The spring season is in full flow, and that means Badminton is just round the corner! As we head into Easter weekend and one of my favourite events (Hambleden), the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is knocking on the door, and my free time becomes an ever increasing tug of war between family time, Badminton commitments and ‘me’ time.
The traditional Press Preview Day was bathed in crisp, warm spring sunshine, and had a little extra buzz, and seasonal vigour with the promise of a whole new cross country course with a little Italian style courtesy of Badminton’s new course designer, Giuseppe Della Chiesa!
Guiseppe has been involved at Badminton for many years as Technical Delegate or assistant TD, and even in some of Hugh Thomas’s previous courses you can see the occasional Italian influence. I received the course description written by Giuseppe for the programme the other day, and even this has a distinct Italian flavour to it, which is amusing and refreshing. (you can also read it in the official Badminton App or the Badminton website)
I’ve been itching to write about the changes for months now having spent a few days with Guiseppe on the course during his visits. I won’t provide a detailed blow by blow, fence by fence account of the course, as you are best off reading what Giuseppe has to say, or the plethora of press related course walks being published with senior riders’ views, however here a few of my highlights:.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Badminton is, you usually see a nice flowing course, even with the intensity of the vicarage fields part of the course. I’ve always thought it rides far less predictably than it walks, possibly due to the lack of real definition in the terrain. It’s terrain is far more subtle.
This year sees a a new loop up to the new Gatehouse Pond (14), a picturesque setting, albeit relatively straightforward combination of birch rails in and birch rails out. The steady incline for just under quarter of a mile on the approach before doubling back through the pond and onto the vicarage vee is the significant factor for me.
Yes, the vicarage vee is back! I’m not sure whether I’m just used to it, or it does appear less daunting than in previous years, but I didn’t get that “oh shit!” feeling walking up to it this year. I get the feeling there is a little less distance between take off and the fence.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of very big spreads on the course, and the one at fence 5 is followed steeply down hill by two skinnies.
Back in Vicarage fields the Mirage Pond (16) has had a make over and an interesting curved hedge jumped at both ends on some fresh earth works should prove interesting.
Fence 18 The Swindon Designer Outlet Mound is serious, and more than a mole hill. There are some big imposing tree stumps and a steep slope to negotiate. I think this will be a great fence combination to watch from, and whilst I personally don’t like riding fences on the top of mounds, I think it’s a clever way for the course designer to slow the pace, before riders get a chance to gallop off back towards the lake, and as you pass over element A the horse has no idea what the next fence is, as element B is obscured by the tree root base. It’s a corker!
The Outlander Bank, complete with Owl Hole is back, and one serious looking fence. It pretty much always rides very well, but it looks enormous from the ground.
There are two white KBIS Garden Gates to negotiate in the middle of the open park, and I think crowds and sunlight will be serious factors here. At the moment the whole area is very bare, but the week of the event this will also have a fountain and flower garden. I think the lack of tree cover will have an influence, and apart from the crowd there’s little more than the skyline for a backdrop.
The lower end of the lake has a very straightforward spread fence (trailer towed by an L200) and then comes Huntsmans Close, sponsored once again by the ISH Studbook. Two enormous box corners topped with brush make this an unenviable task under the trees.
The main lake complex really needs to be seen in the flesh to appreciate the enormous task on the quick route. There seems to be no margin for gathering the reins and ‘knitting’ as you drop in, and I’m pretty sure the profile of the upturned boat is not one that gets ridden completely error free. We will definitely see some run outs here, and possibly a ‘swimmer’! Oh, and just when you think you can use an alternative to make life easier you realise the numbering of alternatives puts paid to that idea.
The more I look at the course and think about it the more I like it. The press core certainly seemed to like it, and “big, bold, and forward” was how I heard it described by several people.
Take a look at the course in detail, along with a video preview and animated fly through over on the official Badminton website: