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Friday Video from SmartPak: The Asian Games Hit Ireland

Asian games comes to Ballindenisk – Toshi first come on Kazu

Posted by Jackie Potts Equestrian Services on Friday, April 19, 2019

Have you ever thought that eventing is maybe just lacking a little bit of, well, insanity? That perhaps it’s all a bit too sane and sedate, like the wheels have fallen off the banter bus a wee bit? Of course you haven’t, but just in case, enter eventing in Ireland. As if galloping pell-mell over colossal timber fences and drinking one’s bodyweight in whiskey isn’t enough, the delightfully bonkers folk behind Ballindenisk International Horse Trials have added an extra phase to proceedings. Welcome to the annual donkey race, in which top riders pair up with a different sort of four-legged friend to battle it out for top honours.

Super-groom Jackie Potts shared this action-packed, nail-biting clip of today’s race – we talk an awful lot about how formidable the Japanese eventing team are becoming, and Toshiyuki Tanaka dealt the final blow by cruising to an easy win aboard his donkey. He was followed by Ryuzo Kitajima in second place and Chinese Olympian Alex Hua Tian, who appeared to get lost and then employed some very suspect tactics, romped home in third. Unfortunately, Kazuma Tomoto couldn’t quite find the accelerator pedal on his donkey, and he meandered home in good spirits, but a very definitive last place. Better luck next time, Kazu.

#BadmintonAt70: The 2019 Badminton Form Guide

Gird your loins, chaps: the countdown is ON to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and we, for one, couldn’t be more excited — not least because this year is a special one. 2019’s competition is the 70th anniversary of the inaugural Badminton, and since its first running in 1949 the sport, the venue, and the characters within this epic story have changed and evolved significantly. To celebrate 70 years of brilliant Badminton, we’ll be bringing you an extra-special inside look at the event and its rich and exciting history every week from now until the competition begins on May 1. Consider the archives your own personal Gringotts, and EN your loyal goblin sherpas. 

We know you’ve been rationing out your lunch breaks for the Big One, that infamous hotbed of madness that is the annual form guide, and we shan’t hold back on you any longer. Here’s your 2019 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials field, and everything you need to know about each and every last one of them, brought to you in partnership with Voltaire Design. See you on the flip side, gang.

Is there anything more exciting than the long-anticipated release of the Badminton entry list? Nothing quite decides the end of winter like it – when it goes live, eventing fans across the globe can be spotted, lumbering out of their dwellings like oddly excitable bears to look, to tweet, to discuss, and to analyse.

And analyse we most certainly have done. Despite some technical malfunctions at Eventing Nation’s UK HQ, Chinch and his team of rodent brethren have been hard at work crunching the numbers and digging out the fun facts. What fun they are, too – in the sultry depths of the form guide, you’ll discover which competitor works as a stunt rider for Game of Thrones, which entrant first had the ride on Arctic Soul, and which stallion enjoys an astonishing dominion over the entry list with five own sons entered.

As always, the form guide will be constantly updated to reflect additions from the waitlist, as well as significant changes in form as we head into the last couple of prep runs before the big day. Keep it locked onto EN, and let us know in the comments who your money’s on this year!

Typically ‘weeeee’: Clare Abbott and Euro Prince at Badminton in 2018. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

Clare Abbott and Euro Prince

Sixteen-year-old ISH gelding (Lougheries Quiet Man x Miss Tullydraw). Owned by John and Cormack McKay.

Longtime partnership Clare and ‘Sparky’ are one of those pairs that’s just great fun to watch across the country, purely because they always look as though they’re really, truly enjoying themselves. But they come to their fifth Badminton with plenty of experience under their belts, too — they made the step up to five-star (then four-star) in 2014, making their debut with a very creditable 24th place finish. Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength, despite facing separation when the horse was entered into the Goresbridge sales. Their best five-star result was ninth at Pau in 2015, and in 2017 they produced 14th and 13th place finishes at Badminton and Burghley, respectively.

Their 2018 Badminton didn’t quite go to plan, with a surprise horse fall at the Bullfinch just five from home. They had a quiet season thereafter, running at Mallow CCI4-S in June with an uncharacteristic 20, and starting, but withdrawing after dressage from, Millstreet’s CCI4-S in August. Clare, who balances eventing with working part-time as a maths teacher in a secondary school, has ridden her sixteen-year-old Rio partner for eleven years, and though they can certainly be competitive, neither has anything to prove. We’ll be watching their prep run at Burnham Market CCI4-S with interest to see how they’ve started 2019.

Hanna Berg and Quite Survivor – FIRST-TIMERS

Fourteen-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Quite Easy x Flickan). Owned by Mathilda Berg.

It’s a real family affair for Sweden’s Hanna Berg and her top horse, who was bred by Hanna’s mother Anette and is owned by her little sister, Mathilda. Known as Little-Man at home, the gelding is an out-and-out showjumper with a heart of gold, and throughout the process of producing him, Hanna has found him brave and wise enough to tackle any challenge she’s offered him. Now, she hopes, that scope and sensibility will help to guide them both around the biggest test of their lives.

In order to prepare, Hanna and Little-Man have made the (temporary) big move from their family farm in Sweden to Austin O’Connor’s Attington Stud, which, based as it is on the cusp of the Cotswolds, offers the perfect setting for them to do their crucial final fitness work and fine-tuning. They’ll be working with trainers Fredrik Bergendorff and Yogi Breisner to help them realise the dream that Hanna has held onto since her very first event back in 2004.

This isn’t just a Badminton debut, but a five-star debut too for both Hanna and Little-Man, who have racked up some impressive rounds – they were clear at Aachen, Bramham, Boekelo, Strzegom, and Houghton in 2018, and have only had two cross-country jumping faults across their thirty-one internationals. They’re not the speediest across the country, but they won’t need to be – their goal as first-timers will be to complete without faults, proving they deserve more team appearances.

 

Merel Blom and Rumour Has It NOP (NED). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Merel Blom and Rumour Has It NOP

Sixteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Esteban xx x Onara). Owned by Merel Blom.

This enormously experienced pairing can boast two WEGs, an Olympic Games, two European Championships, and six five-stars together. This will be their fourth Badminton — their best result here was thirteenth in 2014, and they come into 2019’s edition off the back of a sixteenth place finish at last year’s WEG, representing the Netherlands. To say he came out of Tryon feeling well is, perhaps, an understatement: Merel tried to give her horse a well-deserved holiday, but had to cut it short when he expressed his displeasure by ‘exercising’ himself in the paddock every day.

Merel events alongside studying for her Masters in tax law at the University of Rotterdam, which I assume is just as jam-packed with adrenaline as her sport of choice. I don’t know for sure, mind you, because I didn’t do anything as sensible as go to law school, and now I write about horses for a living. Either way, she’s one of the Netherlands’ most successful riders and the enormously brave Rumour Has It has been a spectacular horse for her. While they won’t compete for the very top spots, they’ll aim to climb the leaderboard after posting a low-30s mark and will likely sit in the top twenty.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Alex Bragg and Zagreb

Fifteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Perion x Renera). Owned by Phillip and Sally Ellicott. 

There are some horses who just set you to dreaming — somehow, they manage to open the floodgates and make their staggering trajectories a communal effort, something owned and coveted as much by the fans as they are by the rider and the team surrounding these brilliant animals. Tall, dark, and impossibly hunky Zagreb is one of those horses. When he made his Badminton debut in 2017 with the enormously likeable family man Alex in the irons, he stopped being “that nice-looking bay in the collecting ring” and immediately became something to take very seriously indeed, despite – or perhaps, even because of – the fact that he didn’t complete. Though the pair were sitting in fifth place after cross-country, Alex opted to withdraw his top horse before showjumping, spotting that he wasn’t feeling 100% himself and that there would be bigger things to come for the Dutch-bred gelding, known at home as Rhett. Yes, like that Rhett. Ugh, delish, right?!

BUT WE DO, RHETT. WEEEE DOOOOO.

Since then, Alex and Rhett have enjoyed top ten finishes at Aachen, Gatcombe, and Blenheim, as well as Pau five-star in 2017, a win in 2018’s Jardy ERM and third at Blenheim CCI4-L, and another clear around Badminton, though 40 time penalties and a knocked pin proved expensive. They took a tumble at Burghley but recovered well to perform beautifully at Blenheim, and Alex, who excelled in mounted games as a child and then started a successful farriery business, is a firm crowd favourite. Many are putting their money on him and Rhett to take this year’s title, and this fantastic partnership will certainly offer up a jolly good show while they try to do just that. A six-run average of 27.5 (and a five-star dressage average of 30.2) should put them well in contention, but they’ll need a quicker run than last year to challenge. On the final day, they’re pretty reliable – in two of their three five-star completions, they’ve jumped clear.

David Britnell and Continuity impress on their five-star debut at Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

David Britnell and Continuity – FIRST-TIMERS

Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Contender x Mensa I). Owned by rider.

This will be a second CCI5*-L for David and his best mate Brad, who made the long journey south to Pau for their debut last season. It was well worth the 50-odd hours spent in the lorry – they finished tenth, climbing up the leaderboard after two impressive performances in the jumping phases. Now, they’ll face the biggest challenge of their lives – but it won’t be their first time contesting Badminton. David is set to be the second rider ever to compete at both the Badminton grassroots championship and the five-star – Ben Way has already done so, competing at the former in 2011 and the latter for the first time in 2015. But this will be the first time someone does both on the same horse, and they’ll certainly be hoping to replicate the performance that earned them 5th place in the BE100 championship here in 2013.

David, who is a BHS Senior and UKCC 2/3 Coach, has been working hard on the first phase over the winter: he and Brad scored a 33.2 in the OI at Tweseldown despite some first-party-of-the-year exuberance. They’ll be aiming to be in the upper half of the pack after dressage – with their six run average of 33.1, it’s just about doable. Then, they’ll be well set up to go and enjoy their first spin around Badminton proper – if Pau is anything to go by, they’ll have great fun tackling Eric Winter’s smorgasbord of challenges.

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet at Burghley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Sarah Bullimore and Reve du Rouet

15-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Balou du Rouet x Onassis Queen). Owned by Brett Bullimore and Christopher and Susan Gillespie.

The consummate heartbreaker, Reve du Rouet is the sort of guy you’d match with on Tinder knowing, even through the brain fog of that third glass of Savvy B, that for better or for worse, this one would change your life. For a while, you’d imagine he’s changing it for the better – he’d show up unannounced with your favourite takeaway, looking sickeningly handsome with his crooked grin and slightly-too-long hair. He’d make you feel like he really got you, and he’d know lines of Pablo Neruda poems by heart, which is either lovely or incredibly cringe-worthy, depending on the sort of person you are. Then, you’d be sure he’s changed your life for the worse when, fuelled by his commitmentphobia and one too many whiskeys, he’d call you a very rude name in a bar and end up snogging some girl you’re pretty sure you sat behind in high school Trigonometry. Eventually, he’d grow up and get over himself and settle down with you, but he’d never quite lose the air of sheepishness for having been such a committed knobhead once upon a time. But you’d love him nonetheless.

That’s Reve du Rouet all over – gorgeous, crazy talented, and sometimes, well, just plain crazy, he’s spent years putting us all on the edge of our seats wondering which side of the Jekyll and Hyde coin we’d be given today. His flightiness is down to a genuine fear of crowds, which has seen his tension boil over dramatically in the past but – dare we say it? – seems to be under control these days. This is largely due to some seriously tactical riding – Sarah sneaks most of his schooling into her hacking and fast work, so he never realises the pressure that’s being put on. As a result, he finished his 2018 season with a first-phase PB at Burghley, posting a 27.3. That beat their previous PB of 28.5, delivered the previous season at Pau, and on both occasions, he backed up his impressive starts: he finished second at Pau by just a tenth of a point and was fourth at Burghley. Sarah, who has compared her partnership with ‘Blou’ to that of a battered wife, will be hoping to match her clear cross country of Badminton 2018 with a slightly faster time (and another one of those stunning tests) – then, it’s just a case of not taking two poles as a souvenir.

Christopher Burton and Cooley Lands (AUS). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Chris Burton and Cooley Lands

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Cavalier Land x Clover Light Girl). Owned by Kate Walls. 

Cooley Lands sizzled his way into our collective consciousness in 2017 when he won the Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old class on his debut at the level. Not only did he take an easy victory, finishing on his dressage score of 28.4, he did it having been produced and competed almost solely by owner Kate. He was also the only horse to make the time, and he did so by finishing an impressive four seconds within it. When he sauntered into the prize giving, he looked as though he knew he belonged there – and since then, he’s enjoyed a fitting career trajectory.

He was eighth at Boekelo shortly after that Blenheim win, and spent much of the 2018 season contesting CCI4-S competitions with both Kate and Chris. Then, he got the big call-up: he represented Australia in Tryon. Although it was very much a competition of two halves for him – he scored an impressive 28.6 in the first phase, but was one of several good horses to have a run-out at the water – it’ll be interesting to see how the experience has shaped his education. This could be a very, very good first-timer, or Chris could opt to run him slowly. Remarkably, even the fastest man in the world knows when to take his foot off the gas.

Christopher Burton and Graf Liberty at Blair Castle 2017. Photo by Event Rider Masters.

Chris Burton and Graf Liberty

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Lisheen Star).Owned by the Graf Liberty Syndicate.

We last saw the experienced Graf Liberty at Badminton in 2017, when he posted an impressive dressage score of 21.9 – the best we’d seen in fifteen years at the event. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be his weekend — he picked up 20 penalties at the skinny log coming out of the Hildon Water Pond, scuppering his chances of a win.

We’ve seen him in three Event Rider Masters leg since then, and he’s not been out of the top three in any of them – those were Blair and Blenheim in 2017, and Blair again in 2018, which he won despite the, um, ‘trying’ conditions. It would be easy to dismiss him as a short format specialist, but he finished fourth at Luhmühlen in 2015 — okay, it’s not quite Badminton, but we know the ability is in there. Expect a competitive first-phase performance and, based on the form of the last eighteen months, a Saturday to remember.

Ellen Cameron and Hanleen Crown Jewels – FIRST-TIMERS

Thirteen-year-old British-bred Sports Horse mare (breeding unknown). Owned by the rider.

It’s a first Badminton – and, indeed, first five-star – for both Ellen and her mare, who she’s produced through the levels herself. They’ve enjoyed clear rounds over the last couple of seasons at Blenheim, Blair, Houghton, Burgham, and Barbury, although their first-phase score tends to put them out of contention – they’re upper-30s to low-40s scorers. They ran into a couple of problems last season, resulting in a rider fall at Chatsworth and an elimination at Barbury, but they know one another well, and they’ve proven they can be reasonably quick, too. Their goal for this year will be an educational completion – then, armed with new knowledge, they can aim to be competitive at their next five-star appearance.

Jesse Campbell and Cleveland. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Jesse Campbell and Cleveland

Twelve-year-old KWPN gelding (Watermill Swatch x Rielone). Owned by Kent Gardner and rider.

The lanky, handsome Cleveland will be attempting his third five-star here: he went to Pau in 2018, but it didn’t quite go to plan: Jesse opted to retire him after a couple of issues on course. Earlier in the season he went to Luhmühlen, but fell on course. To head to Badminton now is a bold choice, but the horse is plenty talented – he’s been eleventh, fourth, and fourth in his last three four-star (former three-star) runs. His record is a bit chequered, so expect to see an educational – rather than a competitive – run. If he conquers this track, Jesse could find himself sitting on a horse with an enormous amount of renewed confidence.

Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude – FIRST-TIMERS

Fifteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Misty Matilda). Owned by the Fernhill Fortitude Syndicate.

Jenny is the sole US representative currently off the wait list, and she and her long-time partner ‘Forty’ will be hoping for a repeat of their success the last time they came to the UK, when they finished ninth in the Bramham under-24 CCI4-L in 2016.

Jenny bought Forty from Ireland in 2011, where the then-seven-year-old had done some showjumping but was yet to tackle his first event. Since then, they’ve gained an enormous amount of experience together, culminating in their first ever win – national or international – in Bromont’s CCI4-L in 2018. They made their five-star debut at Kentucky in 2017, and although they retired on course, they’ve had a string of promising results since then (including that Bromont victory, which certainly counts as something more than ‘promising’!). This season, Jenny is basing herself and Forty with World Number One Oliver Townend, so she’ll have set herself up well to go into Badminton with the best possible preparation. They’re likely to hover around the low thirties after the first phase, and their showjumping can be a bit hit-or-miss, but they’ll be here to storm around the cross-country in true (pseudo) Irish fashion.

The eagle-eyed among you will notice that Forty shares a sire with some notable five-star horses of recent years – Ringwood Sky Boy, Ballaghmor Class, the Duke of Cavan, and Cooley Rorkes Drift are all Courage sons.

The incomparably pretty Sarah d’Argouges nails the smoky eye at Pau’s final trot up. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sebastian Cavaillon and Sarah d’Argouges – FIRST-TIMERS

Thirteen-year-old Selle Français mare (Quite Easy I x Uranie des Halles). Owned by Michel Lancelot. 

Successful five-star debutantes abounded for the home front at Pau in 2018, and Sebastien and his stunning Selle Français mare were no exception. They’ve been partnered since 2013 and moved up to CCI4-L  in 2015, so they’ve gotten to know one another well over the challenge of the level.

And there have been a few challenges – they’ve had a few 20s, have been spun at two horse inspections, and they’ve had a horse fall and a showjumping elimination, too. But they’ve also had their successes – they’ve finished ninth at Saumur and tenth at Haras du Pin. That all came together just in time to allow them to finish 15th at their first five-star last season, although they were one of several combinations whose last-minute change of plans at the influential combination near the end of the course almost looked like a run-out.

Caroline Clarke and Touch Too Much – FIRST-TIMERS

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Imperial Heights x Touch of Dutch). Owned by rider.

We last saw Caroline and her best pal Possum in an international at Blair Castle CCI4-L last August, where they withdrew before showjumping after a 20 across the country. This came as a bit of a surprise to everyone – Blair has been a pretty happy hunting ground for the pair, who won the CCI3-L there in 2016 and finished third in the CCI4-L in 2017. Otherwise, they had two four-star (then three-star) top twenties in 2018, including one in the tough Bramham Under-25 class, so they should be well set up to contest their first five-star this spring.

Caroline has produced her top horse while studying dentistry – interestingly, she didn’t keep Possum at university with her, so an enormous amount of dedication (and mileage) went into making both dreams happen. Although Possum isn’t, perhaps, the archetype of a classic event horse, he’s a good jumper and should lodge a completion this year. Then, it’s onwards and upwards from there.

    Laura Collett and Mr. Bass. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Laura Collett and Mr Bass

Eleven-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Carrico x K-Jeunesse). Owned by Keith and Louise Scott, Nick and Lyn How, and the rider.

It feels like we’ve been waiting for this moment for years, doesn’t it? Mr Bass – known at home as Chuck, after his Gossip Girl namesake – was entered for Badminton last year, but Laura opted to withdraw him as he wasn’t feeling 100% in the lead-up. Then she – and we – were dealt another disappointment when the freakishly talented young horse wasn’t called up for the WEG at Tryon. All’s well that ends well, though – in his five internationals in 2018, Chuck only finished outside of the top five once. On that occasion, he was ninth at an early season CCI4-S at Belton. He won the Nations Cup CCI4-S at Houghton in May and then went to his first five-star at Luhmühlen. There, he made a joke of the entire level, skipping around as though it was a Pony Club rally, and finishing second on his dressage score of 29.9.

Impressive results indeed – and those are just less than one season’s worth – but what is it that makes the former seven-year-old World Champ one of the most talked-about horses in eventing? Basically, he’s an FOD machine, the likes of which we’ve seldom seen before. He’s finished on his dressage score in just shy of 60% of his 22 international completions, which, when you consider the calibre of competition he’s been entered in, is pretty astonishing. He’s started his season on form, too: he finished second in an OI section at Lincoln after delivering a dressage score of 22.5, and finished fourth in the extremely competitive Grantham Cup CCI4*-S at Belton, too. Yummy stuff indeed.

A fun, if slightly irrelevant fact: Chuck is one of two ‘Mr’ horses entered. Padraig McCarthy’s Mr Chunky is the other. Two horses competing with the same level of formality have won at this level – those were Mr Smiffy and Mr Cruise Control, who both won five-stars with Andrew Nicholson. The ultimate Mr Man.

Tina Cook and Billy the Red (GBR). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Tina Cook and Billy the Red

Twelve-year-old German Sporthorse gelding (Balou du Rouet x Simply Red). Owned by Elisabeth Murdoch and Keith Tyson.

British team stalwart Tina has three horses entered – her third, Calvino II, is 22nd on the waitlist currently. The West Sussex-based rider is one of the most experienced in the field, and she comes from good horsey stock, too – her brother Nick is a leading racehorse trainer, while her father Josh was Champion Jockey on four occasions and her mother, Althea, was a top showjumper. She’s competed at two Olympics, five World Equestrian Games, and seven European Championships, and basically, we are not worthy.

Billy the Red, for his part, stormed around the WEG last year as the Team GB individual, finishing in ninth place after he added just 2.4 time penalties to his 29.1 dressage. He also finished fourth at the 2017 European Championships, and will likely be campaigned with another team appearance in mind later this year. He’s a funny thing, really – his eventual selection for Tryon was met with some controversy, largely because he went through a phase of being seriously unpredictable in the first phase. He posted a 40 at Aachen and then, less than two weeks later, won Hartpury after putting a 25.6 on the board. His six-run average is 30.4, but his early-season runs at OI and AI have seen him sit right around the 28 mark. If he comes out ready to play nice between the boards, he’ll be formidable – he’s never been out of the top ten at five-star level, and that streak should continue.

Tina Cook and Star Witness. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tina Cook and Star Witness

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Witness Box x Drive On Rosie). Owned by Jim Chromiak, Bridget Biddlecombe, Shaun Lawson, and Mr and Mrs Nicholas Embiricos. 

The second entry from Tina Cook is Star Witness, a horse who was bought as a three-year-old, unbroken sales project – who never left. Now, he’s got five five-star completions under his belt, and he’s finished in the top ten in four of them. The fifth was Burghley 2018, where he finished eleventh, delivering one of the only double-clear cross country rounds of the day to climb spectacularly.

This is what Star Witness does best – he might not be the most flash dressage performer, but like Mr Bass, he’s astonishingly good at finishing on whatever he delivers on the first day. He’s only notched up 12 cross-country time penalties in internationals since the middle of 2016, and he’s FOD’d twice at Burghley and once at Badminton. That was in 2016, on his only other trip here – he finished seventh, and could certainly go better if Tina can eke a couple more marks out of him in the dressage. He’s the archetype of a horse who benefits from last year’s scoring revision.

Interestingly, he suffers from kissing spines – but with careful management from Tina and her team, it obviously doesn’t slow him down at all. Tina, for her part, has been happy to discuss this publicly – she hopes, quite rightly, that his success might persuade people to work a bit harder on improving their ‘throwaway’ horses.

Tom Crisp and Coolys Luxury storm around Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Crisp and Coolys Luxury

Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Olympic Lux x Tell Me Sunshine). Owned by the Luxury Syndicate.

Experienced campaigner Cooly comes to Badminton with a, well, unique accolade – he’s the proud owner of perhaps the most-lauded trotters in the biz. That is to say, he’s won the Best Shod Horse prize at Burghley in three of his five appearances there. At Badminton last year, farrier Jim Hayter installed heart-bar shoes without clips, while at Burghley, he wore straight-barred shoes with clips. The more you know, pals.

Burghley has been a real specialty for this very good cross-country horse, and he’s finished in the top twenty there a couple of times. His best five-star result was eleventh there in 2014. Last year, he enjoyed his first Badminton completion, winning Tom the Laurence Rook trophy for being the highest-placed British rider who hadn’t completed Badminton before. A bit of a mouthful, but they finished nineteenth.

Despite his seventeen years, Cooly has begun his season looking – and feeling, by all reports – remarkably well, finished twelfth in a hot OI at Tweseldown, eleventh in an AI at Great Witchingham and 12th in an enormous field in Belton’s CCI4*-S Grantham Cup. Ordinarily, we can expect a low-30s score from Cooly at the five-star level, but he delivered a very creditable 30.8 here last year, and retained firefighter Tom will be riding high on the wave of confidence delivered by his end-of-season success with stablemate Liberty and Glory, so expect him to eke out every spare mark his old friend has to offer.

(Incidentally, if you fancy a piece of the Cooly pie, there’s a final space in the syndicate remaining – so you could go to Badminton as an owner, if you move quickly!)

A freak of a jumper: Tom Crisp’s Liberty and Glory at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Caretino Glory x Little Runnymede xx). Owned by Robin and Patricia Balfour and Sophie Crisp. 

Liberty and Glory, or Lori, is our dark horse pick of the week: she is, after all, quite literally a dark horse. But she’s also one of those classic, feisty little mares, fuelled by rage and opinions, and frankly, her first-phase performances don’t even MATTER when she produces the goods on Saturday. We saw her at her very best at Pau in 2018, where she climbed an absolutely ridiculous 54 places to finish sixth, delivering an emotional five-star best for Tom.

Lori is truly a family horse, ridden by a family man: she’s out of a full Thoroughbred mare who Tom’s wife Sophie competed through Advanced, and Sophie’s parents Robin and Patricia not only bred the mare, but continue to part-own her. The Crisp family at large – including sons Hugo and Harry, and new baby Hermione – can be seen out in force at events, with everyone chipping in. Hermione, who was only born in January, doesn’t have an official role yet, but we imagine it won’t be long before she’s pinching the ride on her dad’s mega mare.

Born on the fourth of July and given a patriotic moniker to match, Lori probably won’t dazzle in the dressage – her six-run average is a 37.1, although Tom has been working hard on her flatwork this spring. It’s Saturday that’ll really have you paying attention – despite the fact that she spent her early years enacting elaborate protests that included lying down in start boxes, 16hh Lori is yet to face any course she considers difficult. Her penalties at her five-star debut at Luhmühlen came as a result of enthusiasm and a subsequent genuine inability to get herself to the next element. Watching her take on Eric Winter’s course will be as fun for fans as it is for the mare herself.

Millie Dumas and Artistiek – FIRST-TIMERS

Fourteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Numero Uno x Lilian NW). Owned by Ellie Guy and the rider.

Marvellous Millie rode fifty cross-country rounds in 2018 and didn’t fault in a single one of them – in fact, she’s the only Brit to do so last season. We’ve not seen her at this level in a while, but she’s not a debutante – she rode around Luhmühlen in 2014 with Action Packed, finishing 31st. The year prior, she partnered Artistiek, or Artie, around the Young Rider European Championships and finished 20th.

Though Millie has since been out of the very topmost echelon of the sport, she’s certainly not been slacking – she competes a broad string of talented horses through the four-star (formerly three-star) level, and she’s earned herself a reputation for producing a seriously well-educated horse. One example? The Duke of Cavan, ridden by Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa. That’s a Millie horse, and he’s done alright for himself.

Artie enjoyed a couple of trips to Ireland last year, and successfully – he notched up top-ten finishes in CCI4-S classes at both Tattersalls and Millstreet. In fact, in his six full runs at both national and international levels, he was never out of the top 20. He’s been a consistent mid-to-high 20s scorer in the first phase, so expect a good performance here, and a clear round with 20 or so time. He’s not necessarily the fastest horse, but he and Millie have more than proven themselves over some seriously tough tracks in the lead-up to their biggest ever.

Isabel English and Feldale Mouse

Seventeen-year-old Connemara/Thoroughbred gelding (Glenormiston Praise x Zoe). Owned by the rider.

24-year-old Isabel hails from Biddaddaba on Australia’s Gold Coast, and you should probably know that I misspelled that town name FIVE times before I finally got it right. Now, I’m weeping into my keyboard, the red autocorrect squiggle on my screen dancing mockingly in my tears.

Anyway, my impending emotional breakdown aside, Bella and Mouse should be a fun combination to keep an eye on this year. Isabel was one of those child prodigies who had to (impatiently) wait for her eighteenth birthday to arrive so she could pop a five-star entry in as soon as possible – that entry ultimately led to a twelfth-place finish at Adelaide. The next two years, again riding Feldale Mouse, she finished eighth. Apparently bored of kicking ass and taking names at Adelaide, she and her Connemara x Thoroughbred moved to Europe to be based with some guy called Michael Jung, who I guess runs some sort of academy for kicking ass and taking names? Await confirmation, dear readers.

The pair have tackled thirteen internationals since the move in 2016, and they’ve finished in the top 20 nine times. They’ve tackled another five-star, too, although that didn’t go quite to plan – Isabel took a tumble at Pau in 2017. But they’re a strong cross-country combination, and pretty impressive in the final phase, too – it’ll be a mid-to-high 30s dressage that stands in their way, but we could see this scrappy duo climb. Bonzer, Kumpel.

William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire. Photo by Prime Photography for Tattersalls.

William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire

Ten-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Graf Top x Heraldiks Angara). Owned by Jennifer Dowling and the rider.

Lanky Will has totted up a fair few successes in his time – he was the last British rider to win Badminton, for one, taking the top spot aboard Chilli Morning. Beyond that, he’s the only rider to have won five of the world’s six five-star events (Adelaide, for obvious reasons, has eluded him, but we reckon Isabel English would probably come up with a suitably devious plan to get him over there and make it all six). He’s won Burghley an almost ludicrous six times, has had to find somewhere to store 22 medals, and is three-time World number one and seven-time British number one. Phew. Most importantly, though, he breeds Frizzle chickens, which are CHICKENS THAT GROW THEIR OWN TROUSERS and also FUNKY, FUNKY AFROS.

This chicken-fanciers’ website describes Frizzle chickens as “quite the glitzy girls” with “frizzled plumage and short, erect bodies”, and if you want to try to tell me for even a SECOND that this is not the quality content you’re here for, then you’re a dirty great big liar. Not at all like a Frizzle chicken, which is “docile and gentle” and “not just the next starlet to fall from grace”(???).

Anyway, Long Tall William is back with two rides this year (though presumably no chickens). Little Fire will be making his second appearance at a five-star after a seriously smart cross-country round at Pau ended just a few fences from home with a really unlucky rider fall. Known as Aiden, the ten-year-old really impressed at Tattersalls CCI4-L last summer, too, taking second place amid hot competition.

Aiden posted a 30.5 dressage at Pau, and we should expect to see the same, roughly, again – he tends to be in the high 20s at four-star, but five-star is that touch harder, and there’s an atmosphere to contend with, too. Then, we’ll have to just hope for the quality of that Pau round, without the unfortunate addendum. The horse is certainly capable, and we guess the rider probably is, too.

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II

Ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Oslo Biats x Cinnamon Brulee). Owned by The Oratorio II Syndicate.

Naughty Rio really came good at Blenheim last year, where he so narrowly missed out on the win in the enormous CCI4-L class to Bella Innes Ker. William Fix-Pott (as my totally non-horsey college boyfriend called him) joked about being one of the old-timers at the event, a competition he first contested eighteen years prior, and affably accepted defeat at the hands of Bella, very much a ‘young gun.’

“Most of the field wasn’t even born when I first rode here,” he laughed. More importantly, though, it was at Blenheim that we got our first hints that Rio might grace us with his presence at Badminton. Out of a racing mare and by William’s former five-star winner Oslo, Rio is “absolutely blood, and he doesn’t know the meaning of ‘hard’ in any phase, on any day, ever. It’s exhausting at my age,” William went on. “I’m quite looking forward to the day when he says, ‘right, okay, let’s go onto the bridle a bit now!’ At my age, I quite like them to purr around a bit, but he’s a double handful. Sometimes the ‘woah’ can take 25 strides!”

But for all that, Rio had a great season, which included finishing eleventh at Bramham. His two rails there were costly, and they’ve been a pretty regular occurrence – William told us at Blenheim that on his day, the horse would eat Badminton up, but he could still be a heartbreaker on Sunday. With his high-20s dressage and a gallop that’ll make your mouth water, he’s certainly one to keep a very close eye on, whichever way he goes.

Piggy French and Vanir Kamira at Burghley 2018. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Piggy French and Vanir Kamira

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Camiro de Haar Z x Fair Caledonian). Owned by Trevor Dickens. 

