Fifty years ago Richard Walker set a Badminton record that is unlikely ever to be broken. At the age of 18, he became the youngest winner in the event’s 70-year history, riding his Pony Club championship horse, the 15.1hh, 14-year-old Anglo-Arab Pasha, who was for sale for just £250.
The next youngest Badminton winners are Lucinda Prior-Palmer (now Green), who was 19 when she scored the first of her six victories in 1973, also on her Pony Club horse, and Jane Bullen (now Holderness-Roddam), who was 20 when she won on the family pony Our Nobby in 1968.
Nowadays, it is a near-impossibility to qualify as a teenager, let alone be competitive against former winners and Olympic medallists. In 1969, the tipped riders were Richard Meade and Sgt Ben Jones, fresh from their Olympic gold medal in Mexico, as well as such legends as Bertie Hill and Sheila Willcox, but they all suffered cross-country misfortune while the virtually unknown Richard Walker and Pasha flew around to take the lead.
Innocence was bliss Richard, who is a guest of honour at Badminton this year, now admits. “Badminton seemed to me then to be just the next step rather than a big deal. My attitude was just to give it a go. I was probably like a 17-year-old Boris Becker at Wimbledon. It’s not until you’ve got a bit more experience that you know enough to be concerned.
“And although Pasha was tiny, he had the heart of a lion. He was diminuitive in size, but not in his brain. He was a supreme jumper and a class horse.”
Would he like to be competing now? “I envy today’s riders in that the cross-country courses are so much more attractive and the fences more inviting,” Richard says. “Eric Winter’s course last year was a lovely challenge. But, for Pasha, it was the roads-and-tracks and steeplechase phases that levelled him – I’m not sure I could hold him under today’s format. But if I had a good jumper, I would certainly be up for the challenge.”
Richard and Pasha went on to win team gold and individual silver medals at the 1969 Europeans. He also won Burghley in 1980 and 1982, and in 1991 he returned to the British team, winning European team gold and individual silver on Jacana.