Mark Phillips’ thoughts on Badminton: Was this a wake-up call for British riders?


  • Former Olympic team gold medallist, four-time Badminton winner and top cross-country course-designer, Mark Phillips, reflects on the cross-country and riding at Kentucky and Badminton

    ONE of the wonders of eventing is the different character of the cross-country courses around the world. Derek di Grazia’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event was an intriguing mix of five-star turns, angles and skinnies. Eric Winter’s Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, was true old-fashioned big and bold fences with no real skinnies or five-star angles, so arguably much less technical.

    At both venues, we saw tiring horses at the end – at Kentucky because of the repeated slowing and speeding up, then at Badminton because of the cumulative effort of big fences. Both were definitely five-star courses.

    I felt cross-country day at Badminton was a massive wake-up call for the Brits, who have enjoyed the tide of success since the start of Chris Bartle’s reign as coach. It does not matter how good you think you are or how talented your horse, you still have to ride and ride well.

    Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser stood off a long way into the bounce at the Lightsource BP Solar Farm and paid the inevitable penalty. Then Tom came out on CHF Cooliser later in the day and gave the horse a masterful ride.

    Much has been made of Bubby Upton juggling university and eventing. She rode unbelievably well around the meat of the course on Cola, then had a run-out at the last, when she must have been thinking about her thesis!

    Sarah Bullimore will be disappointed with some of the distances she found to the more technical fences on Corouet at his first five-star at Kentucky, but equally proud of the ride she gave her veteran Reve Du Rouet at Badminton, and so it goes on.

    I’m now backing the Brits at the World Championships – they will go out and jump every fence with respect.

    Many will say there were too many falls at Badminton and when you watch the compilation of problems on YouTube, it’s not good. I was struck by the fact that the majority were on tiring horses going in a straight line between two fences. Do we, as course-designers, have to put all questions on the second half of the course on a bending line to help competitors ride more responsibly? I do hope not.

    A true champion

    IT helps sometimes if you have a bit of luck in life. Laura Collett was masterful across country, but grateful for the hold after Maxime Livio’s fall when London 52 was starting to tire. Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs were lucky at the Horsequest Quarry. Many thought he’d breached the flag rule, but the official video showed the head and shoulders inside the flags and the hindlegs over the lip of the fence and so by the rules, he was clear. He too was held on course.

    Oliver on Ballaghmor Class, Ros Canter on the expressive Lordships Graffalo, Piggy March on Vanir Kamira and Jonelle Price on Classsic Moet had no such advantages and showed their class from beginning to end. Kitty King gave Vendredi Biats a good round and it was great to see William Fox-Pitt up there again.

    On the final day, it’s much more difficult to keep horses up in the air at Badminton or Burghley, with the terrain variations of grass, than on the flat, level arena surface at venues such as Kentucky.

    Clear rounds were rare and it was pleasing to see first-timer David Doel climb up the order with Galileo Nieuwmoed. William Fox-Pitt had a disappointing day with two down with both Little Fire and Oratorio. Allstar B started to show his age with Ros Canter, but Vanir Kamira, who is also 17 years old, has seldom jumped better for Piggy March.

    It was not to be for Oliver Townend – one down on Swallow Springs cost him any chance of winning the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam, following his Kentucky 2021 win. Only Oliver could be disappointed with Badminton third and fifth.

    Kitty King again did well with Vendredi Biats and Ros Canter was exceptional on Lordships Graffalo, who is just 10 years old. He will surely win the “Great Event” before too long. What can you say about Laura Collett and London 52? They just keep getting better and better. They’ve had their disappointments and come back stronger every time. That’s the mark of a great champion.

    ● Which riders impressed you at Badminton? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column is also available in read in full in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 12 May, including our full 20-page report on all the action

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