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Reigning Olympic Champions Great Britain Reveal 12 Nominated Entries for Paris 2024

Golden Great Britain! Tom McEwen, Laura Collett and Oliver Townend. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Buckle up, folks, because the pathway to Paris is swiftly becoming a multi-lane highway, and the party bus just merged right onto it. Great Britain has today revealed its list of 12 horse-and-rider combinations who’ll make up their nominated entries, and from which the final team will be drawn, ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris. Great Britain goes to Paris as the reigning champions, having won gold three years ago in Tokyo, and all three of those team riders are once again up for selection.

The British list is unsurprisingly strong: it features five CCI5* winners, our reigning World Champions, and our reigning European Champions and Vice Champions, among their collective accolades.

The twelve nominated combinations are as follows, listed in alphabetical order:

Rosalind Canter (38) from Hallington, Lincolnshire, with Alex Moody and her own Izilot DHI (bay, gelding, 11yrs, 16hhx, Zavala VDL x Cavalier) or Michele and Archie Saul’s Lordships Graffalo (bay, gelding, 12yrs, 17hh, Birkhof’s Grafenstolz x Rock King, Breeder: Lordships Stud, Writtle College GBR)

Laura Collett (34) from Salterton, Gloucestershire, with Karen Bartlett, Keith Scott and her own London 52 (bay, gelding, 14yrs, 16.3hh, Landos x Quinar, Breeder: Ocke Riewerts GER)

Yasmin Ingham (27) based in Nantwich, Cheshire and originally from the Isle of Man, with Janette Chinn and The Sue Davies Fund’s Banzai du Loir (chestnut, gelding, 13yrs, 16.2hh, Nouma D’Auzay x Livarot, Breeder: Pierre Gouye FRA) or Rehy DJ (bay, gelding, 14yrs, 16.1hh, Tinarana’s Inspector x Big Sink Hope, Breeder: Noel Russell IRL)

Emily King (28), based in Halkyn, Holywell, Flintshire and originally from Sidmouth, Devon, with Phillipe Brivois, David King and the Valmy Biats Syndicate’s Valmy Biats (bay, gelding, 14yrs, 16.2hh, Orlando x Aurelie du Prieure, Breeder: Phillipe Brivois FRA)

Kitty King (41) from Chippenham, Wiltshire, with Diana Bown, John Eyre, Sally Lloyd Baker and Samantha Wilson’s Vendredi Biats (grey, gelding, 15yrs, 16.2hh, Winningmood x Camelia de Ruelles, Breeder: Phillipe Brivois FRA)

Tom Jackson (31) from Godalming, Surrey, with Patricia Davenport, Milly Simmie and Sarah Webb’s Capels Hollow Drift(grey, gelding, 12yrs, 16.2hh, Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvar x Lucky Gift, Breeder: Jeanette Glynn GBR)

Tom McEwen (33) from Stroud, Gloucestershire, with James and Jo Lambert and Deirdre Johnston’s JL Dublin (dark brown, gelding, 13yrs, 16.2hh, Diarado x Cantano, Breeder: Volker Göttsche-Götze GER)

Oliver Townend (41) from Ellesmere, Shropshire, with Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s Ballaghmor Class (grey, gelding, 17yrs, 16.2hh, s. Courage II, Breeder: Noel Hickey IRL) or Paul and Diana Ridgeon’s Cooley Rosalent (grey, mare, 10yrs, 16.2hh, Valent x Roselier, Breeder: JW Rosbotham IRL)

Isabelle ‘Bubby’ Upton (25) from Newmarket, Suffolk, with Rachel Upton’s Cola (brown, gelding, 14yrs, 16.2hh, Catoki x Contender, Breeder: Peter Boege GER)

“Selection decisions are subject to the athletes and horses maintaining fitness and performance, and this list may be amended at any point up to 25 June 2024,” continues the announcement. The final selection of four combinations – three on the team, plus a travelling reserve – will be named in late June.

View more of EN’s coverage of the Paris Olympics here.

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

He is back on board! The audio demonstrates what wonderful support he is receiving from his team! 🤣😂

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Posted by Shane Rose Eventing on Sunday, May 19, 2024

Guess who’s back in the saddle? Naysayers be damned – Aussie Shane Rose might have suffered 18 total fractures to his ribs, femur, elbow and pelvis in a riding accident just two months ago, but after doing his stint in a hospital bed, he’s ready to crack on with his goal of making it to Paris this summer.  We suppose that if anyone was going to make it happen, it’d be bionic man Shane, who’s got a track record of returning with a big grin on his face from a surprisingly nippy rehab process after the sort of fall that would make most people hang up their boots. Bonza, Shane – and allons-y, and all that!

National Holiday:

US Weekend Action:

Bouckaert Equestrian H.T. (Fairburn, GA): [Website] [Results]

Fair Hill International Recognized H.T. (Elkton, MD): [Website] [Results]

Hitching Post Farm H.T. (South Royalton, VT): [Website] [Results]

Hunt Club Farms H.T. (Berryville, VA): [Website] [Results]

Otter Creek Spring H.T. (Wheeler, WI): [Website[Results]

Spokane Sport Horse Spring H.T. (Spokane, WA): [Website] [Results]

Spring Gulch H.T. (Highlands Ranch, CO): [Website] [Results]

The Vista Spring YEH/NEH Qualifier (Aiken, SC): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Results:

Aston-le-Walls (1) (Daventry, Northants.): [Results]

Frenchfield (1) (Penrith, Cumbria): [Results]

Major International Events:

Longines Pfingsturnier Wiesbaden (Germany): [Website] [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

One of the quite nice things about being a writer is that occasionally, one of your old pieces resurfaces from the annals. That’s happened for me over the last few days as COTH has revitalised one of my pieces from 2018, when I spent the day with William Fox-Pitt discussing brain injuries, chicken farming, and what retirement might look like. Now that that retirement is here, it’s fun to revisit what he thought of the whole thing six years ago (although the adaptation of the old star levels to the new hasn’t been wholly successful in this new re-editing of the piece, so try to ignore that!). Check it out here.

We all spend a lot of time worrying – rightly – about our horses’ legs. But they can find really creative ways to injure their other body parts, too, so maybe start worrying a bit more, if you’ve got the bandwidth. Just kidding (sort of) – this piece from Horse&Hound is actually pretty optimistic, as it features a reasonably rare neck break, but also, on the flip side, a remarkable recovery for the young and promising Poppy. Find out how it happened, what the vets did, and how Poppy and her owner are getting on with life post-accident here.

Great news: Britain’s National Eventing Championships have found a home for 2024. They needed reallocating after the sad loss of Gatcombe’s Festival of British Eventing from the calendar, and now, it’s been announced that Hartpury, which hosts a major international each summer and has been the site of countless championships, will put these classes on alongside their international horse trials in August. Get all the deets, and the dates in your diary, here.

Following his trip to Badminton, Jessie Phoenix’s Wabbit has been featured in the Paulick Report. They might not be totally clear on whether Britain’s autumn five-star is called Burghley or Burleigh, but it’s still fun to see our sport unpacked for a different audience, and the insights into Wabbit’s early, failed career as a racehorse and how he’s been retrained is really interesting. Give it a read.

And finally, the discovery of a last, lost straw of Heraldik’s love-juice, which was auctioned on May 11 at the Marbach Auction, has got me thinking about the late, great stallion. There’s a pretty compelling argument to suggest that the Thoroughbred is the most influential sire in modern-day eventing, and if you’re wondering why that might be, it’s well worth diving into this long read that goes all the way back to the stallion’s inauspicious beginnings at a Czech riding school.

Morning Viewing:

We’ve been sharing lots of vlogs from 26-year-old amateur eventer Evie Llewelyn-Smith and her £1 horse Donut on their path to the Badminton Grassroots Championship – now, settle in to catch up on how the week itself went for the dynamic duo:

‘I Never Thought It Was a Possibility’: Caroline Powell Wins MARS Badminton 2024

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier: our birthday Badminton champions. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

In 75 years of Badminton, we’ve seen some extraordinary things: we’ve seen five-year-old champions (our debutant winner, Golden Willow, in 1949); high-flying kids (Richard Walker, who won in 1969 at the age of eighteen aboard his Pony Club horse); near-ponies atop the podium (Our Solo in 1960 and Our Nobby in 1968, who were both 15hh); and retirees return to triumph (Mark Todd in 2011, who was 55 and returning to the sport off the back of a bet at a party). We’ve seen extraordinary accomplishments in the face of adversity, and no shortage of heartbreak dished out over the estate’s well-worn lanes and tracks. We’ve watched on as heroics have unfolded – great saves, the demolishing of statistics, and comebacks that have united the packed grandstands in willing their architects to the finish. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, we’ve gasped in tandem as poles have bounced in their cups and nearly, nearly headed downward, but somehow, kismet has overridden gravity and the fairytale has won out, as it did in 2018 when Jonelle Price won with Classic Moet in the mare’s first clear round in four years.

And so it seemed that the obvious story might be handed to us today: second-placed William Fox-Pitt would jump clear, or as clear as he had to, with Grafennacht, taking the victory from overnight leaders Tim Price and Vitali, who would have just enough rails to drop a couple of places, as their form suggested. William, who is the world’s most successful five-star rider of all time, with fourteen wins to his name already, would make good on his week-long promise that this would be his last Badminton – while accepted the trophy, he’d retire officially in the ring, having helped usher the sport from old (the hey-day of the classic long-format of eventing, as it was when he made his debut in 1989 and for another near-decade-and-a-half thereafter) to the new. We’d see one of the young guns — Ireland’s 27-year-old debutant Lucy Latta, perhaps, or Emily King, herself a daughter of an eventing legend, finish in second place, effectively representing a passing of the baton from the old guard to the new. We’d leave Badminton full of a contended sort of emotion, feeling, finally, as though there might be something like hope on our horizon.

But eventing rarely gives us the obvious story, and so often, it gives us instead the story we need: the story that’ll throw our expectations out of the window, stop us in our tracks, and make us think about where we are, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. And, sometimes, it’s the story that gives us all a sage reminder of just how much good can happen if faith, in a horse or a system or in oneself as a rider, can ride all the waves that come its way.

So unfolded the grand finale of the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials. It had been a week of change: our first-phase podium of Ros Canter, Bubby Upton, and Tim Price was replaced by a new-look post-cross-country podium, with Tim stepping into top spot after a nippy clear with Vitali, William Fox-Pitt taking overnight second with Grafennacht, and Irish debutant and one-horse rider Lucy Latta delivering the fastest round of the day to climb from 46th to an extraordinary third place. It was proper, vintage, game-changing sport – and that theme would continue today as jumping course designer Phillip Kelvin Bywater produced his toughest track yet.

Ordinarily, we see ‘easier’ courses at Badminton and Burghley, both of which host the phase on undulating grass arenas after a seriously stiff cross-country challenge. Conversely, the continental five-stars, Luhmuhlen and Pau, have the toughest final phase, with big, square, technical tracks that make use of pure showjumping questions and benefit from surfaced arenas. But this year, Bywater’s Badminton course leant much more in the direction of its European counterparts – and from the very start of the morning’s session, that increase in intensity made itself very clear.

Seventeen horses and riders came forward to jump in the early session, and between them, they toppled 59 poles. That’s an average of three and a half poles per rider, but in reality, we saw several six or seven-rail rounds, just two one-rail rounds, and not a single clear. The time, too, was proving tight: just three riders caught it in that group.

“Usually,” said Jonelle Price, who came down to watch from the mixed media zone while preparing for her afternoon draw, “we see all these guys in the morning group who have gone a bit slower [yesterday] come out and jump well, and then we go and skittle them in the afternoon. But they skittled them all, so there’s not much hope for us.”

She wasn’t wrong. As the top twenty gathered this afternoon in the collecting ring, which thrummed with quiet tension and the buzz of focus, there was a sense that they were all about to head into battle, and none were quite so sure of their odds. The first of them, Rosie Bradley-Hole and her first-timer Romantic, tipped two rails; their successors, Harry Meade and Away Cruising took three. One (a very good result in the context of the day, actually) fell for Zara Tindall and Class Affair, two came down for British-based US rider Grace Taylor and Game Changer – and then overnight sixteenth-placed Bubby Upton and Cola entered the ring in a bid to complete their comeback event, just eight months after the rider suffered a nearly-career-ending injury, and they did it. They went clear, they caught the time, and they broke through the skin of the tension. It was possible. After another couple of one-rail rounds, for Wills Oakden and Arklow Puissance and Gemma Stevens and her 2021 Bicton CCI5* winner Chilli Knight, it happened again, or nearly, anyway, when Tom Rowland and Dreamliner jumped clear and finished two seconds over the time.

In similar fashion we crept through the list, occasionally logging a one-rail round, groaning our way through no shortage of two-rail rounds, and wincing as those three-rail rounds unfolded in front of us, until we hit the business end of the line-up. Jumping in sixth place, New Zealand’s Caroline Powell delivered a classy, tidy round that added no faults and made it look very easy indeed, and then fifth-placed Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson tipped five, dropping them right out of the hunt. Fourth-placed Emily King and Valmy Biats knocked two, despite being one of the highest-rated in the field in this phase, and third-place Lucy Latta and RCA Patron Saint, too, toppled two.

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It was William’s turn, and everything fell suddenly, achingly, unnervingly silent. He circled the ring, registered the sound of the bell, tipped the peak of his hat to the judges, and picked up a canter. He approached the first, Grafennacht tapped it, but left it up; at the second, she seemed sharper and jumped high, tight, and clear. But then the third came down – a fence he could afford to stay ahead of Caroline, who had crept up to the podium. And then the first part of the treble at 6A, too, fell – another fence he could afford. They jumped the rest of the treble clear, popped neatly, too, over 7 and 8 and the first part of the double at 9A. The crowd held their breath, but to no avail: the second part came down, and this time, he couldn’t afford it.

But he wasn’t done. After navigating the long swing back from 9B to 10 that, too, fell, as did the influential upright over the water tray on a related distance at 11. And, as he turned back to home, with just two more fences between himself and the finish, so, too, would the planks at the penultimate fence at 11. The pair left the arena with six fences on their score card – despite being tipped as statistically the best jumpers in the top five.

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

That meant that overnight leader Tim Price would go into the ring with two rails in hand, a worryingly short advantage: at each of Vitali’s four five-stars, plus the Tokyo Olympics, he’d had exactly three rails apiece. Tim, who has attributed the talented gelding’s problems in this phase to mental overwhelm, had spent the winter showjumping him in Spain and the morning session today riding him back and forth down the path to the in-gate in a dressage saddle, letting Vitali hear the noise of the crowd and trying to persuade him that, perhaps, he was just going in to do another test.

But for them, too, it would turn out to be a tough day in the office. Early on, fence three fell, giving him one left in hand, but then they cleared four, five, and the tough treble at 6ABC without issue. Seven and eight, too, were box-ticking exercises. And then, on their way to the double at 9AB, the distance looked to disappear on them, and Tim, desperately trying to salvage it, made a last-minute adjustment to the stride. They tipped the first element; the second stayed in situ, but now, they had nothing left in hand if they wanted to stay in first place.

The story would be told by fence 11, that influential water tray, and when they brought it down, they did it properly. The win – the culmination of a climb from first-phase seventh to second phase sixth to the very top of the leaderboard on the final day, was Caroline Powell’s.

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Is this an unexpected win for Caroline? Perhaps – it’s so rare, after all, to see the victor come from outside the top five, and just last year, she and the now-eleven-year-old Irish-bred mare finished in last place, having picked up 40 cross-country jumping penalties and a heaping helping of time, but committing, nonetheless, to an educational experience. But actually, really, it’s not at all unexpected. Caroline, for her part, is every inch a champion – in 2010, she won Burghley aboard the late, great grey Lenamore; in 2012, she contributed to a team bronze medal at the London Olympics for New Zealand with the little horse, who was then twenty years old. She’s been placed at the five-star level countless times, has ridden at two Olympics, has competed twice at the World Equestrian Games, and has been at the top level of this sport since making her debut at Burghley in 1999. That’s twenty-five whole years.

And with ‘Cavvy’? There’s been the fifth place finish at Pau, which came on the mare’s five-star debut in 2022, the seventh place finish at Aachen last summer, and a sixth place finish, too, at Maryland’s five-star last October. From the mare’s coming of age in the first year of the pandemic, when she finished in the top twenty at the Seven-Year-Old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers, Caroline’s been eyeing Paris. But to do this along the way? That was something that, perhaps, the 51-year-old competitor had begun to stop thinking could be a possibility.

“It never even entered my mind that I could win it,” she admits. “You know, you sort of get to an age where you start to ebb down a little bit and you think, ‘oh, this is my last time’. I’m saying to [groom] Tristan [Hudson], ‘don’t let me do this ever again!’, and then when entries are coming around, ‘I’m not entering!'”

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

But despite all that, she keeps showing up, and so, too, does her gutsy, game mare, who she rides for and co-owns with first-time owners and great friends Chris and Michelle Mann. The pair began their week in seventh place on a score of 30 and then, over yesterday’s influential track, added 13.2 time penalties in a round that writ large all the necessary lessons that Cav had learned over last year’s track. Today’s buoyant, brilliant round was the cherry atop the cake, even when Caroline thought she might ‘just’ climb to third place.

“She was absolutely amazing — I’m so privileged to ride such a good horse,” beams Caroline. “She’s just a true professional; you don’t really realise how good she is but she was really amazing. We were coming here with the hope of getting into the crowd, because she can be a wee bit leery, so we were sort of thinking that if we do get the chance to go to Paris then she needs to meet the atmosphere and she needs to just become a bit more rideable. So we were here to test the waters and train her and things — so to win it is incredible.”

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

That Paris ticket is looking very nearly like a sure thing for Caroline and Cav now, and even better, Caroline, who has been hard at work since the Lenamore heydays, showing up and battling through Badmintons and Burghleys with horses for whom it never quite happened, and who’s continued the long slog of training all day, every day, in every kind of weather, now has every reason to believe in her ‘why’ again. And that – fruitful decades within the sport as it changed from the old format to the new, and as her own career ebbed and flowed, and as she kept the faith in a horse that spent most of 2021 having 20s every time she went cross-country – represents the very best of what makes eventing so compelling.

