‘A great day for the sport’: course-designer Eric Winter’s thoughts on Badminton’s cross-country phase

  • Mars Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course-designer Eric Winter, who first designed this track in 2017, describes yesterday’s competition day as “fun” and says that his course was “about control” when speaking to H&H.

    “If riders had a horse that didn’t go to the contact and ran through, it was difficult to jump the fences, but if you had a horse that was on rails and well trained, then you were good,” he explains. “Nothing really surprised me and it all jumped well.”

    When asked whether any particular fences stood out with regards to how they rode, Eric pinpointed fence 18, the final part of the Mars Sustainability Bay.

    “I wish more had taken the straight way at the log [fence 18],” he says. “Seven or eight jumped it, one had a stop  – but he’d already had a stop earlier on on course – and all the others jumped it quite well.

    “If more had jumped it, it would have brought another level [of competition] in but it didn’t matter as at the end of the day – if they did a circle, they didn’t make the time. Most did a circle and most of the really top boys finished four or five seconds outside the optimum time so it made a competition of it. It was a great day for the sport.”

    Eric states that Irish riders Sarah Ennis, who is currently fifth with Grantstown Jackson and, and five-star first-timer Lucy Latta, who is third with RCA Patron Saint, particularly impressed him on Badminton Horse Trials cross-country day.

    “They were phenomenal. I thought they really went out there, caught hold and rode it. Lucy has come all the way from 44th after the dressage to third and that to me is to me what Badminton is all about – if you’ve got the best cross-country horse in world come to Badminton.

    “It’s not all about the old fantastic, phenomenal foreign dressage horses – if you’ve got something that really gallops and really can move up then the opportunity is there and the opportunity for sure was there yesterday.”

    Eric also picks out some good rounds by the “older guys” too.

    William Fox-Pitt rode at his best – it melted the years away yesterday. Tim [Price] was phenomenal too, but also there were some outstanding rides from the younger people.”

    Eric suggests other names to watch for the future.

    “Some horses became green, like Pippa’s horse [Funnell, MCS Maverick] and Izilot DHI [Ros Canter]. They are great horses for the future, but they just need to be exposed this sort of atmosphere and that’s about mileage.”

    In terms of Badminton Horse Trials cross-country day statistics, there were four rider falls, no horse falls, 50% jumped clear and there was a 66% completion rate. No-one made the time.

    “I always want a 50% clear rate as that says to me lots of things have happened,” states Eric. “When people come and stand at a fence, they have a good chance of seeing three or four jump the fence really well and they see one person do something, break a clip or something.

    “It was a good day for MIM clips yesterday – we had some incidents where they really saved horses and that’s such a move forward for the sport.”

    The ground was a topic of much discussion before the cross-country and Eric was happy the sun put in an appearance.

    “We were exceptionally lucky with the weather,” says Eric, referring to the fact that Badminton has been bathed in glorious sunshine for the duration of the event. “Alan Willis, father of the Willis brothers who are the course builders here, said to me last night that if you had to pick one week in the past 10 months to run a horse trials, this was the week.

    “The ground got better and faster all the way through and it was a fantastic competition. Good weather brings everybody out – I think after last year it was nice to have a bit of good weather and have that sort of festival atmosphere – it was fantastic.”

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