Oliver Townend takes early Badminton dressage lead on ‘quickest event horse I’ve ridden’

  • Oliver Townend took the lead on 23.2 in the early stages at Badminton Horse Trials dressage, at the event presented by Mars Equestrian. Oliver was riding last year’s third-placed horse, Swallow Springs, and the pair started as they meant to go on with a nine for their initial halt.

    Despite the squally conditions, this was a calm and polished performance. They just lost a couple of marks when the grey tried to break in the first extended trot, but quickly regrouped. Their canter work was the highlight, rewarded with eights for medium and extended canter and the flying changes.

    A big smile at the end showed how delighted Oliver was with his test, as Swallow Springs, by Chillout, lapped up the cheers from the crowd.

    “I have two older horses here and I don’t think they’ve ever felt so good – a 16-year-old [Ballaghmor Class] and a 15-year-old that are still improving,” he said. “Swallow Springs is the quickest event horse I’ve ridden.

    “I love the track and it’s special to be here. I wore out VHS video tapes watching this place, and as I get older I enjoy it more and more. I’m trying to take the pressure off myself and smile occasionally. I’ve got two beautiful horses with beautiful chances.”

    This is Oliver’s 80th start at five-star since 2008, and he said he appreciated the quality of his current horsepower.

    “I’m on better dressage horses now,” he said. “I’ve always felt I had a certain feel, but perhaps wasn’t able to do it stylishly. Now I’m on raw material and there’s no excuse not to do a nice job, so hopefully I’m continuing to improve.”

    Watch Oliver speak to H&H after his test in the video below

    World number one Tim Price produced an elegant display from his Olympic ride and Burghley third Vitali. The Contender x Heraldik gelding is expressive and fluent, scoring a smattering of nines, with his extended trot a particular highlight. Just a little bit of tension in the canter marred what could well have been the leading test. He couldn’t quite match the 21.3 they scored last Burghley, but 27.1 put him into second for now.

    “I am pleased, but you have to be philosophical,” said Tim. “He’s an outstanding dressage horse but I want him to be an authentic five-star horse, so I’m trying to spread my feelings across the three phases. The score could have been a lot lower had I not had some fluffy bits at the start of the canter.

    “He’s a fantastic dressage horse that unless you maximise on all those elements he can deliver you will be a bit disappointed, but 27 with a few mistakes is not too bad.”

    Top riders on the Badminton Horse Trials dressage leaderboard

    Leading contenders rippled through this first section, which featured the two-horse competitors on their first horses.

    Wills Oakden was first into the main arena, aboard Oughterard Cooley, who set the standard of 34.6. It was a slightly disappointing test for Wills. The horse reared up at the halt and rein back, earning themselves scores of one, but they moved on fluently from this mistake to earn some nice sevens and eights for his extended canter and half-passes.

    The world number three Ros Canter rode the first of her two half-siblings in the field, Pencos Crown Jewel. The Jumbo mare scored nines for her first two halts, and her extended canter was also super. Although the rest of her marks weren’t quite as spectacular, with the flying changes a mixed bag, it was a pleasing and rhythmic performance for 29.2.

    “The quality of the work that she’s doing this year is by far superior to what she’s done before,” said Ros. “She’s croup high and she used to be heavy on the hand, which she wasn’t today.  But unfortunately every single change did not come off. But her brain was great, her quality was exceptional, so if we had nailed the changes, we might not have been far off low 20s.”

    Fiona Kashel scored 32.2 on her Luhmühlen seventh, WSF Carthago. It was a consistent test without being either flashy or error-strewn, and deserved their sport near the top of the leaderboard at this early stage.

    Maja’s Hope ‘has the last laugh’

    Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope have already had plenty of top-20 finishes at five-star, but he is not Pippa’s top horse on the flat. However, he started well, also with a nine for his first halt. Pippa used all her experience to keep the 16-year-old’s mind on the job, as he was a touch spooky at times. The flying changes let them down for an overall score of 32.6.

    “He’s been doing so much better work and I really thought, he’s 16 now, he can cope with the atmosphere,” said Pippa. “He has been doing the changes, yesterday they were all clean, but you have to have him rounder and the atmosphere always hollows him out, and once you lose him, you struggle to get him back. He is very distracted.

    “I don’t think it’s going to be a dressage competition, but I am disappointed,” she added. “We all put in so much work, you live the dream, but he had me fooled, because he’s been as good as he’s ever been in his brain, so maybe I didn’t do quite as much as I would normally. He’s had the last laugh.”

    How to watch Badminton Horse Trials

    If you are interested in watching Badminton Horse Trials live from the comfort of your home, wherever you are in the world, you will need to subscribe to Badminton TV. To sign up, visit watch.badminton-horse.tv – click the “Sign Up” link in the top right corner of your screen, then follow the instructions. An annual subscription to Badminton TV costs £19.99 and gives you 365 days of access to all of the content in the Badminton TV library, the ability to watch the action live, and the option to replay all of this year’s action later.

    You may also like to read…

    Keep up to date with all of the breaking news, behind the scenes insight and the best of the action throughout Badminton Horse Trials with no limit on how much you can read from as little as £1 per week with a Horse & Hound unlimited website subscription. Sign up now. Plus enjoy our full 22-page magazine report on Badminton, including in-depth analysis and exclusive comments from Nick Burton and Mark Phillips, in Horse & Hound magazine (on sale 11 May). 

    You may like...