We can’t help but feel that Piggy is almost due a five-star win by now. After all, she’s been fifth and second at Burghley with the marvellous Tilly, and her performance at Tryon with Quarrycrest Echo was a joy to watch from beginning to end. She’s one of those riders, too, who you just hope you don’t end up in a section with at a one-day – not because she’s not lovely (she is!), but because you know she’ll walk away with every single rosette on offer. She’s just, well, rather good.

Fittingly, this year is the Chinese year of the pig, and it could well be the year of the Pig indeed. This pair were eliminated here last year after an incredibly unfortunate tumble in the pond, but they narrowly missed the win at Belton a few weeks prior. It’ll be very interesting to see how they run there this year – they, and basically everyone else on this list, will be fighting it out for the Grantham Cup CCI4-S. Piggy will also be running another notable entry – her WEG mount Quarrycrest Echo will use Belton as a prep run for his big trip to Kentucky next month.

Previously piloted by Paul Tapner, Tilly is one of those horses we talk about with real veneration, despite the fact that she’s not yet had a major win. In this way, she’s a lot like Jonelle Price’s ‘supahmeah’ Classic Moet, who, until last spring, had cruised her way into living legend status without a title to back it up. We can’t help but think that it’s only a matter of time before this indomitable mare follows in Molly’s footsteps and takes a big one.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Beware make a welcome return to Badminton in 2018. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Beware

Fifteen-year-old British-bred Sports Horse gelding (Kannans Gold x Dollar Day). Owned by Jonathan and Jane Clarke.

It’s set to be a vintage year for Pippa Funnell – and, indeed, for Pippa Funnell fans, who were delighted to see their hero return to Badminton last year. This year, she’s got four horses entered, of which she’ll be able to run two. Billy Beware was initially waitlisted, but has made it onto the accepted entries.

This will be a third Badminton for the gelding, who is a product of Pippa’s Billy Stud sport horse empire. He first competed here in 2014, finishing sixth, but he then missed the entirety of the 2015 season and the majority of the 2016 and 2017 seasons, too. He returned in 2018 and began his week with an impressive 25.7 dressage, but was then retired across the country.

Billy Beware is a reliable low-to-mid 20s performer in the first phase, and a consistent showjumper, but Saturday will be the big question mark for him. He’s certainly talented – that sixth-place finish proves that – but his lack of match practice won’t help him. He didn’t run in the latter half of last season, but has produced two clear national runs this spring.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On

Ten-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Billy Mexico x Shannon Line). Owned by Barbara and Nicholas Walkinshaw.

The first-ever Grand Slam winner is back with a bang, with three horses entered for this year’s event. Billy Walk On is a product of Pippa and husband William’s breeding enterprise, the Billy Stud, which has become something of an assembly line for top-class eventers and showjumpers.

This is to be Billy Walk On’s fifth season eventing – he won his first ever international back in 2015, and through his two- and three-star (formerly one- and two-star) career, he was pretty much unbeatable. Then he had some slight learning curves – and a spate of withdrawals – in his first season at four-star, but his 2018 season relit the candle we’ve long held for this stunning horse. He was fourth in the CCI4-S at Hartpury, 14th in Bramham’s CCI4-L, and second in the insanely competitive Chatsworth CCI4-S, which is widely regarded as a great indicator of a horse’s ability to cover the ground across the country. His season finished on a bit of a duff note when he picked up 20 penalties at Blenheim, but he’s since come out and skipped around his first OI of the season to win, so he’ll be interesting to watch in his bigger prep runs. He’s certainly turning into a classic Pip ride in the first phase – most of his scores begin with the magic ‘2’.

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (OBOS Quality x unknown dam).Owned by Jonathan and Jane Clarke.

The Clarkes are long-time owners for Pippa and their daughter, four-star rider Chuffy, has long been mentored by Pip. MGH Grafton Street, who was sourced and produced by Padraig and Lucy McCarthy, certainly looks to be another exciting venture for them, and Badminton will be his first five-star – if he’s chosen as one of Pip’s two rides.

MGH Grafton Street is picking up a bit of a reputation for his prowess between the boards – his six-run average is 26.6, and his lowest score internationally last season was a seriously impressive 23.7 at Houghton CCI4-S. Unfortunately, he’s also prone to the occasional 20 – he had one at that Houghton, and he notched one up at Belton last season too, although many more experienced horses ran into the same problem after an impossibly wet spring. He was sixth in Blenheim’s CCI4-L last year, and fifth the year before, so he certainly is capable – but in his biggest event yet, we could see the wheels just slightly come off the bus again. Either way, he’ll probably be in the top five after dressage – hell, he could even lead – and if he’s feeling on top form come Saturday, we could be in for a classic display of Funnell fortitude. And that, my friends, would be a great treat for us all.

(For those of you wondering, the MGH prefix stands for Mullenaglough – that’s the name of the village in which Padraig grew up in County Tipperary.)

Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope

Twelve-year-old gelding (Porter Rhodes x Brown Sue). Owned by Marek Sebestak and the rider.

“I’m not the bravest rider in the world,” confessed Pippa after storming around Burghley last year. You could’ve fooled us, Pip – that Burghley track was probably the biggest we’ve ever seen, and to blitz around it with just 4.8 time penalties was nothing short of miraculous.

Admittedly, his Burghley result somewhat defied expectations – he had been twelfth at Tattersalls CCI4-L earlier in the season, and eighth at Barbury the year prior, but we hadn’t yet been truly dazzled. Of course, to discount him would be to admit a loss of faith in the ability and rationale of his rider – and as committed fans of the Funnell, we wouldn’t dare. Though he doesn’t have quite the first-phase scope of his stablemates, we can probably dare to hope for a dressage score slightly lower than the 35.2 he delivered at his five-star debut. After all, he posted a 25.5 at his season debut at Tweseldown. Then, we’ll be hoping for another Burghley-style clear – if he can deliver once again, he’s in with a great shout in the final phase. He only toppled one rail, nationally or internationally, in 2018.

Will Furlong and Collien P 2 in their Badminton debut in 2018. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

Will Furlong and Collien P 2 

Twelve-year-old Oldenburg mare (Carentan x Compita). Owned by the Acorn Syndicate.

It’ll be a second Badminton and fourth five-star for 23-year-old Will and ‘Tinks’, who he bought from German eventer Josephine Schnaufer in 2016. Their first attempt last year might not have gone quite to plan – they finished 43rd after clocking up 49.2 time penalties and tipping three rails on the final day. But they jumped clear around the formidable cross-country track, and Will, who has been the under-21 national champion, the under-25 national champion, and a double gold medalist at the Young Rider European Championships, is no dummy. He’ll have been planning for the future with his talented but tempestuous mare.

Unfortunately, the rest of the 2018 season was a bit of a let-down for Will and Tinks – they withdrew before the second horse inspection at Haras du Pin, and Will took a tumble across the country at Waregem. At Pau, the pair’s second five-star, Will put his hand up after a couple of issues. They ran well but slowly at their season opener at Poplar Park, and they’ll be heading to Belton to skip around the Advanced, as they did last year, before running in the CCI4-S at Burnham Market. That extra bit of prep could make all the difference – last year, of course, we saw Burnham Market fall victim to the horrific spring weather.

Ciaran Glynn and November Night. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

Ciaran Glynn and November Night

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse mare (Bonnie Prince xx x Coolnalee Kate). Owned by Susanna Francke and Peter Cole.

Named for the rather boozy November night on which she was bought at Goresbridge sales, Ciaran Glynn’s talented mare has never had a cross country jumping penalty in any of her four five-stars so far. Her best result came at Burghley last year, when she finished 14th after adding just 7.2 time penalties and a single rail to her dressage score of 33.6. At Badminton she was rather slower and finished 25th, but the time and the showjumping had both improved considerably from 2017, where she finished 36th. That final phase is still a bit of a pesky one, though – they ordinarily have at least one rail. After that impressive round at Burghley, we may be about to see November Night on her best form yet – and with the European Championships looming, a peak performance could spell big things to come.

Simon Grieve and Drumbilla Metro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Simon Grieve and Drumbilla Metro

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Metropole x Colleens Touch). Owned by Merna Merrett, Catherine O’Connor, and the rider.

15.3hh Splash may be one of the smallest horses in this year’s field, but that’s never slowed him down before — he’s already notched up completions and Badminton and Burghley. That Badminton completion last year was actually Simon’s first, too – he’d made his debut at this event in 2016, but until last season, it looked like Burghley was a far more favourable five-star for him.

Splash was originally produced through the Novice level by Debbie Edmundson, the Suffolk-based rider and dealer with whom Simon worked after leaving school. She sourced the horse from Vere Phillips, and in 2014, he and Simon partnered up, culminating their first season together with a trip to the seven-year-old World Championships.

Expect a 35 to 37 dressage and a slow clear across the country from this pair. They’re pretty reliable in the final phase, but do occasionally have one down.

Sam Griffiths and Billy Liffy

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Billy Congo x Shannon Line). Owned by the Viscount and Viscountess Jonathan and Claudia Rothermere and the rider.

Produced by Liv Craddock, ‘Whiskers’ made the step up to five-star in 2017 at Burghley. Liv had had the horse from a five-year-old – at the time, she was helping the Billy Stud’s Donal Barnwell to produce some young horses, and she mentioned she was on the lookout for a nice prospect for herself. Two weeks later, Donal dropped Whiskers off at her yard for her to try.

She wasn’t impressed – at 16.3hh, he was oversized, and he had a mean buck on him. But Donal told her to keep trying. So she did, and then decided to sell him anyway, but nobody – not even Pippa Funnell, who had been deposited on the ground by the horse in a four-year-old class – would have him. So Liv kept him, despite being bucked off in the dressage at his first intermediate, and clocked up a number of impressive results, including a team silver at the Strzegom Nations Cup in 2017 and sixth in Bramham’s under-25 CCI4-L in 2016.

They didn’t make it around that first Burghley – Liv put her hand up on course, and their week ended early. But they finished their partnership with a clear round at Blenheim, and then former Badminton winner Sam took the reins in early 2018. This will be their first five-star together after a season of getting-to-know-you hiccups – they were eliminated in an OI at Bicton and a CCI3-S at Barbury, but they rounded out 2018 with a clear at Boekelo. Sam won’t be riding to win at Badminton, but will be looking at the week as an essential element of Whiskers’ ongoing education.

Louise Harwood and Balladeer Miller Man

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Stormhill Miller x Kintara Pride). Owned by Alli and Ian Haynes.

Harwood is known for piloting her homebreds around the upper levels, but Balladeer Miller Man bucks the trend. He was bought as a four-year-old from Ireland, but nonetheless, he grew and grew to fit in with diminutive Harwood’s stable full of oversized stars.

Miller’s 25th place finish at Burghley – his five-star debut – capped off a great 2018 season for the horse. He had jumped clear around Bramham’s CCI4-L and finished twelfth at Camphire CCI4-S in Ireland, proving his considerably ability. He’s finished in the top five at Blair Castle CCI4-L, too – that’s generally considered one of the toughest competitions of the level, and it’s a real test of fitness.

Expect a high-30s dressage, which will be off the pace competitively. That said, this pair should go clear across the country – and they totted up a creditable 18.4 time penalties at Burghley which, all things considered, isn’t bad for a first-timer. On the final day, they’re prone to a few rails – as many as six, in the case of Barbury last summer.

Alicia Hawker and Charles RR

Twelve-year-old AES gelding (Verdi TN x La Di Dah). Owned by Robert Hawker.

This will be a third five-star for Lici and her top horse Charles, who made their level debut at Pau in 2017. There, they finished 37th after a slow cross-country with a 20 – but that was a year in which it was practically a victory to even finish. Then they went to Badminton last year, where they notched up another 20 and finished 49th. They’ve certainly got the goods at the four-star level – their career-best result is third in Bramham’s Under-25 CCI4-L – but it’s not quite come together for them at the top yet. The goal this year will be to add a clear round to their resume – notions of competitiveness can wait for now.

Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by the rider.

This promising pair made their five-star debut last season at Pau, rounding out the top twenty with a 34 dressage, a clear cross-country with 28.8 time penalties, and a clear showjumping round with two time penalties. They began their 2019 season proper by finishing 32nd after two clear rounds and with just 11.6 time penalties across the country. It was their 40.1 dressage that precluded them from placing any higher –  this has historically been a bit of a tricky phase for them.

MGH Bingo Boy was sourced from Padraig McCarthy’s Devon sportshorse empire, and Nicky has produced him from the (former) one-star level, taking over the ride from Megan Cummings. They went to the CCI3*-S Europeans in 2017, finishing ninth, though they’ve had a couple of blips across the country this season, so we’ll see a steady run from them on Saturday. Their dressage can range from the mid-30s to the mid-40s, and they often have a rail, but it’s all part of the learning curve for a talented young horse like this one.

‘Mister Cool’ Ben Hobday and Harelaw Wizard. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ben Hobday and Harelaw Wizard

Twelve-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Endoli xx x Arnloss Fairy). Owned by Charles Robson. 

We all heard the whoop of joy that descended from Northumberland when Ben and his Wiz-kid made it off the waitlist – it’s the same ineffable whoop of joy that we’ve come to associate with most things that Ben’s involved with. Although we’ll miss the V8 Supercob Mr Mulry, who retired last year, Harelaw Wizard is certainly following in his oversized footsteps. By the Thoroughbred Endoli and out of a half-Clydesdale mare, he’s certainly not the typical stamp of an event horse, but that’s never stopped him – nor his determined rider – before.

Ben is a master at fitness for these heavier, unlikely types, and makes great use of the beach near his yard for fastwork and therapeutic splashes in the surf. Sourced as a youngster from Ian Stark, Harelaw Wizard was produced to the five-star level by Emily Parker, before Ben took the reins in 2018. The horse hasn’t had a cross-country jumping penalty since 2016, and jumped a slow clear around Burghley last year for 30th place. He tends to be a mid-30s scorer, though he delivered a fantastic PB of 28.9 last year at Hartpury CCI4*-S. He’s not the fastest horse in the field, nor is he the best showjumper – he flits between clear rounds and sixteen-faulters, but it’ll be great fun to watch him around this tough track.

Emma Hyslop-Webb presents Waldo III at Blenheim. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Emma Hyslop-Webb and Waldo III – FIRST-TIMERS

Sixteen-year-old KWPN gelding (Faldo x Naomi). Owned by the rider.

Emma has two horses entered – her second ride, Pennlands Douglas is currently waitlisted. Douglas was Emma’s mount for her first five-star at Pau, back in 2016, and also her first Luhmühlen and Burghley, but we’ve only seen Waldo once at this level. He went to that spectacularly tough Pau in 2017, finishing 39th after some problems on course.

Since then, he’s had clear rounds at Chatsworth and Bramham, and finished third in the CCI4-L at Portugal’s Barroca d’Alva early this spring. He’s prone to the odd bit of interpretive dance in the first phase, and as a result, his scores fluctuate from the high 30s to high 40s, but Emma will be here to give him a jolly good run around a nice, beefy track. They’re first-timers by default – Emma was entered but didn’t start with Douglas in 2017 – and you’ll spot them from a mile off as they head out on course in Emma’s signature Barbie pink colours.

Tom Jackson and Carpa du Buisson Z. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Jackson and Carpa du Buisson Z

Eleven-year-old Zangersheide mare (Calvaro Z x Unique du Buisson). Owned by Suzie Jenkins.

Gorgeous Katya is one of those catlike, clever little mares you’d love to have a sit on yourself. Twinkly-eyed and intelligent, she comes into her second four-star brimming with promise: her first, at Pau last year, saw her finish 13th, adding 18.8 time penalties to her 36.7 dressage. It was a great start to this topmost level of her career thus far, and a great addition to a resume which includes 4th in the tough Under-25 CCI4-L at Bramham, where she produced an impressive 28.7 dressage and then quite simply flew around the stinker of a track. Her 2.8 time penalties showed just what this exceptional mare will soon deliver at the five-star level – now that Tom’s given her a suitable first run at Pau, we may see her really produce the goods here. A great shout for a dark horse top fifteen finish.

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover produce a career best at Burghley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Richard Jones and Alfies Clover

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Tajraasi x Clover Hill). Owned by Sandra Martin, Dinah Saunders, and the rider.

Everyone loves a comeback kid, and good-humoured Jones has, perhaps, one of the more unusual comeback stories in this year’s field. In 2017, he and Alfies Clover were on track to achieve the best result of Jones’ career in the CCI3* at Bramham, where they posted a 35 and one of the top cross-country rounds of the weekend to sit in 11th place going into the final phase. After their round, however, disaster struck – Jones slipped while stepping out of the living area of his lorry and caught his wedding ring on the way down. He ended up losing his finger.

But he’s not stopped easily – this is a man who, the year prior, had to have a foot completely rebuilt – and we saw the pair at Burghley a mere three months later. They finished in 22nd place, despite the constant pain and lack of grip in Jones’ left hand. That was the 11-year-old gelding’s first five-star, and Jones’ first since 2014.

The pair retired across the country at Badminton last spring after clocking up 20 penalties, but they then went on to put their Bramham demons firmly to bed — they finished 7th in the CCI4-L, adding nothing to their 31.9 dressage. Then they went on to Burghley, where they did the same again: the determined duo finished seventh, adding just 2.8 time penalties across the country to their dressage of 34.2. They’ve always been a cracking combination, but last season we saw Richard and Alfie hit their stride – you’d be silly to take your eyes off them for a moment at Badminton.

Malin Josefsson and Golden Midnight – FIRST-TIMERS

Eleven-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Goldmine xx x Duva). Owned by the rider.

Multitalented Malin has been part of the Swedish national team since 2017 – an accolade that she’s balanced with attending vet school. Pretty impressive stuff, especially when you consider that she’s fit in stints working for Anna Nilsson in Sweden and Malin Pedersen in Germany, too.

Malin and Golden Midnight, originally produced by fellow Swede Elvira Stafverfeldt, were silver medalists in the 2017 Nordic-Baltic Championships. They were fifth in the horse’s first CCI4-L, too, at Sopot last year, and they jumped clear for top-twenty finishes at both Waregem and Boekelo to cap off their 2018 season. This will be a first five-star for both horse and rider – and Malin, who is currently 56th in the world rankings, is hoping to nab a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

Expect a mid- to high-30s dressage, and what ought to be a clear cross-country – though they’ve not got the experience at the CCI4-L level that some of their competitors do, they’ve been quick and consistent in their runs. They’ll probably have a couple of rails on Sunday, but that’s to be expected – this’ll be the biggest test they’ve faced so far (although we hear the vet school exams are a bit hard, too).

Emily King and Dargun at Bramham. Photo by Pat Cunningham.

Emily King and Dargun

Eleven-year-old KWPN gelding (Vaillant x Nandalite). Owned by Jane del Missier. 

Who can forget Emily King’s first appearance at Badminton? At just 20 years old, she was the youngest competitor in the field, and she’d made her five-star debut the year prior an impressive one, finishing fourth with Brookleigh at Pau. No one would have blamed her if she’d cracked under the pressure of riding down the centreline at Badminton – after all, her mother is two-time winner Mary King, and what 20-year-old finds it easy to cope with the weight of that amount of media and spectator attention?

But she didn’t. Her dazzling test put her into second place, just 2.4 penalties behind eventual winner Michael Jung. On cross-country day, she rode like someone who had grown up around the Badminton parkland – which, we suppose, she sort of did. Disaster struck at the penultimate fence from home, when Brook twisted to the right and Emily hit the deck. In a cruel irony, this had actually happened to Mary, too – she fell at the very same fence when in the lead in 2005.

That was back in 2016, and while top horse Brookleigh has been enjoying a long holiday to recuperate from a tendon strain, Emily has been working on producing a string of exciting younger horses. Head of the pack is Dargun, known at home as Dre. He’s been a funny character at the four-star level – his career is made up of enormous highs and crashing lows, and he can be just as mercurial in the showjumping as he is across the country. But there’s no doubt that he’s talented – he stormed to the win in Bramham’s tough under-25 CCI4-L class, beating Thibault Fournier and Siniani de Lathus. They, of course, went on to win the five-star at Pau. But they’ve actually only got four clear cross-country rounds at the four-star level out of nine completions, and they’ve failed to complete at five four-star events. In the interest of clarity, though, one of those was a showjumping elimination, and two were withdrawals. The other two non-completions were retirements – they’ve not had an cross-country falls at this level.

Emily seemed confident at Bramham that Dre’s ups and downs were behind him – but even so, this will be a big test. Expect them to be competitive early on – they should post a high-20s dressage – and then, we’ll all be keeping our fingers crossed for a little bit of King magic on Saturday.

 

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Libby Law.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats

Ten-year-old Selle Français gelding (Winningmood x Liane Normande). Owned by Diana Bown, Sally Eyre, Samantha Wilson, and Sally Lloyd-Baker.

Vendredi Biats is yet another horse sourced by Padraig and Lucy McCarthy’s MGH Sporthorses, and what a supermodel stamp he is. Though he started his 2018 with an elimination at Belton for accumulated refusals, we’re choosing to chalk that one up to the poor spring conditions, which meant few horses were able to run adequately in preparation. This feels pretty justifiable, to be honest, because he then went on to finish third at Chatsworth, fourth at Bramham, and fifth at Blenheim, absolutely demonstrating his quality from beginning to end.

‘Froggy’ is a bit of a cheeky character – he’s certainly fond of the odd buck at home, and he likes nothing better than to sink his teeth into his stablemates. Originally produced by France’s Tom Carlile, he was then sold onto William Fox-Pitt. William, tired of the horse’s naughty streak, decided to sell him on again.

Since then, Kitty has had to experiment a bit with his tack, trying to balance the need for some extra control with allowing the horse to feel as though he can run and jump freely. 2018’s results hint that perhaps, just maybe, this balance has finally been struck. He’s a five-star first-timer, sure, but make sure you catch Froggy in action – he’s such a cheeky little monkey that he might just decide to win the whole thing from pillar to post.

Ingrid Klimke and Hale Bob. FEI/Jon Stroud Photo.

Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD

Fifteen-year old Oldenburg gelding (Helikon xx x Goldige). Owned by the rider.

Will we finally get to celebrate a Happy Hale Bob Day this May? We came so close in 2017 – she led going into the final phase with nothing in hand, but it all fell apart, and she and Bobby dropped to ninth after notching up a wildly uncharacteristic 16 penalties, which included a stop on course.

Then, they just missed out on becoming the World Champions when the very last rail on course at WEG tumbled. There, they finished third. But their competition record isn’t just a string of ‘nearlies’. They’ve won 24% of their 50 internationals together, and finished in the top ten in 74% of them. In 2014 he won the five-star at Pau, on his second run at the level. He was second at Badminton the following year. In 2017, they became the European champions after finishing on their dressage score of 20.2 (yes, really) at a fiendishly tricky Strzegom. In 2017, they won Aachen. In 2018 they won the ERM leg at Wiesbaden. They were also the reserve German National Champions last season. They finished in the top 20 at Rio. If you want me to start delving into the breadth and depth of even just their top three finishes, we’ll be here all day. With his six-run average of 22.7 and clear cross-country runs in 86% of his internationals with Ingrid, he’s without a doubt one of the best horses in the field – and, let’s be honest, the world. He’s as solid in great going as he is in terrible conditions (2015 Europeans in THAT monsoon, I’m looking at you).

Bobby will be top three after the dressage, and should go clear – though their last run, in a CCI3*-S at Kreuth, ended in a rider fall across the country. As the theatre folks will attest, a bad dress rehearsal must mean a good opening night – right?

Camille Lejeune and Tahina des Isles at Burghley. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Camille Lejeune and Tahina des Isles

Twelve-year-old mare (Calvados x Elan De La Cour). Owned by Virginie Jorissen and rider.

Tahina Des Isles made her four-star debut in 2018, finishing 14th at Luhmuehlen after an international personal best of 29.6 was slightly hampered by 18.8 time penalties and two rails down. Then, they came to Burghley, where the plucky mare and her expressive rider finished 16th, adding 13.6 time penalties to their dressage of 33.9. Notably, they were also the first combination to jump clear on the final day – before that, we played pick up sticks for a long, long time.

Lejeune has competed at four-star twice before last season, both with R’Du Temps Bliniere – they were 19th at Pau in 2015 and 26th at Badminton the following year. Expect a low 30s dressage but a quicker cross-country than we’ve seen from them at this level – they’re certainly ready to step up to the plate and ride for the top ten, which is where we saw them finish at Belton.

As Camille (who is, I should note, NOT a woman) said every day at Burghley, “it is the dream of a kid, no?”

Bill Levett and Lassban Diamond Lift (AUS). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Bill Levett and Lassban Diamond Lift

Eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Easy Lift xx x Lassban Chow Bella). Owned by Elisabeth Murdoch and Jenny Levett.

Monart graduate ‘Sparkles’ is a classic 7/8 blood horse, and he’s been a firm favourite of Bill’s wife, Jenny, from the day he arrived at their yard. He had a frustrating end to 2018 – he went to the WEG but came out of quarantine feeling under the weather, and his competition ended abruptly across the country when Bill took a tumble. Otherwise, though, he was never out of the top twenty in his other five internationals last year, and he finished third in hot classes at Tattersalls (CCI4-S) and Bramham (CCI4-L).

In his nineteen internationals, he’s only ever faulted across the country twice, and he’s getting quicker and quicker. His dressage tends to be in the high 20s, which means we can probably expect something around the 30 mark at Badminton. His last pole was nearly a year ago, and he’s a super young talent – but his final placing will likely come down to whether Bill thinks he’s ready to really push for the time. He may decide to give the gelding a confidence-boosting run instead.

Clara Loiseau and Wont Wait. Photo Tilly Berendt.

Clara Loiseau and Wont Wait – FIRST-TIMERS

Fifteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Starborough xx x Impatience xx). Owned by the rider.

Pau 2018 was a seriously happy hunting ground for French young guns, and Clara and her beloved gelding were right up there with the very best of them. They finished third, delivering one of only four double-clears on Saturday – in the end, a solitary rail kept them from finishing on their dressage score at their debut five-star.

Clara is a stylish, positive, very French sort of rider, and a perfect match for her elegant Thoroughbred, who cruises down to forward distances seamlessly. They’ve never had more than 12 time penalties at the four-star level and above, and in fact, they finished a stonking 22 seconds inside the time at their one and only five-star. Their dressage scores are creeping ever closer to the 30 mark (although let’s not talk about that first-phase elimination at Jardy last year!). Their showjumping is the one weak link – they tend to have a pole or two, and at Aachen, they were eliminated for a rider fall in this phase.

Clara and Wont Wait were one of our standout pairs at Pau, but the course was made for them – it rewarded the forward riding they find so natural. Badminton is a different course with different tests, but if they can dig deep and adapt on the fly, we could see them look very impressive indeed.

Nick Lucey and Proud Courage – FIRST-TIMERS

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Coolmore Panther). Owned by the rider.

Another Courage baby, and another five-star start for this partnership, who were our first combination to come off the waitlist, and who first notched up a completion at this level in 2017. That was at Luhmühlen, and although they picked up a 20 across the country, they finished the job to end up 32nd.

Last year, we saw this duo take on Burghley, and they weren’t quite so lucky there: they had a 20 and ultimately a rider tumble to end their week early. Undeterred, they rerouted to Blenheim CCI4*-L, where they ran into some minor cross-country trouble but finished 52nd out of over 100 starters. On their day, they can be a great cross-country pair – they were 7th in the under-25 CCI4*-L at Bramham last year over a seriously beefy track, and they were inside the time, too. The previous year, they were twelfth in the same class. Nick has been working hard on Proud Courage’s dressage, and the results are showing: they posted a 34.4 at Bramham last season, well down from the 43.2 they scored in their first CCI4*-L run back in 2015. A clear completion will be the goal for this duo.

Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky at the WEG. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky

Fourteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Jumbo x Avin Fun Bar). Owned by Lucy McCarthy, Huw Lloyd, and Christopher and Sarita Perkins. 

An analytical form guide is not the place for personal opinions. It is not the place for conjecture (okay, debatable). It is not the place for me to start openly weeping, like Debbie who wants to hug every cat. BUT YET.

I would love Mr Chunky even if he was a bit rubbish, because Mr Chunky is called MR CHUNKY. However, Mr Chunky is not a bit rubbish. The Chunkiest Monkey of them all is a bit of a freak, actually, and his rider is pretty darn impressive, too, despite being one of the British eventing scene’s most tragic dancers. (Sorry, P-Dawg, I’ve committed to reminding everyone every year.)

Mr Chunky was bought as a four-year-old by Padraig’s wife, Lucy Wiegersma. She produced him through to five-star before Padraig took over the ride in 2016. Padraig, for his part, only took up eventing a few years ago – in fact, he contested his first one-star (now two-star) in the latter half of 2013. By the end of 2016, he was an Olympian. Some people, eh?

Prior to picking up eventing, Padraig rode and trained showjumpers in Ireland, around Europe, and in the States, working with Rolf Goran Bengtsson, Max Hauri, and Hans Horn. Then he took a break to earn himself a first-class degree in Economics and Finance (with German on the side), before pursuing a PhD on Ireland’s business insolvency laws. Though an academic career beckoned, Padraig knew he needed to get back into horses. A chance meeting with Lucy, who had flown to the Emerald Isle to try one of Padraig’s sales horses, turned into a fully fledged romance, and she persuaded him to give her sport a go. Less than two years later, Padraig represented his country for the first time.

Last year, Padraig and Mr Chunky delivered Ireland’s first individual eventing medal in decades when they took silver – both team and individual – at the WEG. They were eighth in their first Badminton last year, adding just 9.4 total time penalties across the jumping phases to their 28.9 dressage, and they were seventh at Blenheim the year prior. Another top ten finish is exceptionally likely; something rather more exciting than that is not at all improbable.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser (GBR). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser

Twelve-year-old Selle Français gelding (Diamant de Semilly x Ariane du Prieure II). Owned by Jane Inns, Alison McEwen, and the rider.

From one freak of a horse to another: Toledo de Kerser is one of the hot favourites for a top placing in this year’s field, and for very good reason.

He stormed into the spotlight back in 2016, when he partnered Tom to a win in Bramham’s hotly-contested Under-25 CCI4-L. Then, he jumped clear around his five-star debut at Pau that autumn, finishing 22nd because Tom opted to run him slowly. A jolly good tactic it was, too – they finished eleventh at Badminton the following spring, fourth at Burghley that autumn, and seventh at Badminton last year. Then, they popped over the pond to Tryon, where they helped the British team to a gold medal and finished 12th individually.

Toledo is consistent and flashy in the ring, scoring in the mid-to-high-20s reliably, and he’s only faulted three times across the country in his 22 internationals. If we were being picky, we could have said he’s not the speediest horse – but then he went clear inside the time at Tryon, so really, what do we know anyway?! On Sunday, you’ll really see Toledo shine – he’s probably the best showjumper in this list, and has only ever knocked two rails in his international career. Don’t let this pair out of your sight.

Harry Meade and Away Cruising jump the egg boxes at Clarence Court, the final combination on Burghley’s 2018 course. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Harry Meade and Away Cruising

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Cruise On x Parklands Princess). Owned by Charlotte Opperman.

‘Spot’ has been orbiting the stratosphere of superstardom for a while now, but his upper-middling results never quite pushed him over the threshold – until Burghley 2018, where he proved that he was a remarkable force to be reckoned with. Though previously not considered a quick horse, he motored around the enormous track, adding just 1.6 time penalties to his dressage of 29.5. Though he dropped a rail – and a couple of placings – on the final day, he still finished sixth with one of the rounds of the week.

This will be his second Badminton, and his fifth five-star: he debuted at Luhmühlen in 2017, finishing fourteenth, and then added fifteenth at Burghley to his resume later that year. Last spring he tackled his first Badminton, where he was sixteenth. Four top twenties in four runs is rather good going, and he’s only getting better: the dressage marks have dropped, as have the time penalties, but if anything will preclude a top placing here, it’s his final phase. He’s gone from being a consistent twelve-faulter to being a four- or eight-faulter, but still – the faults are there. If Harry has figured out the secret to a clear showjumping round, this pair will be a serious threat to the leaders at Badminton.

Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden. Image courtesy of Tim Wilkinson.

Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden

Twelve-year-old gelding (Young Convinced x Ballybrohan Diamond). Owned by Aivar Ward and MS Team.

