The cross-country course for the 2016 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (5-8 May) was revealed to the press yesterday by director Hugh Thomas and course-designer Giuseppe della Chiesa, who is in his third year designing here. Here's what we learnt about the track...
1. The course will run anti-clockwise this year, as last year — surprising, because usually the direction is reversed annually. “In my short experience I prefer this way and I think it’s sometimes a good idea to break tradition,” says Giuseppe.
2. The track doesn’t take exactly the same route as in 2015, though. Notably, riders will return to the Vicarage fields after jumping through the Gatehouse New Pond (fences 17, 18 and 19) and then jump the KBIS Vicarage Vee (fence 21) — yes, the Vicarage Vee is back in the course.
3. The other big difference in the route and order of fences is that The Lake comes much later in the course than usual, at fence 26. “For that reason, it’s a nice combination which is not too big,” says Giuseppe. Everyone will tackle a hedge into the water, before crossing over to a choice of two hedge/steps out. The right-hand route offers more time to recover before the third element, a skinny nest (pictured below).
4. The HorseQuest Quarry at fences four and five has a traditional feel with two stone walls. The first of these has a steep drop behind it and although it was put in the first year Giuseppe designed here (2014) this is the first time it has been jumped this way round. “This is my original idea of what I wanted to produce here,” he says.
5. The Mirage Pond (fences 14 and 15) has a “completely new feel” this year. The curved hedges have gone and are replaced by skinny dog kennels. “It’s not a big test as this section is quite intense and uses a lot of the horse’s energy,” says Giuseppe.
6. The birch rails which form the fences at the Gatehouse New Pond were chosen partly because the colour and texture of the material can be easily recognised by the horse in different light, in deference to the fact this area under the trees can throw shadows.
7. The middle element of this complex — an open parallel in the water — is not a question you see very often. “I don’t remember it being done before, but I thought a lot about it and I couldn’t find any reason why it wouldn’t jump well,” says Giuseppe. “We’ve been going for closed fences for a long time, but I still believe open fences have a place in the sport and in many ways horses jump them better because they are more defined.”
8. The red L200s at The Lake have been swapped for silver ones (pictured below), to celebrate the silver anniversary (25 years) of Mitsubishi sponsorship at Badminton. In addition, they are fence 25. “It caused us quite a lot of work when Giuseppe first planned out the course before Christmas and we had to do a bit of creative numbering — if anyone wonders why the Mirage Pond is fences 14 and 15 [rather than 14ab], that’s why!” says Hugh.
9. Giuseppe hopes that this course will be “in the middle of the last two years” in terms of difficulty — between the very influential track of 2014 and the softer one of last year.
10. Hugh emphasised that the most important influence on the impact of the course on the day is the weather and therefore the going. Two years ago high weather and very sticky ground contributed to the fact the course was so tough, while last year the conditions were perfect. “We have to accept that we have varied weather in England in spring and we have to design the course to cater for that in advance,” says Hugh.
11. The first parallel at the Alexanders Silver Birches (fences 27 and 28) has gone. “I don’t think that will make it easier — it was a set-up fence,” says Hugh.
12. The angled tree trunks are back at the Rolex Crossing (fence 32), replacing the watch boxes of recent years. They have beautiful carvings on the back, so should make really great pictures.
Like this? You might also enjoy reading these:
The 2016 course map
Horse & Hound will be covering Badminton in full online with reports, blogs and our renowned written commentary, H&H Live. Plus don’t miss H&H’s Badminton magazine coverage:
28 April: preview including course walk with triple Badminton winner Ian Stark
5 May: pull-out form guide with info on every horse and rider competing
12 May: 22-page report including full analysis and expert comment