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Horse & Hound’s essential guide to Badminton Horse Trials dressage

The Badminton Horse Trials dressage is the first of three phases that horses and riders take part in during this annual competition, which takes place on the Badminton estate in Gloucestershire.

Let’s find out more about how it works…

When does the Badminton Horse Trials dressage take place?

The dressage phase at Badminton takes place over two days, with half the competitors performing on each day. The dressage days are usually Thursday and Friday; occasionally the event has finished on Monday instead of Sunday (to tie in with a bank holiday Monday) and on those occasions, the dressage has take place on Friday and Saturday.

The competition officially starts the day before the first dressage day, when the riders present their horses to the ground jury and vet for the first horse inspection or trot-up. This is a check on the welfare and wellbeing of the horses to ensure they are fit to compete.

How is it decided who does their dressage on which day?

The starting order is drawn out of a hat. But any competitor riding two horses will always have one horse at the start of the competition (so doing dressage on Thursday morning) and one at the end (so doing dressage on Friday afternoon). Each day of dressage will be split into blocks of around 10 horses, so there are usually four blocks each day, split by a coffee break, a lunch break and a tea break.

What happens during a Badminton Horse Trials dressage test?

Each horse and rider enter the main arena individually and perform a routine of set movements within the dressage arena (marked with white boards) measuring 20m by 60m.

The test is marked by three judges (the ground jury) who are each positioned at a different point around the arena. The president of the ground jury sits at C, at the top of the centreline so that the rider and horse are riding straight towards them at the start and end of their test and are facing them when they salute.

What sort of movements are included in the test?

The test is a five-star level test, set by the FEI, the international governing body for horse sport. It includes movements such as shoulder-in and half-pass in both trot and canter, medium and extended strides in trot and canter, flying changes in canter and rein-back.

Badminton Horse Trials dressage 2019: Nicola Wilson and Bulana

Nicola Wilson and Bulana during the dressage at Badminton Horse Trials in 2019.

How long does it take for each test?

The horses are allocated times at eight-minute intervals, but this will include a bit of time to enter the ring and ride round the outside of the arena before the test actually starts, plus time for leaving the arena after the test.

How is the Badminton Horse Trials dressage marked?

Eventing dressage scoring involves each judge awarding each movement a mark out of 10. The marks are then all added up and converted to a penalty score, so the rider with the lowest mark is the leader after dressage.

What do the judges look for?

The judges want to see the movements performed smoothly, accurately and energetically, with the rider and horse appearing to be in harmony. The horse should show an even and correct rhythm in each pace with clear – though smooth – transitions between collected, medium and extended versions of the pace. The horse’s “outline” is also important – the poll should be the highest point, with the rider having an even contact through the rein to the horse’s mouth and the horse has to work from his hindquarters into the contact.

What is the record mark in the Badminton Horse Trials dressage?

Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo set a new Badminton Horse Trials dressage record mark in 2019, when they scored 19.7.

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Is the Badminton Horse Trials dressage difficult?

Even at the top level horse trials such as Badminton, the movements required in the dressage are not as demanding as those used at the higher levels of pure dressage. But event horses have to perform in three different phases and they are not chosen for their dressage prowess alone. It can be challenging for riders to train a very fit horse – who is ready to run across country for 12 minutes – to stay calm and obedient in the dressage arena.

What happens after the dressage?

Once the two days of dressage are completed, the competitors go on to the cross-country (usually on Saturday) and showjumping (usually on Sunday) phases. Eventing penalties follow the rule that lower marks are better, so riders’ penalties in the cross-country and showjumping are added to their dressage mark, with the horse and rider with the lowest score after the showjumping declared the winners.

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