When we look at Ivar Gooden, known by his friends as Sir Charles, we get a glimpse of the ‘golden era’ of eventing – that heady heyday in which the Ians, and the Lucindas, and the Ginnys of the world matched wits and willpower over enormous timber fences. Sir Charles is a classic cross-country machine, and he’s proven that several times over with his brilliant results at both Badminton and Burghley.

Charles was one of only two horses to jump clear around both British five-stars in 2017, a fact made all the more impressive when you realise that it was his first season at the level. They also made their Nations Cup debut at Haras du Pin, finishing in 10th place and best of the Brits. He’s quick — he added just 10.8 time penalties at Burghley that year — and he’s reliable across the country, too. He looked very impressive when finishing in 11th place at Belton’s CIC3* that year, with the second-fastest time of the day on a course that saw no one make the optimum. This year, we enjoyed watching him tear around again, this time for ninth.

At Badminton last year we saw both Imogen and Charles really come into their own, adding just 4.8 time penalties and a rail to finish in 11th place after a colossal climb up the leaderboard. They then had an uncharacteristic 20 penalties at both Barbury and Aachen, but went clear and finished on their dressage score of 37.8 at Haras du Pin. They finished their season with 19th at Burghley.

Dressage has historically been this duo’s weak point, but they tore up the form guide at Great Witchingham last month when they won the AI after posting an enormous PB of 23.9. If they can carry that form through to Badminton, they’ll be frightening.

Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello. Photo by Louise O’Brien Photography.

Joseph Murphy and Sportsfield Othello

Eighteen-year-old gelding (Ricardo Z x Ring of Ford). Owned by Alison Schmutz, Andrew Tinkler, and Jill Andrews.

Little Franky (not to be confused with Big Frankie, the stable name of barn-mate Fernhill Frankie), is a real stalwart campaigner these days. He jumped around three five-stars in 2018 alone, finishing 13th at Badminton, 22nd at Burghley, and then adding a rare 20 at Pau.

His dressage is what lets him down — he’s a clear machine, with just a handful of cross-country jumping penalties on his 52-strong international record, and though he’s less than 50% blood and a trick horse to get fit, his natural cruising speed is fast — but they’re unlikely to score below 35 on the first day. Still, they’re perennial climbers, and firm favourites for the Glentrool trophy, which is awarded to the biggest jump up the leaderboard through the week. A fast clear will be rewarded on the leaderboard, and then they’ll just have to try to avoid their customary two rails on Sunday to protect their hard work.

Little Franky, who’s probably feeling a bit emasculated by his rubbish nickname, is an out-and-out athlete, but when he gets four-star fit he can be quite aggressive in his stable, so Joseph has started using an interesting innovation to keep him happy. Franky’s gimp mask — not its official name, obviously — was developed to alter the breeding season for Thoroughbred mares, used blue LEDs to simulate longer daylight hours, and Joseph started using it prior to Burghley to stabilise his top horse. It seems to have worked, though it looks a bit fruity, all things considered.

Harry Mutch and HD Bronze – FIRST-TIMERS

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Northern Medera xx). Owned by Caroline Mutch.

Young Harry and his top horse managed to scoop their Badminton qualification by the absolute skin of their teeth, clinching it with a great second place finish at Barroca CCI4-L in Portugal. Entries closed just a few days later. Talk about living life on the edge!

Harry might only be 21-years-old, but he’s chock-full of determination – despite only having ridden for eight years, he’s proved a dab hand at producing young horses, and set up his own yard even after a crashing fall and subsequent leg hematoma benched him for a chunk of a season. Based in Newcastle, Harry has trained with Oliver Townend, and has jumped clear around Bramham, Blenheim, and Burgham with HD Bronze. Five-star is a big step up, and they’ve only got fourteen internationals on their record, but Harry is determined and gutsy. He won’t win it, but he could notch up a nice clear round to start off the most exciting part of his career.

Jim Newsam and Magennis

Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Limmerick x Inishkea). Owned by Carole Hawthorne and the rider.

Jim and Magennis have won the CCI4-L at Ballindenisk twice now – they took it in 2010, when the horse was just eight-years-old, and they won it again last year. That’s great and all, but what’s even more interesting is that Jim spends his off-season working as a rider and actor double on the set of Game of Thrones (no word yet on whether he was Jon Snow’s bum double. YOU KNOW NOTHING, JIM NEWSAM).

When he’s not slashing up White Walkers and, I don’t know, crossbowing prostitutes to feed to dragons, Jim enjoys notching up surprise wins and zooming around cross-country courses. This will be a seventh five-star for this pair, who have two completions at the level under their belt, both at Badminton. Their best result was 45th here in 2017. Their aim should just be to log another clear round – then we’ll be cornering Jim in the mixed zone to gossip about Daenarys.

Willa Newton and Chance Remark at Burghley in 2018. Photo by Peter Nixon.

Willa Newton and Chance Remark

Seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Actinium xx x Cuildooish Lady). Owned by Feena Machin.

Chance Remark finished 2018 12th in the British Eventing horse rankings, but that certainly wasn’t the high point of his year – he also finished fifth at Luhmühlen and eighth at Burghley, despite Willa having to sit out part of the season with a broken collarbone. ‘Austen’ has tackled Badminton once before – he was eliminated in 2017 after a fall on the flat, but he’s aging like a fine wine and could pull another top ten out of the bag here.

He’s generally a low-30s horse – though dipped down to 28.7 at Luhmühlen – and he’s quick and capable across the country. His showjumping is hit or miss – he pulled a rail in Germany, but didn’t touch a thing after that gruelling cross-country day at Burghley.

Swallow Springs and Andrew Nicholson. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs

Twelve-year-old gelding (Chillout x Cult Hero). Owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon.

“Could this be the next Avebury?” asked a journalist at Bramham last year, where the horse finished second. “Well, sure – he’s the right colour,” grinned Andrew, who doesn’t ordinarily go in for sentimentalities, but who quite rightly holds a certain fondness for the gorgeous ‘Chill’. And who wouldn’t? He came out on his five-star debut last season at Burghley and finished third, easily delivering the only FOD of the entire event.

After the catastrophic neck injury that nearly ended Andrew’s career a few seasons ago, he’s rightfully gotten pickier and pickier about the horses he chooses to ride, sending many of them – including entry Ulises – the way of close friend Oliver Townend. When Andrew keeps the ride on a horse – and puts all his eggs in its lone basket – that should tell you something very important.

Named by the rider for Swallowhead Springs, a “holy well” located in the Wiltshire village of Avebury, Chill is on the cusp of something enormous – even more enormous than coyly teasing out the old softy residing within Nicholson.

Julia Norman and Carryon Bobby Boy – FIRST-TIMERS

Fourteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse gelding (Lauriston x Guldet KLT). Owned by Diana Wethered.

It’s a first Badminton and a first five-star for both Wiltshire-based Julia and her top horse. They had intended to head to Burghley last year, but instead stormed around a strong CCI4*-L track at Millstreet for fifth place. Since then, we’ve seen them deliver a slow clear around an OI at Tweseldown last month on a good dressage score of 28.9, and then withdraw after a rocky showjumping phase in an AI at Gatcombe. They tackled Belton’s CCI3*-S, too, finishing 46th after another slow clear cross-country and two rails down in the showjumping.

Dressage has historically been a tricky phase for this horse, but his scores are steadily improving – he’s dropped from the 40s to the 30s over the last year, though Badminton’s atmosphere is a big one, and we could see a bit of a spike. Really, though, he’s coming for the cross-country.

Wills Oakden and Cooley Ramiro – FIRST-TIMERS

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B x Ordela Royale). Owned by the Balcarres Eventing Syndicate.

Debutante Wills is a promising first-timer from Scotland who has totted up some quietly impressive results over the last year or so, including 8th at Chatsworth, 9th at Tattersalls, 11th at Blair, and 16th at Blenheim. Wills, who previously worked for Ian Stark, has represented Great Britain on the world stage a couple of times, too – he was the highest-placed British rider at the 2018 Strzegrom Nations Cup, where he finished third and helped steer the team to second place.

Wills made his five-star debut back in 2013, when he and McFly headed down to Pau. A retirement on course ended their week early, and Wills has waited a long time to get another chance to prove himself at the top. Cooley Ramiro’s dressage results continue to creep downwards, with recent scores trending around the 30 mark, but it’s the cross-country that you’ll want to watch: this duo have only ever had one jumping fault across the country in their seventeen runs together. Wills is a real under-the-radar talent in this phase.

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Selena O’Hanlon and Foxwood High

Sixteen-year-old Canadian Sport Horse (Rio Bronco W x Evita II). Owned by John and Judy Rumble.

He was the 2017 Eventing Nation Horse of the Year, the USEA Advanced Horse of the Year in the same annum, and Woody finished his 2017 season on a serious high note, as he and Selena became the first Canadian combination to win the Fair Hill CCI4*-L. They posted a level PB of 26.2 and added a couple of time penalties across the jumping phases to walk the win, leaving Selena confident that they could finally tackle their big dream: a trip to Badminton.

The duo had been to five-star before, claiming 10th place at his debut at Kentucky in 2014, and in 2017 they finished 11th at the same venue — their only foray out of the top 10 at an international all season. When they came to Badminton, it wasn’t without a significant amount of experience, and their eventual 24th-place finish was a respectable start. Now, with the backing of innumerable supporters, and the Badminton dream of owner John Rumble still burning bright, they’re coming back with a firm knowledge of what to expect in hand, a clear round at the WEG under their belts, and wins in Red Hill’s CCI4*-S and Bromont’s CCI4*-S to propel them. If you see Selena or groom Anne-Marie around the event, be sure to buy yourself a pair of Woody socks and cheer Canada’s 2018 Horse of the Year on. He’s likely to reward you with an exciting week.

Michael Owen and Bradeley Law at Badminton. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubish Motors.

Michael Owen and Bradeley Law

Fifteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Mill Law x Scarlet Lady). Owned by the Jenning’s Syndicate.

This will be Bradeley Law’s fourth attempt at the level — he was eliminated in his four-star debut at Badminton in 2016, but finished 35th last year. Then, we saw him notch up a career-best result at Burghley last season, where he finished 15th after adding just 7.2 time penalties to his 40.1 dressage.

Michael Owen produced Ludwig Svennerstal’s King Bob to four-star before the Swede took the reins, and also enjoys dabbling in amateur racing in his presumably limited spare time. He’s flown under the radar, but make sure to watch Michael and his game little horse on Saturday – they’ve got a lot to give, as Bradeley Law duly demonstrated in 2016, when he decided to jump several five-star fences backwards after unseating his rider.

Emily Parker and Cryptonite – FIRST-TIMERS

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (S. Creevagh Ferro x Zero Volts). Owned by Cameron Crawford.

You might remember Emily Parker as the former rider of Harelaw Wizard, Ben Hobday’s newest five-star supercob, and a waitlisted entry for Badminton. Emily took him to his first five-star at Pau in 2017, after producing him from the CCI2*-S level. She’s had one other appearance at five-star, back in 2012 – she started, but didn’t finish, Burghley with former ride Treefers.

Emily’s return to the top level is being made in conjunction with what is perhaps the most poignant story of this year’s event. Owner Cameron Crawford’s 20-year-old son, George, was tragically killed last year when a car struck him as he walked back to his university accommodation. Now, his family has set up the George Crawford Legacy Trust, which offers bursaries to help individuals and charities achieve their goals and pursue their passions. So far, the Trust has bought a pony for the Crawford’s local Riding for the Disabled centre, and has plenty of fundraisers and a gala planned, too. Look out for Emily’s cross-country colours – she’ll be representing the colours and branding of the trust.

Emily Philp and Camembert prove their worth once again at Blenheim. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Emily Philp and Camembert – FIRST-TIMERS

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Skehanagh Diamond Lass). Owned by Nigel and Mitchell Philp. 

Talk about being good over the poles: the uber-talented Bert hasn’t had a rail down, nationally or internationally, since 2015 – and that was his first since 2013. He’s becoming more and more impressive across the country, too – he finished third at the Event Rider Masters finale at Blair Castle last year after adding just 2.4 time penalties in terrible conditions.

This will be a first five-star for both Bert and Emily, who didn’t finish outside of the top twenty once last season, closing out their year with seventh place at Blenheim. This season, they’ve had two runs: they were fourth in an OI at Poplar Park, and 15th in Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S. A dressage score of 36.5 precluded a higher placing there; their 4.4 added time penalties were very respectable indeed. If they can keep their dressage closer to their normal low-30s, expect them to be a real dark horse combination – though Badminton, of course, isn’t a dressage show, and it should play to all their considerable strengths.

Caroline Powell and On The Brash. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Caroline Powell and On the Brash

Thirteen-year-old gelding (Mise Eire x Hollymount Girl). Owned by Sarah Tobey and Sue Smiley. 

Formerly ridden by Australia’s Sam Griffiths, On The Brash is yet another horse who fell victim to the Curse of Pau in 2017. That was his five-star debut, and perhaps something of a shock after an 11th place finish at Bramham CCI4*-L and sixth at Blair Castle CCI4*-S foretold rather better things.

They’ve been on the up and up since, jumping clear around Badminton last season for 29th place and finishing 15th in a CCI4*-S at Barbury. Then, they jumped clear around Burghley, finishing 31st. Rufus’s weak point is his dressage — he averages a mid-to-high 30s mark — and the duo are yet to make the time in any national or international run. It’s possible, particularly since we lost the multiplier, to make colossal moves up the leaderboard after a substandard dressage — but to do so, Powell and On The Brash will need to find the sweet spot on the accelerator.

Katie Preston and Templar Justice – FIRST-TIMERS

Twelve-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Weston Justice x Welton Vivat). Owned by the rider. 

2018 saw TJ and owner Katie, a full-time equine vet, make their five-star debut at Luhmühlen, where they finished eighteenth. Then, they went on to Burghley, once again jumping clear, and this time finishing 24th. It’s rare that we see a true amateur rider take on the big guns these days, but for Katie and TJ, this has likely been an instrumental part of their success – Katie’s veterinary skills certainly helped her to bring her horse back to his best after a major injury a couple of seasons ago.

Dressage is the trickiest phase for 15.2hh TJ, who will likely be the smallest horse in the field this year. Expect a score in the high 30s, which won’t be competitive in the early days – but watch him climb with a quick, gleeful clear on Saturday. Unfortunately, Sunday’s competition will drop them back down a few places – TJ likes to take a few poles for the road.

Jonelle Price finishes her round and realises that she and Classic Moet have scooped Badminton. Priceless. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Jonelle Price and Classic Moet

Sixteen-year-old mare (Classic xx x Gamston Bubbles). Owned by Trisha Rickards.

What, this old thing? Just something I dragged out of the back of the barn. Nothing very exciting.

WE KID, of course. Mega Molly is our reigning champion and the very bastion of #girlpower. Who can forget her blazing her away across the country last spring, radar ears pinned back against her own slipstream? Who didn’t feel their heart skip a beat every time she let her toes thud against a rail over Sunday’s course, almost daring them to escape their cups? Molly (and Jonelle!) was one of those winners that we always rather felt OUGHT to be a five-star champion, and it seemed right and proper that it should happen as Jonelle blazed her comeback trail after her maternity leave. Of course, the story continued on with another five-star win for Jonelle and an endless stream of accolades elsewhere, and as we begin the 2019 season in earnest, the Price family will still be the hot ticket for most punters.

Molly has had just one run so far in 2019 – that was at Gatcombe, where she popped round an OI section to finish 13th. It was her first run back since the WEG at Tryon, where she was 19th after adding two rails to her 30 dressage. There’s still an awful lot to come from this little legend – and her remarkable rider – and watching them across the country is one of the great joys afforded to us as eventing fans. Don’t miss the #supermere.

Tim Price and Bango at Burghley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tim Price and Bango

Thirteen-year-old gelding (Garrison Royal x No Sale). Owned by The Numero Uno Syndicate.

“Uno doesnt really mention it much these days, but he comes from a pretty basic Irish bog and clearly spent his early years flogging through the swamp-like mud to forage for food.  This has left him with a fantastic ability to go cross country in the worst of conditions and since he spent a fair amount of time in thick fog as a baby unable to see his mother across the field he also doesnt mind being left on his own in the slightest.”

So reads Uno’s description on the Price’s delightfully silly website, and it’s proven to be true: this is another cross-country machine in the Team Price line-up. Uno has never been better than he was at Burghley last year, where he finished tenth (but got to stand in for stablemate Oz in the prize-giving) after adding just 9.2 time penalties to his 32.1 dressage.

This will be his fourth five-star but first Badminton – he made his level debut at Luhmühlen in 2015, finishing 15th, and clocked up a 20 around his first Burghley in 2016. Since then, it’s been onwards and upwards for the talented gelding – and if we can see him bring his dressage scores a bit closer to his national averages, we could see him run very competitively indeed.

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy

Sixteen-year-old gelding (Courage II x Sky Lassie). Owned by Verenna Allen and the rider.

Oz’s Burghley win last year was the final jewel in a seriously well-decorated crown for the Price family, and much like stablemate Classic Moet, Oz took the win whilst flying the flag for the underdogs. Okay, well, not underdogs, so much – after all, both the horses in question are supremely talented – but I don’t think either rider would mind me calling their horse unconventional, in the best possible way.

Oz first came to Tim as a resale project. Costing only £3,000, and possessing a pretty gnarly buck, Tim thought he’d be able to turn the gelding around pretty quickly and make himself some pocket money. As it turned out, he couldn’t get rid of him, no matter how hard he tried.

But all’s well that ends well: Oz has become a stalwart part of Tim’s string, finishing second at Burghley in 2015, fourth in 2016, fifth last year, and he’s been fifteenth, ninth, and twelfth at Badminton. He’s ultra-capable in the first phase, scoring 25.8 at Badminton last year, and he’s proven over the track here, with the ability to go very close to the optimum time at five-star. In fact, he’s won the William Miflin trophy at Badminton twice for being the closest to the time. Like Classic Moet, showjumping had always been his weak spot – but last year proved to us that the second you tell a Price – or a Price horse – that they’re not the best at something, that’s when they’ll suddenly become exceptionally good at the thing in question.

“He’s a character around the yard, and he’s the first horse I go and say hello to every morning,” he told us after his Burghley win. “He’s got his special scratches, where he does this giraffe thing with his neck. He’s just been here so long, and he’s so happy, but that’s not necessarily the sort of horse that goes and wins these things.”

Tim Price and Xavier Faer run at Chatsworth ERM in 2018. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price and Xavier Faer

Thirteen-year-old British-bred Sport Horse (Catherston Liberator x Faerie Song Too). Owned by Trisha Rickards, Nigella Hall, and the rider.

“Hugo is a half brother to Faerie Dianimo but is a very different type, being tall and rangy. He really should have been named “Faerie Groundhog Day” as every day is a new day to Hugo … literally. He is not the smartest tool in the box but he has a great relationship with Tim and stepped up to [five] star last season like a pro. He is spooky, and is so in love with Classic Moet that he has even learnt to jump on his own to join her in whatever paddock she is residing in. Hugo is like a typical boarding school kid … he has no idea where the washing machine is but he knows exactly who the staff are.”

It’s unlikely we’ll get the chance to see goofy Hugo run at Badminton this year, but that’s just because he’s got a plane ticket booked to head to Kentucky and try to pin down the next part of the Grand Slam for Tim. He was third at Badminton in 2017, so he could just do it – but he’ll be heading there having had most of the 2018 season off.

Regis Prud’hon and Kaiser HDB 4175

Eleven-year-old Anglo-Arab STALLION (Quatar de Plape x Galaxie d’Olympe). Owned by the rider.

I said in last year’s form guide that Kaiser HDB 4175 “sounds like a knock-off brand microwave that you pick up at a stall on the street and enjoy for two days before it burns your kitchen down,” but I’ve matured since then, and grown as a person, and … yeah, nah, I still agree with every word of that, and am already dreading having to live-tweet about it during the trot-up. So many NUMBERS.

Ridden as a youngster by Spain’s Carlos Diaz Fernandez, Mr. Microwave (NB: not actually his stable name. Although, in fairness, I don’t know that for sure — it could be. One can but hope) promptly won at his first international with Regis – a CCI2*-S at Barroca d’Alva in 2016. Since then, he’s steadily worked his way up the levels, picking up top-ten placings at CCI3*-L (Ballindenisk, Strzegom) and CCI4*-S (Jardy) along the way.

In 2017, he went to the 8/9YO CCI4*-S at Blenheim and finished in a respectable 18th place, before a disappointing end to the season with a Big E and a retirement at CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S, respectively. After beginning the 2018 season with two wins at Barroca d’Alva, he headed to his first Badminton – but a 20 on course, lots of time penalties, and five rails on the final day saw him slip to 51st. The rest of his 2018 season was a bit of a let-down, although he’s started 2019 with another top ten finish at Barroca. This is still a young horse, and one with demonstrable talent, and Regis will do well to give him another educational run with the future in mind.

Louise Romeike and Wieloch’s Utah Sun – FIRST-TIMERS

Fifteen-year-old Holsteiner mare (Limbus x Imperial I). Owned by the rider.

Louise is another of the strong Swedish opposition turning out for Badminton this year – but if you’re looking at that surname and wondering about its origins, you’re not totally misguided. Louise is married to German eventer Claas Romeike.

This will be a debut five-star for both horse and rider, who were eleventh in the seriously tough 2017 European Championships at Strzegom. In their last six internationals, they’ve never been out of the 20s after the first phase, and they’ve only had four cross-country jumping faults in their 41 international runs. Their last rail was at Strzegom. Yes, they’re debutantes, but they’ll be exciting ones – if all continues on current form, they could be our best first-timers this year.

Nicky Roncoroni and Watts Burn conquer Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nicky Roncoroni and Watts Burn

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Zero Watt xx x Deards Lady of the Knight.) Owned by Janey Barclay Roncoroni and Lorna McWilliam. 

Now based in Ireland, British rider Nicky is a popular face on the circuit, as is the handsome Sir Wattles. You might remember this pair as being the best of the Brits at Great Meadows in 2017 – they finished fourth after a speedy clear. Since then, they’ve jumped clear around Blenheim and Pau, notably, finishing twelfth at the latter in the horse’s second five-star.

He’ll do a low-to-mid 30s dressage, and should go clear — at both his Pau runs, he added between 12 and 14.8 time penalties, but he can go quicker than that, and Badminton offers slightly more space to move. He tends to rub a solitary pole more often than not, but if the fates align, he could do a double clear for Nicky. Most importantly, he’s am absolute cross-country machine, and hasn’t had a jumping penalty in this phase in an international since 2014.

And a fun fact for you: Nicky produced Gemma Tattersall’s top horse Arctic Soul. Not a bad accolade to have on one’s resume.

Kai Ruder and Colani Sunrise (GER). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Kai Rüder and Colani Sunrise

Thirteen-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Chico’s Boy x Larissa). 

Clear around both the WEG (33rd) and the 2017 European Championships (6th), Colani Sunrise is not a horse you should write off, even if he comes into Badminton under the shadow of another German favourite.

Capable of a very low-30s dressage, and almost guaranteed a clear round on Sunday, Colani Sunrise’s one weak spot is his speed – we’ve only seen him finish inside the time in seven of his 42 internationals, and never at the CCI4*-L level or higher. He was at his quickest at Luhmühlen in 2016, where he made his five-star debut – there, he added just 4.4 time penalties on Saturday and finished ninth. This will be Kai’s first Badminton since 2010.

Tom Rowland and Possible Mission in Belton’s CCI4*-S Grantham Cup. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Rowland and Possible Mission

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Temple Clover x Bahrain Supreme). Owned by Robin and Bunny Patrick. 

The aptly-named ‘Hunter’ was purchased from a hunting yard in Ireland when he was five, by which point he already had two years’ experience jumping colossal drains, banks, and gates. Unsurprisingly, he’s a reliable cross-country horse, although he finds showjumping a bit spooky. The pair tackled their first five-star last year at Burghley, finishing a very creditable 27th after a slow clear. That was enough to qualify them for Badminton, and now that Tom knows his horse – and himself – that much better, we could see them show us what they’re really capable of. An uncharacteristic 20 at Belton may well have served to sharpen them up ahead of the big day.

Pietro Sandei and Rubis de Prere (ITA). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Pietro Sandei and Rubis de Prere

Fourteen-year-old Selle Français gelding (Fedor de Seves x Cina du Logis).

Dishy Italian policeman Pietro made his Badminton debut in 2017, finishing 40th with Mouse after two slow clear jumping phases. Now, the former Pony, Junior, and Young Rider team member is back, this time with the horse he contested the WEG and Strzegom’s European Championships with. Both of those were clear rounds, and the horse’s trip to Luhmühlen’s CCI4*-S last year showed that he can really perform in the first phase on his day – but he’s still learning how to go fast, and he tends to have a rail, too. Expect a solid clear, but no waves made – unless they really commit to the clock.

Arianna Schivo and Quefira de l’Ormeau (ITA). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Arianna Schivo and Quefira de l’Ormeau

Fifteen-year-old Selle Français mare (Iolisco de Quinhon x Isabelle du Brulot). Owned by Thomas Bouquet and the rider.

The daughter of an Olympian high-jumper, Arianna, too, has flown her country’s flag on the biggest stage: she competed at the Rio Olympics, finishing 34th with her Badminton entry. They also contested the European Championships in 2017, but withdrew from the second horse inspection. At last year’s WEG, they jumped clear to finish 31st.

They’ve been to Badminton once before, in 2017, though their week ended early when Arianna took a tumble at the inauspicious second fence. They rerouted to Saumur, finishing 12th, and haven’t had any cross-country jumping penalties in the seven internationals they’ve contested since – but even so, Arianna will be returning with a point to prove.

Tamie Smith and Wembley. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Tamra Smith and Wembley – FIRST-TIMERS

Sixteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Lester x E-Vip). Owned by Kevin Baumgardner and the rider.

Although he’s clocked up his very best results stateside with rider Tamie, Wembley has a pretty illustrious back-catalogue of riders: he was originally produced by France’s Sidney Dufresne, who then passed the ride along to Jonelle Price – or Richards, as she was then. Before the end of the 2010 season, though, he’d become Tim’s ride, and he would campaign him until the end of 2013. Then, Kevin Baumgardner purchased the 17hh gelding and competed him through CCI4*-S before passing the reins to Tamie in early 2017.

Since then, the California duo have picked up some very respectable results: they’ve been second and third in Twin Rivers’ CCI4*-S, tenth and sixth at Galway Downs CCI4*-S, thirteenth at 2017’s Fair Hill CCI4*-L, and fourteenth in the horse’s five-star debut at Kentucky in 2018. Tamie has competed at Grand Prix dressage, too, so it was perhaps no surprise to see her in the top three after the first phase. Wembley’s finishing score of 41.5 is competitive by any standards, but this will be the biggest test of his life — and we’re looking forward to cheering him on every step of the way.

James Sommerville and Talent at Badminton 2017. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors.

James Sommerville and Talent

Thirteen-year-old AES gelding (Eurocommerce Toulouse x Rozalina). Owned by Jennifer Sommerville and the rider.

Yorkshire-based James worked for both Nicola Wilson and Oliver Townend before setting up on his own, and if you’re easily charmed by a bit of Northern twang, this one will certainly tick a few boxes for you. If quirky, clever jumping horses are your bag, his horse will take care of that.

James and Talent made their five-star debut at Badminton in 2017, but their campaign ended early when James took a tumble mid-course. They came back last year and finished 45th, though a knocked pin somewhat marred their score. This year, they’ll be aiming to make it a clean sheet, and hopefully Talent will produce the low-30s mark he’s capable of without letting the big atmosphere overcook him.

Georgie Spence and Halltown Harley. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Georgie Spence and Halltown Harley

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Harlequin du Carel x Cummer Beauty). Owned by Suzanne Doggett.

Georgie took the ride on Halltown Harley over from Kiwi Caroline Powell at the end of 2016, and they quietly got to know one another through the 2017 season.  They won the Nations Cup — Georgie’s first — at Wiener Neustadt and came in 14th in the Nations Cup at Waregem, as well as finishing 12th at Bramham’s CCI4-L. Then, they went to Badminton in 2018, jumping a slow clear for 33rd place. They followed this with second place in the Nations Cup at Great Meadows, VA and then won CCI4-L at Millstreet.

A mid-30s score is about right for these two, and while they added a fair amount of time last year, we’ll likely see Georgie take her foot off the brakes this time around. Harley is proving to be a really solid team horse for Georgie, and a good performance here could see her step up from Nations Cup appearances to the Europeans long-list.

Toshiyuki Tanaka and Kelecyn Pirate – FIRST-TIMERS

Thirteen-year-old gelding (breeding unknown). Owned by Riding Club Crane.

Based at Angela Tucker’s Gloucestershire yard, Toshi must have had a fondness for the magic of Badminton instilled in him from his first forays into the British eventing scene in 2012. As part of the Japanese team’s formidable forward guard of Tokyo hopefuls, he’s made great strides with both Kelecyn Pirate and his WEG mount, Talma d’Allou, with whom he finished 15th in Tryon.

Kelecyn Pirate made light work of his five-star debut last season, which saw horse and rider make the long journey down to Pau. They added just 3.2 time penalties and two dropped rails to their 35.3 dressage to finish ninth, and there’s no reason to suspect they couldn’t be just as stealthily successful here.

An interesting, if slightly irrelevant, fact: most of the Japanese riders’ horses are sourced through members of the French team, largely due to the fact that their chef d’equipe is former French coach Laurent Bousquet. But Kelecyn Pirate is a rare exception: he was produced, competed, and sourced in Japan.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul

Sixteen-year-old Thoroughbred gelding (Luso xx x Dream Cocktail xx). Owned by the Soul Syndicate.

Arctic Soul — known as Spike — has come SO close to a big win, finishing in third place at Burghley in 2017 and third at Badminton in 2016. He’s also been seventh here, two years ago, and fifth at Burghley in 2014. In 2017, he won the ERM leg at Gatcombe, securing Gemma the series title and earning himself the British Open Championship, too. He added just 1.2 time penalties on a day when the time was well-nigh impossible to get. Last year, he was fourth here, and then went on to act as pathfinder for the gold-medal-winning British team in Tryon.

The ex-racehorse has been lovingly referred to as ‘totally crazy’ by Gemma, who has to ask for silence from the audience to get a good test from him, and when he goes across the country, he really goes. But he’s not stupid, and his sense of self-preservation extends to his rider, too — at Burghley 2017, Gemma was battling a serious chest infection all week and Arctic Soul stepped up to the plate. These two have an incredible relationship, wrought from time, patience, and a similar gutsy tunnel-vision, and we can’t help but feel that it’s their time to graduate from bridesmaids to brides.

Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4 at Pau. Photo by William Carey Photography.

Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4

Twelve-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Perigueux x Rita). Owned by Clive Smith.

A tactical, slow clear around Badminton last year set Pamero up for a blinding season, culminating in second place at Pau after delivering the only FOD of the event.

Produced by Laura Collett, Pamero 4 moved to Gemma’s yard in 2017. Laura’s last run on the horse was at his five-star debut at Pau in 2016, but he fell on course. He’s had an exciting couple of seasons with Gemma, with ten international runs, seven top ten finishes, a second at Barbury’s ERM, as well as that stonking Pau result. He’ll be a high-20s horse in the first phase — he earned a 27.4 at Badminton and a 29.9 at Pau — and Gemma will pick up the pace this time around.

Pamero is a funny character — he’s a seriously picky eater and does best living outside most of the time with Sooty, his ancient Shetland pony companion, who keeps him in his happy place and stops him from worrying. Gemma has pulled out all the stops when it comes to managing this tricky horse, and as a result, she knows him almost better than she knows himself, which is a great position to be in coming into a five-star. Slightly less great is the crashing fall that the pair took early on course in Belton’s Grantham Cup – both escaped injury, but to have tumbled at an innocuous fence like that might provoke a bit of a re-think of the horse’s pre-Badminton prep. For an icy-veined competitor like Gemma, though, this could be a peculiar positive – it might allow her to fine-tune how she manages the horse and coax his best out of him.

Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May. Photo by Niamh Flynn/Tattersalls.

Izzy Taylor and Call Me Maggie May

Twelve-year-old KWPN mare (Hamar x Marijke). Owned by Tom Strong.

