Badminton Horse Trials director Hugh Thomas and his team made it clear early on that lessons had been learnt after last year’s debacle. Turf consultants were summoned to help improve the track, the prize money was upped, facilities for the riders improved… Now the 2008 Badminton Horse Trials course has made the riders sit up.
“The toughest course in years”, “Hellish twisty in the middle”, “There’s question after question in the middle…” these are just some of the comments I’ve heard over the past 24 hours.
One of the privileges of editing Horse & Hound is that I am one of very few journalists invited to the Thursday evening cocktail party in the big house for riders, owners, sponsors and officials.
Bumping into a cluster of affable vets, they explained to me that the veterinary management at the event has also been overhauled since last year. “So how many vets are here this year?” I asked them. “Officially, about a dozen,” one replied. “Unofficially, about 50.”
Lucy Wiegersma (pictured) talked me through her impressions of the course — she is glad to be riding her seasoned campaigner Shabraak.
Hugh Thomas was pleased to hear his course was causing some consternation. “Badminton SHOULD give top riders something to think about,” he reasoned.
Richard Meade told me how his own views of the course had modified between first and second walking, and concurred with what Jeanette Brakewell said in her H&H coursewalk. “It’s impossible to know what strides horses will take on the gradients.”
His son Harry has looked magnificent round here in the past on Midnight Dazzler and will no doubt welcome an influential second phase.
Olympic year or not, there is a very classy field contesting this year’s Badminton. I am rooting for Pippa Funnell to bounce back on to the British four-star podium on Ensign, who seemed to step up a class finishing third at Pau’s four-star last October. She’s been less in the limelight lately, in many ways the pressure is off her — but she has the experience you need for a course like this.
Keep up to date with twice daily reports from Badminton on www.horseandhound.co.uk and don’t forget to buy H&H next Thursday (8 May) for a 16 page report, with comments from Carl Hester, Ginny Elliot and William Fox-Pitt.