The week before Badminton there were real fears about cancellation due to waterlogging. The ground team did an excellent job preparing the course, and the main arena in particular was outstanding.
Some time ago the top layer of spongy park turf in the arena was dug up and the underlying soil removed and replaced with stone, like any all-weather arena foundations, and the turf then laid back on top; it can consequently take any amount of rain. On the Friday evening it looked untouched after two days of dressage, the stallion parade and lunchtime demonstrations.
Issuing three removable yellow armbands to each rider was an effective idea. They let you walk on the cross country course with two others at any one time, cutting down on the number of walks by connections and drawing attention to unauthorised spectators on the course; the track was noticeably better for the decreased footfall.
The cross-country course was more flowing than last year. There were lots of places to run out, but it was on the softer side of four-star in terms of grit. However, the soft going counterbalanced that.
The showjumping was cleverly designed — the time was appropriately tight, there was nowhere to cut corners and the related distances were mostly downhill and relatively short. Riders had to be in a forward rhythm without letting the stride-length increase.
I was delighted with Away Cruising, who was making his debut here. Apart from a momentary aversion to the big screen by the dressage arena, he didn’t put a foot wrong. I felt he was as prepared as possible and I managed to shed over a stone in the preceding six weeks, so it’s a relief when a plan comes together!
Oliver Townend’s rides have been hotly discussed; we need a better system to address such cases.
The current rules enable ground juries to deal with any form of improper riding or horse abuse — they can issue a verbal warning (usually for a first-time offence or educational purpose), a yellow card or disqualification.
Creating a new rule to cover how many times a horse can be hit around a course (news, 10 May) could leave a rider unable to give a necessary reminder in front of a fence because they have used up their quota, putting horse and rider at risk. Conversely, a competitor might unnecessarily use the whip late on, knowing they are within the allowance. Abuse is more complex than numbers.
We have faith in our expert ground juries to make correct calls when performances cross the line of acceptability. However, there are challenges: the ground jury cannot easily deal with an issue while the cross-country is still running.
In this case, Oliver should ideally have been sanctioned after his first horse. Had he received a warning or yellow card, he probably would have ridden the second horse differently. Had he not, the ground jury would have been within their rights to up the penalty. Perhaps there should be a panel to whom the ground jury can refer incidents during the competition rather than waiting until the end.
In addition, a separate central FEI disciplinary body could look at the suitability of sanctions — in rugby the review panel regularly alters punishments retrospectively, taking into consideration the individual’s history. This ensures consistency and greater fairness.
The fact that people felt the punishment was insufficient has led to vicious trial by social media. A stronger penalty would have seen justice served, put the issue to bed quicker and been fairer to Oliver.
Ref Horse & Hound; 17 May 2018