Event rider Jesse Campbell has had his first taste of four-star success, and he’s in it for the long haul, as he tells Julie Harding
‘ MAKING it in eventing has been seriously difficult and the hardest part is when things go wrong because you have no support network. It’s just you,” says Jesse Campbell as he sits in the tackroom at Maizey Manor Farm in Wiltshire, almost 12,000 miles from home in the Waikato.
Jesse, at 6ft 6in tall one of the loftiest event riders on the planet, has just returned from Luhmühlen in Germany, where he finished 16th at his first four-star in hot company aboard his leading light, Kaapachino. Two phases went almost perfectly, and after scoring 36.8pen (75.5%) in the dressage, Jesse was overcome with emotion.
“I saw three 9s go up for the last halt and thought that it may be a sympathy mark, but Erik [Duvander] told me to stay there and watch my score. When it flashed up I burst into tears. It’s been such a hard road and Kaapy isn’t very talented on the flat.”
A clear cross-country round bang on the optimum time was followed by a disappointing four rolled rails in the jumping for a final 16th place; a clear round would have seen him fifth.
However, just competing at four-star level is little short of a miracle for man and horse, as both have suffered a series of setbacks on their journey to the top. Kaapachino required a year off for a tendon injury in 2013. Then, as he was being honed for this year’s Badminton, he developed a bacterial infection which meant missing the UK’S premier spring four-star.
“With hindsight it was a good thing. Going to Luhmühlen gave us a little more time to prepare,” says Jesse, as he checks
his continually buzzing phone for the latest in a long line of text messages.
But Jesse’s own dark problems make Kaapachino’s look pale by comparison. He lost his confidence while based at Andrew Nicholson’s yard.
“I had always wanted to be the best, but I didn’t think that I could do it any more,” explains Jesse. “It took until the middle of last year to get my confidence back. I had good people around me, including Erik, who stepped back in to train me, [dressage trainer] Lisa White, who helped me out of the rut, plus, of course, my girlfriend Goose [Leigh].”
There are also his parents – father Craig is a GP and mother Ezra is a former art teacher and potter – who have assisted financially, physically and psychologically. Eventing, he admits, has not only taken over his own life, but also his mother’s. She transported her statuesque son to every show hunter, pony club and eventing competition he ever contested from the age of 11 onwards.
“I’ve always had a passion for horses. I’ve no idea where it came from, as no one else is horsey in my family. When I was a kid and we visited mum’s friend I got out of my stroller and they found me in the paddock under one of the horses.”
Craig phones while we are talking. “Dad, I’m just in a meeting. Can I call you back?” says Jesse, who races through our discussion, mindful of the fact that at noon he must leave for Dublin with Goose (real name Lucy) for a Taylor Swift concert.