Making their annual trip to Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials yesterday were the ‘Brookes Sisters’, three remarkable women, who all completed the event here back between the 1970s and 1991.
Horses are undoubtedly in their blood. Five siblings all evented, but it was Sandy, Janet and Rachel who progressed to Four Star (now Five Star), contesting both Badminton and Burghley. Sisters Helen and Mary enjoyed some success but did not continue to the very top level of the sport.
“There was never any rivalry between us,” Rachel, the youngest, (known when competing as Baby Brookes) insisted, her sisters nodding in agreement. “We all helped each other, and groomed for each other, it was a real family affair.”
A traditional hunting, eventing and dairy farming family from North Wales, the daughters were supported by their parents Joan and George, travelling to events as a family.
As the eldest, Sandy (now Archdale), was the pathfinder for the family. She finished third at Burghley at just 21-years-old and also posted a fourth place finish at the Lincolnshire event. “Badminton was not a particularly happy hunting ground for me though,” she said. “I started three times and completed twice.”
Next in line after Helen and Mary came Janet (now Johnson), who rode here twice – debuting at the age of 19. Her top level ride was Script. Janet also completed Burghley as did the final member of the trio Rachel (now Hughes). “I started Badminton twice on Bucklewood, but only completed once,” she said. “Given Sandy and Janet both completed here, I would have been so disappointed if I had failed to.”
Memories of their Badminton completions have never left them. “It was awe inspiring,” said Sandy, “Frank Weldon (the course designer then) was god almighty. It was so exciting.
“The courses back then didn’t have the intense areas that they do now. It was all more flowing, but we did almost always have to turn in to the fences. I also think the fences were easier for horses to read then. I remember coming back through the finish flags and feeling so elated.” Sandy’s Badminton rides were Welton Playboy and Welton Lightfoot.
Janet agreed, adding. “It was the culmination of year round work, of blood, sweat and tears, to get here, and complete.
“Another big difference now from our day, apart from having the Roads & Tracks and Steeplechase phases, is that we had to carry lead weights in our saddle cloths for the cross country, to take our weight to 11stone 11lbs. We weighed in at the start and again after finishing.”
The girls would invariably walk the course together, three if not four times. “We’d walk together but not usually chatting. Whoever was competing remained focussed, but we all made sure that we didn’t over-analyse things,” Rachel explained.
Reminiscing on the sofas in the Badminton Media Centre, the three listed their inspirations. “Lynn Russell – a legend! She taught us so much.” “Dick Stillwell – do you remember him?” “Lucinda (Green), of course,” “Don’t forget Vera Holden for flat work…”. The sisters are still overflowing with enthusiasm, chattering away together, nineteen to the dozen.
The family dynasty continues. At Malpas, a one-day-event, a few years ago there were six members of the family all competing on the same day, a combination of daughters and grandchildren, with grandfather / great grandfather George Brookes leading the support team (Joan having passed away). Horses remain a huge part of the lives of all three sisters, and Badminton is firm date in their calendars for a family get together. They are still the only family to have three siblings who can boast those enviable Badminton completions on their competition records – perhaps future generations of the Brookes dynasty will add to the tally.