“I never actually thought that it was ever even going to be a possibility, because you know, you go for so long and you have a great horse like Lenamore, and then you have nothing, really, to back it up and so you disappear for a while,” she says. “Cav has been quite consistent for the past couple of years, but she’s also has been quite tricky. To have her at this level now, though, is just amazing, and to have her so professional in her job, is just a dream come true.”

That thread of a narrative I’d started to write this morning about the ‘old guard’ passing the baton to the new did, then, actually happen, just in a slightly different way than intended. William’s rails dropped him down to eventual thirteenth – “it just wasn’t my day, was it,” he says, adding that this is, in fact, his last Badminton and his last five-star. “I won’t be coming back to Badminton now. I think that’s a shame to finish on a bit of a downer, but I’m cool with that. She’s a great horse, so I shall look forward to see what happens next, and I’ll do young ones,  so I’m going to carry on a bit. There’s no tears; I’m very matter-of-fact about it. I think it’s the right thing.”

Lucy Latta and RCA Patron Saint. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

That drop, plus Tim Price and Vitali’s slip down to eighth place, does pass the baton to the next generation, and the very newest of faces. Despite her two rails, Irish first-timer, one-horse rider, and amateur competitor Lucy Latta was still able to secure second place with RCA Patron Saint, closing out a dream week that saw them deliver the fastest round of the day over yesterday’s cross-country track in just their sixth start outside of Ireland.

“It’s something else in there — [the atmosphere], the crowds, when you’re warming up and the cheers and everything,” says Lucy. “It really does get the hairs on the back of your neck standing. I had a really good round – he was really jumping for me considering that was his first time [going cross country for] 11 minutes 19 and how big the fences were yesterday. O had a total rider error to fence three, so I’m really kicking myself about that: I sat up when I shouldn’t have, but that’s for me to learn from my mistake and I will do that the next time. But he jumped really well, and I’m really pleased with him.”

27-year-old Lucy, who works full-time as a brand manager for hard seltzer company White Claw and whose family, which includes cousins Esib and Robbie Power, who are a five-star eventer and a Grand National-winning jockey, respectively, and a grandfather who rode round Badminton and Burghley, is now looking ahead to a bid for even bigger things to come.

“I can dream about the Olympics –I would love to think I could go,” says the rider, whose finish completes a cumulative climb of 44 places from her first phase spot on the leaderboard. “He was phenomenal this week, and there’s still loads to improve on with him in the dressage, and things to clean up in the showjumping.”

Alexander Bragg and Quindiva. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Lucy’s wasn’t the only colossal climb of the week. After producing one of just three clears inside the time today, Alex Bragg and Quindiva were able to sit tight and wait for everyone above them to have rails – and ultimately, they climbed to third place from overnight tenth, having started the week in 51st place. They finished on the same score as Lucy and RCA Patron Saint, but as Lucy had fewer time penalties on her cross-country sheet, she took the leaderboard hierarchy.

Not that that’s dulling the shine of the day for farrier and five-star fan favourites Alex, who says with a broad grin, “we’re going to be living off this forever. I don’t think it’s sunk in for us – we’re just overwhelmed, and so pleased.”

Badminton, he admits, “seriously hasn’t always been my favourite event”, thanks to a string of bad luck and heartbreak at the competition, and so this, he says, “is a magic result. My dream was to be in the top ten with her, and to finish better than that is amazing – I’m speechless, for once.”

Alex’s prowess over today’s track came, in no small part, as the result of plenty of time spent doing pure showjumping with the catty mare, who has previously qualified to jump at the Horse of the Year Show.

“This mare is phenomenal at jumping,” he says. “I do a lot of jumping anyway, so I did go in confident, but it’s so easy to just tip a rail, and you always think, ‘have I got enough jump’? But she went in the ring, jumped fence one, and it was like, she is not touching a rail. It was only ever going to be my fault [if she had one]. And I remember coming to the final line, and I took this massive deep breath ,and I think the horse thought we finished — I was like, ‘don’t cop this, Alex, you’re nearly there!’  And then to finish clear was amazing, and to come back in is a surreal feeling — to think ‘okay, you know, top six is maybe on the cards’ and then it’s boom, boom, boom, boom. And then here you are, on the podium here with these girls, and the rest is history, so they say!”

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Emily King, too, has had so much prior bad luck at Badminton, including falling at the penultimate fence on her debut in 2016 while sitting second – but this week, she put all that behind her, delivering three excellent performances to take fourth place on her first completion here. Like Lucy, she, too, had two rails – a surprise for her very good-jumping horse, Valmy Biats, who’s only had one rail in an FEI event since 2022 — but was delighted with how the French-bred gelding finished the event.

“He jumped phenomenally – he touched number two, touched going through the treble, but he  jumped so good generally, and God, I’m so pleased with him,” says Emily. “Just to finish is amazing. I just love him, and I’m so proud of him – he’s never run super quick and then jumped on the last day on the grass, so it’s his first time doing that, and I’m just thrilled with him.”

Jonelle Price and Grappa Nera. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tom Jackson climbed three places to finish fifth with Capels Hollow Drift after knocking just one rail, while Jonelle Price and her 2022 Pau winner Grappa Nera, too, had one rail to finish sixth. Both riders had been equal 22nd after dressage.

Seventh place went the way of Tom Rowland and Dreamliner, who completed their first five-star together – and just their ninth run as a partnership – with a clear and 0.8 time penalties to finish their climb from first-phase 29th. That made it a very happy birthday indeed for owner and breeder Angela Chamberlayne, who has also bred two full-siblings to the gelding.

Tom Rowland and Dreamliner. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

“He’s magic,” says Tom, who took the reins from Oliver Townend fifteen months ago. “He hasn’t had a fence down in a long, long time. I watched this morning and it was quite chaotic, and I thought, ‘well, it doesn’t matter, you can go have a couple down, that’s still a respectable score’. But he’s been jumping really, really well and that’s down to Jay Halim who I’ve been going to, who builds some beastie courses in his arena.”

Tim Price’s eighth place might not be quite where he’d hoped to finish, but a fifth top-ten finish at this level in five starts with Vitali is no small accomplishment – and to manage that finish even with five rails is a testament to the difficulty of today’s track.

“Man, that’s disappointing,” says Tim. “That’s going to hurt, because he’s been going so well and I’ve just been trying different things. He’s different on day three [of a three-day] to a one-day. He had four out of four clear rounds in his build up to this. But once he had that early rail, which is probably him on a good day in this environment, I think we got away with a bit of breathing on a couple but he was jumping okay. Then, just after that triple, I I took quite a quick one in over the triple bar, but I’m used to him be him more reactive to come back, so I was prepared to just fiddle him back, and I thought that would actually help at the double. But he just kept tanking, got under hollow and then took it out at the knees and that just totally rattled us.”

Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Ninth place went to Pippa Funnell and her 2023 Bramham winner, the tricky-brained MCS Maverick, who knocked two rails, but for whom the rider felt nothing but abject pride.

“I’m really pleased, because I feel he’s had a great experience, he’s learnt an awful lot — and I’m going to have to keep going a bit longer, with a horse like him,” she laughs. “I’m not going to be defeated! He’s only a ten year old, and he’s got plenty of ability, and hopefully we can keep channelling it and keep developing strength.”

Bubby Upton and Cola. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The top ten is rounded out by Bubby Upton and Cola, who completed their five-star comeback after Bubby’s horrific fall last August that saw her spend the later part of last year relearning how to walk. Their incredible week was capped off with one of those three clear rounds inside the time – a fairytale finish for the two-time British Under-25 National Champion.

“What a horse,” she says through tears. “I’ve said it time and time again, but he just jumped his socks off out there, and he’s been faultless all week. I’m just as proud as punch of what he’s gone and done this week after everything we’ve been through.”

Grace Taylor and Game Changer. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Grace Taylor finished best of the North American contingent, tipping two rails to finish 18th with Game Changer, while Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl had three to take 25th and close the door on Tiana’s return to this event for the first time in a decade.

“I’m really, really proud of her,” she says. “She came out today really well, and she jumped really well. We made some mistakes, she had some rails, but actually, as far as the horse has come through this competition and her ability, moving forward, it’s really exciting.There was no lack of jump today, and no lack of carefulness and willingness, just some adjustments I should have made to how I rode her to make it play out differently for her — but I’m just so excited that I have a Badminton horse that’s on such good form. Hopefully we get more goes at this in the future.”

Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The next go, she says, will, with any luck, come this autumn: “The obvious choice is Burghley,” she says, “but I have this pipe dream of taking her to Maryland. but that would, of course, require a lot of fundraising which is probably not realistic when Burghley is up the road from us. So that would be the pipe dream, but I think one way or another, this weekend has proved what I probably thought for a while, which is that she’s a proper 5* horse and hopefully now, our job is to keep her on the road for a long career.”

Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Canada’s Jessie Phoenix completed her Badminton debut with Wabbit in 30th place after tipping six rails, but her overriding feeling was one of pride in her ex-racehorse’s deep well of try.

“Definitely we were looking for less rails, but honestly, the heart that that horse has is just tremendous,” she says. “Even to be here completing his first Badminton, we’re just thrilled. Coming to Badminton is like things dreams are made of, and I was saying that with his owners just after the show jumping round. I’m like, ‘he did it!’ He was all class yesterday — his cross country round was just an amazing feeling, and he was so proud of himself. Honestly, he’s really proud of himself right now. He thinks that he’s just the champion.”

Cosby Green and Copper Beach. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Cosby Green finished her own Badminton debut just behind Jessie in 31st place, adding seven rails to her scorecard with 18-year-old Copper Beach.

“It was definitely not the round I was looking for, but we completed!” she says. “He was a star yesterday, and just came out a bit fresher than anticipated today. That’s a nice problem, but he was just running through me. It’s good to know he was feeling good.”

Boyd Martin, too, had a slightly bittersweet finish to his up-and-down week – he tipped two rails with Tsetserleg, who began the week in fourth place but dropped down the leaderboard with jumping penalties on cross-country, and took a final 34th place. But, in doing so, he became just the second rider ever to complete all seven global five-stars – an achievement only previously logged by fellow competitor Tim Price.

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

“I’m obviously a bit heartbroken from yesterday, but he jumped well in there,” says Boyd. “I would have loved to have gone clear, or have one down, but this is his harder phase, and it felt like he actually jumped good. A part of me is devastated, but part of me is still pleased with the horse, because the event was not perfect, but there were bits and pieces that felt like Thomas is at the best he’s ever been. You always have dreams of being right in there at the last minute and jumping first thing on Sunday morning is not what I had envisioned, but half the world’s fighting over a bowl of rice. So we will go home and get stuck back into it and come back again and try again.”

Now, he’s thinking ahead to another crack at five-star with the seasoned 17-year-old, and perhaps one closer to home.

“The Turner family [who own him] have been very generous to me in flying him around the world,” says Boyd. “Part of me thinks that we’ll probably head towards Maryland. It’s one of the 5*s he hasn’t done and it’s 20 minutes down the road from my house, rather than being in Europe. I still feel like the horse has got a bit left in the tank — he doesn’t feel old or used up and I feel like he’s still enjoying himself, and I feel like there’s parts of his performances where we’re getting the best work out of him. Then, obviously, there’s a few parts where I’ve got to ride him a bit better and he’s still got some weak points, but he’s a champion horse and to be in his seventh year of 5* is a huge credit to the heart and toughness and soundness of this horse.”

Of his own accomplishment in completing all the world’s five-stars, he says, “It’s been a long road. I started doing this when I was 19 years old and they were long formats and I didn’t wear a body protector cross country. I was wild, and young, and staying up late, and partying all night, and coming out for the show jumping — and now I’ve got grey hair and I’m a bit stiff and sore and I’ve got three kids. It’s what I live for, though. I really thrive on these 5*s, especially these classic ones. I think all the 5*s are unique; they’re all different. They’ve all got a different flavour. Right from the first one, with Flying Doctor back in 2000, I knew what I was put on this earth for.”

And so, with that, we come to the end of another Badminton – a birthday for the event, and a chance to celebrate all the different ways that greatness can manifest itself. From the returning champion who believed she might have disappeared into the dust of the history books to the newcomer who just wanted to give it a go and found herself on top of the world; from the comeback kid who wouldn’t let herself be broken to the living legend who was always going to bid farewell to the top level on his own terms; from the horses who tried so hard and learned so much and might not feature in the reports this week, but who could come back from last place to take the win in 2025.

It’s been a fitting finale to an important year. We can’t wait for the next one.

Go Eventing.

The top ten of the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials.

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One Horse Spun and Three Withdrawals at MARS Badminton Final Horse Inspection

Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s always remarkable just how many people pitch up to watch Sunday morning’s early final horse inspection at the MARS Badminton Horse Trials. Unfazed by an unsociable waking hour, nor by the unique kind of fatigue that sets in after a long day of walking around a cross-country course and breathlessly following the action, they arrive in droves, packing the stands, sprawling across the grass, and, really, really unnervingly, spontaneously bursting into loud laughter.

Our best guess is that they were all equipped with Badminton Radio earpieces, which must have been broadcasting heretofore unheard levels of sass, but for those us without the radio on the go, it was a bit like this: a rider and their horse would appear, grim-faced with determination after a long evening of icing and maintenance and very little sleep, probably nursing a zesty little hangover from last night’s lakeside party. They would square up to meet the ground jury, comprised of president Sandy Phillips, Christian Steiner, and Jane Hamlin, and, once given the nod, they’d step forward to begin their presentation. And then, the laughter would begin, rippling through the crowd and swiftly gaining in decibels, while the person on show no doubt felt a shiver of panic that perhaps they’d tucked their skirt into the back of their knickers after a quick trip to the loo. In all, a weird sort of experience for everybody, frankly.

Harry Mutch and HD Bronze. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But it wasn’t all laughs at the front facade of Badminton House. Two horses were sent to the holding box throughout the course of proceedings, and neither will proceed to showjumping: Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy, who delivered the best round of their partnership yesterday to climb from 53rd to 13th place, opted to withdraw from the box, while Harry Mutch and HD Bronze, who were thrilled to log their first five-star clear round and sat 29th overnight, re-presented but were not accepted into the competition.

Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our field is further thinned by two withdrawals ahead of the horse inspection. Those came from yesterday’s pathfinders, Tom Jackson and Farndon, who were 14th overnight, and Helen Martin and Andreas, who were 37th. Tom will now ride just one horse today – 2022 Burghley runner-up Capels Hollow Drift, with whom he sits eighth.

That gives us a final field of 37 horses and riders to tackle Phillip Kelvin Bywater’s showjumping track. The first seventeen of these will jump from 11.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. EST) in the main arena, while the top twenty will head to battle from 2.55 p.m. (9.55 a.m. EST), following a parade of competitors and a band display over lunch.

It’s going to be a particularly exciting day in the office, because much of our top ten is peppered with horses with varying showjumping form. Overnight leaders Tim Price and Vitali are on two-phase score of 31.7, giving them just a 1.3 penalty margin over second-placed William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht – that’s three seconds in hand, but nothing more. William, for his part, has a rail in hand over third-placed five-star debutant and one-horse rider Lucy Latta and her RCA Patron Saint, who became overnight superstars after producing the fastest round of the day yesterday. Fourth-placed Emily King and Valmy Biats are 6.3 penalties away from the lead, which translates in real-world terms to a rail and six seconds, but they’re the best-rated jumpers at the business end of the field, and our pals at EquiRatings tell us that William has the highest win chance today. That would certainly be a poignant finish: William has floated the idea that this may be his last Badminton, and finishing on a victory would be extraordinarily sweet. He’s previously won here twice, in 2004 and 2015, and he’s the rider with the most five-star wins in eventing history, with fourteen to his credit so far.

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But will it be that simple? After all, Grafennacht had three rails down here last year, though the ground conditions were more testing and horses were certainly more tired on the final day than they can feasibly be expected to be today. Leaders Tim and Vitali are achingly familiar with the three-rail round, too – they’ve done just that in all four of their previous five-stars, and at the Tokyo Olympics, but have been hard at work jumping in Spain over the winter. Lucy Latta had three rails apiece in three of her five FEI runs last season; in the other two, she had one rail. But her sole FEI run this season before Badminton saw her jump clear, and she’s spent five weeks this spring based with her cousin and coach Esib Power, who has show jumped at the top level alongside her own five-star eventing career, so we could be about to see the result of that intensive boot camp in action. Emily and Valmy have had just one rail in an FEI class since Pau in 2022, but that rail did come at a five-star: they tipped it at Burghley last season.

The very best five-stars are the ones that throw up new stories and great leaps up the leaderboard on each day of competition. Yesterday was one of those days, and we suspect today may well be one of them, too. Keep it locked onto EN for live updates throughout today’s competition, and a full report of everything that went down, with insights from the riders, once we’ve crowned our 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials champion. Until then: Go Eventing.

The top ten after cross-country at the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials.

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An Emboldening Day for the Sport: Tim Price Takes the Lead on Vintage Badminton Cross-Country Day

Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift demonstrate the incredible scale of the Badminton fences. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It’s been a golden day of cross-country at the MARS Badminton Horse Trials, and not just because the sun shone merrily all day, steadily working the ground back to something like decent going – it’s also, from top to bottom, been a great showcase for our sport, with just one horse fall recorded. That came late in the day for Wills Oakden and his second ride, A Class Cooley, and was only a horse fall by the rules: the pair found a tricky distance to the final skinny stump at the Lightsource bp Mound at 26ABCD, and pecked on landing. The gelding stumbled, pitching onto his front end, and while his shoulder did touch the ground – the requirement to be considered a horse fall by FEI rules – his hind end remained upright and he swiftly righted himself, sans rider.

And so, that one relatively undramatic moment aside, there was much to celebrate. Problems were spread evenly across the course, with Huntsman’s Close at 7 providing the most action – ten riders faulted there – the Lightsource bp Mound at 26 not far behind with nine, the Sunken Road at 20 causing eight, six at the Lake at 10, and the LeMieux Eyelashes coffin complex at 15 causing three problems. The ground, which had raised so many question marks over the last few days – would it be holding, or very variable, or dead underfoot? – certainly did play a part, with riders having to manage their horses’ energy levels sensibly, but it was better than expected and improved throughout the day, yielding an average 16.3 time penalties, or just shy of 41 seconds over the time, and 32 of our 62 starters jumped clear, giving a 51.6% clear rate and a 66.1% completion rate. We’ll head into tomorrow morning’s final horse inspection with a field of 41, overnight withdrawals notwithstanding.

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

But that’s tomorrow, and right now, we’re all about today. Though our pathfinders, Tom Jackson and Farndon, made the course look straightforward with a steady clear that bolstered the overarching feeling of positivity around the place, the day absolutely exerted its influence, and we end it with a new leader in the clubhouse. New Zealand’s Tim Price and Vitali now hold the top spot, having added just 4 time penalties – theirs was the fourth fastest round of the day – to climb up from overnight third.

The door was opened for that upward move by two significant moments. The first came for overnight runner-up Bubby Upton, who rode as though she’d never had the horrendous injury that saw her spend the end of last year relearning to walk: she and Cola looked a picture around Eric Winter’s track, finishing with 15.6 time penalties but, more crucially, with a frustrating 11 jumping penalties, too, for activating a MIMclip at fence 21, a silver birch rail set just back from a lip at the top of an incline. That drops her to eighteenth overnight.

And then it was the turn of last year’s champion, Ros Canter, who led the dressage with her 2023 Pau winner, Izilot DHI. That she had a MIM activation of her own at the deformable upright A element of the Lake at 10ABCD was a shock; that she went on to have a run-out at the final element, perhaps even more so. But the fact that she then opted to put her hand up and retire after circling back and giving the relatively inexperienced horse a confidence-boosting pop over the final skinny wasn’t at all – she’d been vocal after her leading dressage test that she intended to set out competitively but with a completely open mind, and would be ready to put her hand up the moment she felt her historically quirky, spooky, but hugely talented young horse might be overfaced.

“I’m very philosophical and positive about the whole thing,” she says. “It was always going to be a question mark as to how ‘Isaac’ was going to cope with the day today, and he didn’t quite cope with it. That’s absolutely fine — he went pretty spooky on the run up to the Lake, and then it just set the tone and that tends to be what happens with Isaac. Once he’s lost it, suddenly lots of things that aren’t normally spooky became extremely spooky, and that’s fine. But he’s a class horse, and I think the world of him. He’s one of the world’s best. We know what he’s like — he’s been like this all along. We either win or we don’t and when we don’t, we do it in very dramatic fashion. So at least you’ll remember him, one way or another!”

And so it’s all eyes on Tim and Vitali, now – a position they’ve been in before. They led the first two phases at Burghley last year, where they ultimately finished fourth after a three-rail round on the final day. That’s a work in progress – the gelding has had three rails at each of his four five-stars, and at the Tokyo Olympics — but Tim’s been hard at work on it, jumping the gelding in Spain over the winter and looking excellent in that phase at Thoresby CCI4*-S this spring, where he jumped clear in a tight arena. He’ll need that good juju to continue in order to take the win: he goes into jumping on a two-phase score of 31.7, which gives him a leading margin of just 1.3 penalties – that’s just three seconds in hand, but certainly not a rail.

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

There may be a question mark looming over tomorrow, but today was another masterclass from the 14-year-old gelding and his world-class rider, who have never finished out of the top ten in those four five-stars thus far.

“He’s proper cross country horse, isn’t he,” says Tim with a grin. “I was just saying to Austin [O’Connor], it’s just so nice that even with these ones that have been around a few five-stars, they just keep getting better with knowing what it’s like to be pushing towards the end, and recognising themselves in that way, and just keeping on giving. And that’s what he did. He keeps thinking, he keeps getting in the air when it’s important, and he’s just a thrill to ride.”

Tim had a late draw – he left the start box after three p.m., three-and-a-half hours into the action, and while that can be a tough situation to manage with rather a lot of time to wait and worry, he used it to his advantage. Most pertinently, we saw that in action at fence 17AB and 18, the MARS Sustainability Bay water, which featured an upright rail to a drop in at 17AB and then a log at 18, placed perpendicular to the drop. Very nearly all the field opted to run up out of the water and, rather than turning at the last stride to find the line and pop the log on an angle, throw in a right-handed turn and circle back to jump it straight, which wouldn’t incur penalties as it was a separately-numbered fence. But Tim, having watched that so many times and having seen a couple of decent attempts at the straight route, decided to trust his horse, his line, and his process, and took it on directly, saving himself several seconds in the process.

“It’s hard, because we all say we want to watch some but don’t want to watch too many, and you don’t want to wait, but I just tried to keep making that a bit of an advantage,” he says. “You know, you’re not afraid to change your plan. I walked the course this morning and the ground was better than I expected, but then it rode a bit softer, and these are things we learn a little bit from the way that horses are dealing with them. So things sort of changed and manoeuvred; I walked with my good mate, [Brazilian Olympian] Carlos Parro, this morning. He’s really helpful — I find him very positive, and he’s got a good eye for the through-the-horse’s-ears kind of look at fences, and so that was really beneficial as well. But mostly, it’s just been a good day of quietly waiting till 3:13 this afternoon.”

Tim Price and Vitali arrive home in fine style. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though Tim and Vitali’s class-leading round at Burghley last year was excellent on paper, Tim felt at the time that the horse didn’t feel as good as he perhaps could have on that run. This time, though, he was much happier with the feeling underneath him – an improvement that he attributes to changes in the gelding’s management.

“It’s just worked really well this time. We’ve got his body, his stomach, and the looking after him working well this time, and then he’s had good preparation,” says Tim. “We’ve had four good runs, which have all been in the soft ground, which in a way it turns out to be an advantage when you come here and you’re a little more on top of the ground, so I think that feels good for the horses. It was just a good run in. Burghley wasn’t the best run; we lost Gatcombe [in August], and that’s [a competition that] really sets them up beautifully for Burghley, but this time he’s had all his gallops and he’s felt very good. I think hopefully we’ll stay in a good stead for the three phases.”

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

William Fox-Pitt, who has been such a mainstay at this event since his debut in 1989, has been floating the idea that this might be the last time we’ll see him here — “it should be, shouldn’t it?” he mused after his dressage test – and if that’s the case, then he’s making sure he ends his reign on a high. He’ll go into tomorrow’s final day of competition in second place after nipping around the track for just 2.4 time penalties with his 2023 Maryland runner-up Grafennacht, returning home to the collecting ring to an electric wave of collective emotion and fondness.

“How lucky am I to have her in my swansong era?” he says. “Sometimes, you know, she really makes me feel like I can ride. I saw some long ones and I didn’t pull the reins. That was quite exciting! Particularly number one, I thought ‘bullseye!’ because I hook and pop number one like ‘here we go, nicely, all very calm.’ But I took a good shot, and she was cool there. I’m very proud that she did the job.”

Coming back elated isn’t always a given, as William well knows: there are the wins, such as those he logged in 2004 and 2015, and there are the retirements, the eliminations, the penalty-riddled rounds, and the ones, too, that come so close to being great but for the niggling little regrets. Today, though, there was only joy and pride in a job well done.

“So many Badmintons are ‘if onlys’ or ‘I wish I had’ or ‘I could have’ or ‘I should have’,” he says. “So I’m just so chuffed. She nailed it today, and I’m happy.”

William came achingly close to catching the time, but decided to play it safe, as nearly all today’s competitors did, and add a loop to the final element of the MARS Sustainability Bay water – a choice he doesn’t regret at all.

“She lost no time in the second half — the only time she lost was going the long route [at 18] and that was my three time faults. I’m afraid that was six seconds, wasn’t it? If not more? And I made that choice — I’m still right that I made it. But purely, I thought, ‘I don’t want any stupid ifs — ‘why didn’t I go long like everyone else?’ ‘Why didn’t I see that?’ I was totally going to go straight this morning. She would have gone straight, but what if you go home with a runout — I’ve done that enough times, so you know what? I’m sacrificing. At least tonight, I won’t be going ‘bollocks!'”

The rest, he says, “rode well, and I’m surprised that the ground rode as well as it did. I said yesterday, I think it’s a clever course. It was demanding, it was relentless with the S bending, testing that shoulder control, that straightness. But they’re always so good here with lovely big flags — I think that’s always a real Badminton flag. You know you’re here, but the flags certainly give you a bit more of a tunnel. You’ll go off to Luhmuhlen, and you’ll get a pokey one down there that they’re kind of hoping you don’t see. But at Badminton, they are there for the riding and I think that does make you get on it.”

William Fox-Pitt and wife Alice celebrate a super day in the office. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Everywhere around the course, William got the sense that the twelve-year-old, who finished fourteenth here last year and who’s the first mare he’s ever ridden at this event, was giving him her all.

“I missed a bit in the bottom of the Quarry [at 4AB and 5], but that was probably good to sharpen us both back up,” he laughs. “She was really good over the Eyelash coffin [at15abc], Because I thought she could well have thought that ditch was rather horrendous and straightened up to it, and it would have been a hell of an angle, but she stayed on her line there. I kept on saying to myself ‘shorten my reins!’ — I know my reins got a bit long, but she didn’t need any reins, did she? She would’ve gone around in a head collar! Anyone could ride her – she’s a good old man’s conveyance.”

Though Grafennacht finished last year’s Badminton with three rails down, that came after a much more gruelling run around the cross-country, and on ground in the showjumping arena that was much tougher than tomorrow’s is likely to be. Ordinarily, she tends to be more of a one-or-none horse; she had one on the final day at Maryland in October, but there are no out-and-out showjumpers in the current top ten, and so the competition remains, achingly, excitingly, enormously wide open.

“I’ve not been [in this position] in a while – tomorrow I’ll have to wake up!” says William.

Lucy Latta and RCA Patron Saint. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

In an anniversary year, as it is this year at Badminton, there’s naturally even more of a focus on the rich history of a competition such as this – but while the intricate threads of the past are so important, so, too, is the future of the sport.

That future was represented in fine fashion by a name that won’t be familiar even to many committed fans of the sport, who propelled herself firmly into the spotlight after delivering one of the most exceptional rounds of the day today. Ireland’s Lucy Latta isn’t just a Badminton first-timer, nor is she just a five-star debutant – she’s also a one-horse rider, who fits in training and competing her horse, RCA Patron Saint, around a full-time job as brand manager for drinks company White Claw.

But, she says, “I think whenever anyone here is like, ‘I have a full time job’ or anything like that, they’re like ‘oh, you’re an amateur.’ I don’t look at it like that. I have two jobs and I do both very professionally — as professionally as I can. So I wouldn’t let myself off the hook as easy as being like, ‘I can make a mistake because I’m an amateur’ — I don’t think like that at all. And I don’t think you can coming somewhere like here — you have to be in it and focused and really determined to get from point A to point B.”

Riding just one horse means, too, that she knows him inside and out – a great benefit when tackling the biggest, toughest course of one’s life.

“There’s pros and cons to it. Like, I’m not away at any events for weeks at a time. I get to train, me and him, all the time, all year round, so it means our partnership is extremely strong.”

The strength of that partnership certainly helped 27-year-old Lucy and ‘Paddy’ today: they delivered the fastest round of the day, coming in just one second over the time to add 0.4 to their first-phase score of 37.2, boosting them an incredible 43 places up the leaderboard to overnight third. She’s now 4.2 penalties behind William, giving him a rail in hand but nothing more.

“He was amazing out there, like, he just gallops all day long,” she says. “He didn’t look at any of the crowds. I wasn’t sure, because he hasn’t done a five-star before at an event of this calibre with the crowd out there — it’s just insane. But he stayed listening to me the whole way. He was so adjustable, so brave and just gave me everything that he had. I mean, I had every faith in the horse cross country, and to pull it off is something else. I would have taken hands and all if you told me we’d be in this position when we started the week.”

Staying up on the clock in the early part of the course was a key part of Lucy’s very near capturing of the time.

“I have blind faith in this horse, and I know he’d stay galloping, so I didn’t want to give away any time around the good ground in the first few minutes of the course,” she says. “I knew I’d be able to give him a breather if he needed more air in his lungs and to take time on the way home. I knew he’d get the trip. And it helped that I’d done Blair [Castle 4*L] — I finished fourth last year — and that was soft ground and it’s extremely hilly there. Granted, it’s a minute and 20 seconds shorter, and the fences were not as big as here, but I just had so much faith that he would get the trip.”

Also helpful is that looking at Lucy aboard Paddy isn’t at all dissimilar to the happy old sight of Ros Canter aboard her lanky World Champion, the late Allstar B.

“I’m only five foot two, which helps, and I’ve gotten myself as lean as I possibly can just so that those last few minutes would be made a lot easier on him,” she says. “I felt he needed a breather up at the top, jumping those three brush fences and the gate [at 28ABC and 29]. I felt like, ‘okay, maybe I’m just going to have to ease off him coming home’, and when he turned the hill and came back down and saw the crowds, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, he’s actually full of running’. I’ve every faith going to any event now that he’s well able to get the trip, and he’s able through these type of fences. It’s consistently so much bigger, every fence, than what you would get at four-star long. Of course, those aren’t small, but this is just a whole other level, and he’s just a professional at this phase.”

Horses might not be Lucy’s full-time occupation, but they’re certainly in her blood: her grandfather evented at top level, her mother evented at junior level, and her cousins Robbie and Esib Power are a top-level jockey and a top-level eventer, respectively. Esib, she explains, has been a particularly significant influence on her riding.

“[Esib] has been an amazing coach to me,” she says. “I’ve been based there for the five weeks in the lead up to the event. She’s given me so much advice and guidance on all aspects — dressage, cross country, getting them fit for show jumping. She’s a phenomenal coach — she’s done six Badmintons and is a brilliant rider in her own right. She has just helped me tremendously. I can’t thank her enough.”

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Badminton is an extraordinary physical challenge, but one of the major tasks in nailing down an excellent performance is managing your headspace – and that’s even harder when in a competitive position at an event you’ve historically had bad luck at. That was the case for Emily King, who’s had more than her fair share of rotten luck at this fixture, and who still made the noble call last year to put her hand up when she felt Valmy Biats tire in the final third of the course, despite knowing she could retain a very good placing if she pushed him through it. And so karma, perhaps, owed her a good turn — and today, it came. She pulled off a remarkable feat of mental compartmentalisation to deliver an excellent, quick clear with the gelding, adding 8.8 time penalties to move up one place to overnight fourth.

“To be honest, I try not to think about the fact I’ve never finished before and more think — this sounds a bit silly — but it’s another competition,” she says. “So you have to try and just do what you know works. And I thought, at Thoresby he was awesome in the mud, and he really jumped around the dimensions of Burghley, which was the biggest he’s done. So I really tried to concentrate on the things I know make his performance go well, rather than get a bit swept away with ‘you’re at Badminton, you haven’t finished before’. I look at it this time, and try and just focus. I felt so nicely in sync with him that then, he could really concentrate on the little bits rather than having to work too hard and it all becoming a bit blurred.”

But, she says, “I’m not going to lie, I was thinking about it coming up that last avenue to the big roll top! I was like ‘you’re nearly there, don’t mess it up, come on!’ And there, I just let him gallop in between, but I wanted to really just set him up. I thought, you know, ‘I’ve got to this point before; I’ve just been a bit free and a bit brave [Emily fell at the penultimate fence in 2016 while in second place]. I thought ‘no, I want to get home — I want to be quick, I want to be competitive, but I want to get home’, and I think just giving him that extra lifeline helped his balance. He so wants to jump around, he wants to do a good job, so it’s up to me to just help his balance, and I’m glad I didn’t let him down.”

That balance is the key factor, she explains, to getting the very best out of the scopey gelding.

“He’s an incredible cross country horse, and the only mistakes we’ve had is when he’s actually too brave,” she says. “I’ve come and I’ve overridden and it’s gotten us into trouble, but it’s bloomin’ hard going out round there. You just want to just sit back and kick and kick. But with Val, it can cause problems. I’ve got to really hold his balance, be a touch extra balanced, and a touch cautious but whilst going quick — which, when you haven’t done a huge amount of five stars, you’ve got to just really believe in his scope. I tried to do that and he was incredible. He galloped so well at the end; I didn’t have to chase him. He just felt so within himself. It was actually fun!”

This season has seen Val looking on the form of his life: he and Emily won the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S at Thoresby for the second year running, and much of his success on softer ground can be contributed to how he’s managed at home. He lives out 24/7 on variable footing and terrain, and much of his galloping work, too, is done on grass, no matter the weather.

“He’s been so lucky having had a few runs this spring on the soft going. We’re so lucky at home — my partner’s parents let us gallop on the grass there, and I think he’s galloping in the sticky going at home, he’s used to, he’s conditioned. He’s not going on the all-weather gallops with a little incline. He’s so fit, and I think he’s come here and he’s within himself, rather than halfway round finding it a bit tiring. I’m really thankful to be able to get him that fit, but obviously, you can get them as fit as possible at home, and as fit as possible around the four shorts and the Advanceds — but the five stars, they just stretch them. Stretch their lungs, stretch their bodies and they come out and just find it that bit easier. And he did find it easy, which was lovely.”

Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

At the FEI European Eventing Championships last year, a little-known, low-mileage horse was handed the pathfinder role – and despite ground conditions even tougher than that year’s Badminton, diminutive Grantstown Jackson and his rider, Ireland’s Sarah Ennis, skimmed right over the top of the sticky mud and nipped home with just a couple of time penalties to show for it and no obvious diminishing of the petrol levels in his tank.

