My colleague Catherine Austen said this morning that the first day of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is rather like a cocktail party, and she hit the nail right on the head.
Bouncing into the press office before 8am, I exchanged kisses with Paul Graham — formerly of British Eventing, now of British Dressage. Soon, in quick succession, I was hugging eventingnation.com’s Samantha Clark, who is a friend from last year’s World Equestrian Games, saying hello to press officer Julian Seaman (one of the greatest characters in eventing), swapping a joke with photographer Kit Houghton and nodding to The Times’s Jenny MacArther (the dressage was on by then so we were muted in our greetings).
It’s the same at any big three-day, but accentuated at Badminton, because it’s the first time you see many people after the winter break. And we journalists are as happy to see each other and feel the bubbling undercurrent of excitement as anyone else at this great event.
You get into habits at these three-days. A pub that becomes the “first day of dressage supper pub”, a seat you always claim in the press room.
This year marks the end of an era for me, though, because for the first time I’m not staying with my “Badminton aunt and uncle” in Wotton-under-Edge. They’ve moved to Wales. I know, how inconsiderate?
I really can’t complain. For seven years on the trot, they invited me to make their home mine, providing suppers when I was tired, not minding if I went elsewhere, giving beds to various colleagues. One year, they were away, but they let me have the run of the house and charge of the chickens. For all of that, thank you to my (former) Badminton aunt and uncle.
So, it’s into a B&B and on to pastures new this time.
And it looks like that could be the case in the competition too. Our overnight leader Laura Collett is a first-timer and the youngest rider at the event. How cool is that?
I’ve known Laura through work since she was 15 — she won the junior regional novice championships at Weston Park in 2004, my first three-day reporting job. I’ve written web stories and processed H&H’s magazine pages as she won two pony medals, four junior ones and three in young riders.
Laura has long been the wunderkind of her generation. Of course she has constant rivals for that position — Georgie Spence and Emily Llewellyn both got their nose over the line in the race to four-star first — and that’s only healthy.
But this weekend, she has the potential to prove she is something incredibly special — a rider who can challenge for a top four-star placing (or even a win) and a British team spot within a year of her first four-star experience.
Of course, something might go wrong. She might have a run-out across country, she might fall off. She might have to pull up if the horse loses a shoe. A few time-faults could drop her down the order. None of that will be the end of the world or her career — I have no doubt that sooner or later, Laura Collett will have her time.
But, how exciting would it be if it could be sooner. Like, this weekend.