Eventing: Christine Bates is flying high again on Adelaide Hill
In her native Australia, Christine Bates is known to many as the Comeback Kid, having encountered a series of devastating setbacks and, each time, returned to the very top of her sport with the beautiful, but quirky Adelaide Hill - Spooks to his friends.
Currently based in Baydon, near Marlborough, the pair have just returned from Lignières in France, having beaten the odds to get to the final Event Rider Masters (ERM) leg and finished eighth, a couple of places behind her compatriot - and ERM series winner - Chris Burton.
The horse, who Christine calls her ‘orange unicorn’, seems to have made it his life’s work to test her faith and dedication, but the rewards have been rich.
Adelaide Hill was gifted to Christine as a two-and-a-half-year-old, by the family friend who bred him, in the hope that she and her husband, Matthew, a renowned thoroughbred breaker and re-trainer of problem horses, could succeed where others had given up.
Despite his impeccable pedigree - his sire was Olympian, Vicki Roycroft’s advanced eventer and World Cup showjumper, Stirling Sprite - it took tact, tenacity and a very, very long time to release this unicorn’s talents. In fact, it was three years before Christine was able to take the reins.
For all his idiosyncrasies, Adelaide was a horse Christine believed in from the outset, recognising that fear rather than malice was the cause of his undesirable behaviour and refusal to be handled. He has always been super sensitive and, to this day, lives in his headcollar, for fear that he may never be caught if turned out without it.
While this horse took an unprecedented amount of time and patience - and two trips to hospital for Matt! - something about him inspired them to persevere. And he showed incredible talent when free-jumped, always ultra-careful and never wrong to a fence.
One year after Christine’s first ride on Adelaide, they made their eventing debut and were met with immediate success.
And that success continued. As a nine-year-old, Adelaide won his first 3* (equivalent to today’s 4* long format) at Sydney International and Christine had her sights on London 2012. However, a tendon injury put paid to those plans.
With a few more years’ experience and significant wins to their name, Rio was beckoning and Christine was planning a Europe campaign to secure a spot on the selectors’ radar.
In the lead up to their departure, though, disaster struck once again with a minor, but catastrophically timed, injury sustained at an Olympic selection event on home turf. Their overseas trip was not to be.
Christine was also having to come to terms with a tragedy that shook the entire Australian eventing community, but particularly affected her family.
In March 2016, a well-known junior event rider died in a rotational fall at Scone Horse Trials, for which Matt Bates was Technical Delegate. Then, just seven weeks later, their working pupil who was living with Christine and Matt, as part of their family, lost her life in a similar accident at the Sydney International Horse Trials.
Some very dark days followed and Christine contemplated abandoning the career she had devoted her life to. A major element of Matt’s and her business was the coaching and mentoring of young riders, and a heartbroken Christine found herself questioning whether this was a path she could continue along.
With eventing having (temporarily) lost its shine, Christine turned her attention in 2017 to show jumping and dressage. As well as a huge jump, Adelaide proved to have a rather fancy turn of foot - they placed in both Grand Prix jumping and Prix St Georges.
Of course it wasn’t long before they were lured back to the ‘bush’, and just in time to win the Australian International 3* (equivalent to today’s 4*-S) at the end of that year. Three consecutive wins followed, in February, March and April 2018, and the pair were selected to compete at Aachen, in preparation for the World Equestrian Games.
The travel from Australia to the UK and then across to Germany took its toll on Adelaide, who thrives on a rigid routine, and it is believed that the campaign, which started at Barbury (where they placed fifth) proved too much. Christine was dealt another bitter blow in Aachen, a tendon injury with a grim prognosis.
Adelaide immediately underwent intensive rehabilitation, in the hope that he might one day be sound enough for some low level competitions with Christine and Matt’s son, William.
Pre-flight scans, to see if any changes could be detected, surprisingly revealed a marked improvement and it was decided at the eleventh hour that Adelaide should start his recovery in the UK. Defying his diagnosis, his healing was almost miraculous and Christine found him completely sound when she arrived back in England at the start of summer.
And, at their first 2019 event - Tweseldown Intermediate - they finished on their dressage score of 23.9 to take the win.
Still under the influence of ERM euphoria and feeling that they have finally found their form after a rollercoaster UK stay, Christine is keen to squeeze in one more event before flying back to her family and the string of young horses waiting for her at home. The pair will be Italy-bound later this month for the Montelibretti CCI 4*-L.
The Japanese have a saying, ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight’, and if the ability to bounce back from adversity was one of the selection criteria for the Tokyo Olympics, Christine and Adelaide Hill would undoubtedly be on the shortlist.