Alice Collins’ Badminton blog: There’s no such thing as ‘eventing dressage’

  • H&H's dressage editor pays a visit to Badminton and finds dressage controversy, Carl Hester's unique pronunciation and a gem of a horse

    “What are you doing here?” three separate people I saw exclaimed today at Badminton. Why for a dressage fix of course, I explained.

    That wasn’t strictly true; I was visiting in my capacity as products editor, rather than dressage. The vast array of kit, bits, boots, huts (and mutts) plus all manner of inventive stuff never ceases to amaze me, even though I’ve been to this show – sorry event (there’s the dressage ed creeping in) every year for nearly a decade.

    Floating champagne cooler holder for your hot tub anyone?

    I do spare a thought for all the people living in the houses in the vicinity of the Badminton site. The show is an absolute monster and I wonder whether the local residents are horsey and love this time of year, or whether they dread it – or are they savvy and put their houses on Airbnb and make a mint??

    Having stayed up almost all night addictively watching the momentous election, sleep was evidently very much on my mind.

    It’ll be fascinating to see how the Conservative majority result will impact the equestrian community – particularly the hunting world. Could we dare hope for repeal?

    Back to the dressage. People were surprised I was at Badminton because of this absurd divide between “pure dressage” and “eventing dressage”; absurd because all dressage is – in all its guises – is just training horses, which is what both eventers and dressage riders do.

    Those same shared scales of training mean that H&H’s long-time “pure” dressage columnists Pammy Hutton and Carl Hester take so brilliantly to the Radio Badminton airwaves to amuse and educate listeners, from those around the arena to a global online audience.

    Badminton seems to be magnetic for our columnists. Anna Ross was firmly planted in the press office commentating on the H&H live text service. She’s done this for a few years and there’s been a long-standing rule that whenever a rider scores a 10, Anna’s allowed a cheeky swig of wine. Alas for Anna, 10s were not forthcoming this year and midway through Friday’s afternoon session she was making an impassioned attempt to renegotiate terms down to a nine with Carol, our web editor.

    Between rushing around, I only managed to watch three tests live: Paul Tapner (Indian Mill), Andrew Nicholson (Calico Joe) and William Fox-Pitt on Chilli Morning. But what fantastic tests they were. It’s a treat to watch three such talented combinations, all of whom now sit in the top dozen overnight with plus-71% scores (or sub-44, in eventing speak).

    I was particularly taken with Paul’s four-star debutante Indian Mill (pictured), a beautiful 10-year-old pure thoroughbred by Millkom x Indian Ridge. Both he and Calico Joe were bred by the Buller family. What a superb achievement for these relatively low profile breeders.

    With no disrespect the the versatile, talented thoroughbred, Indian Mill moves better and more elastically than many warmbloods I know. I fully agreed with Carl that some of Paul’s marks were stingy, and positive riding and such wonderful expression (though Carl pronounces it ‘etspression’) should have been more generously rewarded.

    There was much chatter about marking discrepancies between the judges. Calico Joe was rewarded with a four and a 7.5 for a fluffed flying change, while Chilli Morning garnered two fours and an eight for a markedly late behind change. A judges’ supervisory panel would have readjusted the high mark, but no such panel exists in eventing – all to the good for William today.

    Chilli changed late behind twice and almost jogged in the walk; if he hadn’t, I think he’d be leading going into the cross-country. As it is, he’s lying second.

    Watching the horse close-up from the journalists’ mix zone (where riders come for their post-test grilling) after William dismounted, I mused that the stallion might benefit from some fake plaits on the bottom quarter of his missing – presumed rubbed – mane to help with the overall picture of throughness in front of the saddle. I was rounded on by the eventing journos: “Don’t be ridiculous,” the ‘eventos’ said in unison, “this isn’t pure dressage you know!”

    Perhaps the pure/eventing dressage divide is alive and kicking after all…

    Much to my amusement, former H&H eventing editor editor Catherine Austen popped up just then, wanting to known what we were squabbling about. She’d missed some of William’s test as she got stuck in the queue for fudge. Priorities Catherine, priorities!

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