Members of the press got their first glimpse at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials 2015 cross-country track in beautiful sunshine today. Designed for the second year by Giuseppe Della Chiesa, as is Badminton’s tradition, the course follows the reverse route around the park to the previous year, giving a very different feel to the course.

Riders start by heading out of the main arena to the quarry and Huntsmans Close first. Then it’s on to the lake before galloping out of the deer park and down to the Vicarage ditch area, which has been softened compared to last year. The track then goes up to the new pond, before heading on to the Shogun Hollow, which brings riders back into the deer park. Here competitors follow a similar route to normal (but bypassing the staircase and the unlevel ground at the village) on their way back to the main arena to complete the course.

Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course 2015

The first fence in the main arena is the usual ASX Starter, then riders take a left turn towards the two inviting Countryside Hedges at an angle on a related distance, before a long settling gallop to the HorseQuest Quarry complex, the first real test on the course.

Here they jump in over a traditional Cotswold dry stone wall, turn right up a slope to Mike Weaver’s Haycart, then head back down into the pit and up a steep slope to a wall out.

There is a large, airy, Oxer Chicane before riders enter the Irish Sport Horse Huntsmans Close to confront two enormous brush topped box corners a few strides apart. There is a very time consuming alternative route here.

Next is one of the portable little houses, Kennels House, previously seen at the top end of the park, before a first splash into the south end of the lake over the hanging log at Outlander Lower Lake.

Riders now travel alongside the water’s edge to the main Lake complex, which starts with the Mitsubishi Pickups L200s before a left turn to the willow wave drop. Serious contenders will head right up the bank to a willow ‘skinny’ before looping left back into the water to jump the upturned boat from last year. Alternative routes are offered.

Doubling back along the water first, competitors take a left turn in front of Badminton House to the uncompromising KBIS Garden Table.  This is part of the decorative garden complex that riders will revisit on their way home.

Next is a combination going out of the deer park involving some of Giuseppe’s earthworks from 2014. A large broad log leads down into the sunken road. Then it’s up the steep Swindon Designer Outlet Mound to a massive but narrow log root before heading down and out over another.

There is a bit of a let up over the full size but inviting FEI Classics Stick Pile before the only obstacle to cross the Vicarage ditch this year – the Mirage Pond. A birch and brush drop takes horse and rider into the pond with an angled double of the same on the exit. Longer journeys are available here for those who don’t fancy the direct route.

Rather than taking riders back over the Vicarage ditch, Giuseppe has instead opted for  a nice inviting PHEV Oxer over a dip in the ground, but the imposing Vicarage V is still on site as a reminder that it will return in the future.

Combinations then head up the hill to the Gatehouse New Pond complex (pictured top), which was new last year. This time the direct route is over a birch rail, down into the water, over a triple brush skinny, out of the pond and left to another single birch rail.

The course then comes back down the hill over the inviting Rolex Grand Slam Hedge and on to the Shogun Hollow, which takes riders back into the deer park. The hollow involves a choice of roll tops on both sides of the contoured ditch.

Back now to the Garden, where horse and rider jump in and out over upright World Horse Welfare Garden Gates before having a chance to make up some ground to the Wadworth Barrels. Beyond this is the Sense Silver Birch treble, where riders will need to slow down and high tune their steering over three large birch parallels on a very tight right curve. This is one of the few obstacles on the course where arena jumping skills will pay off.

Mindful that too many big questions at the end of a long course can catch out tiring horses, Giuseppe gives competitors a bit of an ease down at this point with the staircase not forming part of the course this year. Riders jump the John Whitaker Fallen Tree followed by a big brush on a downward slope to two skinny brushes, neatly nestled in a recently planted copse. Accuracy will still be needed to avoid annoying penalties at this Savills Escalator.

The Keepers Brush is a pleasure, but there is one last serious test of steering at the steeply angled Rolex Presentation Boxes before riders come back into the main arena to take on the Mitsubishi Finish.

Don’t miss Piggy French’s exclusive thoughts on this year’s Badminton course in Horse & Hound magazine, 30 April.