Today, they did just the same again in the gelding’s sophomore five-star start. They added just 3.6 time penalties to record the third-fastest round of the day, propelling them from 42nd overnight to fifth going into the final day of competition — and smashed every expectation that last year’s Europeans had placed on their shoulders.

“I’m so proud of him,” says Sarah. “He lived up to his name after Europeans. There’s been a pressure on about that: everyone’s like, ‘Oh, he’ll make the time, he’s so fast.’ I was just on it everywhere; he made it feel so easy.”

His easy speed, she says, comes down to “light feet, and the engine within him – he’s 80% blood with a Thoroughbred mother. He’s very funny at the first gallop of the year — he’ll bolt up the gallops, and you just let him go because there’s no point — when he gets to the top he’ll stop. He just has this will to run. When he was broken, he ran off a lot, and that’s the thing — he just likes running. He’s like Forrest Gump! That’s him. He loves running. He loves galloping. And he just got faster and faster. All the time I went, ‘good boy Jackie boy,’ and you feel him going ‘Oh, that’s okay, I did well’ and move on to the next one. You don’t want to go out of the startbox and put the gun to their head and think ‘we have to be the fastest’. I just decided I had to go out, let him hit up the rhythm, and then try and stay there as much as you can with straight routes. Because it just goes wrong when you’re chasing at the start. You just have to level your head.”

Sarah and Jackson’s scant time penalties came as the result of one long route: like much of the field, they chose to add in a circle to the separately-numbered final element at the MARS Sustainability Bay water.

“That was definitely our nine seconds, but I just didn’t want to take the chance at 18 with a little skinny log,” says Sarah. “He just wouldn’t be so cool when you adjust the last stride — h likes to be left alone. But what a cross country machine, like with no ‘oh shit moments’, as I call them, which was amazing around a track like that. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s incredible, but he took a long time to mature, and now he’s the ultimate machine. So I’d say to people out there who think that it’s not working, to actually hang on in there. Especially with Irish horses — they get better and better and better, and you end up with this.”

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

One of the dominant themes of the day has been progression from this time one year ago, when horses and riders alike had to battle through extraordinarily tough conditions and many crossed the finish line with uncharacteristic penalties on their scoresheet, or didn’t cross it at all after their riders decided to call it a day.

One of the horses in the former camp was then-ten-year-old Greenacres Special Cavalier who, despite having jumped clear around her five-star debut at Pau the autumn prior for fifth place, picked up green jumping penalties early on the course. But rather than retiring, Caroline Powell decided to use the rest of the round to give her talented young mare experience of longer distances, trickier combinations, and the intense atmosphere of the Badminton course, and by the time the pair finished, ‘Cavvy’ looked to have matured considerably.

Since then, she’s gone from strength to strength: she finished in the top seven at CHIO Aachen, won a CCI4*-S at Ballindenisk, and then travelled across the Atlantic to Maryland 5*, where she finished sixth. And today, on her return to Badminton, she completed the circle, starting the course with the maturity she finished it with last year and looking throughout like a horse with years more mileage than she actually has. They ultimately crossed the finish line 33 seconds over the 11:19 optimum time, adding 13.2 time penalties to their tally and stepping up one place on the leaderboard to sixth.

“She enjoyed that, didn’t she? I think probably a bit more than I did!” laughs Caroline. “She loved it — this is the day she enjoys. She didn’t even notice the ground, which I didn’t think she would, as it’s drying out all the time.”

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Caroline was one of the few riders to do the straight route at 17AB and 18, the MARS Sustainability Bay – but initially, she’d actually planned to add in the loop to the log that we saw so many other riders do today.

“I did have a rethink about the tree after watching Tim and Jonelle do the skinny thing so beautifully,” she admits. “I thought, ‘hmm, we might give that one a shot!’ But everything else was bang on [my initial plan]. She took a few tired steps just coming home and then she came through [the finish] and she’s just tanking [the grooms] home. So we’ll have to go home and calm her down!”

Caroline was also one of the first starters of the day with five-star debutant CBI Aldo, who she opted to retire at fence 20, the sunken road, after picking up jumping penalties there and at Huntsman’s Close – but he, too, will have benefitted from the exposure the day gave him, she says.

“I think the hard thing now is we’ve lost the Gatcombes, and we’ve lost the big atmosphere events, which is why I wanted to bring the other one here — just to give him that experience and bring him home safe. He’ll come out a better horse the next day,” she says. “He just went out a degree greener, and after his round, we then rewalked a few of the lines because they were very tricky. For her they were very easy, but that’s experience and that’s why both of them here. She’s had quite a good trip: we went to Maryland, she did Aachen, and she absolutely adored them — she just loves people and she loves showing off, which is a great attribute to a horse, isn’t it? She’s a bit of a diva!”

The consistency that Cavvy is showing now is a sweet payoff to a considered, committed development programme that previous Burghley champion Caroline has had her on since her international career began in 2019.

“She had her time of being quite tricky at 4* level, and we just kept running her and she kept making mistakes — and now she’s looking for the flags and she’s helping me out and doing her job, so it was well worth it,” she says. “We had a horrible year [in 2021] of having too many 20s to actually bring her through [the levels] and just let her learn. They’re not good horses until they’ve been here three or four times.”

Felix Vogg and Cartania. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

As just the eighth rider out of the box, Swiss five-star winner Felix Vogg had limited intel to take to the track with him, but he didn’t need it: his own plan was so robust, and so based around his own horse, that he was able to deliver the best round of the competition at that point with Cartania and show the riders to come that there was, perhaps, more that could be done on course than initially assumed.

“She was a bit strong at the beginning but she’s so clever,” says Felix, who felt that cleverness in full effect when he opted to take the seldom-used direct route out of the water at the MARS Sustainability Bay at 17AB and 18. The catty mare hung her left leg, but quickly rotated her shoulder to get out of her own way and landed safely.

“I didn’t hear that anyone was doing the loop – they all pretended like they would go straight,” says Felix with a laugh. “She jumped really well in — I’d said I’d only go the long way when she stumbles a bit, or something else happens, or she’s empty. But we walked it that way, and I rode it a bit different. I rode it a bit more direct. She left a little bit of leg, but she was really clever. That is a good thing about her — she really has her own opinion of what she wants to do, but at the end, when she comes in trouble, she still helps herself.”

The pair kept up a high cruising speed around the course, finishing with by far the fastest time at that early stage for just 10.8 time penalties and a move-up from equal fifteenth to seventh – but in hindsight Felix, who finished fifteenth here last year with the mare, felt that he could have made up even more time across the breadth of the track.

“I’m just a bit frustrated, because she had so much left when I came home,” he admits. “I’m a bit angry with myself that I didn’t go a bit faster earlier. But better home like this than last year [when the horses finished so tired].”

Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Pathfinder Tom Jackson took the knowledge he’d gained at the start of the day with Farndon, who finished clear with 14.4 time penalties to move up from 33rd to 14th, into his ride with top horse and 2022 Burghley runner-up Capels Hollow Drift, who was the penultimate starter this afternoon. But while ‘Walshy’ was characteristically game and gutsy at the fences, he found the holding ground trickier than his stablemate, and ended the course with 10 time penalties – a touch more, perhaps, than expected from this reliable second-phase star, but still a competitive enough performance to climb from 22nd to eighth and redeem a first-phase score that had been marred by the effects of the bum-cam yesterday.

“He was fantastic everywhere — he’s just an out-and-out cross country machine,” says Tom, who’s the only rider today to finish on two horses. “It wasn’t our best performance in the dressage yesterday, and I went out with a real determination to try and get as close as we could to the time. He was there or thereabouts, until he just started to tire. This isn’t his perfect going – his action naturally sends him down into the ground a little bit, so he gets a bit more stuck in it, so that didn’t help him out, but I’m over the moon with him. He  just tries so hard every single time, and you just can’t beat that in a horse.”

Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Last night, we got the news that Pippa Funnell had withdrawn her early-draw ride, the experienced Majas Hope, after an uncharacteristically tricky dressage that put him well out of the hunt. That meant that she was left with just one ride, her 2023 Bramham victor MCS Maverick, who was the last horse of the day to leave the start box, and who was making his Badminton debut after finishing eleventh in his first five-star at Pau last autumn.

Though MCS Maverick is a uniquely tricky horse – he took fright at the crowds at Wednesday’s horse inspection, nearly turning himself over, and has subsequently been getting escorts around the busy estate from hunt horses – he showed his innate toughness today, even at the tail end of the course when, while starting to tire, he had a couple of slightly sticky jumps at the Worcester Avenue Brushes at 28ABC. Though his steadier pace in this latter section contributed to his 13.2 time penalties, it was still enough to move the pair from first-phase twelfth place to overnight ninth.

“I’m really, really delighted with him,” says Pippa, who took the ride on just last year from fellow five-star rider and stable jockey Helen Wilson. “I know I’m going to get back to the lorry and think, ‘why didn’t I use his speed more?’ but it’s his first time here and again, I had to be escorted by two hunt horses [to get to the collecting ring and the start box]. For me, that’s where I’ve got to try and channel him so I can warm him up in the right way because to me, my warm up here was over the first five fences, getting the rideability before Huntsman’s Close [at 7]. I was actually down on the clock at two minutes because he was running just fresh, so I had to try and anchor him. He’s such a big, galloping, scopey horse, and I’m an old girl, and he’s not ready yet — he’s too naive yet just to let him keep trucking in there. I think just at the end through the brushes, I could have made it much simpler and kept a straighter line, but I think he showed by a little bit of pecking that he was weary. He kept galloping — he’s very fit, but he’s going to strengthen up. To me, it’s still a work in progress, but  to come for the first time to Badminton and to give you the feeling that he’s really ‘let me at the fence’… it was lovely to come down to the Vicarage Vee on a horse like him.”

Though she’s now in a competitive position to vie for a top placing herself, Pippa’s picked her dream podium-topper, echoing the feelings of so many here: “Oh, my God, I’m just so hoping for my old mate William to win. I will be very emotional [if he does]!”

Alexander Bragg and Quindiva. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

One of the most colossal climbs of the day came at the eleventh hour when Alex Bragg, the seventh-to-last rider to leave the start box, delivered a nimble performance with 14-year-old Quindiva, adding just 7.6 time penalties to climb from 51st place to tenth. Last year, we saw Alex, like Emily, deliver one of the commendable masterclasses in horsemanship when he opted to pull the mare up while she was running well and competitively, and today, his emotion at giving her the finish both horse and rider deserved was palpable.

“She was amazing — and it’s such an amazing feeling finishing here at Badminton,” he says. “I’ve started many times and not always come through that finish line. It’s been a tricky show for me. This mare is very sensitive, and at this time of year, mares are tough because they come into season and getting them this fit is hard. She had a tricky couple of weeks build up, so we weren’t sure if we were going to even be here, but she tried her heart out today, and coming to that last fence I was nearly in tears. I was like,  ‘open your eyes and don’t miss at this fence!’ I was just saying to one of my daughters, I punched the air before I was through the finish line, which is probably not very professional, and could have wasted one second, but when you finish like that and you have that much emotion and the crowd is going absolutely wild… thanks to all those guys in the main arena! You’ve just got to enjoy it, and all that hardship that you go through, all the bad weather we’ve had, it’s all been worth it for that for that one magic moment.”

Grace Taylor and Game Changer. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It’s been a mixed bag of a day for the North American contingent at Badminton, who came into cross-country day with two representatives in the top ten thanks to excellent tests from Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF (fourth after dressage on a 29) and Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl (sixth after dressage on 29.8). Now, the best of the bunch is British-based Grace Taylor, the daughter of US Olympian Ann Sutton and British team selector Nigel Taylor, who produced a steady, classy effort with Game Changer to finish her Badminton cross-country debut with 19.2 time penalties. That’s catapulted her to 19th place overnight, up from a first-phase 31st.

“I’m really proud of him – he was amazing,” says Grace. “He stayed with me the whole way round. He’s a very laid-back horse, but his eye was taken by the crowd at the odd time – but once he was in front of the jump, he just jumped. I’m so grateful to him for what he did today.”

Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tiana Coudray logged an exciting clear round with Cancaras Girl, who proved her mettle as a five-star horse with some game, genuine efforts over the tough track, but slips from sixth to 26th overnight due to her 30.4 time penalties.

Regardless, though, Tiana is thrilled – and rightly so, after a decade of hard work since her last appearance here.

“I have a Badminton horse! I’m thrilled,” she says. “She had to fight in a few places – she pecked really badly jumping the Broken Bridge, and I think the whole crowd thought she was going to go down, but luckily I stayed in the middle and she came back up underneath me. She was brilliant. I’m kicking myself because I set out quite slow — I think it got in my head that it’s hot, and the ground is tough, and horses are finishing are struggling to finish, and I probably set off too slow. But having said that, she finished brilliantly, and she jumped round, and she’s had a fantastic trip — and hopefully it’s the first of many, so we can move forward and set out to be a bit quicker next time.”

Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The tough LeMieux Eyelash Brushes coffin complex at 15ABC was another place in the course where Cancaras Girl stepped up to the plate: like many horses, she peeked at the water in the ditch at B and ballooned over it, but despite the awkward jump, immediately locked onto the angled hedge at C and made a neat effort over it when a run-out would have been easy to cash in. But for ‘Nana’, Tiana says, running out was never on the agenda.

“It felt like it wouldn’t have mattered what her legs were doing — she knew where she was going,” she says. “She’s always been, from day one, so straight and so honest. In a couple of places she maybe locked on to the wrong thing, or saw it at the last minute and then went, ‘Oh, yeah — got it!’ That makes total sense!'”

This is a second five-star start and first cross-country completion at the level for the mare, who tackled Burghley last year but was eliminated for a rider fall after picking up 40 penalties early on.

“I think I went into Burghley full of confidence because she had been phenomenal around her four-stars — really tough four stars,” says Tiana, who placed in Bramham’s colossal CCI4*-L with Cancaras Girl in 2022. “And I thought, ‘this is the best cross country horse in the world, of course she’s going to jump around Burghley!’ So I was probably a bit too casual about a few things, and I paid for it. The good thing about Burghley was she jumped far enough around that I went, ‘she’s got the scope. She’ll do the distance. She’s a five-star horse — we just made mistakes.’ And I think I set out today much more conservative, thinking ‘dot your i’s, cross your t’s, make sure to get it done.’ And clearly she’s a proper five-star horse, so now I can afford to be a little bit braver. I know now what she does around a track like this, so we kick on a bit more next time — but my God, I was so proud of her.”

Cosby Green and Copper Beach. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Cosby Green, too, dropped down the leaderboard with 18-year-old Copper Beach after logging a clear round with 38.8 time penalties, which knocked her from 18th to 32nd place – but like Tiana, she was delighted with the bigger picture of her commendable round, which marks her first trip to Badminton and just her second-ever five-star.

thought it was perfect – well, obviously not 100% perfect, but as perfect as I can imagine!” she says with a grin. “He was just so bold out there, and we were so on the same page. I had to set him up a couple of times, but he was absolutely flying; you never know how they’re going to jump those big jumps, and he took it absolutely in his stride, so I’m pleased. It was an out-and-out clear round, so I’m happy with that.”

Cosby, who has embarked upon her second year basing in the UK with Tim and Jonelle Price, has benefitted enormously from training with the two superstar riders, and from their insight this week, too – but today, she wasn’t able to get valuable feedback from them on how the course might ride, because both had later draws than she did. Rather than letting that unnerve her, though, Cosby took on the mantle of Team Price pathfinder with composure and confidence.

“It was scary at the beginning, but with that said, I’m proud that I was able to go out first and put that behind me – that’s their good training on me reflecting back,” she says. Confidence, she admits, has been a key factor she’s struggled with – and today’s effort is an enormously emboldening one.

“I just feel like I need to pinch myself. It’s just going to really put me in the right direction; I struggle with confidence a lot, so to have two clear five-star cross-country rounds in my first two attempts is going to make me more confident in who I am, and make me better,” she says. To boost her confidence ahead of a momentous occasion such as this one, she explains, “I do a lot of envisioning, and just kind of telling myself I can do it – kind of faking it until I make it! This morning I got up and I told anyone who would listen that failure’s not an option. Even though I don’t believe that, if I say it enough times, I start to believe it. I tell myself I can do it, and then I do it.”

Jessie Phoenix and Wabbit. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Canada’s Jessie Phoenix and her ex-racehorse Wabbit added 21.6 time penalties and picked up 11 penalties for a safety device activation at fence 23, the Rolex Grand Slam Rails, which are effectively a ‘lead-in’ Vicarage Vee ahead of the real thing a few strides later. Nonetheless, their round boost them from first-phase 62nd to overnight 33rd, and Jessie returned thrilled by her horse’s efforts on the tough course.

“He truly was amazing. That horse is just — there is no bottom to him. He is all heart and he loves this job,” she says. “Every time he gets to go cross-country it’s like Christmas to him.”

Despite her pin at the rails, Jessie opted to continue on the direct route to the subsequent, even more difficult Vicarage Vee, which the pair cleared easily.

“We came down the hill [to the Rails] and he just got, like, a little tight behind. I thought, you know, should we just keep going to the Vicarage Vee, should we do an option? And then I saw this beauty distance and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And he just flew over it like nothing,” she says. “It’s definitely all about the ears you’re looking through, and [the course] rode pretty much standard for the way Wabbit goes, which is just amazing start to finish.”

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg had a tough day in the office, dropping from overnight fourth to 38th after a drive-by at the A element of the INEOS Grenadier Sunken Road at 20ABC – and that 20 quickly turned to a 60 when they crossed their tracks on the re-approach. They also added 25.2 time penalties, but ultimately completed the course.

“He’s a good old horse, and he was going great guns, but I think I just got to that point in the track and started thinking, ‘I’m in with a chance here’, and going a bit  too hard, and he was getting a bit numb in the bridle,” says Boyd. “I screwed up a  bit — I was worried he wasn’t going to make the three strides there, so I wanted to get a forward shot at the skinny, but it was ridiculous — I saw one off the turn and flapped my elbows and he ran by it. That’s definitely not how to ride that jump.”