Maggie’s last international run was at Pau last season, and she made it a good one: she finished eleventh, and was the only one of Izzy’s three rides to complete the competition. That was her five-star debut, and a result that becomes all the more impressive when you consider that Izzy doesn’t actually ride the mare every day. Instead, she lives with her owner, Tom, who produced her to Intermediate and still does much of the day-to-day schooling.

The shining star on Maggie’s international record was her win at Tattersalls CCI4*-L last year, which she accomplished with a 28.5 FOD. Pau aside, where she posted an uncharacteristic 37.5, she’s becoming a seriously strong performer in each phase – and now that she’s made her level debut, Izzy will know just how much she can push the mare. Watch out.

Izzy Taylor and Springpower jump a double clear at Blenheim. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Izzy Taylor and Springpower

Ten-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Power Blade xx x  April Imperator). Owned by Andrea and Jeremy Brereton and Linda Mars.

Originally produced by Lucy Jackson and then passed along to Jodie Amos, Springpower joined Izzy’s string in mid-2017 and quickly made the step up to CCI4*-S, debuting at the level in Blenheim’s hot eight- and nine-year-old class. He finished seventh, adding just three time faults to his dressage score of 33.8. He went a few better in the same class last year, finishing a close second to Laura Collett’s winner London 52. Then, he went to Boekelo CCI4*-L, where he was eighth.

But it hasn’t all been fun and games, necessarily – the talented young horse can be quite cheeky in the dressage, and the buzzy atmosphere at Badminton could exacerbate this. He’s proven to be tough and fast across the country, although he did fall at Bramham last season. His showjumping is a bit of a weak point; he’s likely to have a rail. But for all that, he’s an exciting horse for Izzy, and will be very interesting to watch around his first five-star.

New Zealand’s Ginny Thompson and Star Nouveau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ginny Thompson and Star Nouveau

Fifteen-year-old mare (Goldstar x Fiesta Star). Owned by Elaine Butterworth, Anthony Quirk, and the rider.

Thompson and Star Nouveau finished eighth in their first four-star at Adelaide in 2017, before 26-year-old Thompson sold her entire string and business back home to be based with fellow Kiwi Blyth Tait in the UK. They contested Badminton last spring, finishing in 40th place after a broken pin and 22 showjumping penalties knocked them down the order. But they were relatively speedy — they only clocked up 15.6 time penalties on the Saturday, which shows that there’s plenty more to come if they can polish the first and third phases.

The duo has completed four international competitions since Badminton, with promising progress shown – they’ve dropped their dressage scores by a fair few marks, as evidenced at Burghley, where they produced a 36.5, well down from their 43.6 at Badminton. But Burghley was an early finisher for them: they withdrew after a cross-country in which they clocked up twenty penalties. They’ll be out for redemption this spring.

Mark Todd and NZB Campino. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mark Todd and NZB Campino

Seventeen-year-old gelding (Contendro x Pinkus). Owned by Sir Peter Vela.

Unusually, Toddy brings forward just one horse this year, and it’s the gorgeous NZB Campino who gets the honour. We last saw him at Burghley last year, where he finished eighteenth in a hot field. The year prior he tackled two five-stars – Pau, in October, was a bit of a bust, and he retired on course, but at Badminton that spring he was fourth. He’s also been ninth at Burghley, tenth at Pau, and fifth at Luhmühlen – and in the twilight of his competitive career and, perhaps, the twilight of Toddy’s, we could be treated to something wonderful.

Five-time Burghley winner, four-time Badminton winner, and FEI rider of the 20th century, Toddy is no slouch – but his recent foray back into racing proves that he has his fingers in a few pies, and it may be that he’s pushing for a top finish on which to wrap up his eventing career. (Or, you know, we could be wrong, and Toddy might just keep going and going – we’d be delighted to be proven wrong!) He’s come close a few times – if nothing else, expect another masterclass in classic cross-country riding. Hopefully with both stirrups.

Kazuma Tomoto and Tacoma d’Horset (JPN). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Kazuma Tomoto and Tacoma d’Horset

Twelve-year-old Selle Français mare (Sandreo x Palm Beach d’Horset). Owned by the Japan Racing Association.

Japan’s eventers aren’t just phenomenally talented – they’re also savvy and resourceful, as well as being endlessly hard-working. We’re now just a year and change away from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which ought to be where we see them peak – but that doesn’t mean you should take your eyes off any of them now.

Kazuma, who has been based with William Fox-Pitt since mid-2017, is the second of Japan’s two entrants at Badminton this year, and he’s one we’ll be watching very closely indeed. His aim this year is to qualify all four of his enviable string of top horses for Tokyo, and although new ride Vinci de la Vigne might be the biggest talking point of the four, it’s WEG mount Tacoma d’Horset that we’ll get to enjoy at Badminton. Tacoma blazed around that tough Tryon track last year, adding absolutely nothing in the influential cross-country phase, and ultimately finished just outside the top twenty. Not bad, frankly, for a horse with only four CCI4*-S events and a single CCI4*-L under her belt. This year, she’s come out and made easy work of Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S. Her dressage is a little bit of a weak spot at the moment – she can get high-20s scores, but tends more towards the low-to-mid 30s – but she’s a real cross-country machine, with no faults on her record above the CCI3*-L level. Kazu, too, just keeps getting better and better – lest we forget, he only picked up eventing less than four years ago, on the prompting of his national federation.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class

Twelve-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Courage II x Kilderry Place). Owned by Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop, and Val Ryan.

Ultra-talented but ultra-sharp and tricky, Thomas went from flying completely under the radar to winning Burghley practically with his eyes shut on his five-star debut in 2017.

What’s perhaps most exciting about Thomas is that even after he won here, Oliver admitted that the horse was still ‘babyish’ in many ways — the dressage wasn’t yet quite established, and the atmosphere in the main arena had the ability to slightly pull his focus off his job. His jumping style, too, was still green — he jumped big to make up for the fact that he hadn’t yet learned to jump economically. But discovering your capabilities over a course like Burghley, and then taking the winter holidays to mull over all you’ve learned, is the making of a tempestuous talent like Thomas.

He was fifth at Badminton last year after that astonishing, record-equalling 20.8 dressage test, proving that the first phase is very much established now. He looked to tire on cross-country — leading to, perhaps, one of the bigger talking points of the first half of the season — but looked fresh and well on the final day, unfortunately pulling two rails to drop out of contention for the very top spot. Oliver took a tumble from him at Aachen, but they regrouped and won Burgham CCI4*-S the following week, lest anyone murmur that they’d lost their touch. They were then part of Oliver’s total domination of Blair Castle CCI4*-S before heading to Burghley yet again, finishing second to another Price.

“I’ve had him since the word go, and he’s been tricky — I still gave to be careful with him when he’s fresh! — but with extreme talent come the quirks,” said Oliver after his second Burghley placing with the horse. Oliver, who admits that he’s often guilty of “keeping my head down and staying quiet”, has a special place in his heart for the gorgeous grey.

“He has the main box in the yard. It doesn’t matter which window I’m looking out of; I can always see Thomas, even from the bathroom! He’s the first horse I look at in the morning and the last horse I see at night. He’s as special a horse as I’ve ever ridden.”

This is a very, very safe bet for a top placing, and if nothing else, we can’t wait to see the difference in Thomas over all three phases. The development of a young horse like this is very nearly as exciting as the major victories — we just hope he’s stopped lawn-darting the grooms across the gallops. His win in Burnham Market’s CCI4*-S will set him up nicely for a great run.

Oliver Townend (GBR) and Cillnabradden Evo. Photo courtesy of Equestrian Festival Baborówko.

Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo

Thirteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (S. Creevagh Ferro x Willow Garden). Owned by Sally-Anne Egginton.

It surprised us to see Gary on the entry list for Pau last year, and it surprises us to see him here now – of all Oliver’s horses, he’s the one who’s proven to be the most consistent and competitive CCI4*-S competitor.

Cillnabradden Evo has been in Oliver’s string since late 2015 — he took the horse on after Andrew Nicholson’s major injury at Gatcombe Park. Before Pau, he hasn’t done a CCI since Saumur in 2016, where he finished fifth, but had been a serious campaigner around CCI4*-S events, contesting five Event Rider Masters legs and coming 1st or 2nd in seven of his previous eleven internationals. The thirteen-year-old Irish gelding won Baborowko CCI4*-S last year after finishing second at Wiesbaden ERM, and he was second at Blair’s ERM finale, too.

He’s a serious low-to-mid 20s dressage horse, although he pulled an incredible 19 out of the bag at Gatcombe’s British Open Championships last year and set a new PB of 18.9 in an Advanced section at Weston Park this month. Gatcombe’s not been a happy hunting ground for the horse, though, and the British Open was no exception — he retired on course. He was withdrawn before cross country at Barbury’s ERM after pulling an exceptionally uncharacteristic five poles — the horse is an out-and-out showjumper normally and hadn’t had a pole since 2014, but since then he’s had three runs and not a single showjumping clear. He also had a 20 at Arville over a tough course, which was a real surprise. And then there was Pau: he led the dressage on a remarkable 22.7 but left a leg at the first of the formidable swans after the final water. Though Gary stayed upright, he swiftly deposited Oliver on the floor, putting paid to his chances of taking another five-star victory with a debutante. This spring, he’s come out all guns blazing, taking an easy win in a CCI4*-S section at Burnham Market on a new record finishing score.

Our verdict? The same as it ever was, really: if Oliver does bring Gary forward, he’ll either win, or they won’t complete. There is no middle ground.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class

Fourteen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding (Ramiro B x The Swallow). Owned by Angela Hislop.

Oliver has four horses entered and can ride two – but Cooley Master Class, known as Coolio, makes the weeding-out process a bit easier. He’s been cross-entered for a little event in Kentucky, which he, you know, won last year. So there’s that.

Gorgeous Coolio was a horse who defied the odds, really – it’s not that he hadn’t shown signs of brilliant talent, because he had, but he seemed rather a fragile sort of horse. Long stints out of action and a plethora of withdrawals made it seem like he might not even make it to the start box at his first five-star. But once again, Oliver proved that he knows his horses inside out, and although he has two recent withdrawals on his record again – Blair CCI4*-S last summer and Belton CCI4*-S last month – those were both events where Oliver did batch withdrawals of most, if not all, his horses.

It would be great fun to watch Coolio tackle Badminton, but we won’t – not this year, anyway. He’s found his happiest hunting ground, and it’ll be a tough job for anyone who wants to try to beat him there.

Oliver Townend brings forward a new star in Ulises. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

Oliver Townend and Ulises

Twelve-year-old Spanish Sport Horse (Fines xx x Emeraude du Pontet). Owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon.

The fourth of Townend’s myriad entries is young gun Ulises, who is a half-brother to Nereo and came from the same Spanish farm as his Badminton-winning relative. Oliver’s great friend Andrew Nicholson also produced this horse through to the CCI4*-L level, giving the ride over after this accident at Gatcombe. Since then, Oliver and Ulises have totted up nine internationals together, and have finished in the top ten in six of them.

Their best result so far was a win in a CCI4*-S section at Chatsworth last season, but they looked impressive at Blenheim CCI4*-L, too. They added nothing to their 28 dressage on cross-country day, and it looked as though they might win the whole thing – but three rails down put paid to that idea, and they finished 19th overall.

This interesting horse is ready for his step up to the big-time, and probably would have made it earlier if it weren’t for the fact that Oliver is currently enjoying his best ever string of horses. With every chance to be enormously competitive at the big events, the ‘second string’ will be taking a back seat – but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll choose to chance it with Gary or give the debutante a run instead.

Nicola Wilson and Bulana take Barbury. Photo by William Carey.

Nicola Wilson and Bulana

Thirteen-year-old KWPN mare (Tygo x Sulana). Owned by James and Jo Lambert.

The gorgeous Berry is indubitably talented, but she hasn’t always been an easy ride – early on in her CCI4* (formerly three-star) career, she was a bit of a tearaway, and the general consensus was that once she was manageable, she’d be damn near unbeatable. True enough, she’s picked up a slew of very respectable results since deciding to play nice, including a win in Barbury CCI4*-S last season and individual bronze at the 2017 European Championships at Strzegom, where they contributed enormously to the British team’s historic gold medal.

But even now, Berry isn’t the most straightforward horse – she was taken off the long list for a spot on the WEG squad after a minor injury put her out of action last season. In fact, we haven’t seen her in an international since that Barbury win, and she’s only had one national run in that time: she finished fifth in an OI at Oasby last month, but was subsequently withdrawn from her two AI entries.

This will be a third five-star for the mare, who finished second in her debut at the level at Luhmühlen in 2017. She revisited the event last season, delivering a great first-phase score of 27.5, but was retired on course after two stops. Her dressage is consistently competitive, but it would be fair to expect her to be a bit rusty across the country – but on her day, Badminton’s beefy track is well within her capabilities.

The 2019 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you in partnership with the team at Voltaire Design United Kingdom. Going to Badminton? Head to Voltaire Design on Stand 253 on Somerset Way and meet the team of Sports Saddle Specialists, arrange a free, totally no-obligation fitting for you and your horse, or indulge in the Deal of the Day. Looking for a bargain? Head to Voltaire Design’s sister stand, EquiTack, to check out their premium pre-loved saddles at rock-bottom prices.

All Hail the King of Burnham Market: Townend Makes it Twelve

Cillnabradden Evo proves once again that he’s unstoppable in a CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In Burnham Market’s game of thrones, you’re Townend or you lose, to coin (steal) a (slightly cumbersome) phrase. And after all our talk about Oliver Townend‘s incredible record at this event, he went one better today by not just taking the win in both CCI4*-S sections, but by breaking his own record twice over. All in a day’s work when you’re the world number one.

Racking up the B’s: Burghley winner and now Burnham Market winner Ballaghmor Class prepares for a second visit to Badminton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Oliver previously held the record for the lowest-ever finishing score in this class on his Kentucky winner Cooley Master Class, with whom he finished on a 25.7 when taking the win for the second consecutive year in 2017. Today, both Ballaghmor Class and Cillnabradden Evo surpassed this – the former crossed the finish line just one second over the optimum time to win section B on a score of 22.2, while the latter finished on his incredible dressage score of 21.3 to take section C. It’s a new record that will take some serious work to beat – and if it can be done, we can only expect it to be done by Oliver himself once again.

In the meantime, though, there’s a certain big event in Gloucestershire to look ahead to, and both of Oliver’s winners hold spots in the line-up. Though he can only bring forward two of his four entries, today’s results will have offered him an enormous amount of useful insight ahead of the final decision.

Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo head for home, en route to setting a new Burnham Market record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Both were fantastic in all three bits, both were very professional in the dressage – calm, and nice, and established,” he says. “In showjumping they both jumped very, very good rounds, very safe rounds, but it was on the cross-country, really, that I was most impressed with how they did it. They were both on the bridle, and both had their ears pricked, and not once did I even have to squeeze – they just took me round there. They both had a great run, and neither of them were blowing as they came across the line. Neither of them broke a sweat, either – though whether it’s just because it’s freezing cold, I don’t know! They’re very different horses to manage and ride, but both are top-class in their own right – I wouldn’t mind a yard full of them.”

Oliver capped off his successful weekend with a second-placed FOD of 30.3 in the Advanced aboard Badminton entrant Ulises.

“He couldn’t have performed any better in all three phases,” says Oliver, who was pipped at the post by Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. “He was beaten by an exceptional horse, and he was very, very good.”

Alex Bragg’s Zagreb made light work of a tough track at Burnham Market ahead of his forthcoming Badminton run. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Foot-perfect performances across all three phases catapulted Badminton-bound Alex Bragg and Zagreb into second place in section B. They finished on their dressage score of 26.2, and the fifteen-year-old gelding showed that he’s still getting better and better.

“He’s felt really good – I actual feel like after the winter he’s stronger and more supple, and still improving,” says Alex. “I think we both are, in all honesty, so maybe it’s a bit of each of us. The last few years, we’ve really learned how to prepare him and what works for him at the higher levels. For personal reasons we never made it to Belton, so with Badminton looming, I needed to figure where I was with him. So this was quite a significant result for him, not just for the result, but for how he felt throughout and after. He’s fresh as a daisy. After cross-country I gave him another twenty minutes work to check his stamina and make sure he was still responding well – it was a way to test if can he still carry himself after running that distance. Because in a minute, he’ll need to run another five! Everything I’ve wanted from this weekend, I’ve got.”

Shared weather grumbles aside, Alex enjoyed the track built by Alec Lochore.

“For me, it’s quite a nice, inviting course,” he says. “There was a question with a double of gates that I didn’t get – it didn’t promote nice riding, but then, I  suppose, it’s cross-country. I had to work a bit harder with the first-timers to help them read the question. Other than that, it rode really nice and really smooth. That you had to go from a left-handed to right handed corner near the end of the course really tested the rider, and I liked that question. It was a good test for riders, whereas the gates were almost there to trip the horses up.”

Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof add another sterling result to the horse’s record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom McEwen‘s Belton winner Figaro van het Broekxhof demonstrated consistency in form, finishing third in section B after adding just 1.2 time penalties to his 27.4, while Piggy French piloted the exciting Cooley Monsoon to fourth in his CCI4*-S debut. The eleven-year-old son of Ramiro B is owned by Absolutely Fabulous star Jennifer Saunders, who braved the worst of British weather to cheer her horse around the track.

Cooley Monsoon steps up a level – and up to the plate – with Piggy French in the irons. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Despite his relative inexperience, ‘Eddie’ looked confident and supremely capable around the course, though 2.8 time penalties dropped them down a placing. Fifth place went to Sweden’s Ludwig Svennerstal and his WEG mount Stinger, who delivered one of three FODs in the section to finish on 29.9.

Laura Collett and London 52 sail the last. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Collett took second place to Cillnabradden Evo in section C, adding 3.2 time penalties to her 23.1 dressage to finish on 26.3 with her Blenheim CCI4*-S winner London 52. Though she was initially awarded a handful of erroneous time penalties and a 15 for missing a flag at the corner at 22B, she was successful in her appeal, giving the phenomenally talented London 52 another excellent result on his record sheet. She joins a vocal majority in opposition to the FEI’s revised flag rule, which has proven contentious at a number of international fixtures worldwide since its inception this season.

“It’s just not fair for the horses or the owners,” she explains. “I was 100% adamant that he hadn’t bulged off the line; I felt the flag on my foot, so it was me that knocked it. You know when your horse is a bit off the line, when you’re trying to hold them and they’re thinking about running out, but if they jump the jump, then they jump the jump. I think it’s overcomplicating things – it’s confusing for the spectators, confusing for the riders, and stressful for the owners.”

Top riders are rallying for a change to be made prior to the forthcoming five-stars at Kentucky and Badminton – we’ll be bringing you more on this in the next few days.

Dacapo skips into the water with Laura Collett. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura also enjoyed success in section B aboard Dacapo, who finished ninth on 33.7 after adding 9.2 time penalties across the jumping phases to his dressage score of 24.5.

“They’re such super horses – they’ve both come along so much since last year,” says Laura of her talented geldings. “They both made big steps up last year and finished the year really well, so it’s really exciting.”

Dacapo finished third to London 52 in last year’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old class, though has largely flown under the radar in comparison to his headline-making stablemate.

“He’s holding his own, bless him!” laughs Laura. “He’s come on an awful lot – he’s always been brilliant, jumping-wise, but he seems to really have cottoned on now. In the dressage, it’s like you just press ‘go’ now – he’s disgusting in the warm-up, because he hates other horses, so you sort of have to just go in, but that’s where he’s so good. You’d watch him warm up and think it’s going to be a disaster, but it’s like he gets on the centreline and thinks, ‘oh, thank god, there are no other horses here!’ He was foot-perfect at Belton, and foot-perfect again here, and he genuinely feels like he’d jump anything I put in front of him.”

Dacapo will head to his first CCI4*-L at Tattersalls this summer, while London 52 will be aimed at Bramham in June.

Showmasters: Jörn Warner and Vicco Pop sail home in the CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Germany’s Jörn Warner may have only moved to Chris Burton’s yard a month ago, but he’s already obvious absorbed much of the lightning-fast Aussie’s innate ability to ride to the clock. He added just 0.4 time penalties in the showjumping to his 26.5 dressage, finishing third in section C with Vicco Pop. Jörn, who previously trained with Bettina Hoy, first came to the UK several seasons ago to base with fifth-placed Bill Levett and contest his first CCI2*-S. Now, he has six horses in the UK and big plans for the season ahead. Remarkably, he and the fifteen-year-old Vicco Pop have tackled the sport together from the ground up.

“I bought Vicco Pop as a five-year-old – he was qualified for the German young horse championship and also Le Lion d’Angers,” explains Jörn. “We really did it together – our first cross-country fence was together. He’s a diva – he knows that he’s a good one, and he likes in the dressage if there are a lot of people, then he’s looking a bit more smart, like a show master. He likes shows; he likes a lot of people to see him.”

Jörn, who also competes in pure dressage up to Intermediare, spent five years working in this discipline before making the switch to eventing. Now, he hopes to aim his top horse for the European Championships after runs at Chatsworth CCI4*-S and Tattersalls CCI4*-L.

Bramham under-25 winners Emily King and Dargun finished fourth on 29.4 ahead of the horse’s five-star debut at Badminton, while Australia’s Bill Levett enjoyed a redemption arc after falling foul of the flag rule at Belton. He and Shannondale Titan finished fifth on 29.5.

Bill Levett and Shannondale Titan get their just rewards with a fifth-place finish in section C. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ve seen sun (sort of), we’ve seen snow (seriously), we’ve seen seriously top-class horses, and now I, for one, am seeing the inside of a service station KFC on a nondescript section of motorway  – so with stars in my eyes and possibly a faint trace of hypothermia, I bid you a sleepy adieu from Burnham Market. It’s been real (cold).

Burnham Market: Website, Entries and Ride Times, Live Scoring, EN’s Coverage

Final results – CCI4*-S section B:

Final results – CCI4*-S section C:

Burnham Market, Day Two: Townend Topples the Leaderboard – Three Times

Cillnabradden Evo and Oliver Townend march into Burnham Market’s record books. Photo by Laura Butcher.

Every year at the Barefoot Retreats Burnham Market International Horse Trials, we invariably end up talking about one thing: the Townend phenomenon. Oliver Townend has a remarkable track record at the venue: he’s won more CCI4*-S classes here more than any other rider, and by no small margin. The venue first held classes at this level back in 2005, and since then, there have only been five runnings at which he hasn’t won one of the CCI4*-S sections: in 2005, he didn’t compete, in 2006, he finished fourth, in 2011 he withdrew one horse and ran into problems with another, in 2013 he was sixth, and in 2018, the event was abandoned due to inclement weather. So that’s nine years in which he’s been a winner here, but that’s not the total tally – he won both CCI4*-S sections in 2014, and finished first and second in the sole section held in 2015 and 2016. It’s an astonishing track record, particularly when you consider the quality of field this event hosts and the wide variety of horses he’s piloted here in that time period. Each year, he runs his top string of horses here, often choosing to use the neighbouring spring CCI4*-S at Belton as a combined test. But what is it that he loves so much about Burnham Market?

“They’ve got very honest ground here,” he explains. “We’re always concerned about the ground heading into the big ones, and you soon find out, with the number of horses that we run, which horses come out of which events well. They always seem to come out of here really well.”

That faith in the ground, plus a penchant for Alec Lochore’s bold, positive tracks means that Oliver trots out his top horses here each year and usually runs them all competitively – and when Oliver is running competitively, he’s a formidable beast indeed.

Today, we’ve seen him laugh in the face of leaderboards across the classes. Arklow Puissance won an Intermediate section on just his second run at the level (he won his first run at the level too, so we’ll be keeping an eye on this one), recording the only FOD in his class. Badminton entrant Ulises lost out on an Advanced win by less than a point, but again recorded the only FOD of the class. Kentucky-bound Cooley Master Class was given a planned slow run, which dropped him out of the placings in a hot OI section, but he jumped double clear and scored an incredible 21.4 in the dressage. Then, his Badminton entrant stablemates Cillnabradden Evo and Ballaghmor Class followed suit – the former delivered a 21.3 to lead section C of the CCI4*-S, while the latter put a 21.8 on the board to leap to the top of section B. The incredible thing? Not a single one of those scores was a personal best. Even so, they both managed to beat the former Burnham Market dressage record of 22.7, held by Pippa Funnell.

Ballaghmor Class is “as special a horse as I’ve ever ridden”, according to Oliver Townend – and he proved why once again today. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Much has been written about Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class, the tricky, tempestuous talent who took the title in his first-ever five-star. He was just ten at the time, and although he’d been supplementing his fitness work by playing frequent games of lawn darts with Team Townend’s hardy grooms, he came good in all the right ways on the day it counted. As he headed into Badminton last season, Oliver told us that a horse’s second five-star is usually its toughest, especially when the horse is as clever as Thomas – he knew he was a superstar by then, and would stride into the atmosphere in the main arena with, perhaps, too much confidence in himself. But Thomas proved him wrong – he remained perfectly balanced on the cusp between submissive and expressive, and laid down one a 20.8, one of the best scores we’ve ever seen at the venue. He finished fifth, ultimately, and then second at Burghley, and now he heads back to Badminton as one of the odds-on favourites for the win. To see him edging towards his peak performance here, three weeks before the main event, is incredibly exciting.

The feeling we all want after dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Less, perhaps, has been said about Cillnabradden Evo, and so we headed straight to the source to find out a little bit more about the former Andrew Nicholson ride.

For a long time, we’ve considered Gary a CCI4*-S specialist – the thirteen-year-old gelding has contested plenty of Event Rider Masters legs, and thirteen of his seventeen internationals with Oliver in the irons have been at the level. They’ve won three, been second in three, and finished in the top ten in two others, and after a two-year stint without a single three-day entry, we began to suspect that Gary had found his career niche. We were wrong.

Gary’s surprise entry at Pau last year left many eventing fans scratching their heads but, as Oliver put it, the trip was a ‘finding-out’ mission. The pair led the dressage there on a 22.7, and flew around two-thirds of the cross-country course up on the clock, before a small mistake on the approach to a reasonably uninfluential combination saw Oliver hit the floor. But he had found out what he needed to.

“It was a very good feeling that he gave me – we made a mistake, and it was a bit of a dumb mistake, but at the same time, he felt like he was getting the trip comfortably to that point,” explains Oliver. “He was on the minute markers and had his ears pricked and was still jumping good, so we were very happy with that. So we shall see!”

Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo. Photo by Laura Butcher.

Now, ahead of what could be his first-ever Badminton in three weeks’ time, Gary is making good on his reputation as a well-nigh unbeatable first-phase performer.

“He’s getting very established; obviously the ERMs have done him the world of good, because he’s used to going in every couple of weeks and having to perform a good international-standard test,” says Oliver. “So he’s just gotten better and better. He’s established, he’s very nice in the brain, and he’s very amenable – he concentrates and takes his job seriously.”

Leggy London 52 produces poetry once again with Laura Collett. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Collett‘s impressive up-and-comer London 52 was second in Belton’s Grantham Cup two weeks ago, and he came back out on great form today, posting a 23.1 to equal his international PB. This will only be his third full season of eventing – the ten-year-old gelding showjumped before Laura bought him, and has enjoyed an astonishing career trajectory, which saw him take the title in Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S last year. They sit second overnight in section C, just ahead of Badminton-bound Emily King and her Bramham under-25 CCI4*-L winner Dargun.

Emily King lands a spot in the top ten of both CCI4*-S sections – here, she pilots Brookleigh to a 27.2 and eighth in section B. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Behind her is another young gun – Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden enjoyed a career-best performance at Belton, and yesterday’s score of 25.8 stands them in great stead to repeat the feat.

Bill Levett and Shannondale Titan make a great start to their redemption song. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In fifth place, Bill Levett‘s Shannondale Titan makes good headway in pursuit of some consolation, after a disappointing Belton saw them miss out on a placing due to the new flag ruling. They sit on 26.3 as they head into tomorrow’s jumping phases.

In section B, yesterday’s leader Pippa Funnell holds onto second place with MGH Grafton Street, sitting on a very competitive score of 22.7. In third place is Will Furlong, who, like Pippa, heads to Badminton next month with his entrant, the talented mare Collien P 2. Their score of 23 is a significant personal best at any international level.

Laura Collett proves her strength in depth with a competitive first-phase performance aboard Dacapo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Collett made an impression in this section, too, riding Dacapo. Third in last year’s Blenheim CCI4*-S, the Diarado gelding might be in the shadow of stablemates Mr Bass and London 52 for now – but we suspect he won’t be for long. He delivered a consistent, expressive test today to put a 24.5 on the board, allowing him to sneak ahead of fifth-placed Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around, who are on 25.3 as they head into showjumping.

Tomorrow brings us an action-packed day of showjumping and cross-country action for both CCI4*-S sections – keep it locked on EN for all the thrills, spills, and burger van bills you could possibly want!

Burnham Market: Website, Entries and Ride Times, Live Scoring, EN’s Coverage

CCI4*-S section B dressage leaderboard:

CCI4*-S section C dressage leaderboard:

Burnham Market, Day One: The Dressage Debrief

 

The second four-star of the British eventing season is upon us and, hot on the heels of Belton, it’s packed to the rafters with top talent. The Barefoot Retreats Burnham Market Horse Trials is one of our classic early-season pipe-openers, and each year, it jockeys for pole position with Belton. This year, it’s drawn the second slot, giving us the chance to keep a close eye on the form and preparation of some very, very interesting horses. Many of these are Badminton-bound (and, indeed, Kentucky-bound), while others still will be looking ahead to potential European Championship team selection later on this summer. Others still represent some of the most exciting up-and-comers in the country – and today, we saw one of those make a brilliant impression.

Burnham Market is situated on the north Norfolk coast, and arriving at the venue always feels a little bit like crossing the threshold into another world. Whichever direction you look in, there’s nothing but horses, jumps, and then sprawling vistas of farmland and open sky – it’s rather like an eventing snow globe, which is a concept we like very much indeed, frankly. After a brisk climb up the hill, it’s possible to see most of the cross-country action – and, if you’re lucky, you can see the sea, too. There’s a shanty in there somewhere, my friends.

Exciting landscapes aside, Burnham Market also offers a heaping helping of competitive opportunities for riders at all levels. After the big boss rejected my idea of ignoring the eventing in favour of in-depth reports on the Ferretworld Roadshow, I headed upwind to see what was going on between the boards. As it turns out, there was rather a lot.

There are two CCI4*-S sections on offer here, a CCI3*-S, two Advanced classes, four Intermediates, five Novies, and four BE100 sections, and an entry into any of them is so coveted that even today, waitlisted competitors were appearing, hopeful of a last-minute drop out.

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street once again find themselves top of the pack. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The two CCI4*-S sections got off to a seriously competitive start today, with some familiar faces throwing down the gauntlet early on. Pippa Funnell holds the overnight lead in section B riding MGH Grafton Street, after the pair delivered an incredible 22.7. This score equals the best-ever CCI4*-S dressage score at this venue – a record that Pippa set herself back in 2011, riding Billy Landretti.

The flamboyant Monkeying Around is dressage-bred to the hilt – and it shows in his performances between the boards. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Trailing behind by a couple of marks is Monkeying Around, the 2017 six-year-old world champion. He produced his first test at this level two weeks ago at Belton, leading after the first phase with rider Izzy Taylor – but we never got to see whether he’d hold that lead until the end, as he was one of a selection of horses to be withdrawn before the cross-country. Today, he sits in provisional second on 25.3, proving that his performance a fortnight ago was no fluke.

Alex Bragg and his stalwart campaigner, Zagreb. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Badminton-bound crowd favourites Alex Bragg and Zagreb dazzled in the ring, showing off the horse’s powerful paces to score 26.2. They sit in third place overnight, closely followed by a CCI4*-S debutante who is, perhaps, one of the most exciting young horses in the country. Cooley Monsoon is proving to be a bit of a freak: ably piloted by Piggy French, he’s contested seven internationals, and he’s never finished outside the top ten. He’s got four international wins to his name among that number, and he’s never scored above a 30 in an FEI event. Four of those seven runs resulted in FODs, and he’s only added time penalties across the country twice – 4.4 in his first ever international at Chatsworth, where the time is tricky across the levels, and 3.2 in his first CCI3*-S. Today, he planted a 26.5 firmly upon the leaderboard, popping him into fourth overnight. Owned by comedian Jennifer Saunders, Cooley Monsoon is a horse we’ll be watching very closely this week – and we’ll be bringing you some insider info on him, too.

