Eric Winter’s track is proving every bit a five-star test in the early stages at the Badminton Horse Trials cross-country, at the event sponsored by Mars Equestrian. The pathfinder Kirsty Chabert was eliminated at the second Nyetimber Corner at 20, while the dressage runner-up Tom McEwen’s Toledo De Kerser had a fall at the bounce while putting in his usual dazzlingly brilliant round.
During the first third of the field, there was just two riders round inside the time. Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and his Olympic ride Colorado Blue, looks set to climb a long way up from 58th after phase one after stopping the clock four seconds inside.
“After the Olympics, a lot of people said he was one of the best cross-country horses in the world, and it’s up to me not to let him down,” said Austin. “It’s very tough. Dimensionally from the beginning everything is an effort. It’s really good cross-country because you’ve got to mix it up. You walk a distance but you don’t necessarily stay on the distance, it’s instinctive riding. Very good course-designing.”
Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs sauntered through the finish eight seconds inside the time. However he was later judged not to have jumped the pimple at the Quarry (fence 4C), when the grey took off a whole stride early and Oliver did well to stay on.
Meanwhile, Piggy March and Vanir Kamira showed just why they are defending champions after an early fright leaving a leg in Huntsman’s Close. They stopped the clock just one second outside the optimum.
Badminton Horse Trials cross-country: plenty of action
There was early drama with Toledo’s tumble being followed two rides later by a nasty fall for the European champion JL Dublin and Nicola Wilson at the Mars M flower box at 27. This fence was subsequently removed. Nicola was taken to hospital for scans and is reported to be stable. The horse got straight up after the fall.
There was a third horse fall before lunchtime, when Cathal Daniels’ ride Barrichello popped in an extra stride at the Savills Hay Feeders (fence 29B) and somersaulted. Happily both horse and rider were quickly up on their feet and walked away.
There have also been two rider falls – Ben Hobday was just tipped off Shadow Man at the Mars M (fence 26), which also put paid to US rider Lillian Heard’s chances on LCC Barnaby.
Two riders so far have retired – Pippa Funnell had an uncomfortable jump when Billy Walk On ploughed through the C element at the KBIS Brush Village (14ABC) and the bay then refused the rolltop into water a few fences later. Having jumped through that complex neatly, Pippa put up her hand to retire. And Kiwi rider Bundy Philpott also called it a day on Tresca NZPH at the Nyetimber Corners.
Helen Wilson was eliminated after cumulative refusals on My Ernie, with her bid ending at the solar panels bounce.
‘It’s whoa, whoa, boom’
Riders unanimously agree that the course is tough, big from the outset and very intense.
William Fox-Pitt finished seven seconds outside the time on his first ride Oratorio, and said that it was “exciting to ride”.
“Although everything is fair and in front of you, there’s quite a lot of yanking left and two strides straight to a jump,” he said. “Even three strides away sometimes you cannot see the fence, so there’s a lot of whoa, whoa, whoa, boom! So you need a horse that’s listening enough on that turn, and quick enough to pick things up. There’s quite repetitively left, jerk, jump, whether you’re at the Quarry or the Lake or Huntsman’s. I think there’s only right turn, so that’s probably what’s catching people out. They haven’t got time to get straight, balanced and get up. I think they’re a bit surprised.
“I was so pleased with my horse. He was really genuine, I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Read our full Badminton form guide in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound (issue dated 5 May 2022). Our bumper 20-page Badminton report will be in our 12 May issue and keep fully up-to-date with all the action during Badminton week via horseandhound.co.uk, where a host of features and reports will be published.
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