With that behind them, Boyd pulled back on the pace and nursed Thomas home without further issues.

“I eased off a bit once he had a run out. It’s pretty hard out there — I’ve ridden a lot of 5*’s, and I thought it was quite challenging,” he says.

Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Sadly, both Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent and Allie Knowles and Morswood saw their Badminton debuts end early with rider falls – Meghan was tipped out of the plate after a twisting jump over the A element of the Sunken Road at 20ABC, and though she looked, for a second, as though she might be able to make the save of the day, the steep downhill slope after the fence meant that gravity won the fight. Allie and Morswood parted company at the final element of the very tough Voltaire Design Huntsman’s Close at 7ABCD. Both riders were immediately back on their feet following their falls.

Course designer Eric Winter was delighted with how the day played out, and how his course — which was roundly praised by riders — worked.

“The ground was obviously an influence, and I’m really glad we moved back by a week, because it wouldn’t have been such a pleasurable experience last week,” he says. “Higher forces smiled upon us: from Tuesday we’ve had great weather, and it’s really dried out, which has made a huge difference. What I wanted to test was the same as always — rider skill. It’s always about jumping the fence and being patient and riding the turn; jumping the fence and having a little bit of ability to go, ‘I’m going to go on three, or four, to shorten, or lengthen’ — to trust your instincts and develop instincts with your riding. There were some great results; the more ‘mature’ riders in first and second, but as you look down the list, there was a whole heap of younger riders coming through that showed super skills today. That was as fulfilling for me as anything — that the next generation of the sport is in good hands.”

Since he took the reins as designer in 2017, 427 combinations have started the event here, and just two have finished on their dressage score.

“That’s proper cross-country,” he says with a grin.

Here, here – we’ll raise a glass to that, and to a great day of sport here at Badminton. Now, it’s onto Sunday, which begins bright and early at 8.30 a.m. BST/3.30 a.m. EST with the final horse inspection in front of Badminton House. Then, we’ll crack on with showjumping from 11.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. EST), followed by the top twenty at 2.55 p.m. (9.55 a.m. EST). You can check out the cross-country results in full here, and catch up on all the day’s action with Cheg’s live updates here — and we’ll see you again tomorrow for lots more stories and analysis from this great weekend of sport. Go Eventing.

The top ten after cross-country at the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials.

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Friday Afternoon at Badminton: Ros Retains Lead Amid Bum-Cam Reign of Terror

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

As we predicted in the lunch break report, this morning’s new leaders, 2023 Pau champions Ros Canter and Izilot DHI will be the leaders of the pack as we head into tomorrow’s cross-country – but our compact afternoon double of sessions still saw some changes at the business end of the MARS Badminton leaderboard, which ends the day with just six combinations having broken into the 20s.

Chief among those new additions was British-based Kiwi Caroline Powell, who put a 30 on the board and took first-phase seventh place with the eleven-year-old Greenacres Special Cavalier – a minuscule departure from the sub-30s scores the partnership has previously recorded at five-star, but a score that, in this harsh-marking environment, still represented a test to celebrate.

“I’m so, so pleased with her,” beams Caroline, who finished sixth at Maryland last year and fifth at Pau the year prior with ‘Cavvy’. “She just keeps getting better and better.”

Though Cavvy is still a very young five-star horse – young enough that you could feasibly think of her as being suitable for not just Paris, but also, very easily, Los Angeles – she’s already remarkably accomplished, and each outing that Caroline has given her has provided her with tools to understand how to eke the very best out of her horse. Among those? The knowledge that a buzz of excitement in the air helps to bring out the very best in her work.

Caroline has two horses here – she also rides debutant CBI Aldo, who sits in equal 33rd overnight on a 35.6 – which gave her a 50/50 chance that she’d get the draw she wanted to allow Cavvy, her competitive, rather than foundational ride, to really show what she could do.

“I really wanted to ride her in the afternoon dressage so that she could get in with the atmosphere — and it’s a great atmosphere in there,” she says. “I was chuffed to bits with her — she didn’t really miss a beat, and she was brilliant.”

Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Knowing your horse this well does sometimes mean taking the flip side with a smile, though: “When she’s in the boards, she does [focus in an atmospher]; outside, the atmosphere sort of gets to her a bit and she’s a wee bit wild,” Caroline laughs. “It’s quite entertaining — but then she goes into the arena and she knows she’s got to perform. She loves crowds, so it’s nice to be able to get her to the stage where we can put her into that situation and push the buttons in the right way. She’s only, hopefully, going to get better and better.”

This will be a second crack at Badminton for Cavvy, who completed here last year in the memorably tough conditions but had an educational run, rather than a competitive one: she picked up 40 penalties on course in a rare green moment, but Caroline opted to continue on and allow her to gain the experience and the fitness that comes with a completion. That tactic looked to have paid dividends when the pair ran at Maryland in the autumn, and now, former Burghley champion Caroline is looking forward to getting out there again with a year’s worth of physical and mental growth to work with.

“I think it’s a nice course,” she says. “I think there’s a lot to jump at the end, a lot that can go wrong. There’s no one piece in particular that I’m sort of thinking ‘oh, that’s a bit unjumpable’, but, you know, there’s so much happening, and we’ve also got the ground, which is going to be a wee bit undecided how it’s going to ride. It’s drying out all the time. I think the course is a good course — as good a course as I’ve seen for a while, and I think everything’s there in front of you to jump, you’ve just got to give it a good ride. Hopefully we do.”

Gemma Stevens and Chilli Knight. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Gemma Stevens and her 2021 Bicton pop-up CCI5* winner Chilli Knight will sit in equal tenth place, tied with Max Warburton and Monbeg Exclusive, going into cross-country as the gelding makes his long-awaited comeback from an injury he picked up on that victorious run – and Gemma, for her part, rode out of the ring beaming from ear to ear. Whether that’s because of her horse’s return, his excellent performance, which earned them a 31.7, or because it’s finally stopped raining in the UK, we’re not sure – but either way, we can confirm she’s very definitely delighted to be here, even if the scores this week at Badminton are a little, well, lacklustre.

“I mean, my God, they’re grumpy judges aren’t they?” she laughs. “But honestly, that little horse, he was exactly the same in the ring as he is out here [in the warm-up]. He goes in 100% with me, every step of the way — apart from one jog in the walk! He couldn’t have done any more than what he did today.”

These first-phase successes mean even more, she explains, because the son of 2015 winner Chilli Morning isn’t a natural dressage horse.

“He is what he is. He’s not Valegro; he’s not London 52; he’s not a big mover, but he is so well trained and he’s so obedient, so I was chuffed to bits,” she says.

Even sweeter is the reward after nearly three years waiting and working for it.

“It’s been a really long, like, massive long road to here,” she says. “We actually got him in from the field from having a whole year off this time last year, with this in mind. He’s literally worked a long, slow process from then to now, doing all sorts of different things to get him fit in a really long and slow and thorough way, to have him as strong in his body but as fit and lean as possible. It’s no stone unturned.”

Gemma Stevens and Chilli Knight. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

But, Gemma explains, there’s plenty of ways to very nearly throw a spanner in the works: “When I fell out of the lorry door on Tuesday when I got here, I was like ‘I’ve managed to get the horse here in one piece, and now I’ve fallen!’ Like, please don’t break yourself now, it’s been a whole year!”

Gemma, who’s previously finished on the podium here with the late Arctic Soul, will have a long day ahead of her tomorrow: she’s one of the last batch of riders to go, and will have to wait until 3.34 p.m. to start her campaign on Eric Winter’s track.

“[Being able to see how it’s riding] is a benefit of going near the end, although it’s a long day, and it’s terrible for the nerves,” she says. “But actually, it is nice to learn a bit about the course. It’s really tough going out first round these five-stars when you’re just not sure how they’re going to jump it, and it’s a tough track. At fence five you know you’re at Badminton, and it means it.”

And once she’s out on course?

“I’m going to let the handbrake off,” she grins. “He’s had the handbrake come since he’s been back, and he’ll be very happy about that coming off!”

Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though she didn’t quite break into the top ten, Pippa Funnell was delighted with her 2023 Bramham winner MCS Maverick, who’s still a relatively new ride and an inexperienced, tricky, young horse. After the disappointment of her test with the much more experienced Majas Hope yesterday, which saw her score a 40.8 for first-phase 63rd, it was a welcome tonic to post a much more positive 31.9 for overnight twelfth.

“I mean, I have to be delighted because I tell you what, we’ve had a real, real difficult time trying to get him out of the stables and up here, and I think that the vet inspection really [set him off],” she says, referring back to Wednesday’s horse inspection, in which the gelding spooked and reared so spectacularly that he nearly went over.

Today, to ease his mind and give him some extra support, she enlisted the help of hunt horse Albert and rider Zoe, who escorted Pippa and Maverick from the stables, to the warm-up, and then into the arena, and back out and back to the stables again afterwards.

“I think people underestimate – it’s very easy for the public just to see the horses here [at the ring], but really there’s one thing that makes Badminton very different from any other event,” says Pippa. “That’s that the stables, behind those arches into the main courtyard, are absolutely ‘backstage’, and it’s really quite relaxed for the horses. But when they come into the park through that gate, it’s like walking onto the main stage every time. He got quite anxious in the trot-up; I think he was just surprised, because he came under the arch and clocked all these people, and he’s not used to it. You can’t prepare for Badminton; until you get here, you never know what they’re going to do — and they are very, very fit. The main thing is, in a little bit of nervousness, is try and hold their hand and figure out the best way through. You have to stay with them, you know, and keep them on side, and he was really onside in the arena.”

“It’s no secret that he’s tricky in that phase,” she continues, reflecting on the test. “He’s just a horse who’s pumped with adrenaline, and so I was very pleased. Obviously there was a blip in the shoulder-in, and after the rein back he struck off wrong, but otherwise, I was really delighted.”

There were a couple of other horses who might feasibly have been expected to have cracked the top ten, including Tom Jackson‘s 2022 Burghley runner-up Capels Hollow Drift — but he, like so many other horses today, took fright in the ring at a new camera, which has been placed close to A, bafflingly over-shrouded in dressing, and serves no purpose other than to provide livestream viewers with a wide angle, ground-level shot of each horse’s backside reversing at speed towards it while performing the reinback. A view that, if we’re totally honest, reminds wholly and completely of Bridget Jones sliding down a fireman’s pole, directly onto her cameraman – and so, in short, probably a shot that’s not worth giving poor Tom Jackson a 34.4 and 22nd place overnight, nor frightening countless other horses through the two days of dressage. Nor, indeed, pissing off sweet, jolly, perennially optimistic Alex Bragg, who pointed out how tricky it made several of the test’s bigger asks for the horses: “There’s a little camera in the corner – don’t put one there again, guys!  Whoever organised the media team, it was a terrible, terrible decision with horses. It’s so awkward walking towards that, and also having your first canter towards it.”

The people have spoken: no more strange, fun-house style bum-shots for 2025, maybe.

Now, we’re looking ahead to tomorrow’s cross-country challenge, which will begin at 11.30 a.m. with Tom Jackson pathfinding aboard Farndon, who’s 17th overnight on a 33. There’s been a lot of chat about how the ground might look tomorrow: at the start of the week, it was soft and wet, and as William Fox-Pitt put it, ‘pudding all the way down’ even if it were to harden, because of six months of nearly non-stop rainfall in the UK. Since then, it’s been hot with a light breeze, which is swiftly cooking the top layer of the mud, at least – but what that means for tomorrow is anyone’s guess. It’s very likely we’ll see variation across the course, with some sloppier areas, some quicker areas, and quite a lot of sticky, holding ground – but it’s also very likely that with tomorrow’s hot forecast, we’ll also see it change throughout the day. While early horses will benefit from virgin ground, which will be a great boon if it does get holding or churned up later on, some ground analytics done onsite by Mark Lucey also suggest that the conditions could improve as the day unfolds, with faster going later in the afternoon. In short? The quality of the going is as up in the air as the entire competition currently appears to be, with 20 penalties covering the top 64 riders, out of a total of 65 currently set to start tomorrow.

The eagle-eyed among you will note that that number has diminished somewhat – and it’s thanks to a couple of key withdrawals. Harry Meade won’t be the first rider since the early ’70s to ride three horses around Badminton’s cross-country in one year, following the withdrawal before dressage of his third ride, Red Kite, and of his first ride, Cavalier Crystal, who was sitting in 44th place on a 36.7. We’ve also seen the withdrawal of many people’s favourite for the win this week, David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed, who were 19th on a 33.9. David spoke to Horse&Hound, sharing the news that Galileo is fine, but not quite himself this week.

Keep it locked on EN, as we’ll be bringing you the riders’ thoughts on, and reactions to, Eric Winter’s seriously tough track – and in the meantime, you can relive all of today’s action through Cheg’s live updates, and give the course a walk with our in-depth preview. We’ll be back soon with plenty more from Badminton – until then, Go Eventing!

The top ten at the close of dressage at the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials.

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EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

 

Reigning Champ Ros Canter Takes Friday Morning Badminton Lead

Rosalind Canter and Izilot DHI. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

We’ve got a new leader in the clubhouse today at the MARS Badminton Horse Trials, which felt like a given with a couple of serious heavy-hitters on this morning’s roster – the only question, really, was whether it would be Burghley dressage record-breakers Tim Price and Vitali or 2023 Pau champions Ros Canter and Izilot DHI, both of whom are perfectly capable of going sub-20, that would swing the lead.

In the end, it would go the way of Ros and ‘Isaac’ – though neither she nor Tim and Vitali would ultimately flirt with the teens. Which is, in hindsight, one heck of a way to put that, but look: I’ve got a full dressage report to write in a reasonably short lunch break, so I’m going to commit to it and delight in the fact that my words won’t throw either rider into a Kendrick and Drake-style diss-track battle. A relief!

Anyway – back to the safe ground of the dressage arena, where it’s also been a relief to see that yesterday’s standard of judging has continued today. It won’t be a Badminton in which we see records broken, perhaps, because our ground jury are hard to please this week, but when that stringency remains in place across both days of dressage, it does at least create a level playing field, with less risk of bias towards Friday riders.

For Ros, at least, a score of 25.3 is well in the mix for what could realistically be expected from the eleven-year-old Izilot DHI; he put a 24.3 on the board at Pau last year en route to the win, and while he’s exceptionally capable in this phase, he’s also a quirky-brained horse who’s prone to quite a spectacular spook. At Pau, we saw that tendency writ large as Ros struggled to get him around the outside of the ring thanks to an evidently terrifying cameraman, but the moment he entered at A, he focused wholly on his job. Today, his focus was in place earlier, without any moments of panic before, during, or after his test, save for a couple of tiny bobbles near A when something caught his eye.

The difference now, though, Ros explains, is that as he grows up and matures, he’s learning to have his look at whatever’s surprised him and then get back to business.

“I’m absolutely delighted with him,” she says. “He’s been doing some really good work this week, although he did have a little spook in there – it was a camera, and while he didn’t mind it from the left rein, but he didn’t like it from the right rein. But that’s him – and the fact that now, he can have a little spook and then come back to the quality of work he had before it is great.”

Rosalind Canter and Izilot DHI. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Age, experience, and mileage are three of the key components in Isaac’s ongoing development, she continues – but just as essential is compromise and creative thinking.

“He’s eleven now, so he’s getting better and better,” she says. “But also, I’ve done a lot less schooling, and actually just hacked a lot more at home. I think part of it is I’m learning to ride him and to know him and react less myself. If I think he’s going to spook, I almost drop the reins now instead of trying to help him away from it. I think it’s definitely a trust thing, and he doesn’t cope that well with pressure, this horse, when he’s feeling spooky. So it’s my job to interpret what he’s thinking and how much pressure [he can handle], and when and where to put it on.”

There’s still an afternoon of dressage yet to unfold, but it’s looking likely that Ros, who won here last year on Lordships Graffalo, will go into tomorrow’s tough cross-country test as the head of the pack. But even in that exalted position, her goals and expectations are a little different this year than they were with her 2023 champion, who’s sitting out this year’s competition in preparation for a bid for Olympic selection.

“We’re very open-minded about tomorrow,” says Ros. “I intend to go out of the start box meaning business, and we’re here to be competitive if we can, but the length of this course, and the ground and everything else, would be a bit of a question mark for this horse. He’s a bit less proven, and he’s less blood than [Lordships Graffalo], so if at any point I think he’s done, we’ll be calling it a day. But up until that point, I’ll be going out trying to knuckle down and get on with it.”

With her own set of aims, and her understanding of her horse’s capabilities and potential limitations at the forefront of her priorities, Ros isn’t letting the pressure of anyone else’s expectations affect her mindset for the weekend.

“Plenty have people have told me [I’m the favourite], but I’m not particularly bothered this year,” she admits with a smile. “I’m the favourite when it comes to statistics, but I know my horse; I know how unproven he is around this length with the stamina and endurance. So I’m very open-minded that [being favourite] hasn’t really impacted me.”

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Thursday leaders Bubby Upton and Cola, who made just about everyone cry yesterday on their return to five-star, now sit second as of the lunch break on their score of 27.3, just 0.4 penalties, or one second tomorrow, ahead of Kiwi duo Tim Price and Vitali on a 27.7.

Hopes were high for this test, particularly after last year’s Burghley, where they put an eye-wateringly good 18.7 on the board – but it wasn’t to be today. Vitali’s excellent trot work put them in good stead early on, with their medium trot earning them a 9 from judge Christian Steiner at B, but the walk work looked less settled and the 14-year-old gelding began to bobble on the contact midway through. They very nearly had a perfect halt just after this, though a fidgety step marred the immobility of the movement, and their subsequent reinback suffered from some rushing, at which point it was achingly clear that Vitali would really just like to get on with the canter segment.

There was lots to like there: Vitali is a horse with a well-established, neat change, and two-and-a-half of the four were just that. But just before the right canter half-pass, the gelding did an almost imperceptibly quick lead swap, and back again, behind, which looked to drain the flying changes bank account ahead of the last, where each leg tried something a little bit different and the resultant change was significantly late.