The remarkable Cooley Monsoon makes a step up with Piggy French. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Rounding out the top five in section B is Tom McEwen and his Belton Grantham Cup-winning Figaro van het Broekxhof, who offered up an accurate, pleasant test for 27.4 and fifth. Though the big gelding doesn’t have the natural pizazz of a horse like Zagreb, he’s certainly proving that he can blossom through consistency.

Jenny Caras, Fernhill Fortitude, and some silos, because Norfolk. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We also saw Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude come forward in section B, where they delivered a flowing test that was rewarded with much-improved marks in comparison with Belton. They’re currently sitting in 23rd place on 33.4.

We spoke at length about the young superstar-to-be that is Mollie Summerland when she finished third in the Grantham Cup two weeks ago, and today we saw her deliver the goods again. She and Charly van ter Heiden sit atop the CCI4*-S section C leaderboard after posting a 25.8 earlier today. Izzy Taylor sits second again, this time on Direct Cassino, whose 26.8 nudged him just ahead of third-placed Sam Ecroyd and Davinci III.

Kazuma Tomoto and Brookpark Vikenti take steps towards Tokyo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In fourth place is the Japanese supremo Kazuma Tomato, who brings forward Brookpark Vikenti. In 2017, we saw Kazu and Vikenti come achingly close to a win in Blenheim’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S – they ultimately slipped into second place by a tenth of a penalty and Kazu, who hopes to qualify all his top horses for Tokyo this year, will be hoping to give the horse the victory he so narrowly missed. Today, they scored a competitive 27.8, giving them a great start to the weekend.

Tim Price and Xavier Faer tie for fifth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Behind him, Will Rawlin and VIP Vinnie share fifth place and a score of 28.9 with Kentucky-bound Tim Price and Xavier Faer. The latter, known at home as Hugo, can sometimes lose marks in this phase due to tension, but today he looked cool, calm, collected – and ready to conquer some bluegrass.

There’s plenty more to come tomorrow, including the arrival of the undisputed king of Burnham Market, Oliver Townend. This will be our first chance to see his horses in an international run – they were all withdrawn after the showjumping at Belton, in favour of using this happy hunting ground as a prep run. This is an event that, it’s fair to say, Oliver is rather adept at winning.

We’ll be bringing you a full report of both days’ dressage action tomorrow, including insight from our leaders, a preview of what’s to come on cross-country, and – we can only hope – more profound reports on Zara Tindall’s outfit choices. From windy Norfolk, I bid you adieu.

Burnham Market: Website, Entries and Ride Times, Live Scoring, EN’s Coverage

CCI4*-S Section B:

CCI4*-S Section C:

 

Friday Video from SmartPak: Mark Todd, the Multidisciplinary Man, Myth, and Legend

An Equine Master – Sir Mark Todd

💬 "I have an empathy with animals, particularly horses"The great Sir Mark Todd reflects on his career, racehorse training and the possibility of competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics 🙌

Posted by World Horse Racing on Thursday, April 11, 2019

Sir Mark Todd would be quite cool enough if all he’d ever done in life was event. After all, he’s proven to be rather good at it — he won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in ’84 and ’88, he’s won Burghley five times, Badminton four times, he’s a two-time gold medallist at the World Championships, he was named the FEI’s rider of the 20th century, and he’s been freakin’ knighted. So he’s doing alright for himself, all things considered.

But Toddy, who turned 63 last month, is no layabout, either — he’s the sort of person who’s determined to fit as much fun as he possibly can into the life he’s been given. So, in pursuit of that fun, he’s turned back to his original love: horse-racing. Alongside preparing for a little event in Gloucestershire in three weeks’ time, he’s been flying back and forth to Australia to train New Zealand Bloodstock’s He’s Eminent, who finished second in his first race under Toddy’s auspices. Now, he’s set to take on the incredible Winx this weekend in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Sydney — and if it goes well, we might not actually see him at Badminton at all. 

“Plans seem to be changing quite rapidly at the moment. I am supposed to be going back to ride at Badminton, which is the first week of May,” he told HorseTalk.co.nz. “But, if the horse runs really well on Saturday, we might now be going to Hong Kong in two weeks’ time. It is a case of one run at a time with He’s Eminent.”

Whichever way he decides to go, one thing’s for certain: we’re incredibly lucky to have been able to enjoy a sport with Toddy in it.

Winter Is Coming: The 2019 Badminton Course, Unpacked

Gird your loins, chaps: the countdown is ON to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and we, for one, couldn’t be more excited — not least because this year is a special one. 2019’s competition is the 70th anniversary of the inaugural Badminton, and since its first running in 1949 the sport, the venue, and the characters within this epic story have changed and evolved significantly. To celebrate 70 years of brilliant Badminton, we’ll be bringing you an extra-special inside look at the event and its rich and exciting history every week from now until the competition begins on May 1. Consider the archives your own personal Gringotts, and EN your loyal goblin sherpas. 

Hot off the back of a flying visit to Badminton, where your loyal British correspondent got to check out the new course and only embarrassed herself in front of a duchess once, we’re bringing you a comprehensive look at the challenges set on this year’s course. We’re delighted to welcome Voltaire Design to the EN team, too — they’ll be partnering with us to bring you all the content you could want and need from this year’s event. 

Bend the knee.

It’s nearly time, my friends: in just three weeks’ time, it’ll be Badminton cross-country eve. Dreams will come true, dreams will fall apart, and we’ll be preparing ourselves for a day chock full of thrills, spills, and terrific horsemanship. Excited? So are we.

This will be the third year of course designer Eric Winter‘s residency, and he’s certainly established his preferred style of design – his main aim across the course has been to test the adaptability of riders. This hearkens back to a rather more old-school way of riding – a type of cross-country manoeuvring that’s best learnt on the hunting field, where terrain can change in an instant, jumps can come up fast and without warning, and riders must be prepared to work with, rather than against, their horse’s natural inclinations. That formative education in the hunting field is reflected in some of his fence choices, too.

“There are no new ideas – some of these types of fences have been around for a very long time,” he laughed, citing the new combination at 17ABC and 18 as an example. Inspired by years of hunting with the harriers in Weston-Super-Mare, it features a sprawling, water-filled ditch with banked edges. It’s not a question we often see on five-star courses, but it’ll be a familiar site to anyone who’s ever ridden to hounds – and it’ll take the sort of gutsy, intuitive riding that Eric wants to promote to get the job done here.

“It all really comes back to that knowledge of your horse, and that’s what I’ve tried to do since I’ve been here – I try to look at those relationships between horses and riders, and their ability to train the horses,” he says. “Actually, I don’t build to a specific stride pattern so much – I do a lot of different things to disturb that stride pattern, so I can see how good the riders are at adjusting the stride, how good they are at utilising that intimate knowledge of their horse.”

The best cross country riders, he tells us, jump a few fences every day, rather than twenty once a week. “That builds up a relationship, and that takes time. But horses who come to Badminton should have that relationship.”

From beginning to end, this year’s rustic course puts that to the test. It’s not a course that’s all about rider control – instead, it reward instinctive reactions from both horse and rider, and encourages competitors to put more trust in their horse, affording them more responsibility.

This year the course will run clockwise, as it did in 2017 when Eric first designed the track. With a measured distance of 6,789 and a provisional optimum time of 11:55, it’s nothing to be scoffed at: this is a thinking man’s Badminton, but that thinking man had better be in possession of a rather indiscreet set of metaphorical you-know-whats, too.

Want a closer look at the challenge this year’s entrants will be facing in just three weeks? Let’s head out of the startbox…

The first fence sits, as usual, in the main arena, allowing horses and riders to start the course in a blaze of glory. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Fence one, the ASX Starter, remains fundamentally unchanged – it’s still the big, colourful floral box in the main arena, which gives horses and riders a nice, straightforward pop (and an enormous cheer from the crowd) to start them on their way.

“This is the culmination of a lot of people’s dreams, to jump this first fence and start at Badminton, so there’s a lot of nerves riding down to this,” says Eric.

This table is where I sit to eat my nightly meal of meat and two no-thanks. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Once they’ve galloped out of the arena, riders will head to fence two, the Keepers Question, which is an imposing table and ditch. We saw this fence appear as the third on course two years ago, and now, with a new, slightly ascending profile, it should be reasonably straightforward. Well, as straightforward as a three foot, ten-inch table with a six-and-a-half foot spread can be, anyway.

The third fence is Little Badminton Gate, and if the idea of anything about Badminton being ‘little’ makes you do one of those choked sob-laughs, then you can take comfort(?) in knowing that this is actually one of the many nods to the event’s history that we’ll see throughout the week. By 1959, the event had become so enormously popular that the organisers were swamped with entries, and so they opted to host two sections – Great Badminton and Little Badminton. Though both sections jumped the same course, they were grouped with similarly experienced horses based on points accumulated. In 1966, this format was abandoned, and instead, the two-day dressage phase, as seen today, was introduced. Little Badminton is also the name of the chocolate box village the estate sits in – go for a walk in the sunshine during the event and you’ll see perfect Cotswold stone cottages, rambling herbaceous borders, and your childhood heroes, casually hacking out as though they’re on a break at Pony Club camp.

Two gates, one question: riders can choose whether to head left or right here. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Anyway, for all that, the Little Badminton Gate is about the size of the whole village – it’s a very upright 1.20m (3’11), though its bright red and white rails make it easy for both horse and rider to read. Upright gates like this are prevalent on top-level cross-country courses, but they, too, are a hunting remnant – when hounds are in full cry, you either jump the five-bar gate or face the long walk home. There’s no time to fuss about with opening and closing the bloody things.

There’s a pretty significant undulation on the approach to this question, which certainly ups the difficulty of it – it’s not a galloping fence, like we’d expect to see this early on. Instead, riders will have to push forward up the slope without letting their horses lengthen. They’ll want to be sitting and pushing from behind to pop this cleanly.

The first element of 4ABC, the Savills Staircase. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

After a jolly gallop away from the gate, our competitors will head to the first combination on course, and it’s a significant one. The Savills Staircase at 4ABC/5 tests boldness and accuracy, and though we’ve seen it make use of skinny questions in the past, this year it’s all about big, Burghley-esque timber.

The B and C elements, plus the direct route at 5. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

The first element at 4A is a table with obvious front and back elements. It’s 1.20m (3’11) tall, with a top spread of 1.70m (5’10) and a base spread of 2.10m (6’10), but it should read well – with its chunky timbers, it presents an easy-to-read question to the horses. The trouble here is that they won’t see what’s to come – just a couple of strides later, there are two 1m (3’3) drops to tackle, so riders will need to make sure they have sufficient power to jump the A element, but that it’s contained enough that they can land and arrange themselves for the B and C. Then, upon landing, there’s a curving line to another whopping great big oxer at 5 – though there is an alternative here for those who lose too much power negotiating the steps.

The blue line shows the quick, direct route through 4ABC and 5, while the green demonstrates how much time can be lost in seeking the alternative. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

After tackling their first combination, competitors will be glad to see fence six, the Worcester Avenue Table. I mean, we wouldn’t be glad to see it, but then, we’re not leaping around Badminton.  This 1.17m (3’10) timber table is imposing and just as wide as the oxers at the Staircase, but it’s been built with a very helpful groundline and a couple of options for riders to choose from on the approach.

The Worcester Avenue Table offers a breather (laughable) after the first combination on course. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

There’s a straight shot over, followed by a reasonably sharp left-handed turn, or there’s the option to angle the approach and gallop straight away from it on landing – with its straightforward profile and groundline, this is one of those seemingly innocuous fences that can allow for a crucial second or two to be gained or lost.

The first of the Joules corners at 7. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

We’re heading past the house now, but there’s no time for sightseeing: the Joules Corners at 7 and 8 come up reasonably quickly, and this question is one that we’ve seen break hearts in the past. There’s a beefy 1.45m (4’9) left-handed brush corner, and then a curving left-handed turn takes you down to another one, this time right-handed. They’re big, they’re wide, and we’ll see more than one horse glance off at the second – particularly because there’ll be an unjumpable element between the two, which will affect the line and could cause a momentary lapse in focus. Interestingly, though, this is the first time we’ve seen the Joules Corners as separately numbered questions – usually, this is an ABC+ combination.

Dimensionally, these corners are impressive – with a 1.45m (5’6) top spread and a 2.10m (6’10) bottom spread, they’ll require serious commitment to whichever line the riders choose. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Just shy of the three-minute marker, we reach fence 9AB – the Countryside Log Piles. This can either be a single jump or a two-fence question, if the long option is taken – the single fence is a whopper, at 1.20m (3’11) and with a 2.60m (8’6) base spread, but it’s not a trappy or tricky question.

The single fence option at fence 9 is one of the biggest fences on course, but shouldn’t cause any problems to horses and riders at this level. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

The alternative route features two smaller fences, but setting up for a combination will cost valuable seconds, and most riders will likely prefer to preserve their horses’ energy for the tough tasks ahead.

The redesigned Shogun Sport Hollow at 10AB is an interesting question for a couple of reasons – firstly, there’s an unjumpable pagoda element to canter through, which could back horses off, and secondly, it’s likely going to bring the flag rule conversation to the fore once again. 

This combination comes after a long gallop and, indeed, a pretty open first section of the course – we’ve seen a much more forward staircase than usual, and those separately numbered corners. So far, the horses have been encouraged to seek and maintain a forward rhythm. Now, they’ll need to really change their way of going to negotiate this question.

The Shogun Sport Hollow begins with a pagoda element designed to keep horses straight and make the question trickier. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

The first – unmarked – element is the barn pagoda, which is designed to keep horses straight and to stop them from angling the question and making it easier.

“The barn is a little bit just to set the horses up, but you’ll have to feel what they do when they come through it,” explains Eric. “It’s not often that you go underneath a roof without a fence under it. Some horses might slow up a bit or trot a bit, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do. Then they’ve got a little narrow ditch [1.40m or 4’8] at the bottom – the barn stops you coming diagonally across the ditch, which would give you much more space. Because they land onto quite a steep bank, it’ll kill their stride a bit – their first stride will probably only be about three yards long.”

Once they’ve landed from the ditch, they’ll have a choice of two perpendicular logs to tackle. The route they take will have no effect on their time, but it’s designed to test how well they know their horse – the left-handed route is very slightly more obvious, but a bigger 1.20m (3’11) effort, while the right is smaller (1.16m or 3’9) but will come up fast on a directional turn. It’s a serious accuracy question, and one that will inspire a few glances off – and, we fear, many confounding, on-again, off-again judgements of the flag ruling.

The first jumpable element is a narrow ditch – then, it’s up to the rider to make a plan that suits their horse. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

“They’ll have to jump within where the flags were originally placed,” says Eric. “There won’t be that ability that riders have had within the last, well, forever, where they can lean on the flag and shift it out as they jump it. They’re going to use camera technology to say, actually, that’s where the line was placed. If the horse’s shoulder is slightly outside of that, they’ll get 15 penalties. Technically, you can collect as many 15 penalties as you want to on the course. It wouldn’t surprise me to see horses have three, four, or five fifteens on the way round. It adds a different level to this question.”

If this sounds like the worst game ever to you, take heart in knowing that both Eric and director Hugh Thomas agree.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if I, as event organiser and technical delegate, spend hours into the evening reviewing the footage. I’m not a fan of the new rule, as you might gather,” quips Hugh.

The new flag ruling is something we’ll be discussing in more depth soon, and it’s a rule that top-level riders are working hard to see amended. We saw it cause controversy at Belton – particularly as 15s were taken off and re-added multiple times throughout the day – but this will be a very public-facing competition, and one which is shown live to homes around the country. The decisions will have to be quick, and they’ll have to be clear, or we risk – at best – alienating the casual viewer.

The imposing KBIS Footbridge is one of the classic ‘rider frightener’ fences on course. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Next up, we meet vintage Badminton in the form of the imposing KBIS Footbridge at 11/12. This whopping great angled oxer and ditch combo always takes committed riding but this year, the approach is slightly downhill, so riders will need to know their line and stick to it. Taken directly, it’s a single element question, but there is a long route here too, which consists of two elements – a ditch and an upright rail, on a long and circuitous route.

Element 13A is a significant step up, which will require power and push. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Then, it’s on to a new-look Outlander PHEV Bank at 13AB. Again, there are two options: the first is a big 1.18m (3’10) step up with a small ditch in front of it, then a couple of strides down to a skinny but small brush. On the take-off side, this measures about 1.10m (3’7) – but there’s a bit of a drop on landing, and it’s skinny enough that it’ll certainly take some riding. As Eric puts it, “they’ll have to be careful with their feet … they’ll need to sneak up to the brush.”

Again, this is a very Eric test of adjustability, and here, he’s also looking for a bit of a fifth leg.

Element B might not be massive, but it’ll take some riding. The direct route is shown on the right, while the long route’s B element is visible on the left. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

“It’ll go to a clever horse that can think for itself and a sympathetic rider that allows it to adjust its stride pattern before the fence.”

The long route will see horses and riders jump a step up on the right-hand side of the bank before arcing back around to another brush.

There’s no time to think before our competitors will meet another rider frightener, the Rolex Grand Slam Trakehner at 14. This shouldn’t cause problems, but it might cause a few sleepless nights – the ditch beneath it is capacious enough that Genghis Khan would probably try to conquer it, if he was alive and, you know, into eventing.

Not pictured: the goblins that jump out and shout ‘BOO’ at riders on approach. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

The first aquatic question on course comes at 15AB, where we find the Hildon Water Pond. This has had a bit of a redesign – last year, it was a three-part question with a log pile, a water trough in the pond, and a steeply angled brush out. This year, there’s a waterfall drop in at the A element, which will see competitors pop a little (70cm/2’3) log with a hefty drop in of 1.80m (5’10).

The not-insignificant drop in at 15A. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Then, they’ll make a left-handed turn to the B element, the trough we saw last year. This is 1.14m (3’9) tall, but it’s not the dimensions that could cause an interruption – it’s the waterfall element, which will require positivity to conquer.

Fence 15AB, the pond, will test riders’ ability to pick up and ride on positively after a colossal drop. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fence 16, James’s Brush, is one of those fences that’s hilariously considered a ‘let-up’ and a ‘confidence-builder’, despite being one of the biggest on course. But with its sloping roll-top profile and its smattering of brush along the top, it’s an easy read and will give competitors the chance to find a forward rhythm again. This is a chance, Eric says, for horses to be able to just run and jump without anything mentally taxing to work out.

James’s Brush – 1.45m (4’9) high, with a base spread of 2.30m (7’6). Yikes. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

After the confidence-boost of fence 16, we head straight back into the thick of it – and this time, it’s to a completely redesigned Mirage Water at 17ABC and 18. This incredibly tricky question could easily end up being one of the most influential questions on course this year, and it’s a great example of Eric using his hunting roots to bring old-school eventing questions back to relevance.

For those brave souls who go straight, the first element is a left-handed, right-angled timber corner with a height of 1.20m (3’11), a top spread of 1.80m (5’10), and a base spread of 2.10m (6’10). This is marked as an AB element, which means that once a rider has committed to it, they can only change their plan and go long if they have a stop or run-out at the C element, the water-filled ditch. This colossal effort is 2m (6’6) wide, with banking on both the take-off and landing side.

The yawning water ditch at 17C brings Somerset hunting country to Gloucestershire. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It’s not something you often see in eventing,” says Eric. “What makes it tricky is that the more you accept the angle of the first corner, and come over it diagonally, is the more you have to arc over the second fence to find a line to the third. These are unpredictable fences to jump – you never know where they’ll land. You’ll have nothing, or there’s a chance you’ll land with your horse flying and running through the bridle.”

The tough line from 17C to 18 can be walked a couple of ways – for a horse who’s landed in trot, it walks as five on a curving line, but for a horse that’s running away a bit, it can be ridden as four. Many riders, posits Eric, won’t have jumped anything like this before, and so they’ll struggle to make a concrete plan – here, we see him at his best (or, perhaps, most devious), testing that ability to make and re-make a plan based on the raw elements they’re given to work with in the moment.

“There are no new ideas,” says Eric. “Forty years ago, this is what you did all the time.”

Tried to take a photograph that showed an obvious line through this question; gave up and had a little cry instead. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The corners here are fitted with swinging MIMS clips, allowing for an additional degree of safety. Unjumpable decorative elements will be installed after the ditch to prevent riders from turning back on themselves to get an easier line to the separately-number corner at 18.

For those who prefer to take the long option here, there’s another corner, an upright rail into the pond, and then the final corner at 18 to pop. Though it’s a longer loop, it won’t necessarily be that much slower – and the arc to the final corner is considerably kinder.

The first element at 19AB requires horses to trust their riders and take a leap into space. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

After the second water there’s an opportunity for another good gallop before 19AB, the Nyetimber Heights. The first element is an airy, upright brush of 1.20m (3’11), set atop a mound. The horses won’t be able to see what’s to come until after they’ve launched themselves into space – then, as they canter down into the hollow, they’ll be presented with four more brushes, each set nearly perpendicular to the A element. Three of these are left-handed options while the fourth – ostensibly the long option, but with no conceivable difference in time – is right-handed. This is another test of commitment to a line – riders will need to establish where they’re going while they’re still in the air, or they won’t have time to get their horses’ eyes on the fence they’ve chosen, nor to create a more jumpable corridor. This could be another place in which we see the influence of the flag rule.

While the second tests line and conviction. The ‘long’ route on the right-hand side could add a second or two, as the track turns left after the fence, but it won’t be a significant time waster. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Just after the seven-minute marker is another breather fencer, the traditional Feedmark Haywain at 20. It’s wide and welcoming, and allows for a run-and-jump after the intensity of the last section of the course. Our competitors will need it – there are some big questions to come.

Fence 20, the Feedmark Haywain. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Fences 21, 22, and 23 are a trio of brushes set on related distances. The YoungMinds Brushes, named for this year’s chosen charity, are a bit of a mental primer for tiring horses and riders before they head to the Lake. There are two options here – a straight line through, which will require forward riding and a commitment to the line, or a slower, snaking route, which allows horses to meet each question more directly. At 1.45m (4’9), they’re certainly not small fences – but they’re not overly technical, either.

Looking down the line at the YoungMinds Brushes at 21, 22, and 23. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

From the brushes, our competitors will skirt alongside the infamous Lake, popping a brand new table at 24 along the way. The World Horse Welfare Lakeside is 1.20m (3’11) tall with a base spread of 2.30m (7’6), but the most interesting thing about it is that it’s a water feature, too. Water is pumped across the table from a small hut alongside, and it flows along the top before dropping off into the lake.

The new water-feature table at the Lake. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Eric tells us that he was inspired to create this fence after a romantic meal out in Oxford with his wife, Lizzel – there, he was obviously fully focused on the romance, because he spotted a similar   (though one would presume smaller) water feature in the restaurant, and decided it would make a marvellous fence. It’s straightforward, and shouldn’t be particularly spooky, but it’s at maximum width, so won’t be a total let-up fence.

The A element at the Lake is a familiar one, but it’s been readjusted slightly. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nor should it be, really – the next question, after all, is the Lake proper. 25ABCD, The Lake with L200s, is an absolutely iconic fence – and this, of course, is the last time we’ll see our competitors leap the trucks in front of a roaring crowd. There’s a lot to look at and an awful lot to do here, so horses and riders both will need to be on their game. The first element sees the return of last year’s beefy log, although it’s been moved back a jot, so horses will land just before the water. Then, they canter through on a curving right-handed line to one of two steps up – if they take the left, they then flow down to a big, wide brush mound at C and around to a D element. If they take the right, they only have one fence to jump, and much less ground to cover to get back on track – but this mound comes up much sharper and sooner.

The B and CD elements of the direct route at the Lake. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

Remember the absolutely epic quad bar from last year? The one that made every photo look a bit like the bad Photoshop jobs that we all attempted when we were about eleven and wanted people to think we’d jumped a six-foot upright in our last lesson? This year’s final question at the Lake, the Wadworth Lower Lake at 26, sees a similar sort of question – but coming out of the water and with a jolly big drop on the landing side. This, says Eric, is a “let-up.” Ha. Ha. Ha.

Big, big, big, but with an inviting profile – the final question at the Lake should produce some incredible images. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

As we head towards one of the last major questions on course, Eric has popped in a big, straightforward brush at 27, the Trade Stands Hedge. Again, this serves a dual purpose: it gives both horse and rider a mental breather, and it keeps them both thinking forward and aiming for a good, clean jump.

Fence 27 is a breather and a wake-up call at the same time: such is the magic of Badminton. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

The Voltaire Design Huntsman’s Close at 28AB might be near the end of the course, but it still poses a significant question. Though the big, airy oxers are relatively straightforward and the lines, comparatively speaking, aren’t enormously technical, the site itself appears through the trees like a veritable spiderweb of silver birch rails. Riders will need to make sure they have a solid plan of action, so they can show their horse what they’re jumping nice and early – otherwise, they could lock on to the wrong thing, and an otherwise good round could unravel here.

The sea of silver timber that heralds horses into the Voltaire Design Huntsman’s Close. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

The long option at Huntsmans sees a slightly different, wider entry point into the trees – those looking to save valuable seconds will eschew this for the straight route. Located by the site of the new glamping area, we assume all the spectators here will be impossibly well-coiffed from using the beauty rooms, and also presumably inhaling champagne like it’s orange juice.

One of the Eclipse Cross Chicane elements with its sprawling ditch. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

One of the final combinations on course is 29AB, the Eclipse Cross Chicane. These two whopping brushes stand at 1.45m (4’9) with a base spread of 1.80m (5’10), and they can be ridden in one of two ways: either straight through on acute angles, or by swinging wide and tackling both more directly. There’s a big ditch in front of each, but these should help, in a way – they’ll act as groundlines. But they’re also angled slightly differently to the hedges themselves, so some decisions will need to be made – is it more important to be straight to the ditch, or to the jump?

The HorseQuest Quarry uses terrain to its advantage to beef up an otherwise straightforward combination. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

At 30AB, we come to the penultimate combination on course – but Eric hasn’t thrown in an easy one here. The HorseQuest Quarry features steep terrain and big stone walls on angles. There’s a significant drop on landing from the first of the two walls, and horses will be tired at this point, so it’ll be crucial not to try to angle the fence too much lest they leave a leg. Then, once they get to the bottom of the quarry, they’ll need to hook right and head back up the slope to the second wall. They’ll need plenty of engine to get it done.

One for the rollercoaster fans among us: HorseQuest’s formidable quarry question. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

For those horses who are really tiring, there’s a long route here: it also features two stone walls, but doesn’t use the terrain. This will be useful if there’s a risk of hanging a leg, but it adds another circuit on, so riders will need to weigh up which option is likely to expend less of the remaining petrol in the tank.

The first Hayrack fence is wide, but it’s an easy read. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

From the quarry we gallop on to 31AB, the final combination on course. The Hayracks are pretty straightforward and feature two wide sheep-feeder fences on a curving line. At the A element, there are two almost identical options to choose from, and at B there are three, with varying widths – this could come in handy if it’s a particularly wet week and the riders want to choose fresher tracks to travel along at this late stage of the course.

After the A element, there’s a chocolate box of choice for B. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

After clearing the final combination, the red and white livery of the arena is in sight – here, you know you’ve very nearly done it. But there’s still two fences to come, and it would be a crying shame to come off at one of them, so there’s a bit of a weaving approach to keep you awake into fence 32, the Rolex Trunk, which is a big, straightforward hanging log. Then, it’s time to kick on and fly back into the arena, where the appreciative crowd will be waiting to welcome you home. All that’s left is fence 33, the Mitsubishi Final Mount – once you’re over that, you’ve jumped the fence that every eventer in the world most wants to get to the other side of. Welcome home.

This is what eventing dreams are made of: the final fence at Badminton. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials, CrossCountry App and Jill Martin.

If you want to learn even more about the course, hear insight from Eric Winter and eventing legend Lucinda Green, and enjoy drone flyovers of many of the combinations, check out the CrossCountry App’s comprehensive guide to Badminton 2019.  We’ll be bringing you much more Badminton coverage over the next few days, including our infamous jam-packed form guide and another #BadmintonAt70 throwback piece. Stay tuned!

Badminton Links: WebsiteEntriesCourse Map, EN’s CoverageLive Stream, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram, #BadmintonAt70

The 2019 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you in partnership with the team at Voltaire Design United Kingdom. Going to Badminton? Head to Voltaire Design on Stand 253 on Somerset Way and meet the team of Sports Saddle Specialists, arrange a free, totally no-obligation fitting for you and your horse, or indulge in the Deal of the Day. Looking for a bargain? Head to Voltaire Design’s sister stand, EquiTack, to check out their premium pre-loved saddles at rock-bottom prices.

Monday Video from Total Saddle Fit: Michael Jung v2.0? Caroline Martin Goes Grand Prix

 

Multi-talented people, eh? You’d love to hate them, but it’s SO much more fun to head up their cheerleading squad. That’s just what we’re doing today as the enviably brilliant Caroline Martin casually shows off her skills in her first Grand Prix jumping classes at the Wellington Equestrian Festival. Cristano Z and Islandwood Captain Jack each jumped around an, um, meaty track, proving that Caroline is no one-trick pony, and neither are her horses.

As if being a five-star eventer isn’t a busy enough job (Caroline has three horses entered at Kentucky: Islandwood Captain Jack, Danger Mouse and The Apprentice), she has been training hard with Queen of the Coloured Poles Ann Kursinski. Clearly, it’s paying off! View WEF results here.

Friday Video from SmartPak: Rescued Horse Events Against the Odds

Are you guys ready for some Friday feels? Meet World Horse Welfare Lucas, a gorgeous coloured gelding who was rescued by the charity as a foal and rehabilitated. Now rehomed with caregiver and rider Colleen Macrae, the seven-year-old Thoroughbred cross has proven to be multitalented – but there’s nothing he loves quite so much as cross-country. This season, he’ll be aiming for BE90 (US novice) – and we reckon he’s set to make a bit of a star of himself.

Not content with just leaping cross-country fences like it ain’t no thang, Lucas has also become the muse for a new series of sculptures, which will help to raise awareness of the charity’s work. These sculptures will be placed in multiple locations, and have been designed by 40 different artists. You can learn more about the trail, and see some of the stunning artwork chosen, here.

We want to know about your rescues who have gone on to enjoy a career eventing – so show us, and shout out the charity you sourced them from, if applicable, in the comments!

Go Lucas, go World Horse Welfare, and GO EVENTING!

Dogs of EN: Basking at Belton

Sometimes people tell me that my job seems incredibly glamorous — after all, I flit from country manor to country manor, surrounded by blokes in slightly fruity top hats, and sometimes I even drink champagne for breakfast. (I don’t really recommend that, if I’m honest. Bit abrasive.) When they tell me this, I always have a little laugh to myself, because being an equestrian journalist is mostly cobbled together of 14-hour days spent photoshopping away indiscreet bulges and getting so distracted by cute puppies that I miss the leading dressage test.

But honestly, guys, the puppies. Eventers — and eventing fans — really do have the best collection of dogs. So without further ado, here are some of the truly exceptional dogs of Belton.

The smallest members of Team French. One of them is a Very Good Boy (or Girl. It could be a Very Good Girl.) The other one…?

…well, maybe not so much…

…but her karate skills are absolutely on point.

This cocktail sausage, who walked an entire cross-country course on four very small legs, and will not put up with your mockery if she would like to be carried now, thank you VERY much.

This OAP (that’s Old Age Pup, of course) who’s forgotten more than most of us will ever know about eventing. Can tell you the best cross country fence to widdle on at every event north of East Anglia.

Pretzel Crisp, who has a sneaking suspicion that she might not be her dad Tom’s primary focus today. She’d call the RSPCA on him, but she just can’t get the iPhone to recognise her bean toes.

This lanky lurcher, who spent hours in front of a Huda Katan tutorial with her Urban Decay smoky-eye palette, but is now a bit worried that it’s all … just too much. 12/10 for enviable fierceness.

This little chap, whose future’s so bright that he needs shades (or maybe just bushier eyebrows).

Ted Brown, whose mum is commentary queen Nicole – but that don’t impress Ted much. He’s far more interested in food criticism. Wild beaver pie, anyone?

This army of smols, who understand the importance of a jolly good nap and are happy to nibble the ankles of anyone who dares disturb your slumber.

