AT this time of the season, all roads lead to Badminton Horse Trials. Usually the only time I go there is to compete, but this year I walked the cross-country course for the event’s official course preview in early April.
Driving up in my car and pulling up outside the Badminton office gave me goosebumps, just like driving the lorry in on the Wednesday morning of the event itself. There’s something very special about Badminton, and I definitely had that rising feeling of excitement and nerves going round the park, seeing the grandstand already in place and the marquees going up.
I enjoyed walking around with the course-designer, Eric Winter, and giving my two pennies’ worth on what he’s done and how I thought the combinations should be jumped – it’ll be interesting to see whether I was right or not.
I can’t reveal too much – you’ll have to sign up to Badminton TV for that – but it’s a serious track and I think Eric has done very well. The Lake is very difficult – he’s been clever with what he’s done.
I was pleased to see there are no extremely narrow skinnies, but the course is intense, it’s big and he’s used the terrain very interestingly. It’s getting more and more back to proper cross-country.
Is it 2003?
THE British entry looks very strong, with a lot of depth to it, and it’s hard to see past them. Fair play to Pippa Funnell, who has two horses entered at Badminton and two at Kentucky the week before. It feels like it’s 2003 all over again!
Having four horses at five-star level is a nice position to be in, but it’s not as though it has been handed to her on a plate, and plenty of other riders could learn from that.
Kentucky will set Pippa up well for Badminton – horses love galloping round Kentucky, and you leave there confident and arrive at Badminton and find that the fences don’t look so scary, because you’ve just come from an event at that level.
Weston’s a good experience
EVERYONE should have had a good preparation, as weather hasn’t really interrupted the season this spring. Cirencester was a nice event, and an ideal early season run. It’s clearly very popular, with a big entry, but Weston Park doesn’t seem to attract the numbers it used to.
I always used Weston Park as my pre-Badminton run, which doesn’t seem as much the thing to do now. I understand why older riders stick to routines that they trust in, just as I did, but I would have thought more of the younger riders would be keen to gain experience at Weston Park.
It struck me this year how many similarities there are between it and Badminton; the sites are very similar, it is the same type of ground, the parks are equally filled with wooded bits that the tracks go through.
It was very rare that I had soundness problems with horses after Weston Park, and the majority of them ran well at Badminton afterwards. If they didn’t, it was usually because I shouldn’t have had them at Badminton in the first place.
Sure, the novice and intermediate cross-country tracks at Weston aren’t easy, but I would always come away having learnt something. We need to educate horses, and that isn’t always done by avoiding challenging tracks and focusing on keeping a horse’s record spotless.
• Read H&H’s full Badminton preview in next week’s issue, including course-walk with another former Badminton winner, Andrew Hoy
- This column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 21 April
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