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

A test of two halves, or four quarters, then, perhaps, but pragmatic Tim, who’s often found himself in the lead with this horse and then lost out in the final phase, is looking on the bright side: “Maybe I’ll do a conventional result here, where he’s somewhere near the top [in this phase] and then just gets better through the next few phases – I’ll take that happily,” he laughs. “We all know how capable he is, so you could, on one hand be a bit disappointed – but you never know [with horses]. It’s a big unknown every time you take a horse into an arena like that.”

His preparation this week, he says, has gone very smoothly – and that, in a funny sort of way, could be part of the reason we didn’t see him replicate his Burghley brilliance.

“He’s been getting better and better with every ride, but that’s just such a different approach to Burghley, and it’s something for me to take on board and think about going forward. Today he just really wasn’t quite the same. At Burghley, he he was sitting and I was able to ride forward into a balance that wasn’t speeding up. But here every time I went to do that he just wanted to go a bit faster,” he says. But then, “at Burghley it was madness in the last final ten minutes of the warm-up — he was mucking around and I just had to go in and just go for it a little bit with his blood up. But then, [getting their blood up is] not really me either, although he had such a good result there. Here, he’s been relaxed, and had a lovely warm-up, and then he just got a little bit on edge and took away his focus. He’s a horse who misses a change one time in a hundred, and I think he missed one and a half out here today! I’ve got to stay in contact with him, otherwise his mind would go, so you’ve just got to take your medicine in places – but I’m happy enough.”

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Overnight runners-up Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg move down to provisional fourth place at this stage on their score of 29. They’re joined in the top five by Emily King and Valmy Biats, who looked on excellent form while delivering a very nearly clear-round test for 29.2.

“I’m really pleased — he was so rideable,” says Emily, who comes to Badminton off a second consecutive victory in Thoresby’s hotly-contested Grantham Cup CCI4*-S with the French-bred gelding. “He’s very, very sensitive; he’s quite a hot horse and constantly thinks about everything, so it’s really about tuning him in and getting him to take a breath. He felt just the same in there as he did in the warm up, which was probably one of the first times he’s felt as consistent.”

Getting that clear round, she explains, was priority number one: “I was conscious to try and do a really mistake-free test, and maybe taking a little bit of a flare out but trying to be really precise, and he really felt like that happened. We had a little jig somewhere but generally, he was so with me and listening. In my canter stretch he was quite keen to get out on the cross country and I was like, ‘we’re going to exit the arena!’, so we had to end a little bit early for that — but I’m super pleased; he felt fab.”

Valmy, who is part-owned by the Event Horse Owners’ Syndicate microsyndicate programme, is fifteen this year – but, Emily explains, she’s constantly finding new depths of strength and progress in him in this phase.

“He’s working so much more uphill [this year],” she says. “He’s a horse that has so much power, and he has a lot of knee action, but he would be quite low in his carriage when he first came [to me]. [At the start] it felt like it was there, but he really needed to learn to sit and work uphill, and then just open his stride up a bit more and that’s something that he’s been getting better and better with and he’s understanding more. He’s getting stronger, so he can hold that for longer.”

That progression has been aided by the help of several seriously good dressage coaches: “Ian Woodhead and Ferdi Eilberg helped me a lot, and Kyra Kirkland – there’s a bunch of them that have all helped his his career,” says Emily. “He’s 15 this year, but whenever we go out and he’s really fit and really pushed and strengthened up in places, he keeps feeling just better. He’s going to be the best 20 year old event horse in the dressage!”

Last year, Emily and Valmy made a great start to their bid around Badminton’s tough track, but commendably, the rider opted to pull her horse up when she felt him begin to tire in the tricky conditions – a decision that initially baffled onlookers, to whom the horse looked full of running. But horsemanship wins out – or it should, anyway – and this year, Emily hopes that Valmy’s day-to-day exposure to soft going at home will help him see the course, which she describes as a “proper, proper track”, through.

“It’s drying up, so hopefully it’ll make a little bit easier for them – but still, I think they’re going to be feeling the softness there, so we just have to look after them, and I think we’ll all have that at the forefront of our minds that we might need to be a bit steady in places to just get them home and feeling good and safe,” she says. “He’s had three runs this year and two of them had been on the soft going — and Thoresby was very soft. But he lives out in the field in the very soft ground and he gallops on the grass at home, which has obviously been very soft this spring, so I’m hoping he’ll be as prepped as possible physically with his joints, his limbs, and fitness-wise, for the going – but still, you’d be mindful of how he feels.”

Tiana Coudray now sits sixth with Cancaras Girl (and if you haven’t read their emotional story, you should catch up on it here!), while Georgie Goss and William Fox-Pitt move down to equal seventh, and Max Warburton is now in ninth.

Just one further rider cracked the top ten in this morning’s session: Britain’s Kirsty Chabert, fresh off a trip to Kentucky with her top horse, Classic VI, posted a smart 32.4 with the very-nearly-pony-sized Opposition Heraldik Girl to move into tenth place provisionally.

Grace Taylor and Game Changer. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

We also saw the last two of our strong US contingent in the ring: British-based Grace Taylor, who has dual citizenship thanks to her mother, US Olympian Ann Sutton, was disappointed to post a 35.4 with Game Changer after cracking the sub-30s, and the top ten, at Burghley last year: “I’m disappointed with the test but it is what it is – I would say probably we deserved the mark we got,” she says. She sits 25th currently, while Allie Knowles and Morswood sit equal 27th, tied with New Zealand’s Caroline Powell and CBI Aldo on a score of 35.6.

While Allie might have hoped for a score closer to the 28.8 they received at Maryland in 2022, she’s not planning to dwell on the numbers – because just being here is the culmination of a long-held dream.

“I’m relatively [pleased] – I think he can do better, but it’s a lot of atmosphere in there and it’s a massive deal just to be in there, so I’m not too disappointed,” she says. “Being here is just amazing – it was my childhood dream. This was the event I wanted to make it to. So I’m trying really hard not to be disappointed with any part of the experience because we can move up from here – but at least we made it!”

Allie Knowles and Morswood. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The early formation of that Badminton dream, she explains, kick-started everything that’s led her to this moment.

“I was nine and I had Thrills and Spills on on a VHS tape, and I watched it until it didn’t work anymore,” she laughs. “Ian [Stark] coaches me now, and he’s been telling me stories from throughout the years, and I’m like, ‘I know what you’re talking about – I watched every year from the nine years old on!’ Obviously Burghley is a dream as well, but for me, it was always Badminton. Maybe it’s just because it was the first VHS I had, I don’t know, but it’s always seemed like the most prestigious event.”

Allie has made it here once before, but in a very different capacity: “I groomed here, almost 15 years ago now, for Hawley Bennett – she was my first job as a working student. This is the first time I’ve been back. I was like a deer in headlights back then, so I only remember bits of it. Probably the scariest bits, when i did wrong grooming! It’s like a whole different thing now.”

Allie Knowles and Morswood. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

And how does the reality of the place stack up to the dream of Badminton that’s been so well-architected in her head?

“It’s not all that dissimilar! I think the main ring was bigger than I pictured it,” she muses. “On video, it doesn’t look as big and I was like, ‘oh, no, this is really big!’ But I walked [the course] for the first time and I was like, ‘Ian, are those the Beaufort steps?!’ I know where everywhere is – I watched it so many times.”

Take heed, keen live-stream aficionados – we know you’re probably not wearing out VHS tapes these days, but you, too, could be making it all happen for yourself here one day.

We’ll be back in action shortly with the last couple of sections of dressage, starting at 14.15 BST/9.15 a.m. EST with Helen Bates and Carpe Diem first up to bat. Keep up to date with all the action as it happens – or catch up on all the nitty-gritty of this morning’s tests – with Cheg’s live updates, and stay tuned for another full report on the afternoon’s movers and shakers. Go Eventing!

The top ten at the lunch break on day two of dressage at Badminton.

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EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

The 2024 MARS Badminton Field: At A Glance

Want to get a feel for this year’s 70-strong MARS Badminton Horse Trials field of entrants, but don’t quite have the time for a big, juicy form guide? We’ve got your back – here’s the essential info you need to know!

MARS Badminton Horse Trials [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Tickets] [Radio Badminton] [Livestream] [Cross Country Course] [Form Guide] [Ultimate Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

MARS Badminton Horse Trials [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Tickets] [Radio Badminton] [Livestream] [Cross Country Course] [Form Guide] [Ultimate Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

Thursday Afternoon at Badminton: Tiana Coudray is Best of the Bunch; Bubby Retains Lead Overnight

If there’s any lorry we’d like to be invited to this evening, it’s Bubby Upton‘s – relentless course-walking notwithstanding, of course. Earlier, we reported on her spectacular comeback from a horrific injury last year, from which she’s returned to take the Thursday morning dressage lead – and now, at the culmination of the day’s competition, we’re thrilled to confirm that she’ll hold onto that lead overnight.

There’s never much time to bask in the moment at a five-star, but we hope that Bubby, groom Katie, and the rest of their tight-knit team sneak away from their obligations, analyses, and forward planning to enjoy a celebratory drink in the evening sunshine at the Lake. It’s not every day you put down a 27.3 at five-star, nor is it every day you lead Badminton – and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Britain’s double under-25 National Champion was relearning how to walk just over half a year ago.

Boyd Martin, too, has plenty of reason to enjoy the immaculate vibes of a sun-drenched evening at Badminton: he and Tsetserleg remain in overnight second place on their score of 29, giving themselves a sterling start to their quest to complete the one five-star box left unticked for Boyd in fine style.

Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Although the names in the top two slots on the leaderboard remain unchanged, the afternoon certainly wasn’t short on excitement, not least for longtime British-based US rider Tiana Coudray, who stormed to overnight third place after delivering a 29.8 – her horse’s second best test ever at any international level – with the 14-year-old Holsteiner Cancaras Girl.

As she rode out of the ring to one of the most uproarious cheers of the day, it wasn’t just Tiana who was in tears – it was her entire assembled team, helmed by head groom, best friend, and business partner Annabelle James and including familiar faces such as dressage coach Tracey Robinson. A personal best at Badminton would be reason enough for high emotion on its own, but for Tiana, today’s success represents a decade of rebuilding, of working, of striving and selling and reconfiguring dreams, but in whichever form they took, always of dreaming.

“It’s every early morning you get up; it’s every late night – it’s a lot of work for very little reward, but to put it all together on the day is what dreams are made of,” she says, smiling through a fresh torrent of tears. “It’s really special.”

Tiana’s last appearance here came back in 2014, when she completed with her London 2012 Olympics partner, Ringwood Magister, when she was just 25.

“I suppose I was so fortunate, young in my career, to have an amazing horse that I got as a four-year-old and who happened to be my superstar that took me all the way,” she says. But then: “I grew up and life got real — and my business has been buying and selling horses. And so I’ve had some beautiful horses through my yard, but they’ve been sold on because that’s what we had to do.”

A moment worth waiting for: Tiana Coudray is back, baby! Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Diminutive Cancaras Girl, or Nana, as she’s known at home, was meant to be one of those sales horses – and unlike some of the excellent horses Tiana’s had to sell that she always suspected might be top-level competitors, Nana was only ever intended to be produced and sold on as a lower-level horse for a young rider.

“She’s just my little horse I got off Facebook and she was supposed to do a couple Novices and go to a kid, and here she is,” laughs Tiana. “I saw her posted on Facebook, and she was in the north of Scotland, but I thought, ‘she’s quite cute; some little girl would love to ride her’.”

She flew up to try the mare, and though she wasn’t immediately wowed by her way of going or her jump, “the reason I bought her was because of her heart and her try and her brain. It was definitely not for her movement. She’s not built for this, and her body finds it quite difficult to be loose or supple or have any kind of cadence or swing or any of those things that you kind of need for dressage. But having said that, she’s so trainable and she’s just — I love her.”

The plan, having secured the Facebook deal of the century, was to get the mare to Novice and advertise her – but there were no takers. And so she stayed, and Tiana continued to produce her, assuming that, at some point, a buyer might materialise. As she did so, she began to fall for the little mare’s try-hard attitude more and more.

“To be entirely honest, I’m so grateful that she didn’t move that well and all of that because she would have been sold, because she would have been worth a lot of money,” she says. “And so actually the fact that she was just a little bit ordinary meant that I could keep her. That’s is why she’s my first horse back at this level in all those years — so it was really special.”

A shared journey: Tiana and best friend and business partner Annabelle James. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though Tiana credits Nana’s attitude with being such a key component in her rise to the top, it’s also, she says, the culmination of a serious team effort.

“She’s such a good girl — she shows up to work every day,” beams Tiana. “She’s 14 now and she’s starting to get where correct training is supposed to get you, I suppose, so it’s really rewarding. She’s definitely not got here on natural ability, but, you know, huge work — great trainers, obviously, and how we work her, and huge work with physios and massage and acupuncture and strengthening exercises. And my team of vets and physios have been incredible just trying to get her back stronger and more supple, and I think it’s really paying off. So, it’s so exciting. But as I say, it’s an unbelievable group of people that have got her here. It’s not me.”

Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For today, at least, the magnitude of the moment hasn’t quite sunk in.

“I cannot believe it – it’s making me cry,” laughs Tiana. “She’s not a natural dressage horse and we’ve worked so hard. The team that has helped me has been just vast and relentless and unbelievable. And even like, three minutes before going in the ring she was melting down and I thought, ‘there’s no hope’ but she was so good in there — just so brave and she tried, every single movement.”

William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Irish representative Georgie Goss now sits fourth overnight with Feloupe – a position she shares on the leaderboard with William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht, who matched their 30.6 this afternoon. They missed out on squeaking into the sub-30 brigade after a rushed first halt saw them begin their test with 5s, though they quickly rallied and delivered a smart test.

“I was very happy, I think — apart from my first halt, which was rubbish,” says William, who finished second at Maryland 5* last autumn with the twelve-year-old. “She must have seen something in front of her in the first halt and she just stepped back and so we deserved that mark, but when you’ve got three grumpy judges there and you want to get on an eight, it’s a bad start. [Otherwise], it was a pretty good test, to be honest. Everyone said [the judges are] stingy, and they certainly were stingy to me. So let’s hope they stay in a bad mood tomorrow!”

As long as the consistency in the stiff marking remains the same, though, William is cheerily pragmatic about where improvements could have been made in his test.

“She did have a little bit of tension in the rein back, and I think she trotted a stride in the canter so there were little expensive imperfections,” he says. “When she had a good mark, she got a seven, and you just want to get [the judges] off 6.5, which is their favourite mark. And that’s kind of where they sat through my test. I wasn’t looking at the scoreboard all the time, but I was having the odd glance, and I thought ‘hmm, okay, try a bit harder!’ She presents well, and has a great outline – her half-passes should have got a nine, but they didn’t. Luckily I’m not a judge!”

There have been murmurings – from William himself, who was quoted at the Conceal Eventing Grand-Prix Showcase at Bruce’s Field saying just that – that this Badminton would be his last. But when the topic comes up today, he retains an air of some mystery around the matter of his retirement from the top of the sport.

“It should be, for all intents and purposes, but you know, who knows?” says William. “I’m never going to say never but I think it should be. This weekend shouldn’t sway me one way or the other – I’m quite clear. It would be easy to fall off and give up, wouldn’t it? But it would be tougher to give up on a good one, but that’s kind of what I would like. I’d like to jump the jumps and then think, ‘thank God I haven’t got to do that again.'”

Cosby Green and Copper Beach. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

5* debutant Max Warburton now sits in sixth place, followed by Switzerland’s Felix Vogg in seventh and the week’s pathfinders, Tom Jackson and Farndon, in eighth on a score of 33. Just below that, though, is another new addition to our top ten: Cosby Green and the former Buck Davidson ride Copper Beach, who put a 33.7 on the board to take overnight ninth place ahead of David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed.

“I’m really pleased — I felt it was a clear round, with no massive mistakes, so I really can’t ask for much more than that,” says Cosby, who’s basing with Tim and Jonelle Price for the second year.

“I’m back for year two — I wasn’t expecting that a year ago, but I just loved it too much!” she laughs. “I’ve been following them around [this week] and just trying to get their confidence.”

It’s no surprise, really, that Cosby has found her niche with the Prices – after all, it was where the Lexington, Kentucky native always wanted to be.

“It’s always been a dream of mine since I was a little, little kid,” she says. “And then I’d just graduated from uni; it was about a month before I graduated and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I decided to make a sacrifice and bite the bullet and come over and do it, because I want to be the best in the world. And I did quite literally go to the best in the world! I’ve idolised specifically Jonelle since I was a little girl, so I just went out on a whim and sent her an email, had no connections or anything, just told her I was looking for somewhere to go and they’d happen to have moved to Chedington, and so there was space for me to come. It was just pretty much just like a fairy tale. I had didn’t know a soul over here, and they just took me in with open arms.”

Last year, Cosby was able to attend Badminton on foot and get a feel for the event, and how it functions from a rider’s perspective – something she says has been enormously helpful for her debut this year.

“I’m so glad I did that, because otherwise I would have been in shock yesterday just seeing the people at the trot up,” she says. “I was really nervous just for the number of people. So I’m glad I have a little bit more expectation of especially what to expect on Saturday with the crowds.”

This is Cosby’s second five-star start; she made her debut with eighteen-year-old Copper Beach last season at Pau, finishing sixteenth. But the chestnut gelding also brings plenty of his own top-level experience to the table – he’s successfully completed several runs at Kentucky, as well as one at Pau, with Buck aboard.

“He’s such a saint to be able to teach me as well. Every day he amazes me that he was able to have the career he did with Buck, and then he just keeps showing up for me. It was a bit tricky at first to kind of understand what he was used to and me and trying to learn to ride a bit like Buck, and now we’ve just kind of created our own unique partnership — now, we can read each other’s minds. So it was tricky, but we’re best friends now.”

