Only 21 combinations made it through without going wrong on the cross-country at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials on Saturday, harking back to the early days of the sport when three-day-eventing was truly a test of the toughest.
In recent years the type of horse needed to win a four-star horse trials has changed from the tough and dour types who relished the mud and the roads and tracks and steeplechase, to the elegant dressage specialist.
Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy are a prime example – who would think a horse would be in with a chance after being 41st after the dressage? But in with a show they are, and they’re only 5.2 penalties behind leader Paul Tapner and Kilronan, who were second after the dressage. Several other riders now in the top 10 would not have been even close to a shout at any other event in recent years: in third is Pascal Leroy and Minos De Petra, 30th after the dressage; In seventh is Tim Lips and Keyflow NOP, 53rd after dressage, and in ninth is Ludwig Svennerstal and Alexander, 55th after the dressage.
Badminton 2014 is undoubtedly eventing at its toughest. Is course designer Guiseppe Della Chiesa’s new track a one-off?
Della Chiesa said he was surprised by the trouble the course caused. “The expectation was that the course was strong and there were a lot of unexpected mishaps – but that’s the sport. I was surprised by how much trouble the keyhole at the Outlander Bank [fence 13] caused.
“Yes, I would like to have seen more horses finishing, but the statistics do not tell the whole story. A lot of the top riders retired their horses after having one refusal instead of carrying on.”
Several riders had also questioned the decision to remove fence 26 from the course because of concerns the landing area could be too slippery. They included Harry Meade, who said: “I want to feel challenged, and at this level the cross country course should separate the field so that the best can rise to the top.”
Not a single rider made the time allowed, with only 35 from the original 83 starters completing the phase. Another 18 withdrew during the cross-country, 25 were eliminated, and five elected not to do the phase at all.
Are they saving their energies for later events leading into the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games later this year?
Word is there will be as few as 24 going forward for the final trot-up before the jumping phase on Sunday. [Update: there were 32]. By comparison, 65 made it to the showjumping ring and completed the event last year.
Some comments from the riders who got through:
Tim Price: “It’s an out and out testing course. You need a bit of luck out there.”
Izzy Taylor: “She felt tired. The course is a big ask for horses.”
Pippa Funnell: “He really looked after me and helped me out despite his inexperience. I never chased the clock with him – maybe I’ll be kicking myself later, but I was just thrilled with him. Billy Beware kept digging deep and showed me his class. Fifteen out of 20 wouldn’t have kept going through Huntsman’s Close, but he did! I’m chuffed!”
Ludvig Svennerstal: “I was disappointed with myself for not being closer to the time. I wasted too much time over the fences and could have ridden it better.”
Paul Tapner: “My trainer, Prue Barrett, said to me just before I left the start box: ‘It’s a battlefield out there – go get ‘em.’ My ride didn’t exactly go to plan. I went long at Huntsman’s Close, but I knew I had to conserve energy. I’m really glad I did that, though, because even going the long route was hard work.”
Paul Sims: “I’m really pleased with Glengarnock – it’s disappointing to have had a run out but at least we are home safe. He’s as fit as he’s ever been but was still tired, it takes it out of them.”
Pippa Funnell: “I’m beaming, I spent all night thinking it’s been raining – have I made the right decision? Billy Beware kept digging deep and showed me his class. 15 out of 20 wouldn’t have kept going through Huntsman’s Close, but he did! I’m chuffed!”
Harry Meade: “I had a wonderful ride – Alf (Wild Lone) is a super cross country horse. It was a course to get your teeth in to. I wouldn’t have wanted to be sitting on any other horse for this, it was real seat-of-your pants riding.”
Tim Lips: “I really enjoyed it – I was so nervous before I started but the crowds were cheering so loudly it was amazing. I’d stopped watching people go before me because it wasn’t good for my confidence!”
Francis Whittington: “Easy Target was jumping beautifully but as I galloped up towards Huntsmans Close there was nothing left in the tank. When we landed over the log [the first element] there was nothing there and two of the biggest corners you will ever see in front of us. Smokey didn’t deserve to be pushed on – I wasn’t concerned that he’d stop, but that he’d try to jump. He’s the most genuine horse.”
Nick Gauntlett: “It felt special jumping that last fence today. I now just have to hope that the guy on top doesn’t do anything stupid in the show jumping.”
Wendy Schaeffer: (who finished 12th on Koyuna Sun Dancer, and last rode at Badminton in 1996) “The cross country was quite similar to 1996 – another year when there were plenty of non-finishers. Jumping is my strength though so I hope it stays similar to this, it was a proper 4* test. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.”
Tina Cook: “I’m frustrated with our runout – it was a difficult fence but I hadn’t expected that. De Novo News is a young horse so I used the rest of the round as a schooling round. The ground made it hard work out there, but it wasn’t desperate by any means.”
Sam Griffiths: “Paulank Brockagh jumped the first half of the course beautifully, but we were both scrapping and fighting in the second half. She’s a star – she sees a red flag and white flag and does everything she can to jump between them.”
Clare Abbott: “I’m absolutely delighted to have jumped clear. The course rode so much tougher than it walked, but Euro Prince kept responding. I have a phenomenal horse, he’s so game and grows in the start box.”
Austin O’Connor: “Ringwood Mississippi was more mentally tired than physically tired. He got me out of jail once or twice out there but I’ve done the same for him in the past so I guess we are even now. I couldn’t be happier.”
Lucy Jackson: “I didn’t set out that quickly because you needed enough diesel for the end. Willy Do gave me everything he had and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Everything was out there to be ridden at.”
Oliver Townend: “Armada is unreal. I thought he had bottomless energy but coming up to the Quarry there was nothing there. But he picked himself up and sped up again. He’s was the straightest and most genuine horse out there.”