This is the first Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in 16 years that I’ve managed to enjoy from the other side of a white tent, and the weather, a Rolex Grand Slam Winner, and a meaty cross country course made it a memorable one.
The Rolex Grand Slam:
Yes, you could argue this was a foregone conclusion. Michael Jung rarely gives any marks away in the dressage, consistently scoring in the 30s at 4 star, and is pretty clean in both jumping phases, only narrowly losing here 3 years ago rolling the last pole. There was always that slim chance though, that something could go wrong, letting someone else through the door again.
At just 33 years old Michael is just reaching his prime for an event rider, yet has already achieved more than any other rider in history, with every major title under his belt. World, European, and Olympic titles, plus the four major four star events, and now the Rolex Grand Slam. Quite apart from his achievements, he’s also a throughly likeable guy, and very entertaining and charismatic if you engage with him in his native tongue (German).
Tweet Of The Week:
This has to go to Lance Bradley, MD of title sponsors, Mitsubishi Motors:
— Lance Bradley (@Lance_Bradley_) May 8, 2016
The Cross Country Course:
This year’s cross country course caused carnage. Often where you didn’t expect it. Most notably, and quite understandably the Vicarage Vee proved to have the most dramatic effect. This notoriously tough fence needed to be ridden on a knife edge line, too much to the left and you ended in the steep sided ditch, a little to the right and the horses would just drive by over the ditch and not the fence. Some sailed over, many skated across, and some well, just didn’t make it.
I watched quite a few through this fence and for me two of the most impressive riders of the day were Kirsty Johnston (top picture), and Olivia Wilmot (gallery link below). The French riders did well over this fence too, both Gwendolen Fer & Pascal Leroy leaving plenty of room over the fence whilst jumping.
Quite a few riders later in the day opted for the long route at the Vicarage Vee, including Izzy Tayor, Chris Burton & Oliver Townend. Chris Burton sadly fell at the Shogun Hollow two fences later, where Mark Todd had a near miss earlier in the day, almost tipping out of the saddle.
Elsewhere on course the carnage continued. Three horses had an issue with the straightforward looking Wadworth Lower Lake fence. A pretty average looking fence on the face of it, but I guess the rising ground up to water on this open upright set a few on edge. Alice Dunsdon, who was heading for her fairytale completion of all the four star events had her first refusal here, before being eliminated at the Mirage Pond. This Pond was one fence I personally don’t think rode very well, and I only saw one horse manage it cleanly.
The Emotional Bits:
I feel for Emily & Mary King. 20-year-old Emily was sitting in second place after dressage, and rode like a seasoned professional on cross country. Unfortunately Brookleigh tired rapidly at the end of the course and crashed into the second element of the Rolex Crossing one fence from home. Exactly the same fence that put paid to her mother’s chances of winning a few years ago.
How amazing to see Ben Hobday back in the saddle and completing another Badminton after his truly shit year undergoing Chemo therapy. Huge cheers rung out wherever Ben appeared this year. I remember video interviewing Ben for Horse & Hound when he first competed at Badminton a few years ago, which was truly emotional for him then. Welcome back Ben! (nice saddle by the way)
Oliver Townend can be an acquired taste by all accounts, but having never really met the guy I instantly warmed to him his weekend. Firstly he’s not afraid to speak his mind and called the mechanics of the draw into question. Whilst I don’t necessarily think (know) he’s right about the draw, he did come up with a very good suggestion about doing a live draw, which could well work. Personally I’d like to see this live draw for the order of running happen as late as possible. Even as late as 3pm on Wednesday before the trot-up when it could be done with a decent audience in front of Badminton House before the trot-up. This would build more interest and anticipation in the preceding days.
More importantly Oliver was in 8th place after dressage on Black Tie, yet the moment he saw the horse was tiring he stopped on cross country, and without any frustration jumped straight off and undid the horse’s girth to make him comfortable. Many others would have tried to nurse a horse home in that situation.
Horses To Take Home:
First and foremost I’m a sucker for a nice grey, and when I saw Clarke Johnstone’s Balmoral Sensation at the trop-up I was smitten. This striking grey had bags of presence. The following few days proved that the horse also had plenty of talent. He’d be on my list:
Boyd Martin made his first trip to Badminton this year, and having seen him ride in the UK in 2012, and subsequently in the US, I was keen to see him at Badminton, especially with a nice grey in Cracker Jack. Sadly the Vicarage Vee put paid to their Badminton completion and Cracker Jack will now stay just down the road from me with Jock Paget before heading to Lumuhlen.
Grey aside I think the most impressive pair I saw this weekend were Kirsty Johnstone & Opposition Detective. They had a refusal at the Swindown Designer Outlet Mound, but I saw them over four or five fences including the vicarage vee and they were giving them some air! (top picture) Could this horse be another Opposition Buzz, who knows, but I’ll bet Kirsty gets a fair few offers for him.
All in all it’s been a truly memorable and exciting event, I can’t wait for the next one! I’ll leave you with one of best things to happen this week. Piggy French had better be on Radio Badminton next year, she was brilliant:
You’ll find plenty more photos in my galleries: