Riders speak out about Badminton Horse Trials plans

  • Badminton director Hugh Thomas has revealed to H&H that the event is undergoing major changes following the mass withdrawals at this year’s event (3-6 May), but riders feel his plans fail to go far enough.

    “We’ve been reviewing what went wrong,” said Hugh. “In order to move forward from here, we’ve got to have the best possible going.”

    Hard ground conditions on the cross-country course this year prompted the withdrawal of more than 25% of the field, including top names such as William Fox-Pitt, Mary King and Zara Phillips.

    Badminton has employed a turf consultant and has marked out the route of next year’s course months sooner than in previous years. Hugh has met technical delegates, British Eventing (BE) and Event Riders’ Association (ERA) chairman Clayton Fredericks, and has a veterinary meeting planned for the end of this month to look at on-course vet procedures.

    Two horses died in separate incidents this year unrelated to the course or going.

    “We’re buying new machinery of our own instead of begging, stealing and borrowing,” said Hugh. “Structure of the soil and grass cover is our first priority, second is how we protect the track so it isn’t ridden and walked on. We might fence off part of the course nearer the time, but we can’t fence in the deer park — which comprises more than half the course.”

    Hugh, who has been both director and designer at Badminton since 1989, said he is also reviewing the entries system, but he has “no particular plans” to alter the organisational structure of the event. He also intends to continue designing the course.

    While riders have openly welcomed improvements to the going, many feel further changes are needed.

    “We’re all looking forward to a Badminton with better ground, with good grass cover and no ruts,” said William Fox-Pitt, who withdrew his horse, Ballincoola, before the trot-up. “But it’s time to change. The riders feel it would be healthy to have a new designer now.”

    Clayton Fredericks said he was aware of many riders’ gripes. “Badminton has never had the friendliest of atmospheres,” he said.

    In response to rider feedback, Clayton also suggested installing hard standing in the lorry park, with improved shower and toilet facilities and free electricity. All of this, he said, would bring Badminton in line with other leading events — as would offering better hospitality to owners and riders and improving the entry pass system.

    But Hugh told H&H he had no plans to give riders more passes and said he was “very happy” with the level of hospitality that the event currently offers.

    What Badminton is doing

    • Employing a turf consultant to improve the going. Changes include fencing off the course, buying better equipment, “a certain amount of watering” and improving soil structure
    • Considering an all-weather warm-up
    • Reviewing emergency veterinary procedures
    • Reviewing the entries system
    • Reviewing the lorry park (though this will not mean provision of hard standing)

    What riders want

    • Better going
    • New course-designer
    • A new team behind Badminton
    • Improved hospitality
    • More generous pass allowance
    • Better on-site facilities
    • Improved entries system
    • To feel as important as visitors


    Read this report in full, including the views of other top riders, in the current issue of Horse & Hound (26 July, ’07)

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