A Vintage Year Of World Class Sport
Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials 2015 was memorable in so many ways, and a stark contrast to the previous year. The reversal of cross country fortunes saw 62 completions, almost twice the number of last year’s event.
Whatever your thoughts on the course, less than 25% of the field finished inside the optimum time, and only the top 2 finished on their dressage score. Chris Burton managed to beat the clock home even with a stop, which I think says more about his talents than the course lacking any significant challenge. The world’s best riders will always do well on their best horses.
With 15 years and 2 cancellations under my belt behind the scenes at Badminton, I still find the event relentless in it’s pace, but thoroughly enjoyable. By end of play on Saturday I was feeling confident all my preparations were falling into place. Unfortunately the growth in interest online is also relentless and it’s hard to schedule major changes in the final month leading up the event with causing significant disruption. Big crowds on Saturday meant big traffic to the website on Sunday, making it slow to respond, but thankfully not bringing it down completely. Dealing with that though threw my usual Sunday morning plans out of the window.
My Badminton week starts on the Sunday or Monday whilst the site is relatively quiet save for the plethora of contractors & exhibitors finishing off. I love wandering around the stables down the neatly swept walkways with freshly laid beds. They even polish all the brass fixtures & fittings.
Permanent stabling in a historic house like Badminton can be a logistical headache, for unpacking and packing but there’s no doubt it adds a little something special to the feel of the event. Many riders here will tell you walking in to the stable yards raises the hair on your arms as you realise ‘it’s all about to get very serious’.
Although we had some pretty horrendous weather in the middle or week, the ground held up particularly well. You have to feel for the Grassroots competitors who had rain, and winds strong enough to blow over the toilets to contend with for Dressage.
The buzz around the Mitsubishi Motors Grassroots Championships increases every year. I watched the first few riders kick off the competition and there is as much excitement around this competition within the eventing community as there is for the main event. Plenty of four star riders make themselves available during the grassroots for everything from training to course walks. Harry Meade, who was wasn’t riding at Badminton this year had a huge following for his course walk of the grassroots track.
Come Wednesday the whole venue is running on all cylinders. Grassroots cross country is underway, the CCI**** competitors have settled into the stables preparing for their first view of the course and sprucing up their mounts (and themselves!) for the first horse inspection. Because we run live results from the two trot-ups I never go down, but I think I’ll make an effort to be there next year.
For the last few years I’ve decided to stay locally with friends who have a lovely home in the hills above Bath. It’s saves a good 40 mins of travelling time each way. Plus I’m treated like one of the family, with home cooked meals and a warm bed – I’m very lucky to have Chris & Jan as friends. They have the greatest ‘cartoon’ dog, Archie, too.
As a thank you I get them an invitation to the Thursday night cocktail party in Badminton House. It’s the only social occasion I seem to get any time for during the event. This year we also had Ripley join us. Ripley, is a ‘proper professional’ photographer, a real artist, with an enviable portfolio and client list. I spent a day in a studio with him last year, and quite coincidentally Ripley produced the image of Sam Griffiths that adorns the Outside Chance Bar by the lake.
By Friday all my systems were well bedded in and I managed to spend a few hours outside covering for Sally Newcomb, our website photographer, grabbing photos from behind the scenes. The warm up arena behind the main grandstand is a fascinating place to be.
In addition to being able to watch these riders train and prepare their horses for the first big test of the competition, you get to see the full range of emotions. Nerves on the way in, plus the disappointments or elation on the way out. Even the calmest of horses tend to be on their toes as they enter the main arena for dressage. Having said that, Chilli Morning [the eventual winner] is a super relaxed horse. After his test he decided to drop his head and graze before leaving the arena, which raised a laugh from the crowd, and William Fox-Pitt too.
I’d say cross country day was pretty busy this year. We had torrential rain very early in the morning, but it did no harm to the going or general conditions on site, and didn’t deter the punters. The first few horses out on course went clear including many inside the time, but then the course started catching riders out. There were a few falls (nothing serious), and plenty of stops.
I spent an hour or so in the main arena and ’10 minute box’ picking up photos and giving Sally a break to photograph other parts of the course. So many smiling faces is very up-lifting. It’s fun watching riders come back off cross country and recant their stories of the course with such enthusiasm. Mark Todd was as thrilled watching Gabriel Silva Cury come home clear on his old mount Grass Valley, as he was after his own ride earlier that morning.
Show jumping day is always a real mixture of pace with a relatively relaxed day once the show jumping starts, and then as we near the top 5 jumping everyone gears up for the winning moment and the presentation of prizes. This year I spent much of the day fine tuning the web server to cope with the demand before the rush of content that comes through the door as the competition finishes. By 8pm much of the Media Centre is back to being an empty shell and my internet connection is one of the last things to be switched off.
As I write these words I’ve just finished watching the recorded highlights of Badminton. It’s been a great year for many reasons, weather, conditions, crowds, and the competition itself. I have to say I was rooting for Andrew Nicholson to break his duck, but I’m so pleased to see the first stallion win, particularly Chilli Morning who seems to have the sweetest disposition. My ‘horse to take home’ though would have to be King Eider, another lovely looking grey that reminds me so much of my own horse. I’d be happy to take Kilronan home too!
It does feel good to be back home. After a week away in early May, everything looks different. The hedgerows have bloomed, the lawns are long and the song birds nesting around the house now all have hatchlings.
Badminton is always the perfect kick-start to the summer season of eventing.