This teeny tiny pup on his first adventure, which he’s finding rather windy but which he’s determined to enjoy, thanks for asking.

This bored boi, who’s slowly turning himself into a chocolate lab as an act of protest. He doesn’t even LIKE cross-country – he’s much more interested in the intricacies of dressage.

Transformation: complete.

The smallest member of Team Collett, who’s PRETTY sure this whole prizegiving thing is just a complicated means of recognising her cuteness.

“RIGHT, mum?”

Nutz Upton the terrierist, who’s taking his job as guardian of the lorry VERY seriously…

…while Ted the Jug is quite happy for you to come in, if you’d like. But if you’re going to steal the lorry, can he request a trip through the McDonalds drive-through?

This little guy, who planned his outfit meticulously, only to discover he’d got the wrong ‘B’ event. Terribly embarrassing.

And this 15/10 Happy Boi, who pretty much sums up how we all feel about a sunny day of cross-country.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an enormously frivolous #DogsOfEN post without a poll. Who’s your pick for the top dog of Belton?

British Eventing Announces 2020-2025 Fixtures List

Britain’s major internationals will remain in situ for the 2020-2025 seasons. Photo by Katie Neat Photography.

On Wednesday afternoon, British Eventing announced the finalised list of international and championship events for the 2020-2025 seasons, with eight losses and six new additions to the calendar. This announcement follows a length Strategic Fixtures Review.

The review, which received 60 applications from eligible events, scored and evaluated each of the competitions on a number of objectives, before delivering a final percentage score to each. These objectives, according to a source within an organising team, were split into Sporting and Commercial criteria, with the former allocated a higher weight. Sporting criteria included event layout, event features, provision of permanent and temporary facilities, proposed timetables and team, financials, ground care plans, course development plans, soil type, and availability of all-weather surfaces, while the Commercial criteria focused on sponsorship, the presence of a designated marketing team, marketing and sponsorship plans, and current media output. Events were also scored for transport links and accessibility, and the security of the event — ie., whether the venue was likely to be put up for sale during its tenure. A stakeholder panel then created a provisional fixtures list before opening up the appeals process for any events that weren’t selected.

“The overriding objective was to provide a balanced fixtures calendar, giving the greatest opportunities for members to compete and reflecting the changing needs of the sport,” reads the organisation’s statement, posted on Facebook yesterday. “In addition, key considerations included sustainability, financial viability and geographical spread.”

Each venue is now only allowed to run one international event per season, and must host at least two international classes.

Alongside the final list, British Eventing released a map-based view of the approved fixtures. This map also shows the portion of the country with the highest density of BE members.

The 2020-2025 international and championship fixture map.

The loss of several popular fixtures — including most of those in the south-east and south-west of England — and a perceived lack of transparency about the review and appeals process has already proven controversial, with riders, organisers, and owners alike calling for a major change in the fixture allocation process.

“In order to respect the organisers and the sensitivity of the information provided, BE have kept the details of this process confidential,” the statement continues.

Chair of the BE board Fiona O’Hara commented, “I would like to thank all the organisers and their teams for taking the time to apply to host international and BE Championships fixtures. We were delighted to have received so many high-quality submissions.

“As a result of a final review, we identified a geographical gap in the South West, and have therefore taken the decision to rectify this for the benefit of our members by an adding one additional fixture [Bicton International] in this region. The fixtures calendar will remain under constant review in order to ensure that we continue to maximise the opportunities for our members to compete.

“We are really excited by the calendar and the introduction of new international and championships venues. This gives our members the unique opportunity to compete at a choice of familiar and much-loved venues along with some exciting new additions.”

Among the fixtures lost are Hambleden International, which previously ran classes from BE100 through Intermediate, alongside a CCI2*-S (formerly CIC1*). Hambleden fell victim to a fixtures clash in 2018 and wasn’t reinstated on the fixtures list this season. The south-east region has lost all bar one of its former internationals — Chilham Castle in Kent will host its final CCI2*-S this July, and Brightling Park will no longer run a CCI2*-S or CCI3*-S after June. South of England International in  September will continue to host CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S classes, including sections for ponies and juniors.

The popular Bicton International in Devon will no longer run its CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S in April, but will host a CCI2*-S and CCI2*-L to run concurrently with its BE100 three-day in October.

Shropshire’s Brand Hall will no longer host international classes, nor will it remain the home for the British Pony Championships. Its early July fixture loses a CCI2*-S, a junior CCI2*-S, and the pony CCI2*-S. The pony championship will move to Belsay Horse Trials in Northumberland. The under-eighteen championship will move, too — it leaves Frickley Park in South Yorkshire and heads to Bishop Burton in West Yorkshire. The under-21 championship will remain at Houghton International, and the under-25 championship, too, remains in situ at Bramham.

September’s Gatcombe International — not to be confused with August’s Festival of British Eventing, held at the same venue — will no longer run its CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S class after the retirement of its primary organiser and the loss of its main sponsor. Norfolk’s Great Witchingham International also loses a CCI2*-S in late June.

Little Downham will make the leap up to international status from 2020. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There are some new additions to the international calendar, too: Little Downham in Cambridgeshire will regain international status and host a CCI3*-S and CCI4*-S in October, while Bedfordshire’s multi-purpose venue at Keysoe College will add CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S classes in early July, filling out a calendar for the College that already boasts well-attended international dressage and showjumping fixtures. Cornbury in Oxfordshire is another new addition, and will host CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S classes in September. Kelsall Hall in Cheshire will make the step up to international status, hosting a spring CCI2*-S and CCI3*-S. June’s Alnwick Ford fixture in Northumberland will add the same classes, as will August’s Wellington Horse Trials in Hampshire.

“For Keysoe, this completes the collection,” said organiser Simon Bates. “We now run internationals in all three major disciplines and we see this as a testament to the team’s hard work and dedication and also as a result of the significant — nearing £1m — investment over the last 12-18 months. With good transport links and enhances facilities we now look forward to welcoming eventers from across the country to join us.”

The news of additional fixtures, too, has been marred by some frustration with the fixtures process.

“Little Downham are delighted to have been successful in their application to host a new CCI3*-S and CCI4*-S,” said Sarah Skillin of EquiConsulting, who organises sponsorship and media for the event. “However, that delight is tinged with frustration at still being made to run against Osberton, who are both geographically close and will also run 3* level classes. When our tender was submitted we applied to run in a four-week window on the assumption that we would not be conflicting with another UK event. Our tender was one with the rider at its heart and the sport as the focus of the event.”

Are you an organiser or competitor who has been affected by the fixtures list? Do you think the changes made are positive, or would you like to see more transparency from the board? Let us know what you think in the comments — remember, keep it kind and keep it productive!

[BE ANNOUNCES INTERNATIONAL AND BE CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR FOR 2020-2025]

Who Jumped It Best? Belton Grantham Cup Edition

Today’s edition of “Who Jumped It Best?” takes us back to sunny Sunday at the Belton International Horse Trials in Lincolnshire, England. There, we saw much of our forthcoming Badminton field — plus many of the country’s best young horses and up-and-comers — tackle a tough, technical CCI4*-S course designed by Captain Mark Phillips.

Each year, the course is designed with the imminent five-star in mind, and offers a multitude of tests designed to prepare competitors for what they’ll face at their spring three-days. This year was no different, and the influential course caused an almost total reshuffle of the leaderboard. Our “Who Jumped It Best?” avoids the tough combinations and heads, instead, to fence two: the Oakham Veterinary Hospital Operating Table. (Yes, really.) This big, straightforward fence allowed horses and riders to get into a rhythm and jump out of stride early on, but we want to know — which of the pairs we shot do you think did it best? Check out the options, and then scroll down for the poll.

Belton: Website, ResultsEN’s Coverage

Simon Grieve and Drumbilla Metro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pauliina Swindells and Ferro S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tom Rowland and Possible Mission.

Piggy French and Quarrycrest Echo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Emma Chamings and Trefeinon Sovereign. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden. Photo by Ben Clark.

 

Belting Belton: Tom McEwen Takes Grantham Cup Glory

Light work: Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof at Belton. Photo by William Carey.

In all the expert analysis of the Belton field (and there was plenty), nobody quite managed to predict the final podium, which was almost totally reimagined after the commencement of the jumping phases.

101 combinations set out on Captain Mark Phillips CCI4*-S course at Belton International Horse Trials yesterday, and 66 of the 88 who completed came back without adding jumping penalties. Just four finished without adding time, and all four were rewarded with top ten placings – including our eventual winner, who delivered a seriously exciting FOD to secure a surprise victory.

Tom McEwen and Figaro van het Broekxhof take the win at Belton. Photo by William Carey.

Figaro van het Broekxhof (Tauber van het Kapelhof x Damira van het Heiderhof) might not be a household name – unless those households are particularly confident about clusters of consonants – but he’s hardly to blame, really. Rider Tom McEwen is no slouch, after all, but his spate of recent success (including top-ten placings at Badminton and Burghley and, you know, his part in that team gold medal) have all come with stable star Toledo de Kerser. Mr Fig, who has only spent a season with Tom so far, has really just slipped under the radar, despite finishing fifth at Houghton CCI4*-S and fourth at Blair Castle CCI4*-L last season.

Not so today. Bored of being the bridesmaid (and, perhaps, second in the queue for Polos), the 16.3hh Belgian warmblood produced two totally penalty-free jumping rounds to skyrocket to the top of the leaderboard, despite an inauspicious start of 33.5. Owned by Barbara Cooper and previously piloted by Jodie Amos, Sarah Bullimore, Anthony Clark, and Sarah Stretton, the fourteen-year-old was 26th after the first phase.

Tom McEwen takes top honours in Belton’s Lycetts Grantham Cup CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m super happy with him. He’s gone as well as he could do,” said Tom. “I didn’t really expect to move up that much, but he really stormed round. We’re still getting to know him, and we’ve put a long old winter of training in with him, but we’re so excited about the season ahead.”

Mr Fig, who started but failed to complete Badminton with Jodie Amos in 2016, will now be aimed at a sophomore five-star at Luhmühlen this summer. In the meantime, Tom is enjoying having the big, amiable character on his yard: “he’s super relaxed about everything,” he said. “Just a lovely character and so chilled.”

Laura Collett’s Blenheim CCI4*-S winner begins his 2019 season with a close second place in the Grantham Cup. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He was on the bridle the whole way,” said Laura Collett of the ten-year-old London 52, who added just 5.2 time penalties to his 28.8 dressage to finish second by less than half a point. The talented Holsteiner, owned by Laura, Karen Bartlett, and Keith Scott cruised to an easy victory in Blenheim’s prestigious eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S last season, but this is the first time we’ve seen him pitted against a field of this breadth, depth, class, and calibre. Though he’s at the beginning of only his fourth season of eventing, his ability and courage belie his relative inexperience.

Admittedly, this hasn’t always made him the easiest horse, though it did help him to rocket through the grades.

“It’s scary how easy he finds everything,” Laura told us last season. “He’s pure class, and he always has been. He’s been a bit tricky in his brain, but that’s just because he’s so talented — he stepped up the levels so quickly that he never really had much time to think about it.”

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though he’s only roughly 50% blood, London 52 possesses an impressively easy gallop, and today, we saw a new level of adaptability added into its mix. His exceptional performance was one of three for Laura this weekend – she won the Advanced with Dacapo and finished fourth in the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S with Badminton entry Mr Bass.

“I’m so lucky to ride these three amazing horses, and to jump them all in one day reminds me of just how lucky I am,” said a delighted Laura.

Badminton-bound Mr Bass refused to be left out of the festivities – his fourth-place finish capped off a superb weekend for Laura. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Belton is becoming quite a happy hunting ground for third-placed Mollie Summerland, who won the under-21 Open Intermediate here last year with Charly Van Ter Heiden. This time, the pair took third place in the Grantham Cup, marking their career best result yet.

“The field was really strong, so to come here and get that result was amazing. I might have shed a little tear,” laughed Mollie. “He’s just a beautiful horse, and I’m very lucky to ride him. It was a shame about our showjumping fault, but I have to look at it that he’s getting better and better in each phase – he’s still a young horse, and still inexperienced at this level, but what an exciting future he has. He was so naughty as a young horse; I used to fall off him probably every day, so how he’s come on over the years is brilliant.”

Mollie, who is based with Wendy Coney and has produced her ten-year-old Hanoverian through the levels herself, also won the Polly Phillips Memorial Prize, awarded to the highest-placed British rider not eligible to wear a senior flag. In doing so, she became the youngest – and the highest-placed – winner of the prize, which was established by Polly’s husband Vere Phillips after her tragic death in 1999. This year marks the 20th anniversary of her passing, and 21-year-old Mollie is certainly a worthy recipient in this poignant year: the inexorably hard-working rider has already lodged a successful squad appearance at last year’s Young Rider Europeans, where she finished ninth with Charly, and she looks set to follow in the footsteps of the prize’s previous winners. These include Oliver Townend, Ros Canter, and Alex Bragg.

“My late wife Polly was killed in 1999 doing the sport that she loved, and she was, at that time, the number one in the world on her famous horse Coral Cove,” said Vere. “The public was so touched by this that they sent over £20,000 to set up the Polly Phillips Memorial Fund. The interest is given every year to the highest-placed rider who is not yet entitled to wear the flag. […] It’s a great thing to have won, because hopefully it means you’ll go on to represent the team in the future.”

Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden rise to their toughest challenge yet in a world-class field at Belton. Photo by Ben Clark.

Mollie was formerly based at The Billy Stud in Surrey, and she credits Pippa Funnell as being one of the major influences on her riding and her swiftly mounting successes.

“I was really lucky to be based with Pip for about two years with him, and she helped me so much – she really helped to transform the horse,” she said. “He’s only 18% Thoroughbred, so that’s where I learnt from Pip about hacking up the hills to get him really fit, and I really learned her methods for getting foreign horses up to speed. He’s got such an exuberant canter – I remember going up the gallops with Pip alongside one of her horses, and he really had to learn to gallop with another horse. He’s not naturally a galloper, so it’s been a slow process to teach him how to do it.”

That slow process paid off when the pair cantered home four seconds under the time, despite a technical glitch in the start box.

“He was so frisky in the start box that I couldn’t start my watch – I probably started it five or ten seconds late, so I wasn’t actually sure! I didn’t set off going, ‘right, I want to go inside the time’ – I just wanted to have a good crack round here, and I was in such a lovely rhythm that I thought I’d carry on, stopwatch aside.”

Mollie Summerland and a very bright Charly van ter Heiden accept the Polly Phillips Memorial Prize. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mollie, who’s now based with Wendy Coney, is originally from nearby Leicestershire, so her great result here is doubly special.

“I’ve always come here and been in the lower classes, and I always thought that one day I’d love to ride in the ‘big boy’ class. To actually come here and do so well is really special for me and all my team, who work so hard behind the scenes with the horse. I knew it was a beefy track and would take some riding, especially at speed, but he’s so honest. I think, because I’ve had him so long, he knows me inside out – where I’m not quite right or a little bit messy in myself, he really helps me out.  He listens to me so much as well; I don’t have to bring him back for every fence so I probably save two seconds at each one.”

For a young rider to beat some of the country’s most experienced pairings on her self-produced horse is enormously exciting, not just for her team, but for the future of the British team efforts, too.

“It’s very rewarding – I’ve never had the money to go out and buy a horse that’s gone out and done it. He’s very special, and it’s lovely because the people I bought him from in Belgium sent me a message saying they were watching on the live stream and cheering us on – I’ve got so much support from them, it’s a real team effort. We’re all delighted – he’s a superstar in the making, I think.”

Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Mollie’s mentor Pippa Funnell also made a great showing in this class, finishing fifth with one of her Badminton entrants, Billy Walk On. He romped home with 9.2 time penalties to add to his very good dressage score of 27.7, while Pippa’s second ride, MGH Grafton Street, was one of a number of high-profile horses to fall foul of the influential corner at 5B. He picked up 15 penalties for missing the flag there and then ran into some trouble at the final element of the sunken road complex at 20ABCD, finishing in 87th place.

Eliza Stoddart and Dick O’Malley soar up the leaderboard to finish sixth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m really thrilled – this is by far my best result,” said Eliza Stoddart, who finished sixth with Dick O’Malley and 28th with Priorspark Opposition Free. “Dick O’Malley is owned by a huge syndicate of ten couples, who all came here to support us. He actually came to me to sell, and the lady who owned him, Audrey Johnson, gave me a month to try to organise a syndicate, and some really good friends of ours, led by Chris Newton, got it all together. It’s incredible – having great owners makes such a big difference. They’ve all really believed in me – we got the syndicate together at the beginning of last season, and this is our second season at this level, so now I feel like we’re really going to be competitive.”

The career-best performance comes as the result of an enormous amount of hard work by Eliza, who works with an enviable support team of trainers.

“There are lots of little things we’ve been working on, and our trainers Caroline Moore, Chris Bartle, and Amy Woodhead have transformed us,” she said. “It’s been a big team effort, but he’s a phenomenal jumping horse and so I really trust him to jump a double clear and I know he can go fast. From fence one I felt that both my horses got into a really good rhythm, and once I got over 5b, I knew I could crack on and have fun.”

Vittoria Panizzon and Super Cillious blaze around Belton for ninth place. Photo by Tilly Berendt; branch Belton’s own.

Italy’s Vittoria Pannizon could easily be considered the Queen of Belton – she’s taken the Grantham Cup honours twice, first in 2007 with Rock Model, and then in 2013 with Borough Pennyz. Her former success here really does show in how she tackles the course: she rode all three of her horses as though she’d written the course plan, demonstrating blazing speed and efficiency every step of the way. This paid off in two of the three cases – she was seventh with ten-year-old Super Cillious, or Ken, who was fifth in last year’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old class and finished here on his dressage score of 37.4. She was also fourteenth on her exceptional Borough Pennyz, adding just 1.2 time penalties. On her final ride, however, she came unstuck: One Night Love tripped when jumping out of the C element of the tricky sunken road combination and Vittoria hit the deck.

Badminton-bound and on fine form: France’s Camille Lejeune pilots Tahina des Isles to a top-ten finish. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Camille Lejeune and his plucky chestnut Tahina des Isles impressed us at Burghley last year, and they were no less in sync here – they added just one time penalty over the poles and 3.2 across the country to finish eighth in their Badminton prep run.

Imogen Murray and her Badminton-bound Ivar Gooden produce the goods yet again with an easy clear across the country for eventual ninth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden didn’t quite deliver a score to rival their recent PB of 23.1, they proved once again that their technical prowess and boldness across the country is enough to make them one of the most consistently competitive combinations in the field. Their first-phase score of 36.9 had them in 48th place after the first phase, but a clear round in the influential showjumping and a foot-perfect cross-country, which added just 1.2 time penalties to their score, saw the former Glentrool Trophy winners perform another characteristic leap up the leaderboard. The most exciting thing? We never actually saw Ivar Gooden, or ‘Sir Charles’, hit fifth gear – he skipped around this tough track in cruise control.

British-based Australian Kevin McNab rounded out the top ten with a sterling performance aboard Willunga, who added 7.2 time penalties in what is only the twelve-year-old’s third start at the level. Previously, his promising first-phase results have been mitigated by slow runs across the country, while this weekend, we saw his usual high-20s scores slip into the 30s. Keep an eye on this one – now that he’s learned how to open up on cross country, he could be a very exciting campaigner for Kevin this season.

Turning the Corner

Though there were tough, technical challenges scattered around the course, the MIMS Technology Tables combination at 5AB proved to be the most influential. Comprised of a wide, inviting table at the A element and a seriously narrow corner at B, it could have been ridden on four swooping strides or five, with a slightly more aggressively squared-off turn. Though there was an option, which saw the B element replaced with another table on a circuitous route, most opted to go direct – but throughout the day, we saw even the most experienced horses and riders jump wide, run out, or fall foul of the flag rule. This rule has been revised this year, and now incurs 20 penalties, rather than the previous 50, unless less than 50% of the horse’s body is deemed to have passed outside the originally flagged area, in which case only 15 penalties are awarded. Clear as mud, right? The fences judges were certainly kept busy, anyway, and so were the live scoring systems, which generated a complete reshuffle of the leaderboard as each round was ticked off. Four combinations were deemed to have missed the flag, resulting in 15 penalties a pop, while fourteen were awarded 20s for run-outs.

It was this new ruling that ended up deciding the fate of the class, when Flora Harris and Bayano were deemed to have missed the flag at 5B. Without the subsequent 15 penalties they were awarded, they would have nudged ahead of Tom McEwen by just half a penalty.

Harry Meade, too, picked up 15 penalties at this fence with his Badminton ride Away Cruising, provoking much debate about what, exactly, we should be rewarding when judging these types of fences. We’ll be opening the floor for a healthy debate about the new ruling, with insight and commentary from some industry experts, so stay tuned.

William Fox-Pitt and Oratorio II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ups and Downs for Five-Star Entrants

Today’s competition saw mixed fortunes for many top combinations, alongside planned slow runs and a spate of withdrawals. Winner Tom McEwen opted not to bring entered ride Toledo de Kerser at all, choosing instead to refine his pre-Badminton prep plan. Dressage leaders Izzy Taylor and Monkeying Around toppled a pole in the showjump arena and the eight-year-old was subsequently withdrawn, as were both of Izzy’s other rides in this class. Oliver Townend, too, withdrew his horses – the Badminton-entered Ballaghmor Class and Badminton and Kentucky-entered Cooley Master Class – before cross country, a common tactic for him at this venue. US rider Jenny Caras followed the same plan of action with Fernhill Fortitude, who jumped an eight-fault round before heading back to his new digs at Casa de Townend.

Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky decide to make an early end to their Belton run. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

WEG silver medallists Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky retired on course after completing a little over half their planned slow run, while William Fox-Pitt‘s Oratorio IIPippa Funnell‘s MGH Grafton Street, and Harry Meade‘s Away Cruising were among the Badminton-bound competitors to notch up cross-country faults. Kitty King and her Rio mount Ceylor L A N were eliminated in the showjumping after a bit of a kerfuffle between the first two fences led to two refusals.

Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4 took a tumble at the fourth fence on course, the otherwise uninfluential Tower Equine Palisade. While Pamero was up immediately, Gemma was taken away for further examination. We’re delighted to report that she sustained no serious injuries, though saddened to confirm that Intermediate ride Billy Shania incurred an injury at the end of the cross-country course on Saturday.

“I’m home and not broken, just badly bruised,” she said in a Facebook statement this morning. “A few easy days and I’ll be fine. Pamero 4 is also fine, he is having lots of TLC. Thank you to the paramedics and all the people that helped at Belton. Billy Shania travelled home well and is comfortable, she will have lots of cuddles and TLC as well. Team Tatt have had better weekends but will live to fight another day.” All of us at EN wish Gemma and Shania a very speedy recovery.

All change: your 2019 Lycetts Grantham Cup CCI4*-S top ten.

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Belton, Day Two: Taylor is Untouchable; Comeback King Returns to Main Stage

Despite valiant efforts, no one could usurp Monkeying Around’s decisive lead in Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S today. Piloted by world number 12 Izzy Taylor, he put a 26.2 on the board yesterday morning and, although he’s one of the most inexperienced horses in the field, continues to hold top spot going into the final day of competition. Though this is his first appearance at the four-star level, he showed a maturity which belied his years.

“I was delighted with him; he’s only eight,” says Izzy. “He’s very capable, but it’s a lot in there, and it’s a level up in what he’s got to do. He’s one I’ve had from the beginning, and it’s lovely when they’re yours from the very beginning. It makes a big difference.”

For Izzy, the process of taking a horse through a high-pressure competition like this is much the same, whether she’s sitting on an experienced horse or, in the case of Monkeying Around, a youngster: at the end of the day, it’s about taking one step at a time and adapting to what the horse needs at every juncture.

“He’s got to showjump tomorrow, and we’ll see how he goes and jumps,” she says firmly. “Then — well, he’s a very exciting horse for the future, and today, or tomorrow, or whenever isn’t the be-all and end-all. His future is still the most important thing; he’s still learning, but equally, I’m very driven, and I know him and he knows me. If I’m going around and he suddenly says, ‘I’m not okay with it’, then we go from there.”

Izzy Taylor and Springpower. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But #BusyIzzy wasn’t sitting on her laurels today – she also brought forward the Badminton-bound Springpower (Power Blade xx x April Imperator), who duly showed that he’s lacking in neither spring nor, as it happens, power. Some cheeky moments pushed them down to a 34.7, which sees them hold 32nd in this incredibly competitive class. But lest you discount her now, remember that Izzy is one of the fastest and most reliable cross-country jockeys on the scene, and this certainly won’t be a competition that ends in the first phase.

“He’s quite naughty and can be cheeky,” says Izzy. “It’s the first outing here – the sun’s out, the warm-up’s manic, and you go in there … it’s irritating, but he’s a very good horse, and hopefully going to Badminton, so very exciting.”

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street get their Badminton prep underway. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Pippa Funnell stepped into second place overnight with Billy Walk On, one of her Badminton entries and a product of her Billy Stud sport horse operation. He scored a 27.6, rocketing him up the leaderboard and placing him well ahead of his ordinarily competitive stable mate MGH Grafton Street, who scored 33.9 for provisional 27th place.

Harry Meade and Away Cruising follow up their Burghley success with a strong start at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry Meade’s Away Cruising delivered a CCI4*-S personal best of 27.9 to hold third place going into the final session of dressage tomorrow morning. He’s been a reliable circa-30 scorer at this level for a while now, although his career-best performance at Burghley last year saw him score a 29.5 in this phase. Last year, he produced a 30.5 in this class – with his major spring run at Badminton looming, this impressive spike could bode well for his early-season campaign.

Mr Bass impresses for 6th place provisionally. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Collett held second place yesterday after a fantastic test with London 52, and although he slipped a couple of spots into 4th, he was joined in the top ten by stablemate Mr Bass today. Mr Bass, or Chuck, put a 29.9 on the board and sits sixth after having shown much of his typical class today. Between Laura’s two star boys sits Australia’s Bill Levett, riding his former five-star campaigner Shannondale Titan. The Event Rider Masters specialist scored a 29.6, leaving him in fifth place overnight.

Oliver Townend and Kentucky winner Cooley Master Class. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire managed to stay in seventh place after their afternoon test yesterday, while Piggy French and early runner-up Quarrycrest Echo share overnight eighth with Gemma Tattersall and Pamero 4, as well as Oliver Townend and his Kentucky winner (and entrant) Cooley Master Class. Though the latter lost marks for unsolicited lead changes in both counter canters, the quality of the rest of his test allowed him to cling onto a top-ten provisional placing on 30.4. Oliver brings forward his Burghley winner Ballaghmor Class tomorrow, who dazzled us all with a record-equalling 20.8 at Badminton last year – though Oliver is prone to an eleventh-hour withdrawal at this competition, so his looming test shouldn’t cause too much alarm amongst the ranks.

Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude fly the flag for the USA. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our sole US representative – and currently the only US rider accepted at Badminton – is Jenny Caras, and she and Fernhill Fortitude strode down the centreline today for their UK season debut. Some tension marred their overall score, and the pair move ahead to the showjumping and cross country with a dressage score of 40.1, which sees them sit in 75th place overnight.

Pregnancy isn’t slowing Ros Canter down: she and Allstar B gave an educational and entertaining demonstration in the main arena. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Baby on Board

Spectators were treated to a surprise main arena appearance from World Champion Ros Canter and her WEG mount, Allstar B. Ros, who announced her first pregnancy shortly after her Tryon successes, might be sidelined this spring – but she’s not letting it slow her down. She’s been keeping busy fine-tuning her horses’ flatwork at home, and today, she demonstrated how she schools and warms up her top horses.

“I might do most of this in canter – it’s a little bit more comfortable,” she laughed, gesturing to her burgeoning bump. Ros, who’s due in early summer, then demonstrated a series of breezy flying changes and canter pirouettes because, you know, she’s rather good.

We’ve got a while to wait yet, but here’s something slightly frightening to mull over: we’ve seen an awful lot of riders come back better than ever after their maternity leave. If Ros gets any better, what hope do the rest of us have?!

Flanked by his teammates, Jonty Evans makes a return to his happy hunting ground at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The Return of the King

Today’s competition was punctuated by a warm welcome back to reigning Grantham Cup champions Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift. Their victory in Belton’s feature class last spring felt a fitting and poignant one – it came, after all, on the back of a gruelling fundraising effort to secure the horse, which birthed a nearly-7,000 strong collective, referred to as ‘Art’s Amazing Family’. Then, of course, the partnership’s story took another turn: Jonty fell from Art in Tattersall’s CCI4*-L and spent the next seven weeks in a coma. Since then, he’s defied every single odd that’s been stacked against him – first, he woke up, despite doctors warning his family that he might not. Then, he walked. Soon, he ran. Before too long, he was back aboard his beloved horse, and today, they made their first public appearance together, riding back into Belton’s main arena flanked by former teammates Padraig McCarthy and Austin O’Connor.

Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift at Belton. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After parading around the main arena, Jonty and Art gave the crowd a show, popping a fence before stopping to thank Jonty’s many supporters throughout his ordeal. Those mentioned included Art’s part-owners Jane and Fred Moss, long-time owners Helen and Nick Caton, head girl Jane Felton, handyman and friend Michael Knight, and his family, including mum Maggie, stepfather Arthur, sister Rebecca, and children Mia and Charlie.

Jonty and Art treated their fans to a show, demonstrating their enviable flatwork and popping a fence, too. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I’m quite confident I speak for all of our noble eventing nation denizens when I say we’re glad to see Jonty back – we look forward to welcoming him into the spotlight for many, many years to come.

Tomorrow brings us an even more ludicrously jam-packed day: we’ll be powering through one last tiny dressage section in the morning, which includes Kitty King and Vendredi Biats and Burghley winners Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, and then we’ll go straight from showjumping into the weekend’s cross-country finale. Stay tuned for an absolutely colossal report and photo gallery tomorrow!

It’s a who’s-who of eventing in the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S – here’s your top ten as we head into tomorrow’s final short session of dressage.

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Belton, Day One: No Monkeying Around for Young Horses in World-Class Field

The Belton entry list is a sight to behold – every year, in every iteration, and in every class, it’s chock full of top-class horses and riders, preparing for a busy spring of taking over the world. This year is no different and, in fact, there’s a case for calling it the best Belton yet: unhindered by a bad spring, as they were last year, the finest specimens of the eventing world are out in force. Our focus this weekend is the feature class, the CCI4*-S Grantham Cup. A hefty chunk of the Badminton entry list has come forth to battle it out – most of the rest can be found in the event’s OI sections – and there’s a pretty incredible selection of the country’s finest young horses on display, too.

The first half of the field took to the dressage arena today, and it was the young horses who were to steal the show in a closely-fought contest. Leading the way going into day two is Izzy Taylor‘s 2017 six-year-old world champion Monkeying Around, who put a 26.2 on the board first thing this morning. Now eight, he comes forward for just his ninth international competition, and his first four-star. In his eight starts so far, he’s finished in the top ten five times and has begun to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in the first phase. It should come as no surprise, really – the Hanoverian’s breeding is pure dressage, with Brietling W on his sire’s side and Donnerhall on his dam’s. He can jump, too, although we saw him finish the season with a 20 at the seven-year-old World Championships – so Izzy may not choose to run him to time here, despite his competitive position.

Laura Collett’s London 52 hits the mark in his first international test of 2019. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Collett‘s 2018 Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S winner London 52 started his season much as he finished it — the consistently flash first-phase performer laid down one of the tests of the day to post a 28.8 in the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S, putting him in provisional second place. Owned by Karen Bartlett, Keith Scott, and the rider, ‘Dan’ was certainly one of last season’s most exciting prodigal talents, particularly when you consider that he only started eventing in the latter half of 2016. Prior to that, he was a showjumper – and though Laura initially bought him as a sales prospect, his ineffable talent and almost freakish adaptability to his new role quickly won him a permanent stable in her yard.

Last season, we saw enormous potential backed up by correct training — this season, we’re seeing that potential come good. Graced with elegant paces, Dan is now exhibiting a greater level of confidence in his way of going, and a more refined and secure acceptance of the contact, and it was this that allowed him to rocket up the leaderboard despite finding himself up against much more experienced horses.

