Competitors have been sharing their initial reactions after a first look at the Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course, which is designed by Eric Winter, at the event presented by Mars Equestrian (4–8 May). The riders are all in agreement that the weather, and the ground conditions that result from it, will play a big part in the day’s sport.
Top British rider Pippa Funnell, who is fifth to go with Majas Hope, said “there are so many frangible pins that you could make a dress” and she particularly isn’t a fan of the rail competitors are required to jump into The Lake on the direct route.
“I don’t like the jump into The Lake with its frangible pin,” explained Pippa. “It could be one of those fences for the riders that are on early in the day where they go straight and the pin goes, and then people later in the day might not take it on and go the alternative route – that will be the penalty of the early draw. It will be sad if the direct route into The Lake isn’t jumped by many people because the frangible pin is activated a lot. It might not happen and it might jump well – it will be interesting.”
Izzy Taylor said “there has been a lot of chat about the rail into The Lake”.
“I think we will know by the time the fourth rider has jumped through there how that fence will ride,” explained Izzy, who rides both Happy Days and Graf Cavalier at this year’s event.
Izzy was one of many riders to highlight the wet conditions horses and riders might face on the Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course by the time the first competitor leaves the start box on Sunday morning.
“It’s definitely going to be an interesting competition, especially when the ground is getting soft. Minute markers go out of the window and we have to ride the horses we’re sat on at that particular moment and give them a good experience. I think stamina will be the biggest test. The Vicarage Ditch area is very intense and twisty, which will sap energy out of horses. Then you’ve got to let them take a breath and rejuvenate.”
The youngest rider in this year’s field is 21-year-old Alice Casburn, who will be riding the home-bred Topspin. She agreed with Izzy in that stamina will really come into play in 2023.
“I think the ground will play a big part in things now that it is getting wetter,” said Alice, who also made some interesting comments about the direction of the track this year. “If you can imagine a running treadmill, a lot of the course is on a 2% incline, which makes it different from last year when it was run the other way around because there were more chances where you could let your horse catch their breath. Whereas this year it feels like you don’t get that until you get to around fence 27.
“I don’t think the intense part at the Vicarage Ditch area is as bad as it was last year for me, but the accumulation of everything this year is going to make it tough.”
Harry Meade, who rides both Away Cruising and Tenareze this year, says that Eric’s track is “interesting”.
“I think quite a lot has changed this year and it’s nice to have some footwork exercises back like at the staircase at fence 4ABCD and the rail, bounce to a step at fence 8ABC,” said Harry. “It will be very interesting to see how horses jump the huge rail into The Lake – it’s a long way down into the water.”
Harry said that this year’s course has “some new things that will keep riders guessing” and that the weather can always play a part here.
“I always think it can be summer or winter conditions at Badminton as we are the cusp of seasons. I think the really important thing is that we have all got to ride the horse that is underneath us and set out knowing it’s not going to be a sprint because the big thing is that you’ve got to get home and jump the last fence and you need enough horse underneath you to do that.
“It’s about judgement of pace. Often when the ground is soft here, you get some good riding because people go out with feel rather than just chasing the clock.”
Tim Price quite simply said that he thinks “it’s probably the biggest five-star track I’ve seen for a year”.
“It’s got some lovely profiles and it looks jumpable and I think we will see some fun pictures from it,” said Tim, describing it as a “cool course”. “The ground and horses’ stamina are obviously the question mark, but hopefully we’re prepared for that and I’m excited to have a go.”
Badminton Horse Trials cross-country course: ‘One fence I really don’t like’
There is one fence that has got some riders talking, which might seem innocuous to some.
“I think one of the most difficult fences is fence 26, the Jubilee Clump Brush, after the Huntsmans Close, before The Quarry,” said Gemma Stevens (née Tattersall), who rides Jalapeno this year. “It’s off a really tight turn and on an angle right at the end of the track. I think competitors will really have to ride that fence because it comes at the end and horses will be a bit tired and not so easy to turn, which will make things tricky.”
She added: “The Vicarage Ditch area is intense and there are a lot of big jumps, but it’s all in front of you to be jumped and the distances between the related fences are all very fair, which Eric is very good at providing. You can get out there and attack, which is good. It’s going to be a stamina test with the soft ground.”
Caroline Powell, who rides Greenacres Special Cavalier agreed with Gemma with regards to fence 26 saying: “One fence I really, really don’t like is 26, because you have to pull your horses off a line at the end of the course when they are tiring. But each fence is beautifully presented and jumpable and it’s just a case of putting everything together.”
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