Talk to anyone who has ever competed at Badminton and they’ll tell you it has an atmosphere unlike any other event. Years ago I remember talking to Andrew Nicholson about Badminton and him saying “everyone gets a little more serious when they walk through those arches, it’s the one they all want to win.” Having just listened to an interview with Jodie Amos from this year’s event, it’s clear they all feel the same.
Every year in April I wonder why I do what I do at Badminton, and but come the event I realise why. Every year the website and social media gets busier and busier. It’s a full on adrenaline rush – it’s hellishly busy, intense and a real buzz.
For me, Badminton starts in January and builds steadily through those first four months of the year, to the point where for one week in early May I hardly have time to think about anything else let alone sleep or eat. I had to apologise to one friend for appearing rude and ignoring her, the fact is it’s like no other week of my year, and it takes me (and a few others) a full day or two to recover and get back to ‘normal’.
This year the weather was the most extreme I ever remember seeing. The winds were so strong they blew the BBC’s broadcasting satellite dish off course causing ‘technical issues’ for the live coverage. It really was akin to driving down the M4 with your head out of the window like a dog. The rain turned the perfect going into an energy sapping mattress, and this turned the scoreboard during cross country day on it’s head – less than half the field finished.
The biggest surprise for me was seeing Andrew Nicholson walking home, having failed to complete on both of his horses, and William Fox-Pitt for that matter, as both have previously produced their best results at Badminton in bad weather conditions.
The leaderboards during the dressage phase made a refreshing change. Paul Tapner lead for most of it. He even enjoyed his test in the rain, and bettered his original aim of scoring low 40s by laying down a 36.0 to overtake Francis Whittington. By day two of dressage, we were all expecting the usual suspects to make an appearance in the top 5 with sub 40 scores, but it was America’s rising star, Clark Montgomery, who stole the show, taking a decisive lead on 33.3 having scored several 8s & 9s in a free flowing test. Having these 3 guys on stage at the press conference prior to cross country provided a refreshingly light-hearted atmosphere.
Two fences on the cross country course were removed due to deteriorating weather conditions; the tricky ‘b’ element at fence 18 and fence 26. If you look at the fence analysis report and the results you’ll see this didn’t make the task at hand significant easier. There were problems right across the course, and two factors always make Badminton an unknown quantity until the day; the weather, and direction in which we run the course.
Not to take anything away from either Pascal Leroy & Tim Price, who made it into the top three after cross country, but I had been really rooting for our dressage top three to made a return for the Saturday evening press conference. Sadly both Francis and Clark had tiring horses and chose to retire towards the end of the course. Such a shame as both were riding so brilliantly.
Paul Tapner, stayed in the top 3 after cross country, after what I believe was probably the best cross country round of the day. Kilronan started to tire towards the later part of the course but I don’t remember seeing him waver once the whole way through.
Pippa Funnell had a phenomenal first ride on Billy Beware, a comparative youngster at 4*. I watched her slip heading towards the final corner in Huntsmans Close but held it all together and finished with a beaming smile. I still maintain she is the most exciting rider to watch on the cross country.
Izzy Taylor was the only rider to finish with 2 horses, and with most of the field failing to finish, this left her with two in the top 20. Izzy rides with the style and grace of someone with twice her experience.
Oliver Townend was one of 8 previous winners in the field, and rode one of my favourite horses, the quirky Armada, a half brother to Nereo. Finishing fast and clear on this horse to eventually take 2nd spot is a real achievement on this horse, and one well worth watching if you ever get the chance.
Harry Meade must have been like a dog with two tails, and deservedly so. Only months after returning from a career threatening fall, he rode Wild Alone superbly around Badminton and finished on the podium in 3rd.
Another horse I really enjoyed seeing finish well was Keyflow, ridden by Tim Lips. I remember seeing him bowling along at a big event last year and thinking what a lovely horse that looks like he’s enjoying himself.
So much about Badminton is big, and ‘serious’. The media centre is as big as you’ll ever come across and a real scrum at peak times. On cross country day it’s buzzing with excitement from 7:30am and most journalists can be found glued to the screens inside rather than out on course. Most of the people that work for Badminton have done so for several years, and this can take it’s toll on their sanity! (see pic right).
Badminton is the one event I don’t get to see much of as I spend most of it in front of a laptop keeping the outside world up to date, hence many of the pictures here are courtesy of the wonderful Sally Newcomb (www.snimages.co.uk) who works for us during the event providing images for the website.
The parties at Badminton come super-sized too. The cocktail reception on Thurdsay is enormous, over a thousand people I should think squeeze into the big house. For the rockers, ravers, lovers and sinners, the Outside Chance Bar is the place to be seen. It’s packed during Cross Country Day and live music some evenings to attract the onsite revellers. Through HorseHub we put free public WiFi in bar, which was very popular, especially as the cellular coverage this year was sub optimal.
Let’s not forget the Grassroots! Each year this gets bigger and better, attracting more and more spectators. The mood across the road on the grassroots site was fun and upbeat. I felt like a boy again going to camp with my brothers. The cross country course was a pretty serious and I know many were elated just to have completed. I think this is a great addition to Badminton, and one I sincerely hope continues to be integrated in to the main event.
The last word has to go to Sam Griffiths, who quietly concentrated on maintaining a solid performance through each of the phases to hold top spot come Sunday night. Sam has an excellent record at Badminton over the years, and it’s nice to know that good guys do win.
83 horses started, only 32 finished, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 4* won off of such a high score (although Mike Tucker & Ian Stark have, but that was in their hey day!).
All In all this year’s Badminton was a corker, a serious competition, and seriously good fun!
Read all about it on the website: http://www.badminton-horse.co.uk/
Alternatively listen to the daily round up podcasts from Radio Badminton in the Horse Hub App, re-live all the drama once more.