New columnist Piggy March reflects on Thoresby’s course and making a mindset change
Thoresby, which ran for the first time at the start of the month, is the replacement for Belton, and it definitely had a Belton feel about it. It had all the razzmatazz we’ve missed over the past two years – riding in front of the house, with spectators, tradestands and a kids’ play area.
Stuart Buntine’s cross-country course will, I’m sure, develop. The time was tight and it felt a bit of a race-around course.
Belton was more imposing – big ditches, big fences, a sunken road, the downhill run to the water – and we mustn’t lose sight of running round a beefier track before Badminton. It’s the first three-day of the year and one of the biggest, so we need a few rider-frighteners beforehand.
Weston Park can fill that role – it’s a scopey, galloping track, with big timber. But its date is tricky if you want to give a horse two advanced or CCI4*-S runs before Badminton, because it’s between Thoresby and Burnham Market; most of us wouldn’t choose to do two of those runs on back to back weekends.
It was a pity the advanced classes didn’t jump in the main arena at Thoresby, as I think with such quality fields the crowds would have been entertained.
It was certainly a good weekend for the sport, with a buzz around the event.
A new mindset
Thoresby was a high for me personally, with Brookfield Inocent (Arthur, pictured at Oasby earlier this season) on great form to win the flagship class. He did his best dressage test to date and I was delighted he received the mark it warranted as that’s not always the case.
He was up another level on last year and it’s great to know he has that in him, even if I can’t get it out of him every time. I think thoroughbreds come into their prime late – he’s 13 and still developing strength, cadence and self-carriage, as well as finally being less spooky.
Arthur has three good paces, but he’s not naturally built uphill so there are certain things I have to manufacture, without forcing or holding it.
Last year, we were fighting for Olympic selection on every run and maybe I tried too hard. Since then, I’ve gone back to basics and tried to think more clearly about my horse and less about the result.
I’m very lucky in the support offered by his owners, Alison Swinburn and John and Chloe Perry.
I hate talking about money, but £1,200 for winning the CCI4*-S isn’t a great deal when you’re up against over 100 of the best horses in the country. We all love the sport and we’re not greedy, but we need sufficient rewards to make it worthwhile for owners and a real business for professional riders. Everyone is trying to move prize funds in the right direction and we must keep that focus.
Keep the variety
Great Witchingham, where I rode in March, is an event I’m fond of because my first job was mucking out there so I’m sad to hear rumours it might no longer run.
It’s old-fashioned and David and Robert Sayer’s course hasn’t changed much over the years, but I don’t think that matters. They use the terrain and make you jump in and out of woods, over ditches and through natural water crossings.
It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but a lot of good riders go there and, as long as such events are safe and not punishing for horses, you learn far more than cruising round three or four flat fields. We need to keep these educational venues.
It’s thrilling to have Badminton so soon. It seems crazy that I’m still the reigning champion; Vanir Kamira won it at 14 and returns as a 17-year-old. It’s sad for owners that these wonderful horses have missed Badmintons while in their prime. But we are fit and healthy and must look forward.
The field is exceptional and we’re all hoping for a great week that will put eventing back on the map as one of the iconic British sporting fixtures.
What do you like to see in a cross-country course? Who do you think will win Badminton? Write to email@example.com
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 April
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