Badminton 2011 | Fonder Memories Than 2012

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The Green Galloping Lanes From Badminton 2011 | Wishing We Could Roll Back A Year

Badminton 2012 Cancelled Due to Waterlogged Ground – Bugger!

I’m still lost in a sea of email and other messages as I deal with the my own little corner of the fall out of Badminton being cancelled the day I was due to turn up. My first wet weather cancellation experience of the event since first getting involved over a decade ago. As much as I hate the rain, I would have preferred a wet Badminton to no Badminton. The foot and mouth epidemic in 2001 was the last time it was cancelled.

Whilst I lament and wallow my own whoas of all the hard work that has gone into this year’s event and the exciting new things we had planned, I’m reminded of the enormous knock on effects this has on so many others:

  • The riders, some of whom, need the run for Olympic qualification, now having to re-route to other events that will be inundated with entries
  • Contractors who now have to remove a small city of infrastructure that has not been used
  • Tradestand holders who now have to recover the profits they would have made at the show
  • All the launch plans for new products, books, and paraphernalia that gets planned for Badminton every year.
  • The Badminton Post Office & Shop that must live or die from the extra trade the event brings
  • and
  • and
  • and…..
The list is endless! Spare a thought for those with so much invested in “getting to Badminton”
I cry, I’ll get over it, and I’ll find my own plan B, here’s hoping everyone else manages that too.

Within minutes of the news breaking on national radio, I was being pulled back into the day job and I now have an appointment at 9:30 tomorrow with British Airways!

Until then I’m happy to relive my memories of Badminton 2011:

Badminton 2011 Short Sleeve Weather – A Far Cry One Year On

It would be near impossible to tot up the amount of man hours that go into making the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials the success that it is, and not a task I would relish. I’m not even sure any one person really has a handle on how big the Badminton Army, or Badminton Family as I like to refer to them, really is.  So many contractors, volunteers, and estate staff are involved it’s hard to imagine being able to get them all together for a group photo.

I’ve been ‘doing Badminton’ for more years than I care to remember, and each year I’m constantly amazed at the familiarity, sense of pride, and excitement of everyone involved. In many ways it’s like an annual re-run of a large family wedding, and whilst technical delegates and the ground jury might change year on year, you can bet a penny to a pound that the ‘usher’ standing at the blue gates in the village entrance to the park, the lady serving behind the bar in the media centre or any of the other 100’s of jobs, is done by the same person year in, year out.
In fact I think if you were interested in volunteering for any of the regular positions, you’re probably best off reading the obituaries as ‘doing Badminton’ is something of a life long annual pilgrimage to the spiritual home of eventing, and people travel across the world to play a small part in the great event.
For many it’s a year round task working on the build up to the one week in April or May that sees unprecedented crowds descend on the otherwise sleepy Cotswold village that lends it’s name to the event. Hugh Thomas, Badminton’s course designer, is out there almost immediately after the event has finished thinking through ideas for next year’s challenge, whist for the rest of us there’s generally a lull until November/December when the event picks up momentum with the ticket office opening, a flurry of tradestand applications and media interest.
My own involvement, which essentially revolves around anything IT related that touches the internet, whether that be website, social media or last year’s new gadget, the Badminton Mobile Apps. So for me Badminton is something I dip in and out off all year, and focus on from late March through to the event. As Badminton week approaches I often have mixed emotions “why am I doing this this?” versus “Badminton is going to be so great this year?”, but come Monday of event week when I arrive on site for a recce, and the place is buzzing with activity, and you suddenly remember how big & exciting this event really is that you get caught up in the general euphoria, and the long 16 hour days ahead become something you look forward to.

Before last year’s event I interviewed Andrew Nicholson for the blog (he’s competed at Badminton more than any other), and he described that moment of arriving at Badminton as “having an ‘airy’ feel….a feeling, a good feeling, like no other event, it’s the Wimbledon of Eventing”. I’d have to agree with that, I’ve worked at a number of other events, from championships to one day events, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it is that makes you rise up singing when you enter Badminton, and walk around the hallowed turf of the deer park, but it does have a completely different feel about it.

