He's taken me to higher peaks than I ever expected - there will never be another one like him
Paul Ridgeon first saw Armada as a four-year-old, fresh off the lorry from Spain. He had been brought over by Andrew Nicholson, and Paul remembers: “He was very nervous and uptight. I was on crutches at the time and Andrew suggested that I didn’t go into the stable, but in I went, armed with polos, and I spent 10 minutes talking to him – during which he and I became friends.
“He was obviously slightly fazed after a really long journey, but it was love at first sight. I bought him.”
Armada had been backed in Spain, and it was not long after that Paul first saw his phenomenal jump. “He’s still got that jump. Armada has given me a lot of worry over the years. He can be erratic and is not easy to ride, and we’ve had plenty of ups and downs.”
First ridden by Andrew, Paul became conscious that with the size of Andrew’s top flight string, he would not be able to devote the amount of time and bottomless patience that a horse of Armada’s disposition required. “I discussed it with Andrew and he suggested that I offer the ride to Oliver.
“I’d been watching Oliver’s career develop for a number of years, and first really got to know him in Punchestown back in 2007. Andrew was riding Silbury Hill for me and we had put Armada on the lorry because there was room. Silbury Hill ended up winning with Oliver on Flint Curtis second and Armada third. We had quite a party that night, and all came home on the same late night ferry!”
First offered to Oliver on a three month trial basis, Paul admits that after their first run together Oliver didn’t want to part from Armada. “He was always a very good young rider, and over the years he has softened. The horse and rider love each other.”
“Winning the British Open Championships was good, but last year’s Badminton was undoubtedly the highlight for me with Armada – the biggest ever high. There will never be another Badminton like the one in 2014.”
Armada’s record is phenomenal. He has completed (prior to Badminton this year) 13 CCI4*s, finishing in the top 10 seven times – and taking the runner up spot at Badminton last year. He has almost 2,300 points on his card.
“I was sitting watching his dressage test yesterday, as usual, and realised about half way through that it was really good. He was doing what we all know he can do at home, in public. No one was more surprised than I was, it was wonderful. There were definitely some early celebrations last night.
“Today was so exciting, he was obviously loving every minute of it. Whatever happens tomorrow, he owes me nothing. He’s 16 years old, with lumps and bumps that need managing – maybe he’ll finish this year, maybe next, maybe he’ll keep going longer… it will be up to him.
“He has a huge place in my heart. He’s taken me to higher peaks than I ever expected – there will never be another one like him.”