London 52 spent a winter working on perfecting his dressage – and his blue steel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m so pleased with him. He’s still really green at this level, and to go into an atmosphere like that so early in the season is a lot,” says Laura. “He went in at the beginning and sort of froze a bit, but as soon as we started he came back to me. One of the things we’ve been working on is getting a bit braver in the canter work, and I thought in the second canter, that really paid off. We missed the change in the first canter, but in his way of going and everything he does, he’s just a lot more mature now.”

Little Fire is, well, a little fiery – but an otherwise correct and pleasing test puts him into third place overnight with William Fox-Pitt in the irons. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

William Fox-Pitt led the charge for the five-star squad among the field, closing out today’s competition with a 30.1 for provisional third place with Little Fire. Some interpretive dance moves in the changes proved expensive, but Little Fire is yet another horse who begins this season looking a jot more mature and confident overall. The pair finished their season at Pau last year, which looked set to be an impressive debut at five-star for Jennifer Dowling’s ten-year-old, but a surprise rider fall at the tail end of the course ended their weekend early. Now, they’re looking ahead to the horse’s first Badminton.

From Tryon to Belton: Quarrycrest Echo points his toes for a competitive first day in the CCI4*-S. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

She was part of the gold medal-winning team at Tryon last year, and with entries at both Kentucky and Badminton, Piggy French is looking to finally add a five-star victory to her resume. That determination certainly showed through today, and she finishes the day in provisional fourth aboard WEG mount Quarrycrest Echo (30.4), and tenth with stalwart partner Vanir Kamira (33.1).

Quarrycrest Echo, or Red, lost some marks when he broke in the first medium trot, but the rest of his performance was polished and professional – Piggy, for her part, thought it rivalled some of his best work. The twelve-year-old gelding, owned by Jayne McGivern, will head to Kentucky next month, while Trevor Dickens’ Vanir Kamira, known as Tilly, will make her return to Badminton.

Five-star stalwart Vanir Kamira rounds out the top ten. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just outside the top ten, one of the most exciting performances of the day was delivered by JL Dublin, the talented up-and-comer in Nicola Wilson‘s string. Just eight-years-old, he comes to his first four-star after finishing fifth in last year’s seven-year-old World Championship. His 33.2 today was enough to put him in eleventh, so while he won’t be in the upper echelons after this phase, he’s reaffirmed his place on our radar as a serious horse for the future.

Nicola Wilson’s level debutante JL Dublin offered a taster of what’s to come – and it was very tasty indeed. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“I’m just so proud of him,” says a delighted Nicola of James Lambert and Deirdre Johnston’s Diarado gelding. “He was with me the whole way through, and we know that the dressage arena for the Grantham Cup is really electric – they’re all on their own here, and there’s a lot going on. For such a young and inexperienced horse he stayed so focused, and he really did the best test he could have done at this stage in his career. I’m just so pleased with him, so proud of him, and so excited for what’s to come.”

It’s a jolly good start in a hot field, but tomorrow we’ll really see the leaderboard sizzle. Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy and his WEG silver medallist Mr ChunkyKitty King and Ceylor L A NPippa Funnell and MGH Grafton StreetTom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, and Laura Collett‘s stable star Mr Bass head up an enormous batch of top-level heavy hitters taking to the main stage, promising a siege of the top spots. We’re also very excited to see sole US representative Jenny Caras, who partners Fernhill Fortitude in the first of their Badminton prep runs on these shores. The fun won’t stop there, either – Belton’s organisers have snuck a few bonus tests into Sunday morning’s schedule. The last of those? A certain Ballaghmor Class who, with rider Oliver Townend, served up a piping hot 20.8 dressage at Badminton last year. There’s nothing we like better than an eleventh-hour gauntlet throw.

The top ten at the end of the first day of dressage in Belton’s CCI4*-S.

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How to Watch the 2019 Belton Live Stream

Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift: winners of Belton’s Grantham Cup CCI4*-S in 2018. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s that time of year again, folks — the British eventing season is hitting its stride this weekend with its first major international of the year, which means that we’ll be bringing you piping hot coverage at a speed and intensity that’ll rival Classic Moet sprinting around a two-star.

Belton International always boasts one of the hottest entry lists of the year, and 2019’s iteration is no different. Most of the Badminton field is in situ across the event’s jam-packed feature CCI4*-S, a drool-worthy Open Intermediate field, and a remarkably impressive CCI3*-S. There’s also Novice, Intermediate and Advanced classes running across the three days. In short, it’s probably the easiest way to see the very best horses in the UK (and beyond) in one place. Plus, there’s a gin den.

Photo courtesy of Belton International Horse Trials.

If you can’t be at Belton but want to keep up to date with how your Badminton favourites are doing, the kind folks at BEDE Events will be live-streaming every day’s cross-country action. Here’s the timetable. (Note: as BEDE haven’t confirmed which classes will be live-streamed, we’re working on the broad assumption that all of them will be, although only the cross country phase of each. We’ll be sure to update you if this changes.)

Friday, 29 March:

Novice: 9.30am BST/5.30am EST – 1.35pm BST/9.35am EST

Intermediate: 2.00pm BST/10.00am EST – 5.40pm BST/1.40pm EST

Saturday, 30 March:

CCI3*-S: 9.00am BST/5.00am EST – 12.45pm BST/8.45am EST

Intermediate: 1.00pm BST/9.00am EST – 5.10pm BST/4.10pm EST

Sunday, 31 March:

CCI3*-S: 8.44am BST/3.44am EST – 10.22am BST/5.22am EST

CCI4*-S: 12.06pm BST/7.06am EST – 4.10pm BST/11.10pm EST

Live-streaming will be available through the BEDE website and Facebook page. I’ll be on the ground (with Chinch in tow) to bring you full reports, hot tips (and probably gin recommendations) from Belton’s smoking hot competition. Stay tuned!

Belton: Website, Ride Times, Live Scores, Live Stream, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Twitter, EN’s Instagram

British Eventing CEO Steps Down

Great Britain’s team gold at the 2018 World Equestrian Games heads up an enviable list of successes the country has had on the world stage in David Holmes’ tenure. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

British Eventing’s CEO David Holmes announced his resignation today after four years in the role.

The news comes just months after October’s Extraordinary General Meeting, at which a vote of no confidence in both Holmes and chairman Paul Hodgson was put to attendees. Though a marginal majority voted to keep both men instated, concern was expressed at the primary causes of the vote of no confidence — that is, an ongoing and over-budget IT project, which saw the new British Eventing website launch only semi-successfully last month, and accumulated expenses of around £11,000, related to the new showcase event at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Concerns have since arisen regarding the future of the fixtures list, with the popular Brightling Park International one of the first major victims.

The new British Eventing season began on the second of March, and Holmes has made appearances at several of its fixtures, ostensibly to allow members a chance to voice their concerns and ask questions about the running of the organisation. However, many members feel that these appearances haven’t been sufficiently well-advertised.

British Eventing released a statement this afternoon, which reads:

“The Board of British Eventing thank David for his hard work and dedication, and wish him all the best for the future.”

Holmes, who intends to move to Italy later this year, and will continue in his post until the end of this month, says, “I have very much enjoyed my time working as CEO of British Eventing. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone with whom I have worked over the last four years — the team of staff in the office and regionally, volunteers, organisers, officials, owners and sponsors; a key part of what has motivated me to drive forward great change in our sport is working with such a committed, hardworking and inspiring group of people.”

British Eventing has not yet confirmed a replacement for Holmes, though an update on the BE website by board chairman Fiona O’Hara confirmed that arrangements are in place to facilitate the transition. She also addressed some of the concerns that led to last autumn’s vote of no confidence.

“2019 has seen the much-anticipated website launch and with each week this is becoming increasingly stable as fixes and updates are made. I would also like particularly to thank the team in the office, who have continued to demonstrate their huge commitment and been unfailingly helpful to members who have contacted them.

“Looking ahead, we will continue to invest in IT and we will shortly announce the results of the fixtures review for 2020. I know there will be some disappointment, however this review was driven by the international and championship calendar and was also needed to ensure we have a geographically balanced and financially viable fixture list that will ensure the long term future of the sport.

“At HQ we will be simplifying some of the committee and team structures with the aim of improving efficiency and we are also strengthening our relationship with the BEOA [British Event Owners’ Association], EHOA [Event Horse Owners’ Association] and ERA [Event Riders Association] through the appointment of Non Exec Directors to work with them directly.”

Friday Video from SmartPak: Back to the Track

In between some soggy early-season events, Britain’s horsey set were thoroughly preoccupied with one thing last week: the Cheltenham Festival. National Hunt racing’s crown jewel, the Festival brings together the UK and Ireland’s finest runners, while punters bring forward their most ludicrous head-to-toe tweed outfits, and then madness ensues. It’s a smashing good time for everyone.

But where there’s racing, there are ex-racehorses, and as proud and unabashed OTTB fans, we’ve got to give a nod to the Thoroughbreds tackling second careers with aplomb. To our delight, Cheltenham – and the hard-working organisation Retraining of Racehorses –  felt the same way. Meet Master Minded, a former Festival winner who made a long-awaited return to his happy hunting ground at this year’s festival. We love him already, and we’re pretty sure you will too.

#BadmintonAt70: Ride the 1969 Cross Country Course

Gird your loins, chaps: the countdown is ON to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and we, for one, couldn’t be more excited — not least because this year is a special one. 2019’s competition is the 70th anniversary of the inaugural Badminton, and since its first running in 1949 the sport, the venue, and the characters within this epic story have changed and evolved significantly. To celebrate 70 years of brilliant Badminton, we’re going to be bringing you an extra-special inside look at the event and its rich and exciting history, every week from now until the competition begins on May 1. Consider the archives your own personal Gringotts, and EN your loyal goblin sherpas. 

This week, as we pour our time and attentions to your bumper Badminton form guide, we’re filling in the gap with help from our pals at the event — you’re in for a real treat!

If you’re anything like us, you absolutely live on the Cross Country App when the season starts. Forget wheeling your course — this GPS-powered mini marvel allows you to work out minute markers as you walk, leaving you free to plot the best possible line, take pithy notes, and snap photos of your fences and your routes. It’s great for spectators, too, allowing you the chance to do a deep dive into the courses at internationals the world over.

We’re all for the innovative use of technology, so when our friends at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials told us they were launching a course ‘preview’ that would take its users 50 years back in time, we started to get excited. When the end result dropped, we absolutely weren’t disappointed.

Richard Walker and Pasha tackle the steeplechase course. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Badminton is celebrating two special anniversaries this year: one is its 70th birthday, which we’re sure we haven’t let you forget quite yet. The other is the 50th anniversary of the youngest-ever winner, Richard Walker, who was just 18 years (and 247 days) old when he triumphed with his 15.1-hand Anglo-Arab, Pasha. Remarkable Richard has seen the course change and evolve enormously throughout the last 50 years and now, he’s helping to bring those changes to life for us all via an archival, interactive course map on the Cross Country App.

The Vicarage Vee: a real pants-wetter even (or perhaps especially?) in 1969.

 

Want to give it a go? You can download the 1969 Badminton course directly to the app, but we recommend clicking through to the Badminton website and enjoying the experience full-screen. You’ll get to ride along through all four phases — roads and tracks, steeplechase, more roads and tracks, and finally, that beefy cross country course — with incredible archival photographs, footage, and endlessly fascinating audio clips explaining the whys, wherefores, and changes to this iconic course. No stone has been left unturned: you’ll see competitors running alongside their horses on roads and tracks, as explained by competitor and president of the Ground Jury Judy Bradwell, and you’ll head into the Formula One-esque 10-minute box with inspector Bill Bush. Then, you’ll head out on course with ’69 winner Richard Walker and learn which bits of the course really made his knees knock.

The evolution of “no thanks”.

With insights into the development of safety technology, the rise of technicality, and the evolution of the Vicarage Vee, this is your afternoon sorted. Even better? If you’re a UK resident, you can enter the 1969 trivia competition to bag yourself a Badminton polo top from sponsor Joules.

Happy app-ing!

#BadmintonAt70: Six Women Who Wowed the World

Gird your loins, chaps: the countdown is ON to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and we, for one, couldn’t be more excited — not least because this year is a special one. 2019’s competition is the 70th anniversary of the inaugural Badminton, and since its first running in 1949 the sport, the venue, and the characters within this epic story have changed and evolved significantly. To celebrate 70 years of brilliant Badminton, we’re going to be bringing you an extra-special inside look at the event and its rich and exciting history, every week from now until the competition begins on May 1. Consider the archives your own personal Gringotts, and EN your loyal goblin sherpas. 

This week, it’s a #girlpower special – fire up the Beyoncé playlist and get comfortable…

We all know – and, perhaps, take for granted – that the equestrian sports are that rare, progressive microcosm in which gender neutrality is a given and women compete on equal terms – and with equal success – as men. For this to be true of one of the toughest sports in the world, which requires such high levels of physical strength and fortitude, as well as relentless focus and unflappability, is doubly remarkable.

Badminton made its auspicious debut in 1949, and in doing so, it created the atmosphere of equality – until that point, eventing had existed solely as a military sport, which meant that civilians and women weren’t allowed to partake. Although the competition was introduced as a training ground for future team hopefuls, the organisers opted to open the entry to anyone. In doing so, they levelled the playing field and left a legacy that continues to this day. In 2018, women won 50% of the world’s five-stars – take THAT, mainstream sport.

Jonelle Price hefts the Badminton trophy, 64 years after the first female winner did the same. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though we consider it a given that women are as capable as men, it’s important to remember that other sports – and indeed, many paths of life – aren’t nearly as progressive. Today, we’re looking back at those fearsome ladies who paved the way and proved that Badminton’s decision was the right one – the firestarters, the record-makers, the record-breakers, and of course, the mares.

 6: DOING THE DOUBLE

Anneli Drummond-Hay is widely considered one of the female trailblazers of eventing, and rightly so: she’s perhaps best known for winning the first ever Burghley in 1961 with Merely-a-Monarch, but the pair won Badminton too, taking the victory the following spring in 1962. They didn’t just edge the win, either – they led from pillar to post and finished 42 points clear of second-placed Frank Weldon and Young Pretender.

Anneli was following in the eventing footsteps of older sister Jane, who was second at Badminton in 1951. She had borrowed the ride on her sister’s horse Freya in 1955, standing in for her on the team at the Europeans so that her sister could get married, and from then on out, she was hooked. In 1960, she was third, and best of the Brits, at Badminton aboard Perhaps, a horse she’d bought from the slaughterhouse for £15.

Anneli Drummond-Hay and Merely-a-Monarch – perhaps the world’s first truly remarkable event horse. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

After Perhaps was bought by the Swiss team, Anneli went on the hunt for a youngster. She bought an advert in Horse & Hound, and although she was offered plenty of duds for sale, one response made her look twice. She was mailed a photograph of a two-year-old – a lovely stamp of a horse, she thought, but a year or two younger than she wanted. She forgot all about the horse, but a year later, the owners contacted her to ask if she could post the photograph back to them as they were still trying to sell the horse. This time, she decided to go and have a look herself.

“I fell in love with him immediately,” she recalled. Merely-a-Monarch was ¾ Thoroughbred and a quarter Fell pony and just as classy as he’d been the year prior. Anneli borrowed the £300 purchase price and got to work with the talented, tricky youngster.

By the time he was five, Monarch had won a horse trials at Tweseldown and had also been victorious at the Horse of the Year Show, winning the Foxhunter (1.20m) class, the show hunter division, and the combined training championship. He was just six years old when he won Burghley – and he was the only horse in the entire competition not to fall across the country.

As part of her preparation for Badminton, Anneli sent Monarch to Ivor Herbert’s gallops for fitness prep. Because Ivor only allowed jockeys to use his track, Anneli had to sign the ride over for the day, and Monarch was sent out to gallop with Flame Gun, one of the most successful two-mile chasers of the time. Monarch outstripped the full Thoroughbred easily.

After taking the Badminton title, Anneli was so worried about her beloved – and now extraordinarily valuable – horse getting hurt that she opted to switch to pure showjumping. Women still weren’t allowed to ride on the eventing team at the Olympics, but had been let into the showjumping squad, and this was another enormous influence on Anneli’s decision.

Although the pair had a great many successes together on the world stage – they were on five Nations’ Cup teams, came second at the 1970 World Championships, and won Grands Prix at Madrid, Toronto and Geneva – Anneli also suffered from attacks by the press.

“I will always remember how fickle the press could be,” she said to Debbie Sly. “When I was third at Badminton on Perhaps there were a lot of very complimentary press cuttings saying I deserved a far better horse than the one I was on. But when I hit a few problems showjumping with Monarch there were more press cuttings declaring that this talented horse deserved a far better rider!” When Anneli was forced to sell a share in her horse to keep afloat financially, the shareholders, influenced by the negative press, insisted that the horse move to another rider. The matter was settled in court, and Colonel Tom Greenhalgh helped to resecure the share.

Anneli retired Monarch from competition when he was sixteen and left him in the capable hands of his former groom, Merlin Meakin, who gave him a decade of fun out hunting. Anneli had moved to South Africa with her husband, but on a visit back to England, she received a call saying that Monarch had fallen whilst being shod and couldn’t get back up.

“I was able to say goodbye before having him put down. I was always grateful that he ‘waited’ until I was home so that I could do that,” she reflected.

The Drummond-Hay legacy continues to dominate to this day – Jane’s granddaughter, and Anneli’s great-niece, is British eventing supremo Izzy Taylor.

5: THE GALLOPING NURSE

Jane Holderness-Roddam (then Bullen) took the Badminton title twice: her first win was in 1968 aboard Our Nobby, and her second came ten years later in 1978 with Warrior. With the latter, she also won Burghley in 1976, while the former was her mount for the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City, where Great Britain took team gold.

Of course, multiple wins are almost commonplace these days, but Jane’s first victory was notable for a couple of reasons. First was her horse. Although Our Nobby has been written into the history books as being 15hh, which would tie him with Our Solo as the smallest-ever winner of the event. In actual fact, he may well have been smaller: Jane admitted after the fact that it was always a struggle to get him to measure up to the required minimum height of 15hh, and he had won several showing classes for ponies up to the height of 14.2hh prior to his major win. He was issued a life certificate for the Pony Club, which confirms this smaller height – whether he grew that final two inches, or whether he was standing on tip-toes for measurement is a historical uncertainty that only Jane would know the answer to.

Jane Holderness-Roddam and Our Nobby.

The full Thoroughbred gelding (Bewildered x Lady Sicily, by Happy Landing) had been sold to the Bullen family for £120 as a potential family pony – he was an athletic type, but simply hadn’t grown enough to be considered an adults’ mount. This was partly due to his premature birth – his owners were out of the country when he appeared, quite unexpectedly, and he very nearly perished in the harsh winter weather before a local blacksmith spotted him in the field and took him to the RSPCA. Though he tried his hand at racing as a four-year-old, he wasn’t considered a competitive prospect. He was passed along via a Welsh shepherd, contracted Canadian Pox, and ended up in his permanent home with the Bullens when he was a five-year-old, once again weakened and in a sorry state.

However, once he settled into his new surroundings and enjoyed some of the Bullens’ hospitality – and good feed – he revealed his true colours. Nappy and tricky, he couldn’t be sold on. Jane’s older siblings Mike and Jennie rode him initially, and once some of the buttons had been installed, he was passed along to young Jane for use in Pony Club competitions. Though he was never a reliable first-phase performer, he was tough and quick across the country, and he and Jane tended to claw their way up the rankings by amassing the maximum possible bonus points for speed in the cross-country phases.

“He was as tough as old boots and speed was nothing to him; he was terribly fast and a fantastic jumper,” said Jane.

Jane earned the nickname ‘the galloping nurse’ because, at the time of her first Badminton win, she was working full time as a nurse in London. In fact, the 20-year-old worked seven night shifts back to back leading straight into Badminton. Despite lack of sleep and the rigours of her stressful job, she achieved the maximum possible bonuses on Saturday and delivered the pivotal clear round on Sunday. It was exactly what she needed to win what was deemed in a year with the biggest field yet – 55 entries – and what was, at the time, the biggest and toughest cross-country challenge yet. Though eventing hadn’t yet reached the peak of professionalism that it has now, it was still unusual for a Badminton competitor to juggle eventing alongside a full-time job – indeed, the only person to win with such credentials since was Captain Mark Phillips, who won while serving as an army officer.

After Badminton, Jane went on to become the first women ever to win an Olympic gold medal for equestrianism. Since then, she’s been a hugely influential figure in the industry: she’s an FEI technical delegate and judge, has been the president of British Eventing, the vice-president of the British Horse Society, and a trustee of both the Brooke and World Horse Welfare Charities. She also served as a lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne and was honoured with a CBE by the Queen of England.

4: TRAMELLA TRUMPS THE BOYS

At just 15hh, the diminutive Tramella was one of the smallest horses to compete at Badminton. But that’s not what made the Welsh pony x Thoroughbred mare so remarkable.

In 1954, Diana Mason and Tramella, by Tramail, finished third at Badminton. The winner that year was Margaret Hough (see #3) – the first ever woman to win the event. Later that year, both women would contest the European Championships, giving them the shared honour of being the first women to ever ride on a three-day-eventing squad.

But Diana didn’t always expect greatness from her little mare. She came across Tramella – known as ‘Mell’ – as a four-year-old, and found her exceptionally naughty and nappy. Still, she climbed aboard for a trial ride, which required Mell’s then-owner to lead the recalcitrant youngster down to the far end of the field with Diana aboard. Once they reached it, the owner unclipped Mell and girl and horse galloped at full-speed back to the gate. That was as much as Mell was willing to do.

Tramella shows off her party trick.

For whatever reason, Diana’s father saw something in the horse that he liked, and Diana, who was offered a suitably 1950s amount of say in the matter, had a new horse in Mell. (The joke was to be entirely on him – Mr Mason decided that his daughter ought to study something sensible and ladylike once she left school, and sent her away on a sewing and cookery course. She was allowed to join in with an equine course, too, which was run by John Shedden – the very first winner of Badminton. At his base, she was allowed to ride Golden Willow and Kingpin, his two Badminton mounts, and had her head filled with stories about the remarkable competition nestled in the Cotswolds.)

Along the way, though, Mell was getting no easier to deal with. Her nappiness worsened after she managed to jump out of her field and onto the road. There, she slipped and gave herself some minor superficial injuries – and this just furthered her conviction that staying put on the yard was the safest way to live.

“I used to just sit it out; there was no point in hitting her, because then she just reared higher and higher,” remembered Diana. “After about an hour and a half she would obviously be bored of that game, and would set off for her ride and never even look back!”

Tramella’s famous over-fences rage face. Photo by l’Annee Hippique.

Once Diana started to figure the mare out, the pair had lots of success in the show ring. Pretty Mell, with her four white socks, even made it to the Horse of the Year Show, where she performed beautifully in all her classes – but it was her win in the combined training that made the biggest impact on her plucky young rider. Perhaps she, too, could make it to Badminton.

The following year Mell was a five-year-old and deemed ready to head out eventing. She won her second competition, finishing ahead of two horses that had been shortlisted for the ’52 Olympics. In ’53, as a seven-year-old, she made her first trip to Badminton. There, Diana discovered that her little mare’s mercurial nature didn’t exactly lend itself to dressage in an atmosphere – she refused to work in the furthest third of the arena by the grandstand. They finished 19th that year.

The next year, Diana went back to Badminton with a plan of action. They warmed up for a whopping five hours before the first phase. This time, she and Tramella found themselves in second place after the dressage, and went on to finish third in the competition. Later that year, they’d make their history-making team debut at the Europeans, contributing to the team’s gold medal and finishing seventh individually despite a tumble on the flat on cross-country. They were duly selected for the Europeans again the following year, where they led after the dressage – but Tramella slipped on landing from one of the imposing cross-country fences and both horse and rider fell. For Tramella, this first ever fall had an enormously detrimental effect – she completely lost her confidence across the country. Diana decided to listen to her plucky mare and swapped her over to pure dressage. After teaching her flying changes with the aid of a training manual, the pair were competing prolifically at the Grand Prix level. At that time, Tramella was one of only a handful of horses at the level in Great Britain.

Diana Mason and Tramella at their first European Championships. Photo by l’Annee Hippique.

The pair would compete internationally multiple times in their second career, but it wasn’t until Diana had retired the mare to try to get her into foal – unsuccessfully – that she set her remarkable record. At 17, the mare was called up to represent her country at the Europeans once again, this time on the dressage team. The team took gold, and Tramella and Diana remain the only pair to win gold medals in two disciplines.

All this aside, our favourite thing about Tramella is that she had a special trick – she’d been taught to ‘curtsy’ for a lump of sugar. At Badminton, she would pull out that trick for anyone who walked past her stable – including the Queen of England, who was thoroughly charmed by the little mare’s impeccable etiquette.

3: LEADING THE WAY FOR WOMEN

1954 was a banner year for the girlpower contingent – it was at this iteration of Badminton, its sixth running, that the first female winner was crowned. Even better, she did it riding a mare.

Margaret Hough was bitten by the eventing bug in 1951 when she took third place at Gisbourne with her future Badminton winner Bambi V (Long Walk x Dark Secret). Though it was only the mare’s second competition, she was talent-spotted by team hopeful Reg Hindley and Tony Collings, who asked Margaret if they might borrow the mare for the squad to use. Though this sort of horse-swapping was commonplace in those days, Margaret wasn’t initially convinced. Eventually, she came round to the idea, thinking that even if she could never ride at the Olympics, perhaps her horse could make something of herself in Helsinki. The one condition she named was that she would get to accompany her mare as her groom.

Margaret Hough and Bambi V take Badminton. Photo from the Badminton Horse Trials archives.

In the end, Bambi did go to the Helsinki Games, but she was the reserve and wasn’t called up. The following year, 1953, saw her stay with the team, and she was piloted by Bertie Hill in the Open European Championships at Badminton. They finished seventeenth individually and contributed to the British team’s gold medal.

With a newly-minted Badminton horse on her hands, Margaret thought it was high time she had a go at this elite competition herself.

“I was determined to do my best, though I never really thought that would be good enough to win,” she recalled. Her best was certainly good enough to put the pair into the lead after dressage, though, and they set out on Saturday’s speed and endurance phases feeling full of running – so much so that Bambi, who was renowned for jumping with her ears flat back against her head like some sort of rage-fuelled Ferrari – tried to jump one of the waters in one go.

Interestingly, though the duo went on to win, they did so with a black mark against them on the cross-country – they had a stop at the Luckington Lane crossing. Their win was thus marred by some controversy – there were many who felt that second-placed Frank Weldon and Kilbarry had been mistimed in the steeplechase and not given the correct bonuses, and still more who felt that his two rails down on the final day shouldn’t have been more heavily penalised than Margaret’s stop across the country. A lengthy – and rather familiar – debate followed about which of the phases should carry the most influence on the competition as a whole. That debate would rage on for another 23 years before the penalties for a knocked rail were reduced from 10 to 5.

Despite the bickering, Margaret’s abilities were duly noted by the powers that be, and she and third-placed Diana Mason and Tramella were named to the British team at the Basle European Championships later that year. In a sport that had remained a game for the boys at the squad level, this was enormous: Margaret and Diana were the first women to represent any country in a team three-day event. Afterwards, Horse&Hound ran a poem to commemorate the achievements of its global girls – please stand by for our impassioned petition to bring dodgy rhyme schemes back to the pages of this hallowed publication:

Now who’d have thought such modest charm

            was hiding nerves so strong and calm

            not ONLY found in She Who Rides!

            And who’d have thought an English Miss

            could stimulate the stolid Swiss –

            (I mean could stimulate to cheers)

            and bring the Germans near to tears.

            So who’d have thought that we’d have TWO

            who this, and doubtless more, could do.

            But that we had, there was no doubt, and,

            being British, blushed about.

            But now who dares the sombre thought

            that at this three-day equine sport

            the aids required to set the pace

            are nerves, curves, and a pretty face!

Thanks for the clarification re: the Swiss, chaps – was rather concerning otherwise.

Margaret died at the beginning of 2018 at the age of 86 after suffering a chest infection. This was the final battle in a lifetime of respiratory issues – in fact, it was due to chronic bronchitis as a child that Margaret began riding on the recommendation of the family doctor.

2: EVENTING’S FIRST PROFESSIONAL

Despite her incredible legacy, the late Sheila Willcox wasn’t born into a remotely horsey family. Instead, she once described her household as being “entirely suburban, based on business and academic careers and given to rugger, tennis, and bridge-playing.” Nonetheless, she was inexplicably bitten by the horsey bug, and spent her formative years saving up her pocket money so she could afford pony rides along the beach on holidays. Her parents eventually defected, and she was allowed to join the Pony Club. This, of course, swiftly became the primary focus of her life – so much so that her unwitting father bought her an unbroken pony in order to persuade her to head back to school without a fuss. Sheila was only ten years old at the time but nevertheless, she set about the great new challenge of training the two-year-old ‘Folly’.

Sheila Willcox, from her book “The Event Horse.”

Not long after, Sheila discovered the joys of competing – and moreover, the joys of victory. After being awarded her first rosette at a local fair, she vowed to be the very best at riding, saying: “to wear a number, to be called by name into the ring and walk, trot, and canter around with the other ponies – this was halcyon bliss…at the same time I determined that no matter which branch of equestrianism I should eventually take up, I should strive to emulate the leaders.”

A successful junior career riding show hacks followed, after Sheila’s parents deemed showjumping rather too unladylike to be proper. But Sheila wanted more of a challenge and, at the age of seventeen, she came across the sport of eventing. Like many profoundly bonkers teenage girls thereafter, she was instantly committed, and set about on the hunt for a horse that she might be able to turn into an eventing star.

Eventually she found that horse in the form of High and Mighty, or ‘Chips’, a seven-year-old dun by a Thoroughbred stallion and out of a Highland pony/Arab-cross mare. Though neither horse nor girl had any real formal training, Sheila undertook the job with aplomb, consulting a well-worn copy of Dressage by Henry Wynmalen for guidance. They won on their first attempt at eventing, in a Novice (Prelim) class at the now-defunct Hovingham Hall Horse Trials, and the British Horse Society got in touch to suggest that, down the line, Sheila might consider lending the horse to the British team for use at the Olympics.

And here we get to the crux of what really makes Sheila’s legacy so remarkable: she paved the way for women when the sport, though still refreshingly genderless in most spheres, only catered to men for Olympic berths. Impossibly glamorous and relentlessly fierce, Sheila refused to bow down to the whims of the BHS, and she rode as though she had a point to prove – perhaps because she did. As one of eventing’s suffragettes, she made it clear that the ‘lady riders’ could play with the big boys – and she did so by setting a remarkable Badminton record that no one has yet beaten.

In 1955, she began training with Colonel Edy Goldmann, who was one of the first British trainers to promote a German-style focus on dressage. Paired with Sheila’s single-minded competitiveness, the result was formidable, and after a good showing at Harewood Horse Trials, Sheila and Chips were offered a place on the British team at that year’s Turin International. Sheila was the only female rider in the competition…and she won it.

In 1956, after just a year and a half of eventing, she and Chips headed to Badminton. They were placed second after the dressage, and accumulated the maximum number of bonus points in the speed and endurance phases, but even their clear showjumping on the final day couldn’t push them ahead of the legendary Frank Weldon and Kilbarry. They retained that second place all the way through until the bitter end – and overnight, British selector Ted Marsh had bought the horse on behalf of the team. As consolation, Marsh promised that if Chips returned from that year’s Stockholm Olympics in one piece, Sheila would be allowed to take him to Badminton the next year.

As it turned out, Chips didn’t even make it to Stockholm – instead, he went lame whilst in training at Windsor. But Sheila attended the Games herself – not as a competitor, which wasn’t allowed, but as a member of the media, commenting on the action for l’Année Hippique. The British team took gold, but Sheila felt she’d been hard done by: “Harking back to the controversy over allowing women competitors in the three-day event, and without wanting to appear a militant feminist, I still think the element of danger is in ratio to intelligent riding, and that should an unlucky accident happen to a woman instead of a man, she will show equal fortitude and endurance, as well as possibly less sustained shock due to the relief of feminine tears. No one would be surprised to see me passing the finishing post crying bitterly and feeling much better for it, but it would cause something of a furore if [Laurence] Rook or [Frank] Weldon came home dripping tears over Sissi or Kilbarry!”

Sheila Willcox at Badminton. Photo by Badminton Horse Trials.

