This year’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course should be easier than last year, but it is still a strong track, riders agreed today.

Last year, the first course produced here by Italian designer Giuseppe della Chiesa was highly influential, partly because it was coupled with very tiring ground conditions. Only 29% of starters jumped clear and 45% completed.

Most riders and commentators were pleased to see the cross-country having a real influence at this prestigious competition, but agreed more completions would be ideal.

“This year’s course is a lot less intense around the Vicarage Vee area, which was necessary — that was full-on for the horses last year,” said Nicola Wilson.

But Beanie Sturgis warned that riders should not underestimate the challenge.

“There are a lot of subtle, cumulative questions and you’ve got to be switched on riding-wise,” she said. “It would be brave to say it’s softer than last year — it’s Badminton, it’s a four-star — and you don’t respect it at your peril.”

At present, it looks like the ground will be considerably better than last year this Saturday, which will make the challenge less tiring for the horses. Overnight leader Andrew Nicholson said the course is also less strenuous for the horses when ridden in this direction.

“The direction we went in last year [clockwise] is a lot harder when the weather turns — the pulls up to Huntmans Close and The Quarry are tiring,” said Andrew. “This way round you can have a tired horse at eight minutes and not get into too much difficulty.”

Andrew added: “I don’t think there will be any surprises for the horses and I like that there are a few places you’ve got to sit on your backside and work. For example, the white gates [World Horse Welfare Garden Gates, fence 23ab] are on a tight turn back after some galloping fences and the same for the silver birch rails [Sense Silver Birch, fence 25ab and 26] a few fences after that.

“As riders we like everything to be coming up smoothly, but designers have realised they’ve got to have a few little switchbacks to slow us down and make us work.”

See pictures of all the fences

Read Thursday’s dressage report