‘He could jump a seven-star track’: Oliver Townend and his ‘quirky’ star move up to the podium after dramatic Badminton cross-country

  • Oliver Townend proved himself a master across the Gloucestershire turf in piloting two horses into the top three over the Badminton Horse Trials cross-country, at the event presented by Mars Equestrian.

    Oliver was already sitting in second place with his first ride Swallow Springs when he set out across country on Ballaghmor Class, equal eighth after dressage, towards the end of the afternoon. Oliver’s second clear of the day inside the time secured third place.

    “He was a privilege to ride,” said Oliver of 15-year-old Courage II gelding. “That’s his eighth five-star he’s jumped round clear. He worried me in the warm-up as he was going over the top, then he settled once he saw two grey hunt horses who came over to meet him. They became his friends, like a comfort blanket, and escorted him to the start. He’s a funny, quirky old horse, but one I’ll probably never have again.”

    Their round looked copybook, as if he were jumping a far more basic track, but Oliver had a double handful initially.

    “He was quite cocky early on, he was a bit tricky to steer in Huntsman’s,” Oliver explained. “Then he got halfway round and said, ‘I remember where I am and this is hard work’, but that was brilliant because when he settles he lets me ride him. He just tells me when I need to lean forwards and give him a dig and he responds beautifully.

    “He’s just a very good friend and I think if you set out a six- or seven-star he would still come home. He is very, very special.”

    Badminton Horse Trials cross-country: ‘He finds the job easy’

    Ros Canter confirmed she has a new superstar on her hands as the 10-year-old Lordships Graffalo sauntered to within a shout of the podium, in fourth on 26. Ros’ European reserve was making his five-star debut, having already bagged a fast clear with her world champion Allstar B. He looked impressively confident over such a troublesome track. Their only tiny blip came when he stumbled in the second water after the big drop, but it didn’t affect his stride at all, and he picked up easily to jump the log in the water.

    “He really is unbelievable,” Ros said. “He just finds the job easy: he finds running easy, balancing easy, and he finds going easy. I think he thoroughly enjoyed himself out there. I couldn’t believe how quickly it went, it was so smooth and easy.”

    Ros believes the horse she calls Walter is even more talented than her world champion Allstar B (Alby), who lies in sixth.

    “It’s funny, I adore Alby to bits, but this horse is in a class of its own in terms of the way you can go cross-country,” she said. “He made my life very easy. He’s got such a long stride but has ability to shorten his stride if you want to without taking offence.

    “He wasn’t bothered by the crowd – Walter is in his own world and if he’s happy, he’s happy. He was flapping his lip, shaking his ears on the way round, but that’s just what Walter wanted to do. And if Walter is happy, we’re all happy.”

    ‘What Badminton is all about’

    William Fox-Pitt was another rider to have earlier enjoyed an excellent clear round, riding Oratorio, when he set out on Little Fire, who was guarding a top -15 place. Jennifer Dowling’s 13-year-old looked quite green at the intense mid-section of the course, and William had to flap and kick to make the jumps happen. He had to use all his horsemanship to nurse the horse home, but was still fast enough for six time-faults to move up from 15th to joint 10th (with his stablemate, Oratorio) on 33.3.

    “He’s a seriously nice horse so I always hoped he’d go that well,” said William. “He always does get a bit tired at the end. Breathing-wise he was working hard. He overjumped a couple of jumps because he was slightly taking a breath. It wasn’t as fast I wanted, but at least when he gets to the jump he always jumps.

    “The course is relentless with a lot of yanking left,” he added. “I thought the end of the course was a bit soft, but thank goodness it was. It was demanding on the body, and you were down on the clock by the second minute marker. Lots of jumps took a bit of extra physical effort and there was no time to recover.

    “I think Eric wanted that because Badminton can be historically quite easy to cruise round. It was a very fair, attacking track and what Badminton is all about.”

    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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