very twisty.
“He’s just still got a big frame to fill. And we wanted to just try to find the nicest, the best ground possible for him at this stage,” March said. And that’s why, after conversations with Fletch’s owners, they decided to come to the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill CCI5*.
Piggy: Highs and Lows
March is based in Maidwell, Northhamptonshire, in the United Kingdom. In the last several years, she’s seen much success. In 2018, she was a member of the gold-medal British team at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. She then won the Badminton Horse Trials in 2019 and the Burghley Horse Trials in 2022 riding Vanir Kamira.
But in addition to the highs of the sport, she’s had to pick herself up from the lows. She was selected to compete in the 2012 London Olympics with two horses. But then their injuries sidelined them. The opportunity to compete for her country in her country vanished.
According to March’s website, after that, “The fire that had always burned so bright inside me went out. I just felt empty inside, and it took a long time for me to piece my world back together.”
The next few years included motherhood and working her way back to the top. “I grew up loving riding horses, and I’ve always been very passionate about eventing,” she said. “Yes, there are some really hard days and you get heartbroken quite a lot in our sport, but it is also, it’s a way of life for me.
“If someone told me I couldn’t do it, for whatever reason, it would be a damn sight worse than missing your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of your hometown Olympics, for sure.
“It still hurts looking back at it now,” she continued. “It still was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it was gone and it will never be a pleasant thing to look back on at all. But I’ve also had some great days since. The Olympics are a dream, but whether it happens for me or it doesn’t … I’m still fit and healthy and doing what I want to do. There’s lots to get out there and keep working toward.”
A Good Experience
And one of those is the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill CCI5* with Fletch. “He comes here very confident and hopefully enjoying his job and happy. So I’m hoping that confidence will play for the weekend and he’ll go out there and enjoy.”
She hopes “to do him justice and give him a good time for his first five star. It will be an important week for him, and I just want to make sure he finishes and he’s had a good experience and is happy from his time.”
The MARS Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill CCI5* continues with cross-country tomorrow, October 21, at 1:35 p.m.