I had a fun day filming the Badminton cross-country course preview. It looks to be a good test, with a few more questions than last year.

So often course-design follows an up and down, self-correcting pattern, with a tough year followed by an easier one, which is then stepped back up the next year, in an attempt to find the right balance.

It is important to keep up the level of the test, otherwise a lenient year makes every rider with a qualified horse think they’ll give it a crack next season, regardless of whether they are up to it, which then puts huge pressure on the course-designer.

A demanding course may result in fewer entries the following year, but it doesn’t matter if the full quota of 85 starters is not filled — it is better to have 75 suitable horses.

Farewell to catch rides

In June, a new FEI rule comes into effect, requiring all CCI4* horses and riders to have done a CCI3* (international three-day event) as a combination. Up until now, the most experienced riders could take a new horse (suitably qualified in its own right) to a CCI4* without competing as a combination. This gave the opportunity for catch rides, a romantic notion.

Mark Todd famously won Badminton on Horton Point in 1994 when his owner Lynne Bevan broke her leg at the 11th hour. More recently UK-based Australian Christopher Burton won Adelaide in 2013 on TS Jamaimo, a ride he was given a week before during a trip home.

In 1973 my father Richard picked up the ride on Eagle Rock from Barbara Hammond two days before Badminton and finished second. Amazingly, his parents bred the part-Connemara, selling him because he was too small for my father. He also won team gold at the Mexico Olympics on Mary Gordon-Watson’s Cornishman, having never jumped a cross-country fence together before.

The new rules are unnecessarily demanding. If you take on a horse at the end of the season, you now have to do a spring CCI3* before you can go to an autumn CCI4*, a year after taking up the ride. A CCI3* puts a lot of pressure on a horse, both in the preparation and the competing, and a year is a long time to wait with what might be an experienced, older horse.

I am not an advocate of moving up a level on a barely qualified horse, but I would jump at a catch ride on a horse ready for the challenge.

Surely a CIC3* (international one-day event, over a shorter course than a CCI3*) or national advanced would test a horse and rider’s skillset together, with less stress on the horse? I doubt if doing a CCI together reduces the chance of a fall at four-star.

Belton’s growth

I first competed at Belton (report, 21 April) 17 years ago, which is a shock to someone who, perhaps optimistically, likes to think of himself as not long out of young riders!

It has always had a quality course and field. But the Belton of old attracted only a handful of spectators. Since then, Stuart Buntine has done a superb job to draw crowds of nearly 10,000, which grow each year.

Mark Phillips did well this year to design a track with the central area compromising four tough combinations — two in each direction. This gave a good viewing area without making the course twisty. We also didn’t have to turn away from the direction of travel, which, while good for spectators, can disorientate horses and dampen their desire to draw forwards across the country.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 28 April 2016