‘He’s an old professional’: Oliver Townend conjures sterling Badminton performance from new five-star ride

  • Oliver Townend conjured an eye-catching test during an intense spell of top combinations in the early stages of Badminton Horse Trials dressage, at the event presented by Mars Equestrian. Riding Swallow Springs, Oliver moved into second spot at this early stage with a score of  25.7 behind the early leader Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser.

    Swallow Springs continued his improvement in the dressage phase under Oliver, who has been riding him since the autumn when Andrew Nicholson announced his retirement from top level. Oliver himself holds the record score in Badminton Horse Trials dressage phase, 19.7 on Cillnabradden Evo in 2019, and produced a smart and consistent test this time with the Ridgeons’ 14-year-old grey.

    “He’s a new horse for me and we’re only just getting to know each other, but he’s an old professional,” said Oliver. “Sometimes it can be more difficult with the old professionals, but he did his job. He’s not built for dressage, nearly a full thoroughbred, but he likes to work and I love that – it’s a trait you get with most top horses and he’s a pleasure to work with.”

    Badminton Horse Trials dressage: gold medallist makes his debut

    The reigning European champion JL Dublin was making his five-star debut for Nicola Wilson. The 11-year-old gelding showed a bit of tension and was never going to match the extraordinary score of 20.9 that they scored in Avenches, however they put themselves well into the reckoning with 26.6.

    “It’s his first time at the level and he coped well with the main arena,” said Nicola. “There was a wobble in the second shoulder-in which was costly, but I’m delighted with his rideability and how he expressed himself and there’s more to come.”

    Ros Canter and Allstar B (Alby) had put up a superb score of 20.6 to lead the dressage at Avenches, but were a touch off their very best form here. It was a confident and consistent test and the horse let Ros ride him for every mark, including scoring a 10 from the judge at H for their halt. It just lacked a little bit of the wow factor, but she sneaked ahead of her Europeans team-mate Nicola to wind up in third at the end of the first session.

    Ros said she had taken a new approach to schooling her 2018 world champion.

    “I’ve been practising his dressage a lot less so I was a bit nervous I hadn’t done enough, but as soon as he got in there, he put his head down and said, ‘off we go Ros, you sit there and hold on’,” Ros said. “Alby had a hard year last year with going to Tokyo and not competing, and the Europeans didn’t come off for us. I thought about our relationship and it goes further back – I missed a year being pregnant and then Covid hit. The big events that he adored disappeared so we had to build up quickly and probably over-trained. I wanted to get back to him loving the job. So we’ve gone hacking and I’ve learnt so much about him and his balance. He doesn’t forget how to do a flying change and a half-pass. We’re always learning and I learnt a lot through last year’s experience.”

    Pippa Funnell produced a mixed test from Billy Walk On to score 28.5. His marks were consistently sevens and eights for the walk and trot, bar a slight drop when she rectified an early halt, after which the marks started to unravel a little. One flying change scored a three and a four, when he seemed to spook and change late in front. However they finished with a 10 for the halt from the judge at C, to take fifth at this juncture.

    “He was a good boy, but I mucked up that change and he got a bit behind the leg which was frustrating, but I’m very happy with his brain,” said Pippa, who has just returned from competing in Kentucky CCI5*. She said that being away for 10 days prior to this event was “not ideal” despite her amazing team at home, as he is a big horse that needs Pippa to do the ridden work to stop him from getting too strung out.

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