Wow, what an event Badminton Horse Trials was this year. You could never have written a script for what happened.
The dressage was reasonably predictable. The standard is so high now that you seldom see a bad test and the quality of work is very good. That’s one of the reasons we need new tests — to show the level of training in a better way.
We were fairly lucky with the weather on Friday. If it had continued to rain as on Thursday, the horses on the 2nd day would have been at a real disadvantage. At this level, is it fair to have the dressage and showjumping at such a valuable and important competition on grass?
When I first walked the course, I thought it was great to see new life breathed into its design. Most of us felt it had got samey and mundane, but this felt beefed up. From the word go it asked questions.
Walking it again on Friday night, we were relieved because the going felt really good underfoot — but rain was predicted all day Saturday.
It rained hard on Friday night with only intermittent showers on Saturday and strong, gusting winds. Riding into a headwind has to slow you down and the rain made the going more testing and quite soft.
From the start, cross-country day was one of drama and action. Faults were spread from the 3rd fence to the 3rd last. Certainly a couple caused more problems than others, but it was an intense track and anyone who made a mistake was penalised — even me. I didn’t get a good shot at fence 12 on NZB Campino and I paid for it.
But this is Badminton. It is supposed to be the most difficult event in the world. In the old days, people ran at Burghley as preparation for Badminton the next spring, and that seemed to have switched round recently.
Riders now need to think again — are they really ready for Badminton? That’s a good thing. You can’t just ride at Badminton because you are qualified and because you want to. I saw some bad riding this year from people who were not well enough prepared for the challenge.
We need a few let-ups
Talking to Giuseppe Della Chiesa, the course-designer, he agrees that it needs tweaking for next year. There were too many questions without let-ups. If you had a bad jump or a narrow escape, there was nothing to get confidence back. By the time horses got to the FEI Classics Stick Pile at 17 (Merel Blom and Rumour Has It, 13th, are pictured at this fence), they were fairly shell-shocked and there was still a lot of jumping to go.
When I won in 2011, the course was this way round and a lot of horses finished very tired — on good ground. It was the same this year. From the Vicarage Vee area to the Quarry, you climb all the way and horses really noticed it.
It was a great competition, though, and had people glued to the TV. Everyone I spoke to said how exciting it was to watch. And there were no injuries to horses or riders. It was an old-fashioned, thrilling day’s sport.
It wasn’t ideal that less than half the field finished, nor that no one got close to the time, but it was fantastic that this wasn’t a dressage competition. I had two inside the top 10 after dressage, and ended up with one finisher in 14th place!
2 weeks earlier at Kentucky I withdrew after dressage because, at best, I could have been 18th with a clear inside the time. Here, everyone had a chance. I couldn’t wait to go on my second horse because I had a real chance of going into the lead with a sensible round. That was the key on Saturday — riding sensibly.
And the drama kept coming on Sunday. The showjumping was well up to height, with light poles on sticky ground. Sam Griffiths was a deserving and popular winner.
It was just a spectacular competition. You can throw the form book away, but hopefully we’ll see Badminton back next year with the cross-country as a real influence on the competition. I look forward to having another crack at it. H&H