Though Cosby’s been able to head home in the off-season to ride and work and catch up with her nearest and dearest while her horses here had a holiday, it’s still a major leap to relocate to another country at the age of just 23 – but, she says, “[My family is] so supportive. They were pushing me out the door onto the plane just because they’re so supportive and they want me to be the best as well. They’re just lovely and push me and everything; they’re really happy and want me to stay as long as I can.”

Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Canada’s sole representatives this week, Jessie Phoenix and the ex-racehorse Wabbit, didn’t come to England to throw down the gauntlet in the dressage ring, and so Jessie was unruffled by their first-phase score of 40.3, which puts them into 34th at the end of the first day.

“You know what, he showed a lot of composure in that ring. He’s the fittest he’s ever been, and after looking at the cross country course on Saturday I think that’s a good thing for the rest of the week, but it definitely was a lot for him to maintain his composure in there today. I was just looking at the scores from last year, and last year the second place score was a 43, so as long as we can finish on a 40 we’ll be good,” she says with a grin. “It really didn’t feel that electric, but Wabbit has been really thinking about Saturday all week. Yesterday in his ring familiarization he was like, the coolest dude, hanging out grazing, just like he was on a hack, and then today he was thinking about Saturday. Which isn’t a bad thing!”

Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit enjoy the atmosphere at their first Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It’s not hard to imagine that they might finish somewhere pretty close to that dressage score: last year at Burghley, Jessie and Wabbit added just 10.8 time penalties on cross-country day, plus a rail and 1.2 time penalties on Sunday, to finish 11th, and at Kentucky, they added just 2 time penalties across the country. At Maryland the year prior, they ran clear and inside the time. And while Badminton is a new experience for both horse and rider, that just adds to the fun and the challenge, as far as Jessie’s concerned.

“It’s just second to none,” she says of the event. “It is one of the best events we’ve ever been to in the world. Just from the way they take care of the horses and the riders and the owners, and the way they present everything, it’s just really incredible. [I had an entry for Kentucky, too, but] plan A was always to come here. We were just kind of touching base with the weather moving forward, because it’s a big venture to put a horse on a plane and come over if the footing is going to be too wet to run, but honestly, I’m so thankful that we made the trip here. The footing looks like it’s going to dry out, and I think it’s definitely a competition that will be good for Wabbit. I think he has the ability to really move up on Saturday with a fast, clear round.”

Tomorrow takes us into a packed second day of dressage, starting at 9.00 a.m. BST/4.00 a.m. EST with Louise Harwood and Native Spirit. Highlights on the roster include 2022 Pau winners Jonelle Price and Grappa Nera, who can be excellent or explosive in the ring, so will be an exciting watch any which way; last year’s Pau champions and Blenheim winners Ros Canter and Izilot DHI; US representatives Grace Taylor and Game Changer, who went sub-30 at Burghley last year; our final US pair Allie Knowles and her fan favourite, Morswood; double Grantham Cup winners Emily King and Valmy Biats; Tim Price and Vitali, who set the Burghley record of 18.7 last year; Bicton pop-up CCI5* winners Gemma Stevens and Chilli Knight; and Bramham winners Pippa Funnell and MCS Maverick. Ahh, but wait, there’s more: consider Tom Jackson and 2022 Burghley runner-up Capels Hollow Drift, or Caroline Powell and the excellent Greenacres Special Cavalier, or… actually, maybe it’s best if you just consult tomorrow’s line-up yourself, and plan to tune in for the whole thing, because it really is very good.

Once again, we’ll have expert live commentary from Cheg throughout the entire day of competition, and if you want an in-depth round-up of each test today, you can revisit her updates here. We’ll be back very soon with lots more from Badminton – until then, Go Eventing!

The top ten at the end of day one of dressage at the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials.

MARS Badminton Horse Trials [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Tickets] [Radio Badminton] [Livestream] [Cross Country Course] [Form Guide] [Ultimate Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

EN’s Ultimate Guide to the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

The MARS Badminton Horse Trials: Website | Box Office | Entries | Timetable | Course Preview | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

THE COMPETITION: Welcome to the third CCI5* of the 2024 season, following on from a great week at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event two weeks ago and Australia’s Adelaide the week prior to that. This year’s a special year for Badminton: it’s the 75th anniversary of the event, a fact that’ll be commemorated with a special pop-up museum featuring souvenirs of some of the greatest moments of the past eight decades. You can find it by the main scoreboard. This year, we also welcome a new title sponsor in MARS Equestrian – so expect lots of chocolate for everyone, and also a bright and bold new fence in the arena in the MARS colour way. Oh, and for the more technically-minded among you, our competitors will be riding CCI5* Test B. There’ll be 32 fences on the cross-country course, spanning 43-45 jumping efforts.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Badminton title, obviously, but also consider this: a major chance for some riders to prove to their team selectors that they really are all that. Oh, and the prize pot’s gone up this year too, to a juicy £425,000 — making it the biggest prize fund in eventing. There’s no longer a Rolex Grand Slam on the line, though: we start again, following the eleventh-hour withdrawal of two-part leader Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class.

THE OFFICIALS: Sandy Phillips (GBR) will be President of the ground jury, and is joined this week by Jane Hamlin (USA) and Christian Steiner (AUT). Joanna Gillespie (GBR) will take on the role of jumping judge. The course is designed, once again, by Britain’s Eric Winter, advised by Mike Etherington-Smith, and Phillip Kelvin Bywater returns in his role as showjumping course designer. The event’s Technical Delegate is Andrew Temkin (USA), assisted by Stuart Buntine (GBR). Nicky Salmon is chief steward, and course building has once again been undertaken by the Willis Brothers.

THE ENTRIES: We head into Badminton week with a packed field of 71 entries spanning seven nations – Great Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the USA, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland are all represented here. Because it’s an Olympic year, there’s a couple of notable absences: 2023 champion Lordships Graffalo won’t line up for Ros Canter, though she does have an entry with last year’s Pau champion, Izilot DHI, and 2022 winner London 52 is staying home for Laura Collett, who instead rides debutant Hester. But don’t rue their absence too much, because it opens the door for a seriously wide-open competition. As mentioned above, Oliver Townend and his five-star champion, warhorse, and perennial Badminton bridesmaid Ballaghmor Class will be fighting to try to win the Rolex Grand Slam, and they present a formidable threat to their opposition: Ballaghmor Class has won Burghley (twice) and Kentucky and has never been out of the top five in his nine five-star starts.

But they’re far from the only contenders for the win. Emily King makes her return to Gloucestershire on super form with her two-time Grantham Cup winner Valmy Biats, with whom she’s owed some horsemanship good karma after pulling up in tough conditions while looking very competitive last year. The world’s most successful five-star rider, William Fox-Pitt, is also on very good form with the smart mare Grafennacht, who had a podium finish at Maryland last year, and, of course, there’s Ros on a five-star winner to think about. Tim Price and Vitali might have been cursed by three fences down in each of their five-star starts so far, but they’ve been hard at work jumping in Spain over the winter, and if we see them begin the week on a sub-20 as they did at Burghley last year, they’ll put themselves in a serious position to try to shake off those demons. We’ve also got a returning five-star winner in Chilli Knight, who took Bicton’s pop-up CCI5* in 2021 with Gemma Stevens and has looked super since returning to the sport. Could this be the year for 2011 Burghley champion Caroline Powell to return to the top of the podium, this time with her excellent Greenacres Special Cavalier? Or could David Doel — second at Burghley last year and extraordinarily consistent at this level – become one of Badminton’s most popular winners with Galileo Nieuwmoed? Or have we failed to name the winner at all in this entire section? It’s a beautiful sort of Badminton, because truly, it could come from anywhere. Expect some great stories to unfold this week.

For the third year running, the BBC won’t be broadcasting Badminton — well, not in its entirety, anyway. You’ll be able to watch all the action, including trot-ups, by subscribing to Badminton TV for a one-off price of £19.99. This gives you access to the livestream, wherever you are in the world, as well as nearly 100 hours of archive footage from prior events, peaks behind the scenes, course previews, and profiles. If you’re in Britain, you’ll need to turn to BBC2 to watch the final competitors show jump live on Monday afternoon from 2.00 p.m.

We also recommend tuning in to Badminton Radio, which is broadcast live from the event all day, every day from 8.30 a.m. Helmed by a team of experts and riders alike, it features live commentary, interviews, insights into the competition, and much more. You can pick up a headset to tune in on site at the event, or tune into 87.7 FM locally or listen online here. Or, if you want to dive into previews, reviews, and reaction shows, head to the Eventing Podcast to get your fix.

Hashtags:

#badmintonhorsetrials, #badmintonbound, #rolexgrandslam

Accounts: Badminton Horse TrialsCrossCountry App, Horse&Hound, FEI Eventing, and Equestrian Team GBR. Don’t forget to follow EN, toowe’ll be bringing you all the insanity in the middle you could possibly need! (And if you’d like to see the real behind-the-scenes life of an EN journo on tour, you certainly can. #shamelessplug) Want to know the juiciest stats throughout the competition? Make sure you follow EquiRatings.

Tuesday, 7 May:

  • 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. (4.00 a.m. – 12.00 p.m. EST): Voltaire Design Grassroots Championship Dressage – The Slaits

Wednesday, 8 May:

  • 8.30 a.m – 4.00 p.m. (approx.) (3.30 a.m. – 11.00 a.m. EST): Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse Class – The Slaits
  • 9.00 a.m – 4.30 p.m. (4.00 a.m. – 11.30 a.m. EST: Voltaire Design Grassroots Championship Dressage, Showjumping, and Cross Country
  • 4.30 p.m. (11.30 a.m. EST): First horse inspection – North front Badminton House

Thursday, 9 May:

  • 9.00 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. (4.30 a.m. – 7.30 a.m. EST): Morning dressage session
  • 12.30 p.m. (approx.) (7.30 a.m. EST): Dressage demo
  • 1.30 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. (8.30 a.m. – 12.00 p.m. EST): Afternoon dressage session

Friday, 10 May:

  • 9.00 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. (4.30 a.m. – 7.30 a.m. EST): Morning dressage session
  • 12.30 p.m. (approx.) (7.30 a.m. EST): Dressage demo
  • 1.30 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. (8.30 a.m. – 12.00 p.m. EST): Afternoon dressage session
  • Following dressage: Stallion display

Saturday, 11 May:

  • 10.00 a.m. (5.00 a.m. EST): Past winners’ parade and photo call – main arena
  • 10.30 a.m. (5.30 a.m. EST): Shetland Pony Grand National
  • 11.30 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. (6.30 a.m. – 12.00 p.m. EST): Cross-country

Sunday, 12 May: 

  • 8.30 a.m. (3.30 a.m. EST): Final horse inspection – North front Badminton House
  • 11.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. EST): First showjumping session
  • 2.30 p.m. (9.30 a.m. EST): Parade of athletes
  • From 2.55 p.m. (9.55 a.m. EST): Final 20 to jump
  • 4.15 p.m. (11.15 a.m. EST): Prizegiving

FORM GUIDE
Check out and bookmark EN’s exclusive Form Guide detailing the stories and stats of each horse and rider in this year’s field.

Meet the Horses and Riders of the 2024 Badminton Field

BADMINTON WEEK STORIES AND REPORTS

SUNDAY

“I Never Thought It Was a Possibility”: Caroline Powell Wins MARS Badminton 2024

It All Comes Down to This – Let the Clenching Commence! – Live Blog from the Finale of MARS Badminton Horse Trials

One Horse Spun and Three Withdrawals at MARS Badminton Final Horse Inspection

SATURDAY

An Emboldening Day for the Sport: Tim Price Takes the Lead on Vintage Badminton Cross-Country Day

It’s Satur-yay! Butts On Seats and Buckle Up – Live Blog from Cross Country Day at MARS Badminton Horse Trials

FRIDAY

A 5* With a 4*-S in the Middle – Riders React to Cross Country at MARS Badminton Horse Trials

Friday Afternoon: Ros Retains Lead Amid Bum-Cam Reign of Terror

Reigning Champ Ros Canter Takes Friday Morning Badminton Lead

The 2024 MARS Badminton Field: At A Glance

Diamonds on the Soles of their Shoes – Live Blog from Dressage Day Two at MARS Badminton Horse Trials

THURSDAY

Video Break: Badminton Goals and Memories with Laura Collett

Thursday Afternoon at Badminton: Tiana Coudray is Best of the Bunch; Bubby Retains Lead Overnight

“Being Here is a Dream Come True”: Comeback Queen Bubby Upton Takes Thursday Morning Lead at Badminton

Shine Bright Between the White Boards – Live Blog from Dressage Day One at MARS Badminton Horse Trials

WEDNESDAY

Movers, Shakers, and Heart Horses: Team EN Makes Their Picks for Badminton

One Hold and an Eleventh-Hour Withdrawal, But All Accepted at MARS Badminton First Horse Inspection

Continental Influence, A Relocated Finish, and a Soggy Spring: Walk the 2024 Badminton Course with Eric Winter

PRE-EVENT COVERAGE: 
Back to Badminton: Bubby Upton Defies the Odds, Again

Rolex Grand Slam Contender Oliver Townend Withdraws from Badminton

Drawn Order for MARS Badminton Horse Trials: Tom Jackson to Lead Off

Top Contender Among Latest Badminton Withdrawals

MARS Badminton Entries Revealed: 87 Pairs Accepted for 2024 Event

A Happy Anniversary Indeed: Badminton Prize Money Increased to £425,000 for 2024

Badminton Box Office Opens for 2024 Priority Tickets

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!


MARS Badminton Horse Trials [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Tickets] [Radio Badminton] [Livestream] [Cross Country Course] [Form Guide] [Ultimate Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

“Being Here is a Dream Come True”: Comeback Queen Bubby Upton Takes Thursday Morning Lead at Badminton

Bubby Upton and Cola make a poignant return to the top after a tough nine months for the 25-year-old rider. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

There’s something about the alchemy of the MARS Badminton Horse Trials – its deeply entrenched history, its butterflies (both nervous and excited varieties), the trials and tribulations and triumphs that it takes to get here – that always lends a depth of emotion to the best efforts. And this morning, as the first quarter of our field entered at A and put their first-phase scores on the board, we saw a particularly poignant start to the colossus of a competition to come.

Just last August, 25-year-old Bubby Upton was in hospital, facing the news that she’d badly broken her back – for a second time – and may never fully recover. But recover she did, through an extraordinary show of willpower, hard work, and support from her family, her team, helmed by head groom Katie Dutton, and the Injured Jockeys Fund – and today, to put a feather in the cap of her comeback, she took the Thursday morning lead at Badminton, posting a 27.3 with Cola and earning her longtime partner his best-ever score at the level, too.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” says Bubby. “It was amazing in there, and he did everything that I asked of him. I didn’t quite ride his last change well enough, which is his really solid one, so I’m a little bit frustrated about that – but just being here is a dream come true. I have amazing team of trainers at home, and I’ve worked tirelessly on his dressage, because he’s a horse that found it very easy to three star and then when it came to the changes in four star and five star, he really struggled, because he’s actually a really long horse. He looks very beautiful, but he’s not the easiest to get that kind of collection on. We’ve worked really hard on trying to improve him, but it’s all come down to his strength, and when you have the strength in his rideability, and you get them in that correct window, he’s a dream.”

Bubby Upton and Cola. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Even astutely analytical Bubby isn’t getting too caught up in the details just now, though — because just riding into the ring here represents so much more than a score.

“If you told me seven months ago that I’d be here, I wouldn’t have believed you. No one will ever really understand or know what we’ve been through as a team, so
yeah, it’s very magical,” she says through a wave of emotion that began after her final halt and salute.

Although a return to top-level competition, and to Badminton specifically, might have looked as though it was off the table last year, Bubby confesses that it has always been a powerful motivator in her recovery.

“I think subconsciously, I always wanted it,” she says. “Obviously in the first couple of few months, I was learning to walk again, so the thought of even just riding again was kind of out of the question. Then when I was able to get back on a horse again, I really had to learn to do it all again. I kept falling off to the side because I had no strength on my right side — but it got better and better, and the more work we did in the gym and in the pool with the Injured Jockeys Fund, and the stronger I got, my riding got a bit better again. I would say around January time, I started to be okay at riding again. And then I had my first jump, which was very painful, but we just kept pushing, and we never stopped dreaming of this.”

All smiles: Bubby Upton and Cola. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It’s still, she admits, “pretty painful” to ride – “but I really don’t feel in a position to ever complain about it,” she says. To accommodate the discomfort, and the lessened shock absorption through her spine, Bubby has received dispensation to use a padded seat cover, but wasn’t permitted to use it in the ring today.

“I was told a few days ago that I can’t ride my test with it, so this is the first test I’ve done without it,” she says. “I was a little bit rattled a few days ago, because that absorbs all the shock through the saddle that my spine can’t take, so I had to grin and bear it in there. But just being in there, the pain goes away, and doing what I love makes it worth it.”

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF. Photo by Hannah Cole Photography.

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg took an early lead, though now settle for a very respectable provisional second, on their score of 29 – one of just two sub-30s that we were treated to this morning.

“I’m thrilled with him,” says Boyd of his stalwart seventeen-year-old, with whom he finished in the top ten at Burghley last autumn. “He went in there and went like a champion; he couldn’t have done much better. It’s hard to get a dressage test where everything just goes nicely – we’re in with a chance.”

While riders often have a preference between Thursday’s quieter atmosphere and Friday’s seriously electric one, ‘Thomas’, Boyd explains, is a rare sort who can thrive in either – a marker of the adaptability that’s made him such a standout in Boyd’s string in recent years, despite a less-than-promising first impression.

“He’s just unusual,” laughs Boyd. “When he came to me, he’d been through been through a couple other riders, and to be honest when he got sent to me, I didn’t think much of him – just because he’s pretty plain at home. He’s just a bit… normal. But then I took him to one Intermediate and I couldn’t believe how much a horse could change. He just grew, and had a great gallop and speed, and then all of a sudden I took him a lot more seriously. And he’s just been a tough horse too; he’s never been lame, and this is his seventh year at 5*. He’s just a Trojan horse. He’s a good guy, too – nice to be around, easy to ride, a laid back character, in a good way that I like – he stays calm and stays settled and lets you ride him. It’s different to some of the crazy ones where you’re nurturing them through the event. You can really push him along and go for it.”

