‘It’s very clever’ and ‘you’ll need a nimble horse’: riders’ thoughts on the 2024 Badminton cross-country course

  • Competitors have been sharing their initial reactions after a first look at the 2024 Mars Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course, which is designed by Eric Winter (8–12 May).

    Following a particularly wet winter in the UK, the sun is now shining relentlessly over the park at Badminton, and, alongside their thoughts on the fences, riders have also discussed how the ground will ride with these drying conditions.

    Top British rider Pippa Funnell, who is seventh to go with Majas Hope, said “it’s beautifully presented and very clever”.

    “There are lots of questions all the way through and we’ll be glad to get through Huntsman’s Close – it’s a tough ask early on,” said Pippa. “Then the same applies at The Lake and the Vicarage Ditch area is very intense – it seems like we are in that area for a much longer period of time compared to previous years.”

    Pippa continued: “There are plenty of big drops, and if I’m honest, the fence I really don’t like is the log coming out of the water at the MARS Equestrian Sustainability Bay [fences 17AB and 18] – it’s an ugly thing and horses can’t see it until the last second.”

    The angle on the final part of fence 17AB and 18 coming out of the water.

    Tom Rowland agreed with Pippa, commenting there are “a lot more skinnies” than in previous years and “some really very, very tight acute turns, including coming out of fences 17 and 18”.

    “You will need a really nimble horse, including at Huntsman’s Close,” said Tom, who has two rides this week in Dreamliner and KND Steel Pulse.

    Irish rider Sam Watson, who is riding SAP Talisman, says that this year’s Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course “offers more chance of run outs than Eric normally builds”.

    “It has all his normal features of slowing you down, using terrain, every lump and bump, but I’ve never known the Vicarage Vee (and there’s pretty much two of them) to be fence 25 on course,” continued Sam. “I don’t think it has ever been so close to the finish line.

    “So it’s going to be interesting to see how horses are at that stage because the ground is dead, there’s a lot of jumping to do and a lot of concentration required – horses and riders are going to have to hold it all the way to the end.”

    Young British rider Alice Casburn, who is riding Topspin, agreed saying: “I got brain ache walking the course.”

    Alice’s mother Caroline Casburn (née Sizer) previously rode at five-star level and Alice commented: “Mum said if you put one of these questions in a four-star track, it would ride well, but the difference at this level is that there is an accumulation of effort with big fence after big fence.”

    Australia’s Bill Levett was more relaxed about this year’s Badminton cross-country course. He said he believes it is “softer than previous years”.

    “I think it allows you to get your lines better and it’s one of Eric’s better tracks. There are plenty of long routes too, so if you’re riding a first-timer, there’s a way over most of the combinations and opportunities to regain confidence.”

    Ground conditions have also been a talking point, with the drying weather following a particularly wet winter.

    Kylie Roddy said: “I truly believe that the ground is going to be a massive influencing factor. There is some softer going out there at the moment, which could become sticky.”

    She continued by discussing the temperature forecast on Saturday when cross-country day rolls around.

    “I think at the moment we’ve got 23 degree heat on Saturday. When you think about the winter these horses have had, they’ve probably not even galloped in temperatures near to that, so there’ll be a fatigue factor that kicks in and it’ll be a case of competitors riding efficient lines – I think that will pay dividends on Saturday.”

    Sam Watson agreed saying: “That’s when sitting on a real blood horse will give you some confidence.”

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