A dramatic reshuffle of the leaderboard took place in the latter half of today’s dressage, with Britain’s Ros Canter and Allstar B moving into a decisive lead in the penultimate test.
Ros, who tops out at a diminutive 5’2, has put a huge amount of effort into turning her own and Caroline Moore’s 17.1hh ‘Albi’ into a competitive horse in the first phase. Her trainer of six years, Ian Woodhead, has been instrumental in the process, both on the ground and when reviewing video footage of her performances. That joint effort paid off today with career-best result of 23.9.
“I’m so proud of my horse as the dressage isn’t his favourite phase,” she said. “He isn’t a naturally big-moving horse, but he allows me to ride him for those bigger paces. If he had his own way, he’d stay on the centreline in halt – he’s quite lazy, and so the key for me is to get him in the right frame of mind and not kick him.”
Such was her focus that she didn’t realise how highly her scores were trending.
“I can’t really believe it – I don’t remember much of it! I didn’t look at the scoreboard or anything, as he’s a big horse and a lot to hold together. I just wanted to get the most of every movement.”
Second place is held overnight, perhaps somewhat predictably, by Germany’s Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. This, says Michael, is likely to be the eighteen-year-old gelding’s final season, and perhaps the final time we’ll ever see the horse on British soil. His first-phase score of 24.7 puts him well in the hunt at this early stage as we look ahead to the horse’s best phase. Still, Michael felt that the test could have earned the pair better marks: “It was difficult to prepare him – he wasn’t very happy with the ground [in the warm-up], but he knows his job. Most of the time I train him inside, so he doesn’t like the wet ground for dressage. By the end of the test, though, he felt really relaxed. In the end, I’m very happy – I was not so happy when I first got here and saw the wet ground.”
Sam’s incredible wealth of experience brings challenges of its own right: “On the one hand, he is so experienced and he knows what he has to do, but on the other hand he knows the arena and can get tense because he knows that there will be an atmosphere. He’s in really good form, he feels good, and I think people see that. We have a very good partnership, I really like him like a friend, and we grew up together. It’s not always been easy but we’ve had a good time together.”
Yoshiaki Oiwa recorded Japan’s best-ever four-star score aboard The Duke of Cavan, posting a 24.9, despite a tumultuous start to his day.
“I’m very happy – he was a bit quieter than I expected, because at lunchtime there was a dog chasing us and he was very upset.”
It was a great day for North America, with two riders moving into the top ten. Lauren Kieffer and Veronica sit in fourth place overnight, with Selena O’Hanlon and her Fair Hill winner Foxwood High posting a massive personal best of 26.4 to sit in eighth.
“I was absolutely tickled with her,” said Lauren of the sixteen-year-old mare, who was 17th here last year and 12th at Burghley in the autumn. Compatriot Selena, on the other hand, hasn’t been seen here since 2011, with Colombo, and her return has been something of a dream come true for her horse’s owners, John and Judy Rumble.
“John trained over here for the 1956 Olympics, and he said he had always hoped to come back here one day with a horse,” explained Selena, who has based herself at Mark Todd‘s Badgerstown in Wiltshire for the past month. “Two dreams have come true – John’s was to come back to Badminton, and mine was to take off and be a minion for Mark Todd!”
The experience has been made even sweeter by the kindness of strangers, particularly after some confusion surrounded her win in the Fair Hill CCI3* last year. One of her prizes – a return flight with DuttaCorp – was rescinded as it was deemed to be designated for the highest-placed US competitor. “I’ve been so lucky to have EquiJet offer the lift after the kerfuffle last year. And Mark’s staff have made me feel like part of the family – I even got to ride Kiltubrid Rhapsody, so I feel like a kid in a candy store.”
As for Woody, with whom Selena has been working hard to improve upon prior scores: “he’s been pretty excitable this week, and I was wondering how to manage it, but sticking to the programme has helped him settle. Kiltubrid Rhapsody is his gallop buddy, so I made sure he hacked up here with him, and that helped him to relax.”
Pippa Funnell‘s Billy Beware made his first Badminton appearance in four years, scoring 25.7 to sit fifth overnight. Their score comes off the back of two very competitive tests at Burnham Market and Belton.
“On the whole, I was very pleased with the test,” said Pippa. “It’s really nice to have him back. I think, perhaps, that I gave him a bit too much work. He’s been so pleased to be at a big party again and his eyes have been on stalks, so I thought I ought to give him a bit more work. He had a bit of a jolly this morning and this afternoon, I think i just overdid it by five or ten minutes, so he lost a bit of the dance in his steps.”
New Zealand’s Tim Price is in sixth place currently with Ringwood Sky Boy, with whom he’s finished 2nd, 4th and 5th at Burghley over the last three years. He and wife Jonelle, riding tomorrow, are balancing competing at the event with looking after baby Otis.
“We go from changing nappies in the morning to riding horses and walking courses,” laughed Tim.
Of Ringwood Sky Boy’s test, he said: “I’m so pleased he’s been in and delivered what he can do. We’ve been here a few times and never really found ourselves up there. In the past I used to come out and focus on getting ready for the test in one big session, but we’ve found that the little-and-often approach to schooling works better for him.”
Tim has swapped his trademark (itty-bitty) motorbike for a pushbike this year – “I did the course on it earlier, and I think we went clear, so that’s a start!”
It’s been an incredibly exciting first day of dressage, made all the more interesting by a remarkable number of personal bests recorded – a whopping 41% of the field bettered their previous best scores, according to the stats chaps at EquiRatings.
Tomorrow brings another jam-packed day of dressage, with some more big names coming forward to fight for a place on the leaderboard. Keep an eye out for:
FRIDAY DRESSAGE NOTABLE NAMES:
9:54am BST/4:54am EST: William Fox-Pitt and Fernhill Pimms
11:58am BST/6:58am EST: Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift
12:22pm BST/7:22am EST: Jonelle Price and Classic Moet
2:00pm BST/9:00am EST: Piggy French and Vanir Kamira
2:16pm BST/9:16am EST: Madeline Backus and PS Arianna
2:48pm BST/9:48am EST: Will Coleman and OBOS O’Reilly
3:12pm BST/10:12am EST: Sam Griffiths and Paulank Brockagh
3:40pm BST/10:40am EST: Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul
4:36PM BST/11:36am EST: Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class