During Badminton week it can be hard to imagine that this is actually a deer park, when six weeks previously the place was just a very large expanse of parkland without a white tent in sight. Within a week of the event several acres is under white canvas, with immaculately mown shopping lanes and walkways. The change in dates last year to avoid a clash with Rolex Kentucky 3 day event, afforded me the opportunity to visit Lexington for Rolex, which is altogether a whole different ball game as a venue with permanent structures, and infrastructure. They benefit from having a beautiful and imposing permanent grandstand with a large expanse of artificial surface for dressage and showjumping.
The Main Arena Under Construction

Badminton by contrast spends six weeks assembling a 15,000 seater stadium on a carefully maintained piece of grassland in the deer park, where additional seats are added for showjumping on Saturday night by filling in the gaps where the cross country start and finish run through one end of the grandstand. Almost everything about Badminton’s infrastructure is temporary, due to English Hertitage restrictions, so each year mile upon mile of cabling, fencing, string and canvas is erected for one week.

This in itself, along with being in the middle of large (often muddy) field presents it’s own challenges. I remember about 5 years ago, having all our temporary telephone lines knocked out by a lightning strike. For a while, whilst the engineers worked on restoring the frazzled lines, the event was running in complete isolation, cut off from the rest of the world! Diesel generators arrive by the lorry load to power over 500 tradestands, sponsors’ facilities and the most enormous media centre of any outdoor event.   The sheer number of spectators that come to the event create such a demand for cell phone usage that 3 of the main network providers put up temporary masts to add addition bandwidth. My first year at Badminton it proved almost impossible to send a text message let alone make a phone call because of network congestion, now you can surf the internet happily on your smart phone.
Grassroots | Horses Of All Types Enetered

 Over the last 2 years, Badminton has played host to the Mitsubishi Motors Grassroots Championship, and whilst the organisation of this, and it’s slot at the beginning of Badminton week is largely isolated from the main event, there is no doubt it adds another welcome dimension to the whole show. There is as much ‘atmospheric pressure’ across the Little Badminton Road in the Grassroots stables as there is in the main stable blocks by the house. The hundred or so competitors have fought just as hard to qualify for this event as any of the professionals have to get into the CCI****, and yet the camaraderie and helpfulness of all concerned is as high. My first few days of Badminton Week revolve around covering this event, and whilst it makes my week much longer, it provides a gentle introduction for the full on days ahead once the main competition starts. Last year I helped out one of the magazines by filming 2 riders they had talked into blogging about their first time at Badminton.

I still think of the main CCI**** event running Wednesday to Sunday, but of course, it now runs Thursday to Monday, because of TV scheduling, and last year the shopping village opened for first time on Thursday, first horse inspection day, when a decent crowd gathers in front of Badminton House for a bit of trotting (the horses), and a lot of fashion (the riders). It seems as much care is taken in the grooming of the human athletes as the horses. So whilst plenty of work goes on behind the scenes taking the final wraps off the event, dressing the cross country fences, and general finishing touches, riders are, as Andrew Nicholson put it, “getting a little more quiet, a little more serious, and a little more nervous” as the formalities of the competition get underway. 
Probably my most stressful time is Friday morning and the start of dressage, when results, radio streams, news & photos are in high demand. The internet audience for Badminton has grown at least 10 fold in as many years, a sign of how ubiquitous internet access is now, and it’s now probably the largest channel audience the event has outside of any TV broadcast media. Like all internet content these days, the rate at which it is consumed and the demand for instant updates and gratification is astounding, plus the demand starts well before the competition starts. The previous year I arrived onsite on Tuesday, and before I had even opened my car door to step out I had a phone call from our hosting providers “We need to move your servers to a bigger data centre, your site is saturating our bandwidth”.  Now that’s not a move you really want to undertake at the start of your busiest week of the year! It turned out our video content was proving so popular we were hogging all the bandwidth from the data centre. So with a little creative IT, we managed to avert any downtime, but not before a little panic from the driver’s seat of my car!
The Staircase Press Preview Day 2012

Each year I’ve predicted that if the weather for the press preview day (2 weeks before the event) is good then the weather for event week will be quite the opposite. It just happens that Badminton falls at a time when weather is usually predictably wet in the UK. However last year provided undoubtedly the best weather for the event in more than a decade, and that ultimately means more challenges for producing a good riding surface on the cross country. Over the last 3 or4 years plenty of work has gone into turf management of the track, and last April the ponds in the deer park were almost drained dry to keep the course and warm up areas in top class condition. I remember walking the course on Friday night and you could dig your heel into the turf and the soil you uncovered had moisture, whilst other areas of the park were baked dry. Reviewing some of the helmet cam footage (something new last year), you could also seen hoof prints left in the track, so the going for 2011 was pretty good considering the extended dry spell, all credit to the turf management team.

