A gilded start to Badminton’s sweet return: Brits hold first three places on strong opening dressage day

  • A gilded opening to the first Badminton Horse Trials in three years was a sweet reward for the eventing world’s patience in waiting for the iconic five-star, presented by Mars Equestrian, to return.

    The first session of 10 competitors on Thursday (5 May) boasted Tokyo Olympic individual silver and team gold medal winners Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser, European champions Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin and reigning world champions Ros Canter and Allstar B.

    Former winning riders Pippa Funnell (Billy Walk On), William Fox-Pitt (Oratorio) and Oliver Townend (Swallow Springs) packed added punch to the already stellar early morning session. While defending Badminton title holders Piggy March and Vanir Kamira continued the top-flight line-up, as the first combination after the coffee break.

    But none could catch Tom and the 15-year-old gelding, owned by Alison McEwen, Fred and Penny Barker, and Jane Inns, who remained unchallenged at the end of the opening day on their new personal best of 23.4.

    “He’s turned into this low-20s scoring horse, and this is the horse he is now,” says Tom, in the video above. “He’s really improved his dressage, Ferdi Eilberg’s help has been absolutely exceptional. He’s really flowing through his tests, which are smooth and nice and relaxed, but still have something about them.

    “He feels younger than ever – age is just a number.”

    Mollie Summerland and her own 2021 Luhmühlen five-star hero Charlie Van Ter Heiden gave, and Kitty King with her 2021 European team gold medal-winning ride Vendredi Biats gave the leaderboard a quick-fire shake-up before tea.

    “He was tricky yesterday, breaking in all his medium trots, which made me a bit stressed,” says Kitty, who is second overnight on a score of 24.8 with the French-bred grey, owned by Diana Bown, Sally Eyre, Samantha Wilson.

    “I didn’t know about the 10 [for the halt], so when there was a gasp from the crowd as I went into medium canter I thought “yikes, where am I going?”. I’m not used to getting 10s!”

    Mollie, 24, completes the British one-two-three at the end of the opening day on a score of 24.9.

    “He means the world to me and just to be here with him – to ride in that arena with him — was a privilege,” says Mollie, who briefly held second, before Kitty nudged ahead by 0.1 of a penalty.

    “I’ve found it tough since Luhmühlen, putting pressure on myself with altered expectations. To be honest I feel a little bit shell-shocked. I’ve never ridden in front of crowds like that and I’m so proud of him. He deserves that score.”

    US rider Tamie Smith and Mai Baum are the highest-placed international challengers in fourth on 25.3. Piggy and Vanir Kamira are in provisional joint fifth (25.7) with Oliver Townend and new ride, Swallow Springs, who finished fifth here with Andrew Nicholson in 2019. Kiwi first-timer Amanda Pottinger and the New Zealand thoroughbred Just Kidding are in seventh (25.9).

    Ros Canter explains, in the video above, how a rethink of her approach to Allstar B has rekindled his love for the sport.

    “I’ve changed it up, we’ve got him happy again and the run-outs we had at the Europeans are a distant memory now. I haven’t felt him waved off his line yet, you never say never, but I think it was more a mental weariness over him choosing to run out,” she says. “I’m loving getting to ride him and appreciating him more than ever.”

    Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin are in provisional ninth (26.5) with Pippa Funnell (Billy Walk On) and Emily King (Valmy Biats), both on a score of 28.5, joint 10th at the end of Thursday.

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