It was great to see such a high standard at the top end of the field in the dressage at Badminton. Some less experienced horses did find the atmosphere too much and showed tension.
This test — five-star A — is not the most difficult, but it proves whether horses are working correctly in accordance with the scales of training.
The trot work — with a section of just 10 metres or so of shoulder-in — demonstrates whether riders can keep horses in balance off the side of the arena and is also a good set-up for the half-pass.
There were quite a lot of errors in the flying changes, but only a handful of horses weren’t trained correctly. The majority of the mistakes came from tension rather than horses not understanding what was required.
A new added benefit for the judges this year was video playback if flying change marks differed by three or more, with the option to alter those scores.
It was refreshing to see good-quality judging overall and I found it particularly easy to follow what president of the ground jury Nick Burton and Christian Steiner were rewarding. The order of the day was horses in good balance, ridden well from behind into a supple connection.
In the zone
Oliver Townend really is at the top of his game and in the zone. He rode a positive, polished test on both horses. If one had to criticise, Oliver could be a little more stylish in the way he rides the flying changes, but he really gets the job done.
One of the newcomers who impressed me was Millie Dumas. She rode nicely from behind into a forward, forgiving hand, presenting the horse in a nice balance throughout. I was a little disappointed to see US judge Jane Hamlin marked her nearly 9% lower than Nick Burton, as she really deserved to be a few places higher.
Alex Bragg, on probably the most beautiful horse in the competition, Zagreb, also fell foul of a significant difference, in his case more than 5%.
Tom McEwen continues to impress. His highlights were in the trot, with the walk and canter not quite of the same quality, but he has a lovely style of riding. Kitty King rode accurately, but I’d like to see her work towards a steadier contact.
Pippa Funnell’s Billy Walk On is a lovely model — naturally uphill, with good range to his paces. Some tension in the canter kept his mark down a little.
Chris Burton showed again that he can ride a good dressage test, with both his horses well placed and two 10s for his halt on Cooley Lands, but that horse also missed out on marks when he lost rhythm in the canter.
There were only a couple of riders who I thought could have had a few more marks — Pietro Sandei (30.6 for equal 18th) and up-and-coming Brit Will Furlong (30.2 for 17th). Both rode confident tests in nice balance throughout.
Ref Horse & Hound; 9 May 2019