Come second day of dressage everyone working at the event is more relaxed, ‘today is just a repeat of yesterday, we’ve ironed out the wrinkles and got into a groove’. Few if any dramas unfold on the second day of dressage, it’s usually the competition itself that produces the drama on this day as the leader board changes constantly as most top riders opt to have their best horse as their second ride, which means a Saturday afternoon dressage test.
My Personal Gym During Badminton

But by end of play on Saturday, the Badminton Family, is in full swing preparing for the busiest day of competition, cross country day. The BBC and TV production crew take over a large slice of the media centre for their prep meeting, An amazing number of people are involved in the live TV coverage, and anywhere between 14-20 cameras. I took my faithful Labrador, Lizzie, along to Badminton last year and it wasn’t until I was walking her on Saturday evening that a thought struck me “why is there so little litter around the place?” if you’ve ever been to something like Glastonbury music festival you’ll appreciate the amount of litter that is produced at these outdoor events. The answer is the amry of litter pickers out each evening as soon as the crowds start drifting away, and sheer number of bins around the place. A lot of the site manager, Harry Verney’s time, centres around “bogs & bins” apparently.

Traffic on cross country day can be horrendous, and the police even shut some approach roads to create a one way system. In previous years I’ve travelled home each night, which has meant getting up at 4:30/5AM on cross country day to miss the traffic. This year I decided to stay with friends nearby, cutting an hour of travel time each way. Entering Badminton on cross country day is special in itself. You can physically feel the buzz and hum around the place, this is what everyone has come to see, there is no more anticipation, the moment is now. I usually take a trip down to the stables first thing in the morning to get caught up in the excitement of the riders, grooms, team coaches, and band of supporters, it’s quite infectious!  Everyone strides about with purpose, and you’ll see few people standing around chatting. Pretty hopeless trying to get an interview with anyone let alone chat, but thoroughly engaging to watch.
Back in the main showground, and in the organiser’s office queues of people are already streaming into the front desk with all manner of questions, queries and requests. The walkie-talkies are constant with conversation about all manner of preparations from “can you get that car moved” to “We’ve found a little boy, he’s wearing a blue coat, his name’s Tom and he’s lost his mummy”. Half an hour before the first horse goes out and a relaxed hush falls over the media centre, and everyone is watching the screens intently by the time the first horse goes out.
Cross Country Day -All System Go | Time For A Break

After about the first 4 horses have completed, the mood lightens, everyone is busy chatting, and smiling. The moment everyone is here to enjoy has arrived. With a quick check that all systems are up and running, results are updating on the web, and the radio station is streaming across the globe, I take the opportunity to go out and watch some of the action first hand, meet a few friends and grab a snack. It’ll be an hour or two before any of my photographers return with snaps of the early field, so this is a time to enjoy a little of the best of Badminton.

300 or so journalists and photographers are accredited each year, and come lunchtime on cross country day they’re nearly all in the media centre filing copy and uploading photos, grinding the 40+MB of broadband we provide to a near halt!  It’s the busiest time for the media centre and the queue for food in there can seem endless. If Zara Phillips is competing journalist numbers are swelled by paparazzi and royal correspondents. Some of the die-hard web journalists can still be found tapping away at their keyboards long after 8PM, along with myself when the night security guard arrives – the same man that’s been doing the job for years.
By contrast, Monday morning is a much quieter affair altogether in the media centre. A much smaller crowd gathers round the TV screens to watch the bottom 20 or so complete Badminton with their showjumping rounds, and probably as most of journalists are out getting stories after the second horse inspection. Meanwhile the box office queues grow as punters look for any late returned showjumping seats, and come lunchtime the buzz around the whole showground has returned, the grandstands are full, crowds are gathered on the grass in front of the big screens, and last minute bargins are being snapped up in the shopping village.
Last year only one show jump rail separated the top 12, and the legendary Mark Todd was in the lead and last to go! For so many reasons 2011 was the best Badminton I’ve ever attended.
I can’t wait to relive it all again in 2013.

Dominic
About
Amateur event rider, aspiring photographer. Technologist by day.

1 comments

  1. Oh Monty, reading that has made me feel even sadder! Just wish they could reschedule it. So much hard work by so many. And I had just decided to go after all! After Rolex, my dear hubby said why don't you go? My beam was the answer.The tangible buzz when you see your first horse box will only be recreated when I drive to Greenwich. Oh boy cannot wait! Wendyfreckles

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