After the Games, Sheila was able to buy her ‘lame’ horse back from the team. He promptly came sound again, and they won their ’57 Badminton prep run. Then it was time to head to the main event, made doubly special by the fact that Sheila’s 21st birthday fell on cross-country day. Fortunately for her festive spirit, she and Chips found themselves in the lead after dressage and, with a fast clear under their belts, still at the top of the pack by the time her party began at a nearby hotel. The crowning glory of the party was her colossal birthday cake – it was made to look like an elaborate cross-country course, with 21 fences artfully constructed along the top. Around them was a castle, some streams, and some carefully constructed terrain – and, of course, a tiny replica of Sheila and Chips popping over the final fence.

By all accounts, the party was a roaring success. At 3am, Sheila had to forcibly remove the revellers so she could get some sleep – but in true eventing fashion, she was able to get the job done the next day. The Badminton title was hers.

The next year, the remarkable pair took the crown again. This time, they would do it by the widest margin ever seen to date or since – they led the dressage by 22 points and ultimately won an astonishing 47 points clear of the next competitor. That autumn, Sheila and Chips headed to the European Championships in Copenhagen, and won both team and individual gold – this made Sheila the first woman ever to win the Europeans. Afterwards, Sheila gave High and Mighty to Ted Marsh to ‘retire’ into the Heythrop hunting field, but nevertheless, she was able to continue her quest to be the very best. The seven-year-old Airs and Graces had only been eventing for six months by the time he headed to Badminton in ’59, but he won it easily, giving Sheila the last of her unrivalled three consecutive wins. In 1964, she took a fourth title, winning ‘Little Badminton’ – a separate class run over the same course but for horses with minimal winnings – with Glenamoy.

Sheila Willcox and Chips. Photo from the Badminton Horse Trials archives.

In 1971, Sheila suffered a catastrophic fall at Tidworth Horse Trials, and was left partially paralysed. Determined not to give up riding, she swapped her focus to pure dressage and went on to compete successfully at the Grand Prix level. But she was also an enormously influential figure to the next generation of event riders: one of her rare and notable students was Mary King, who worked her way up to being Sheila’s head girl.

As it turned out, the ferocity of spirit and determination that made Sheila such a formidable competitor made her a notoriously tough employer and trainer, too.

In her 2009 autobiography, Mary King reflected: “my days would begin at 5.30am and, before I even got on a horse, I realised that the stable management was extraordinarily thorough. Mucking out was a very strict procedure; the floor had to be ‘clean enough to eat from’ and you had to move the straw back completely…no more than one pile of poo was allowed in a stable at any one time. Windows were Windolened inside and out once a week and there mustn’t be a cobweb in sight. Sheila Willcox was a perfectionist who left no stone unturned.”

In lessons, too, Sheila demanded the highest standards from her staff: “Sheila would say, ‘don’t you dare fall off!’ and the fact that I was much more scared of her than I was of a rearing and bucking horse made me stick on. It was very educational.” But, says Mary, “my two and a half years there turned out to be fantastic training and the broad base on which I have built my career.”

1: QUEEN GREEN AND THE SIX VICTORIES

“My heart does something at Badminton that it doesn’t do anywhere else.”

There couldn’t really be anyone else in the top spot but Lucinda Green, the undisputed queen of Badminton. She won the event an astonishing six times on six different horses – a record that remains unbeaten. Let’s take a closer look…

1973

Lucinda was just nineteen when she took her first title in 1973 riding Be Fair, her Pony Club eventer who had taken her to team gold at the ’71 Junior European Championships. Be Fair was out of a mare called Happy Reunion, but he wasn’t planned progeny – in fact, he was borne out of an illicit liaison between the supposedly barren Happy and her field companion. The guilty colt in question would go on to contest Badminton himself – he was Fair and Square, ridden by Sheila Willcox.

Lucinda – then Prior-Palmer – had her first ride around Badminton with Be Fair in ’72. She later recalled in an interview with Debbie Sly, “I walked the course with Mark Phillips, who just kept saying ‘You want to kick here…I should keep kicking here…’ It didn’t seem to matter what type of fence we were looking at, the advice seemed to remain the same: just keep kicking! By the time we got to the end of our course-walk I had a streaming nosebleed from the stress of it all.”

Despite the nosebleed – and a runout at the walls as a result of her slippery leather gloves – Lucinda finished fifth. The following year she and Be Fair would return, and this time, they’d produce a nearly foot-perfect round – just one minor reroute due to an erroneous lack of martingale marred their cross-country, but they escaped penalty and took the title.

In an interview with Country Life, Lucinda said: “It was ridiculous: I was 19, it was my second attempt and the horse, Be Fair, had been my 15th-birthday present. Winning Badminton happens to other people, doesn’t it, but, as I drove home, in my little converted ice-cream van, with Be Fair’s ears just inches behind my own and my dog, Oliver Plum, beside me, I heard on the six o’clock news: ‘Today, Badminton Horse Trials was won by…’”

1976

In 1976, Lucinda took her second Badminton title, but her victory was arguably superseded by the tragic death of her mount, Wideawake. The 16hh gelding (Hereward the Wake x Serenade) had been a tricky character, and Lucinda had poured all her energy into building a partnership with him.

She recounted to Debbie Sly, “Wakey really did not like me very much when our partnership began; he once even squashed me against the partition of the lorry with great purpose to the extent that I had to shout for help, and he seemed to take great delight in being as annoying and unhelpful as possible. He would back you into the corner of the stable and leave you there, he would wait until the mucking out bin was full and then tip it all over the clean floor, and when you tried to put his boots on he would wave his leg around until it connected with your knee or your toe. He was an extraordinary horse; sensitive without being highly strung. Once he galloped loose up the drive; a van was coming down the road and the two collided, sending Wakey flying over the bonnet and onto the other side of the road. He escaped with a few scrapes and bruises but his fear of traffic – the only fear he knew – remained with him always.”

In winning Badminton, it seemed as though all the hard work had come good – as Lucinda put it, “I had finally learnt to ride him as he needed to be ridden.” That required doing as little as possible – Wakey didn’t like to feel even the slightest nudge of his rider’s legs, but instead wanted to be left alone to work things out for himself. As the pair waited to begin their lap of honour, Lucinda leant down to hug her mount’s neck. While she did so, the rest of the top-placed horses and riders duly filed out of the arena in order to allow Lucinda to begin the victory gallop alone, as was customary. Just as the final horses were leaving the arena, Wideawake reared up without warning, staggered a few paces, and fell to the floor. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter, and the cause was never ascertained.

1977

The following year, Lucinda was back with a bang riding George, the 16.2hh grandson of 1948 Grand National winner Sheila’s Cottage. Though he looked the perfect stamp of an event horse, his competition record was so peppered with falls that Lucinda nearly turned down the ride. But her father had reached the terminal stages of his cancer diagnosis, and life in the Prior-Palmer household was a pretty morose affair, so her parents encouraged her to take the horse on as a welcome distraction. He arrived just a matter of weeks before Badminton and promptly went lame.

Lucinda managed to get him back on the straight and narrow with just enough time to run at a one-day event as practice. To her own great surprise, they won it – and Lucinda began to wonder if she should aspire to more than just survival at their big outing.

She changed her mind swiftly upon starting the second phase. Although George had performed well in the dressage to sit fourth, he set against her hand in the steeplechase and ploughed through most of the fences. But while Lucinda was losing faith, her support team wasn’t – her father even insisted on leading the horse around in the ten-minute box.

“It was their optimism and belief that finally shook me out of my own depths of despondency,” Lucinda recalled.

Lucinda Prior-Palmer and George, right, enjoy their win. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

George responded in kind. As they set out onto cross country proper, he came into his own, jumping around faultlessly to finish within the optimum time and go into the lead. That Sunday was St George’s Day and, as though in recognition of the fact, he jumped yet another foot-perfect clear to secure a third victory for his rider. That autumn, he contested the Open European Championships at Burghley, winning both team and individual gold, and was retired to the hunt field shortly thereafter. Lucinda’s father passed away in the months following her Badminton victory.

1979

Lucinda’s fourth victory came aboard another horse she considered an unlikely champion. Killaire wasn’t naturally fast, and he tended to be a long and low type of horse. But he had managed to finish second at Burghley in 1976, third at Badminton and Ledyard in 1977 and, as Lucinda had been pipped at the post and ‘only’ finished second at Badminton ’78 with Village Gossip, it was felt that it was high time for another triumphant effort. In ’79, Killaire offered just that, digging exceptionally deep to make up the seconds across the country and just beating Sue Hatherley and Monocle, a defeat that Sue never quite got over.

Killaire and Lucinda Prior-Palmer. Photo by Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.

Lucinda, for her part, went on to write a book called Four Square, which chronicled her four wins and four remarkable horses. Quite understandably, she assumed she’d put a cap on her winning by now, and described her ’79 victory as “drawing the fourth and final side, and thereby closing an unbelievable square.” Joke’s on YOU, Lucinda.

1983

“He had an incredible jump, but did everything with his head in the air – he was so ewe-necked that when he galloped along his ears were in your mouth,” said Lucinda of her ’83 victor, Regal Realm, who I’m sure many of us know best as ‘the horse with the really good stats in Equestriad 2001’.

It was fitting, really, that Lucinda should triumph again in this of all years – after all, it was director and designer Frank Weldon’s 70th birthday, and he had created a track that would truly test the mettle of the most experienced and savvy cross country riders. Despite a proliferation of alternative routes for less experienced competitors, who wouldn’t mind adding on a fair chunk of time in exchange for surviving their round, only nineteen pairs recorded clears. Weldon was stumped, and Lucinda laughed her way to the top of the podium once again. After an illustrious career as a team stalwart and medal-winner, he was sent home to Australia to enjoy a sunny retirement, and died at the age of 21.

1984

Lucinda’s final victory came in 1984 aboard the great grey Beagle Bay, the part-bred Welsh pony with whom she’d won Burghley in 1981. Beagle Bay’s great weakness was his intermittent unsoundness, and Lucinda had been disappointed several times at three-days when she’d found herself forced to withdraw on Sunday morning. He also had a bit of pony brain about him, which meant that he could occasionally stop or duck out of a fence purely, it seemed, for the laugh. His “fat pony tummy”, as Lucinda called it, “must have housed a huge pair of lungs as he had tremendous stamina.”

Though Lucinda harboured some hope that she might notch up one more win – “seven is my lucky number,” she laughed – she never quite managed it. Now, she remains a familiar face on the circuit as a trainer, media mainstay, mother of five-star rider Lissa, and as a competitor herself. Long may the Queen of Badminton reign on!

 

Friday Video from SmartPak: Party Mode Activated

Our Friday video this week comes to us courtesy of British eventer Harriet Upton, who represented Team GB at the 2014 Junior European Championships. Then, we saw her partner with 2012 Olympics veteran Carraigh Dubh, the great grey gelding she bought for a whopping 90p. Never the most straightforward horse, Danny obviously taught Harriet a thing or two about getting the very best from a horse with, um, an opinion or two! Now, Harriet’s burgeoning string (which includes two horses owned by none other than Her Majesty, the Queen of England!) is headed up by the talented Kilkenny Lady, who might just be the dictionary entry for ‘chestnut mare.’

Check out this fab compilation that Harriet put together, showing some of her mega mare’s best dance moves. Harriet and Rosie will be stepping up to four-star this year after a successful season at Advanced last year — these two are definitely a pair to keep an eye on (and not just for the above!) Turns out the upper levels ARE one big party … who’d have guessed?! (Also, check out that smile — it never budges. New life motto? #BeMoreHarriet!)

#BadmintonAt70: The Realm of the (Ex) Racehorse

Gird your loins, chaps: the countdown is ON to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and we, for one, couldn’t be more excited — not least because this year is a special one. 2019’s competition is the 70th anniversary of the inaugural Badminton, and since its first running in 1949 the sport, the venue, and the characters within this epic story have changed and evolved significantly. To celebrate 70 years of brilliant Badminton, we’re going to be bringing you an extra-special inside look at the event and its rich and exciting history, every week from now until the competition begins on May 1. Consider the archives your own personal Gringotts, and EN your loyal goblin sherpas. 

This week, we’re delving into the rich history of the ex-racehorse at Badminton. Thoroughbred fans — this one’s for you!

There’s an age-old debate where the Thoroughbred’s role in eventing is concerned. Those in favour argue that a blood horse is a faster horse, a fitter horse, and a horse with more stamina. These qualities in tandem allow a horse to be more comfortable thinking and reacting at high-speed, with – in theory, at least – less chance of a catastrophic tumble when a quick change of plan is required. Those against point out that the sport has changed in favour of a horse bred to be as competitive on the flat and over the poles as it is across the country.

Whichever side of the argument you fall on, Badminton has seen a number of enormously successful ex-racehorses cross the finish flags — in total, nine horses with connections to racing have won the event. Seven of those were ex-racehorses, one would go on to race after its eventing career, and another enjoyed moonlighting as a racehorse between its top-level eventing runs.

The Thoroughbred was certainly the dominant force of early-era eventing. This can partly be attributed to the increased emphasis on cross-country – of course, we’re talking about old-school long-format eventing, with its multi-part cross-country phase.

The course map of the 1949 Badminton cross-country — all 847 phases of it. Image courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

The very first running of Badminton was largely experimental, but even then, horses and riders had to cover some 22km – that is, 14 miles – on cross-country day. This must have seemed almost merciful after the 1948 Olympics’ 22-mile cross-country, but compared to 2018’s 6750m – or 4.2 miles – it was a Herculean effort.

  • PHASE A (three miles, 22.5 minutes at 220mpm): First, Badminton competitors had to complete a roads and tracks phase, which took them at a gentle pace across to the village of Didmarton, where the steeplechase course was held. Roads and tracks was a game of forward planning – you didn’t want to waste any time, but nor did you want to waste any energy. Those riders who could strike a balance and use this jump-less phase to warm up and install some level of rideability would find themselves much better prepared to kick on at speed over…
  • PHASE B (two miles, 9-12 fences, 5.5 minutes at 600mpm): The forthcoming steeplechase fences. Once completed, there was…
  • PHASE C (five miles, 38 minutes at 220mpm): a second roads and tracks section – ostensibly just the hack back to cross-country, which began by the stables. Once again, tactics came into play: there was no ten-minute box to allow horses to recover before they set out to tackle…
  • PHASE D (three miles, 21 fences, 11 minutes at 450mpm): the cross-country. If riders wanted their horses to recover, they needed to complete the latter roads and tracks phase more quickly – a tricky catch-22 for anyone not sitting on a horse with a high blood percentage. Once the cross-country was navigated, there was just
  • PHASE E (1161m, 3.5 minutes at 330 mpm): a long canter stretch designed to help wind the horse back down and initiate the recovery period.

Of course, a high percentage of blood is no guarantor of fast recovery, but it’s a pretty safe bet that a pure Thoroughbred will benefit from increased stamina over a cross-bred horse. In the early days of eventing, many of the riders were off-the-track, too – plenty of National Hunt and point-to-point jockeys tackled the first few iterations of the event, looking for a new challenge for themselves and their game, gutsy horses. The pairing of high-class horses who were bred to run and jump with jockeys, who were capable of not only bringing a horse to peak fitness but riding them to conserve energy too, was a formidable one. It’s worth noting, too, that the early rules of eventing favoured aggressive speed – riders could earn bonus points for quick times in the cross-country phases, effectively allowing them to mitigate the effects of a poor dressage performance. The faster you rode, the more points you could knock off – and penalties for going too fast wouldn’t be introduced for some time.

Together, these factors created a sport in which speed and toughness was king. Before the idea of breeding and producing event horses ever occurred to anyone, the classic, hardy Thoroughbred had established its dominance.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, Thoroughbreds were bred with one purpose in mind – to race. That meant that any Thoroughbred doing another job was almost certainly a byproduct – it was either being made useful following a career on the track, or it was a dud that had flunked out of training. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the very first winner of Badminton was inextricably linked with the racing industry.

THE STARS AND STRIPES AT BADMINTON

Golden Willow (Cloth of Gold x Pussy Willow) wasn’t a byproduct, per se – in fact, he was one of the rare few horses that was an eventer first and a racehorse second. Bred in the US in 1943, he was brought to the UK in 1948. The striking bay five-year-old easily won four hunter trials that autumn, showing an impressive length of stride and a remarkable toughness across the country. That toughness, however, was paired with a tricky streak – Shedden described the horse as being both lovable and terrifying all at once. In fact, the horse was so prone to fits of excitability that Shedden, frightened of falling and losing the animal, tied a length of twine from his belt to the saddle. That way, he hoped, he might stand half a chance of keeping a hold on the horse if he were to take a tumble.

Golden Willow takes the first Badminton. In a twist on what we now consider the norm, Golden Willow wasn’t so much an ex-racehorse as a racehorse-to-be.

Despite his quirks, the five-year-old Golden Willow found himself third after dressage. (Admittedly, this was, perhaps, due to his competition – many of the horses entered hadn’t ever been in an arena before, and spent most of their tests trying to figure out how to exit it at speed.) On cross-country day, he went so astonishingly fast that he leapt the Irish Bank in one, and finished the day having knocked 63 points off his first-phase mark. He was so far ahead of the pack that even a knocked rail – worth ten penalties in those days – saw him win with 26.5 points to spare.

Eleanor Home Kidston took home £150 (£5207 after inflation) for her horse’s win, and enjoyed another piece of the pie the following year, when her talented tearaway finished fifth. Now only a six-year-old, it looked as though Golden Willow was to become the sport of eventing’s very first legend – but instead, he became the sport’s first financial casualty. Dismayed with what she felt was insufficient prize money, Kidston was persuaded to send the horse into racing. Shedden, who was one of the country’s most accomplished horsemen, knew that Golden Willow’s tempestuous, busy mind wouldn’t be able to cope with the rigours of race training, and his habit of running away even in a strong gag bit would be dangerous, at best, on the track. But he was overruled, and his talented young mount was sent away. Shortly thereafter, Golden Willow bolted in training, galloping for fourteen straight miles and pulling up only when his tendons broke down. After a year and a half of rehabilitation, he was sent back into training and it happened again. This time, the horse’s career was over.

Apropos of nothing, a fun fact:
1952’s winner wasn’t an ex-racehorse – in fact, Emily Little was bought as a five-year-old with only the intention of competitive glory. But her rider, Colonel Mark Darley, came from illustrious Thoroughbred stock himself – his family was responsible for the introduction of the Arabian horse into English breeding. The Darley Arabian, of course, was one of the three founding sires of the English Thoroughbred. Not a shabby legacy.

THE FIRST EX-RACEHORSE

If Golden Willow was arguably a racehorse-to-be, then 1953’s victor was the first true off-the-track Thoroughbred to take the Badminton title. Starlight XV (Trappeur II x Dawn), ridden by Major Laurence Rook, was another striking stamp of a Thoroughbred. Like his American forebear, he had a difficult streak. While galloping and jumping came naturally to the horse, who had been intended for steeplechasing, he found dressage difficult at best, and garnered a reputation for being explosive in this phase. (Incidentally, his trainer on the track was Gerald Balding, who was Britain’s last 10-goal polo player before turning to racing –his granddaughter, television presenter Clare Balding, presents the television coverage of Badminton these days. Synchronicity, my friends.)

Laurence Rook and Starlight XV.

Poor Starlight had a questionable run of luck – at the Helsinki Olympics the year prior, he’d stumbled into a hidden piece of guttering on course, turning himself over and dazing Rook. Once the two were reunited, they still managed to notch up a bonus of sixty marks, but missed a turning flag in phase E, the run-in. They were eliminated, and the British team lost its grasp on the gold medal.

In 1953, Badminton a bit of a double feature – the competition wasn’t just a major event in its own right, it was also the home of the very first FEI Open European Championships. After the previous year’s blunder, and because of his horse’s unreliability in the first phase, Rook was dropped from the home team at the last minute. He was still allowed to ride as an individual, though, and he did so, confident that he could win by some margin. He did, and his replacements on the British team – Major Frank Weldon and the ex-racehorse Kilbarry – finished second.

Weldon, whose first love was racing, had bought Kilbarry with the intention of aiming for the Gunner’s Gold Cup, and the pair won their first point-to-point together in preparation. Unfortunately, a bout of equine flu meant that Kilbarry had to undergo a tie-back surgery at the end of 1952, effectively ending his racing career. Weldon had ridden at Badminton once already on another mount, and so he was quick to reroute the horse’s career trajectory. Rightly so: the horse would never finish outside of the top three in an international event.

Frank Weldon and Kilbarry in 1955.

Not insignificantly, the 1953 running of the event was considered a particularly tough one – the weather was unseasonably warm, and any fitness issues made themselves readily apparent part of the way through the course. Only 26 of the 40 starters made it through to Sunday’s showjumping phase, and thereafter, it was decided that there ought to be some sort of qualification process to compete at Badminton. It was, arguably, a year destined for the Thoroughbred horse.

In 1955 and 1956, Kilbarry and Weldon finally won Badminton, having finished second the two previous years. Once again, 1955’s running was a special Badminton: not only was it again hosting the European Championships, but bizarrely, it had moved to Windsor Great Park – the Queen’s back garden – for the year. Second-placed in this event was another racing combination – Bertie Hill had been persuaded to give the sport a go, and his £90 ‘dud’ Countryman ended up being syndicated by the Queen and winning the gold medal at the 1956 Olympics. Later on, he would be bought and piloted by the 11th Duke of Beaufort – the owner of Badminton estate – who would finish second with the horse in 1959.

David Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort, and Countryman knock a rail to narrowly miss the win at Badminton 1959. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

THE OVER-ACHIEVER

In 1961, a horse with the absolutely remarkable moniker of Salad Days would take the Badminton win. Piloted by Australia’s Laurie Morgan, he occupies a unique place on this list: he wasn’t quite an ex-racehorse, nor was he a racehorse-to-be – instead, he was a top-notch eventing horse who raced for fun in between his competitions. He was part of the 1960 gold medal-winning Australian Olympic team, and much of his preparation for the following year’s Badminton was done over hunter chase courses. Unsurprisingly, the pair were remarkably quick and clean across the country – and they needed to be. The day before the dressage, Morgan discovered that he’d learned the wrong dressage, and they went off-course in their test three times. Only their blazing speed on Saturday saved them from a frustrating loss.

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It would be another ten years before a racehorse (past, present, or future!) would grace the top of the leaderboard. When the next one did, though, he made up for it by doing the double. Captain Mark Phillips enjoyed wins in 1971 and 1972 with Great Ovation, a horse he had very nearly given up on, admitting that he didn’t think the horse would make the grade. But instead of selling, he decided to give the horse, by Three Cheers, a season of hunting from his army barracks at Catterick. The following spring, the ‘never naturally brave’ gelding, with a penchant for hesitance in front of a fence, took his first title.

1971 was also the first year that the modern optimum time system was used – previously, points could be made up with bonuses for going fast across the country. Now, however, an optimum time was set for each of the five speed and endurance phases. Phases A and C, the roads and tracks, would garner one penalty per second over the time, while a second was worth 0.8 penalties on steeplechase and, as today, 0.4 on cross country.

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Great Ovation’s 1972 victory is memorable for a slightly different reason – it’s the tightest winning margin ever recorded. Phillips and Great Ovation led the dressage, seven marks ahead of second-placed Richard Meade. But disaster struck as he set off for the steeplechase – he forgot to start his stopwatch, and racked up an expensive 8.8 time penalties in Phase B, and 38.8 further time penalties across the country. As they headed into the final day, Meade and his horse, Laurieston, led by 0.6 penalties. When Phillips jumped a foot-perfect clear, the pressure was on Meade to deliver.

And he did: he kept his notoriously fiery horse under perfect control to leave the course intact. As he rode away from the final fence, he was delighted to realise he’d won Badminton – but the faces of the crowd ahead of him told him that something wasn’t quite right. As it turned out, he’d finished 1.25 seconds over the optimum time. He lost Badminton by a sixth of a penalty.

(For what it’s worth, Meade and Laurieston won the individual Olympic gold later that year, so he probably wasn’t basking in his misery for long.)

A COLOSSAL MARGIN

After Great Ovation’s second Badminton win, keen ex-racehorse fans were in for a bit of a wait. Some 34 years later, Australia’s Andrew Hoy would win aboard Moonfleet, but in the meantime, an unraced Thoroughbred would leave a lasting impression.

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In 1999, Badminton was celebrating a major milestone – it was the 50th birthday of the greatest event in the world, and anyone with even a passing interest in horses had piled into the Gloucestershire estate to join the party. Ian Stark, colloquially known as Scottie, had been the first-ever person to take first and second place at the event eleven years prior, but this year, he was back with an exciting up-and-comer. The New Zealand Thoroughbred Jaybee was only eight years old, but Scottie hoped he might be one of his future stars.

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He certainly would – but what Scottie hadn’t quite expected was how soon that moment would come. Under the watchful eyes of the Queen of England, the youngest horse in the field triumphed, winning despite his inexperience in monsoon conditions that saw some of the world’s best riders walk home disappointed. Even Chris Bartle, himself a winner of the Badminton, retired at the third fence.

That year, the US cut a formidable figure in the form of Kerry Millikin and her ’96 Olympics mount Out and About, who finished third. ‘Outie’, like Jaybee, was something of a child prodigy — he was only eight when he won his bronze medal in Atlanta, nine when he finished seventh at the Open European Championships at Burghley in 1997, and eleven when he ran so well at Badminton.

Out and About and Kerry Millikin. Photo by Phelps Photo.

Out of Incardine and by the stallion L’Amour Rullah, Outie cemented his place as one of the greatest off-the-track American-bred Thoroughbreds in eventing history, and was posthumously honoured with a place in the USEA Hall of Fame last year. In a touching induction speech, Jimmy Wofford said: “About 25 years ago, a much younger Kerry Millikin came jogging by me on a loopy Thoroughbred, having just been run away with around the Preliminary horse trials course at Fair Hill. In somewhat of a disheveled state, Kerry said, ‘Jimmy, what should I do with him?’ And I said, ‘For heaven’s sake, upgrade him!’

Andrew Hoy’s Moonfleet, victorious at Badminton in 2006 after leading from pillar to post, was a remarkable example of an ex-racehorse. Originally known as Empty Wagon, he was sold for 50,000 guineas at the Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale in ’95, but only lightly raced as a point-to-pointer.

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In his eventing career, he would win Badminton, finish second at Burghley in the same year, and then go on to win the latter. At 47, Hoy was then one of the oldest riders to have won Badminton and, perhaps more notably, it was the year in which the long format of eventing was dropped. The Irish-bred Moonfleet, by Strong Gale, would be the first horse ever to win a short-format Badminton, completing a remarkable week for owner Susan Magnier, who also had a victory in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket that weekend.

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THE LAST TRIUMPHANT

In 2013, we saw our most recent ex-racehorse take top honours at Badminton. That was Clifton Promise, ridden by New Zealand’s Jock Paget, and I know I say this a lot, but he won in a truly remarkable year. For the first – and, I’d wager, the last – time, two riders came to Badminton in pursuit of the Rolex Grand Slam.

William Fox-Pitt found himself in contention when, after winning Burghley in 2011 and Kentucky in 2012, he was unable to contest Badminton due to its cancellation. Instead, it was decided that his bid could roll over to Badminton 2013 – but that meant that, should another rider win Burghey 2012 and Kentucky 2013, there’d be a face-off. Of course there was, and of course that rider ended up being Fox-Pitt’s oldest rival Andrew Nicholson, and it was all ludicrously exciting, until a Kiwi bricklayer who’d only started riding at the age of 18 came along and trounced them all.

Jock Paget and Clifton Promise take Badminton. Photo courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

Clifton Promise (Engagement x Darn Style) was registered as Bachelor Boy, but he was such a failure as a racehorse that he never even made it to the track. Instead, Clifton Eventers bought him at the sales for $3000, and many years down the line, he would help Paget become the second person ever to win on their Badminton debut.

THE NEW GUARD

Despite the loss of the long format and, as a result, less of a need for the sort of endless stamina that eventing’s earliest heroes demonstrated, Thoroughbred blood remains vital to the modern-day event horse. While the 7/8 Thoroughbred remains a popular choice, and lighter-boned warmbloods produce the first and final phase goods, the full Thoroughbred – and the ex-racehorse – remain a mainstay of the top levels, if in small numbers.

Arctic Soul and Gemma Tattersall speed around the 2018 Badminton course. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Arguably the most successful ex-racehorse currently competing at five-star is Gemma Tattersall’s Arctic Soul (Luso x Dream Cocktail, by Roi Danzig). A consummate warhorse, ‘Spike’ ran his first event at six; prior to that, he’d plugged away at a lacklustre National Hunt career in Ireland that saw him contest just four races, never finishing higher than eleventh for trainer Colm Murphy.

But as is so often the case, his form on the track has been no indicator of his success in his second career, and the sixteen-year-old has finished in the top ten at Badminton three times, finishing on his dressage score for third in 2016. Widely regarded as one of the best five-star cross-country horses in the game, he’s a favourite to take this year’s title.

In 2016, Badminton recognised the importance of the ex-racehorse to the sport by introducing the Retraining of Racehorses award for the highest-placed off-the-track Thoroughbred. Arctic Soul has taken the prize each year since its inception.

Lynn Symansky and Donner at Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Recent years have seen ex-racehorses make up the number across the board at key internationals: Lynn Symansky‘s Donner (Gorky Park x Smart Jane, by Smarten), who ran on the flat as Smart Gorky, is a notable fan favourite. He finished 22nd at Badminton in 2017 and has amassed a number of impressive results at the top level. His racing career, too, was short-lived: he retired at the age of three, having won just $2,870 in six runs.

Britain’s Ben Way has enjoyed several years at the five-star level with Irish-bred Galley Light (Turtle Island x Coola Cross, by Be My Native) — their best result was 12th at Badminton in 2016, but they also won the prize for best first-timers, named after Laurence Rook, in 2015. Jesse Campbell‘s Kaapachino (Kaapstad x Right Tune ) won Jesse his first international event outside of New Zealand, putting him on the map as a formidable addition to the global Kiwi contingent. In 2016, they made their Badminton debut, finishing 33rd.

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar at Badminton. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

If ever there was a compelling case for the toughness of the Thoroughbred horse, surely it would be Sir Rockstar (Rockamundo x How Unusual, by Great Sun): Libby Head‘s remarkable gelding finished 31st at Badminton in 2016 at the age of eighteen, following a racing career that spanned 16 runs. He didn’t begin his reeducation until he was ten, when 16-year-old Libby — who had only been riding for two years — found him malnourished in a field and decided to buy him. At 15.1hh, he was one of the smallest horses in the Badminton field, and although he struggled to produce a competitive test, his cattiness across the country allowed the pair to climb 42 places.

And that, folks, is just classic Thoroughbred coolness.

Author’s note: A previous version of this post missed out on one very special ex-racehorse who represented the USA at Badminton. Out and About, ridden by Kerry Millikin, has now been included – thanks to Kerry for reaching out! 

Friday Video from SmartPak: An Accidental Pas-de-Deux

As eventers, we’re used to adopting a certain kind of mindset where the first phase of competition is concerned: that is, most us just want to get it over and done with so we can get to the fun bits. All too often, our horses seem to agree with us.

Britain’s Imogen Murray encountered something else entirely while competing at Oasby Horse Trials today: a horse that would rather be between the boards than out on course, thank you very much. The Lesser-Spotted Dressage Enthusiast is a rare breed — it’s estimated that there are probably less than a hundred breeding mares left in captivity, and all of them are too busy flicking their toes to produce any progeny, so hopes aren’t high for its longevity. But as Imogen rode through her Intermediate test with Roheryn Ruby, she was able to enjoy (?) a not-so-fleeting glimpse of one of the last remaining LSDEs in the wild. A nobler sight has surely never been seen, and the female mating call of “LOOOOOOSE HOOOOORSE” is music to any horse-spotter’s ears.

Quite remarkably, Imogen and the eleven-year-old Ruby managed to stay in the zone and on the pace, producing an impressive test for a score of 26.1. Imogen, with her impressive five-star results aboard top horse Ivar Gooden, has already cemented her title as One to Watch, but we’d like to join the Ruby fan club now too, please. Check out the video at your own peril — there’s officially no excuse to ever lose focus in a dressage test again once you’ve seen it.