‘I had to play it safe’: US talent moves into a leading position in Badminton dressage

  • There was a sense of anticipation as Tamie Smith and Mai Baum entered the ring for their Badminton Horse Trials dressage debut. The American pair were widely touted prior to the five-star event, presented by Mars Equestrian, as favourites in the first phase owing to their ability to score consistently in the low 20s and as winners of nine international events. However, they couldn’t do quite enough to overhaul Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser, taking second at this stage on 25.3.

    Mai Baum’s beautifully cadenced trot did please the judges, but he lacked the flamboyance he can show, dropping slightly behind the contact at times. The flashy black gelding kicked off his test with nines for the initial halt and salute, but had an early mistake when he broke into canter in the first trot half-pass. There were some fabulous moments, such as the rein-back, extended walk and his floating paces, but he marred a consistent performance with the odd four from the judges. His flying change scores for example, ranged from a four to an eight.

    “He’s been on fire all week, and he was really with me; he got a little overwhelmed by the crowd, but held it together so I was really proud of him,” said Tamie, who explained why she had travelled over to Badminton rather than contest her home event of Kentucky. “Neither of us has 30 years ahead of us and we’re ready. I feel he’s the best horse in the world, an unbelievable creature and so I want to be at the best five-star at the world with him. And the cross-country looks right up his alley.”

    Tamie explained that the unfamiliar surface contributed to Mai Baum’s slightly disappointing score.

    “This test being on grass means you don’t get the pushing power you would in an arena – he wouldn’t be experienced at that,” she said. “That is the first time he’s ever done dressage on a grass ring. He has never made me nervous going into a dressage ring, but yesterday I felt he wasn’t quite what I was used to. But I was really pleased – maybe he could have gone a little more forward but he broke when I tried, so I had to play it a little safe.”

    Badminton Horse Trials dressage: reigning champion returns to the stage

    The reigning Badminton champion Piggy March rode an intelligent test on her 2019 winner Vanir Kamira. Trevor Dickens’ 17-year-old mare appeared very relaxed – despite a rather more exuberant lead-up to her test. They scored 25.7 to go into joint third with Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs by the middle of the first morning.

    “She’s been pretty lively since she’s been here, and I’ve been slightly panicking that she might be remembering 2019,” said Piggy. “The last time I came into this arena on her I milked it for all I could on the lap of honour. Now we haven’t been anywhere for two years…”

    The scores weren’t showing immediately after the test, but Piggy felt the mare had been “pretty good” without waxing lyrical.

    “There were a couple of wobbles, she shuffled at the beginning of her extended trot, lost her rhythm and she didn’t break, but I heard a gunshot go off at the same time, so maybe it was that. The changes were good and accurate – I never felt I made a serious mistake.”

    The first morning is typically considered a hard draw, with top scores often coming on Friday afternoon. However, with the quality of horses on show in these early sessions, it’s likely they’ll still be among the protagonists come cross-country day.

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