Boyd, who was busy at Kentucky two weeks ago with three rides, brought the diminutive Trakehner along to the bluegrass state to keep up with his schooling before shipping him over a week ago. Since then, he’s been based at the Surrey yard of Australian rider Kevin McNab, who “kept him ticking over” with the help of groom Steph Simpson while Boyd competed in the States over the weekend.

“Then I flew over and started doing a bit of dressage on Sunday,” he says, apparently having never heard of ‘jetlag’.

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg TSF. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

But then, he’s got plenty of reason to have enough adrenaline to see a transatlantic trip, and no days off, through: if he completes Badminton this week, he’ll become just the second rider ever to compete all seven of the world’s five-stars. (The first was Tim Price, who also has completion at an eighth – the 2021 pop-up five-star at Bicton.)

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I started out in Australia so I did Adelaide for the first time when I was 19 years old when it had steeplechase,” he says. “I sound like an old man now, but I love 5*s – it’s what drives me along and keeps me motivated, and to be able to say you’ve done all the WEG’s and Olympics and actually get through this and have done all the 5*s, it’s something that means you can hold your head a bit higher. To be honest, though, I don’t want to just complete — the finishing or whatever is great but the winning — we’re going to go and have a go at it.”

And en route to that goal? A formidable Eric Winter course that he’s thinking very, very hard about.

“I’m sick to my stomach! I haven’t done this one very much,” admits Boyd. “I’ve only done it once, and I didn’t finish. I’m pretty familiar with, like, the Kentuckys and Luhmühlens and Paus, and even Burghley, I’m quite comfortable there now. But I’m going to walk it a couple more times than usual just to really get an understanding of where I want to be. It looks pretty tough to me. It just looks big – big jumps, and that circle, down the Vicarage Vee area, to me that just looks relentless. It’s just tough question after tough question. I feel like if I can get through that and I’ve got a bit of horse left, I should be alright.”

Georgie Goss and Feloupe. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

It’s been five years since we last saw Georgie Goss – then Spence – at Badminton, and since then, she’s got a new surname, a new nationality (the hugely successful Pony, Junior, and Young Rider British team member now flies the Irish flag), a new baby, and a new ride in 14-year-old five-star debutant Feloupe, who she took on in early 2020 from Australia’s Ben Leahy. Today, on her return to the event that she made her own debut at at the tender age of nineteen, she cracked the top three on the first morning, putting a 30.6 on the board with the smart mare.

“She’s an awesome horse – she’s one of those ones that does the exact same test every time, and she’s got beautiful change, so I could do with there being 20 changes in there and I’d be in the lead,” laughs Georgie. “She tried her little heart out in there; we just lost a little bit of rhythm in a couple of places, but otherwise, she was faultless. It would have been nice to get 29.9, but the judges seem on the grumpier side today, so I’ll definitely take 30.6!”

Georgie’s looking forward to giving Feloupe – or Lulu Lemon – her first crack at a five-star cross-country course, of which she says “the jumps look good, but the ground is a little bit squidgy.” But perhaps even more important than whatever the end result may be is the fact that now, upon her return, she’s doing Badminton as the heart of a family unit.

“I love being here having my husband and my little boy here to support — not that he knows what’s going on, but we can show him some pictures in a few years,” she grins. “It’s just a whole new dimension. It’s great to enjoy it as a family as well as enjoy it as a competitor. So hopefully it works out!”

Max Warburton and Monbeg Exclusive. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

At just 25, Max Warburton is one of the youngest riders in this year’s Badminton field, and both he and the former Andrew Nicholson ride Monbeg Exclusive make their five-star debut this week. All impressive enough accomplishments in their own right – but to throw down a test that betters most of your four-star scores and thrusts you into fourth place? That’s certainly one way to maximise the excitement of it all.

That’s just what Max and ‘Frankie’ did today, delivering a 31.7 despite a couple of early mistakes with breaks in the trot work. They pulled it back, though, with a very good walk section – and there really is rather a lot of walk in this test, so woe betide anyone who hasn’t put their practise in with this gait – and some excellent canter work, with well-established changes. We’ve seen this pair go sub-30 once at three-star and hit the mid-30s twice at four-star, so to split the difference on a debut at this topmost level is definitely something to celebrate.

Felix Vogg and Cartania. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Switzerland, one of eight nations in the hunt this week, rounds out the morning’s top five for us neatly with a smart test from Felix Vogg and Cartania, who return for another crack after an impressive 15th place finish here. They’ve begun their week in fine fettle; their 32.6 shaves a hair off last spring’s 33.1 and, explains Felix, represents a great effort from a mare who doesn’t always find this sort of pressure cooker environment particularly easy to deal with.

“She’s always a bit tricky — like, she doesn’t like the atmosphere, and she doesn’t like when the stadium was wide open,” he says. So it’s quite tricky with her, but I’m really pleased. Yesterday we had a good familiarisation to calm her down, and now, we’re looking forward to Saturday – that’s her favourite.”

After last year’s exemplary effort in tough conditions, Felix might be the sole person on site to confess that “I wished, a little bit. for more rain for Saturday!” But, he explains, discovering just how much gumption the Holsteiner has strengthened his faith in her ability to dig deep, come what may.

“[Before last year], she’d had a couple of runs [on wet ground] in Italy,” he says. “Of course not muddy like Badminton, or long like that, but I knew she would cope well with it, and she doesn’t stop running, even she’s tired. Last year, even at the last fence, she keeps going. So for me, it just made it even more clear that she’s suitable for these events, so I will try to attempt Burghley as well with her this year. It’s fun to have a horse like this.”

Felix’s wish for more rain looks like it’ll go unanswered, and while Cartania is untested on stickier, more holding ground, which we’re looking likely to have, the pair also have a great weapon at their disposal: their early draw as tenth out of the start box will mean that they can navigate reasonably fresh ground and pick their lines more easily.

“I think it will probably be sticky, and that’s as well hard for the horses. I’ve never had sticky ground like this with her, to be honest. But I think, because I’m so early on, maybe this gives me more advantage to cross country.”

Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

US rider Meghan O’Donoghue laid down a sweet, conservative test with 18-year-old ex-racehorse Palm Crescent to post a 34.7, which is good enough for ninth place at this early stage – and while the score doesn’t rival the lofty heights of the sub-30 score the pair laid down at Burghley last year, it’s still a very positive start for a horse whose strength lies in the pivotal phase to come on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of atmosphere here,” says Meghan, who makes her own Badminton debut with her stalwart five-star partner this week. “It’s my first time here as well as his, so it’s a lot to take in, but I was thrilled with him. It’s definitely not the easiest phase in the world for him, but I thought he kept his head straight and he did a smart test.”

The Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event a couple of weeks ago played out as something of a showcase of the versatility and grit of the pure Thoroughbred, and ‘Palmer’, who has thrice contested that event and finished 11th in 2022, is flying the flag for the ex-racehorse this week at Badminton.

“It’s a true testament to just how much heart they have,” says Meghan, who’s looking forward to her first trip around the Badminton track – a moment she’s been dreaming of throughout her career.

“That’s what we’re here for,” she smiles. “I’m glad the sun is shining, though, because I think it could have been a whole different story had it not been! But I’m thrilled to get out there and it looks like a beautiful track. I did Burghley in 2022, and I’ve done Kentucky and Maryland, and I’ve also done Blenheim and Aachen, but this is its own thing for sure. You know, I’ve just been trying to look around, because there’s tonnes of history here and clearly some incredible horses and riders, and just the team that puts on this competition is in a league of its own, so I’mtrying to absorb it all. I think if you dream of being an event rider as a child, Badminton is on your bucket list. My first Thoroughbred would have definitely been a horse for this kind of competition as well, but I just never got that done, so I’m thrilled to have another one to be able to do this.”

The afternoon’s dressage will get underway from 14.15 BST/9.15 a.m. EST with Australia’s Bill Levett first up to bat with Huberthus AC. Cheg will be running in-depth live updates on each pair in the ring, and you can catch up on all the nitty-gritty from this morning’s efforts, too, by clicking here. Stay cool, ENers, keep applying SPF, and we’ll see you on the flip side.

The top ten at the lunch break on day one at Badminton.

MARS Badminton Horse Trials [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Tickets] [Radio Badminton] [Livestream] [Cross Country Course] [Form Guide] [Ultimate Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

One Hold and an Eleventh-Hour Withdrawal, But All Accepted at MARS Badminton First Horse Inspection

2022 winner Laura Collett and debutant ride Hester. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

What a contrast this year’s edition of the MARS Badminton Horse Trials already makes to last year: instead of swimming our way through a swamp to get to and from any of the key points on site, we’re being dazzled by a sea of milky white wintry horse-person legs as we skim over just a teeny bit of mud. A treat! A delight! A holiday! It might not be quite the tropical temperatures of Kentucky a couple of weeks ago, but we’ll take it. And more of it! We’re all happy to gently marinate in our own sweat in the mixed zone all week long.

The sun might be the most obvious shiny new thing at Badminton this year, but it’s not alone in bringing positive change to the place. MARS Equestrian now steps into the title sponsor role, taking the helm from long-standing title sponsors Mitsubishi Motors, who stepped down in 2019 as the company opted to leave the UK market. The welcome appointment of MARS brings with it an increase in prize money – up to £425,000, the biggest purse in eventing – and, more intangibly, a palpable feeling of security and optimism as the event navigates the changing tides of eventing. It is, of course, a birthday for Badminton, too: this year, Britain’s first resident three-day event turns 75. We’d love to know what brand of eye cream it uses, because it doesn’t look a day over thirty.

Boyd Martin, Tsetserleg, and one heck of a tie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This year’s birthday edition of Badminton got off to a bright and busy start this afternoon with an extremely well-attended first horse inspection in front of the estate’s house, which is still, we hear, recovering from the presence of Guy Ritchie, who recently filmed Netflix series The Gentlemen there and got in the habit of stubbing out his fag-ends in 18th-century ornamental vases. Allegedly.

President of the ground jury Sandy Phillips oversaw proceedings with her partners-in-crime-and-dressage-judging, Jane Hamlin (USA) and Christian Steiner (AUT). They ultimately saw 70 horses presented to them, down from an intended 71 – partway through the inspection, it was announced that Tom McEwen had withdrawn CHF Cooliser and would not present.

Bill Levitt and Huberthus AC. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just one horse was sent to the holding box during the course of proceedings: that was British-based Aussie Bill Levett‘s Huberthus AC, who makes his third five-star start after a retirement on course here in last year’s tough conditions and an elimination for accumulated refusals at Luhmühlen a couple of months later. Fortunately, Bill will get the chance to show how much the gelding has learned from the experience – upon representation, he was accepted into the competition.

Hold on tight! Pippa Funnell coaxes an excitable MCS Maverick back to earth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Elsewhere, the drama was minimal, and came instead in the form of high-energy extracurricular dance moves from a small number of the very fit horses in this field – chief among them, Pippa Funnell‘s Bramham CCI4*-L winner MCS Maverick, who displayed an extraordinary degree of athleticism and balance while balancing on one hind tippy-toe and then gracefully lowering himself back to terra firma.

A pink-trousered Harry Meade and Cavalier Crystal. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As always, we also saw the awarding of prizes for the best-dressed lady and gent at the first horse inspection, judged and delivered by equestrian jewellers Hi Ho Silver. These prizes were given to Great Britain’s Harry Meade, who is the first rider since Lorna Clarke in 1970 (insofar as anyone can find, anyway!) to ride three horses in the same year at the event, thanks to a loosening of the rules this year. He’ll pilot stalwart Away Cruising, Burghley podium-finisher Cavalier Crystal, and five-star sophomore Red Kite this week, and while we don’t envy him all the extra effort, we’d be willing to be his FitBit stats will be enormously enviable, so there’s that.

Roșie Bradley-Hole and Romantic. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The best-dressed woman was deemed to be Rosie Bradley-Hole, who makes a poignant return to Badminton with debutant Romantic, stepping into the big shoes left by her late True Blue Too II, with whom she competed here in 2022.

Gaspard Maksud, a man who looks very serious considering he’s in a frog beret, and Kan-Do 2. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our own best-dressed, though? There’s no looking any further than British-based Frenchman Gaspard Maksud, who debuted the latest in his apparently endless collection of ridiculous hats: a frog beret, because, y’know, he’s a… ‘frog’. This does raise some concerning ideas about what British riders might consider wearing in Pau to live up to their moniker there of ‘les rosbifs’.

Dressage will commence tomorrow at 9.00 a.m. BST (4.00 a.m. EST) with Tom Jackson and Farndon as our first official pair in the ring, following on from the guinea pig test ride at 8.40, and will close out at around 16.30 BST/11.30 a.m. EST. Dressage times can be viewed in full here. Several of our North American pairs will be among this first day of competitors, and you can catch them at the following times:

  • Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg – 9.40 a.m. BST/4.40 a.m. EST
  • Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent – 12.04 p.m. BST/7.04 a.m. EST
  • Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit (CAN) – 14.39 BST/9.39 a.m. EST
  • Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl – 15.36 BST/10.36 a.m. EST
  • Cosby Green and Copper Beach – 16.00 BST/11.00 a.m. EST

We’ll be bringing you two jam-packed dressage reports tomorrow, but that’s certainly not all from us – keep it locked on EN for plenty more from Badminton to whet your whistle until then, and in the meantime, head to our Ultimate Guide for all the need-to-knows, including the week’s schedule, viewing options, and links to all our coverage, including our packed form guide, our girthy course preview, and much, much more. Go Eventing!

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

The MARS Badminton Horse Trials: Website | Box Office | Entries | Timetable | Course Preview | Form Guide | Live ScoresLive Stream | EN’s Coverage

Continental Influence, A Relocated Finish, and a Soggy Spring: Walk the 2024 Badminton Course with Eric Winter

Bubby Upton and Cola at Huntsman’s Close. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Badminton week is upon us, and once again, course designer Eric Winter is at the helm of this week’s primary challenge — cross-country day at the world’s most prestigious CCI5*. We joined Eric for a cruise around the course to get a sense of what might unfold on Saturday as we build towards crowning our 2024 MARS Badminton champion.

As usual, we’re swapping directions this year – so we’re back to having the historically influential Huntsman’s complex early on, as it was in 2022 when Laura Collett and London 52 were victorious.

There’s a few more throwbacks to that year in the mix, too: we’ve got the return of the two Vicarage Vee questions, with the introductory Vee, the Rolex Grand Slam Rails, coming at Fence 22/23 and the ‘real deal’ at 24/25. Both are numbered as two fences to take into account the alternative routes, which both involve jumping a ditch and then a rail, rather than the all-in-one direct approach.

We never envy anyone having to jump this iconic rider frightener, but doing it twice? Surely the stuff of nightmares, right? Well, actually, perhaps not: “I really do think that having the first question makes the Vicarage Vee itself easier,” says Eric, “because it really sets them up for it.”

Also back in the mix, and last seen two years ago, is the Broken Bridge at 13 that was newly introduced in 2022 and gave us some of the most circulated images of that event. It’s an incredible looking fence, but in practice, actually a fairly straightforward question – it’s all about establishing a punchy, positive gallop and following it through into a leap of faith into space.

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though both last season and this season have been marked by their relentless dampness, Eric says that the preparation for each renewal of the event has looked quite different.

“Last year, actually, was funny, because we had a drought in February – it was bone-dry that month,” he says. “It was probably as dry in February as it was at any other point in the year. So for us with the prep, we were way ahead because that month, we were able to get a load of stuff done. Whereas this year, it’s been dribbling on, wet, wet, wet, and so it’s been more difficult.”

That means that some fences, such as fence two, the Haywain, have been held back until a week before the competition, when they were finally put into place ready for the competition.

The other major change this year has been a reconfiguration of the end of the course.

“We’re coming back across the arena and through the side of the collecting ring, not from the bottom, because when it was as wet as it was I thought it wasn’t going to be an attractive sight to pull them up that hill at the end of the course. So we changed that a little bit. It’s always a balance between thinking you don’t want to [take too much out], because you don’t want to dumb the sport down too much and finish up nowhere, but you also need to balance what is acceptable.”

The 2024 course, as seen from overhead.

Walking the Course

This year, we’ll start in the main arena as normal, popping a bright, flower-covered box fence and being sent off into the course proper by the cheers of the crowds. Then, there’s two more single fences – the old standby Badminton Haywain at 2, and a big brush fence on a mound at 3, to encourage horses into the air and help competitors settle into a rhythm before the first combination.

Fence 3.

This way around, the Horsequest Quarry at 4AB and 5 is the first significant combination – though unusually, it’s the Quarry without making use of the two feature stone walls, which simply act as a decorative perimeter. The combination itself is, instead, made up of two wide feeders on a curving right-handed line at 4AB and a skinny feeder atop the bank at 5, which makes use of the Quarry’s feature terrain.

“I’ve used the walls four out of the seven years I’ve been building here, and there has to be some time when you say, ‘we’re going to do something else!’. I wanted to do something else last year but then Mike Etherington-Smith said, ‘I’d go back to the walls’, so I said, ‘alright’. This way will mean that people can stand a bit closer to the jumps, too,” says Eric.

The first fence at the Horsequest Quarry at 4AB and 5.

“I think it’s quite light for an early combination at five-star – there’s a lot of space between each fence. But Huntsman’s is quite strong, and as there’s a combination here, a combination at the next fence, and a combination at Huntsman’s, it means we’ve gone a bit lighter here.”

That combination at 6AB is the Bloomfields Brush Buckets, which features two maximum-height brush-topped jumps and a choice of routes between them, thanks to a strategically placed tree.

“You can jump the first one on an angle and ride the turn a bit wider, but I don’t think they will,” says Eric.  “That would get you straight to the last one but take any relationship out of it, and I don’t think the bulk of the riders will do that.”

The Bloomfields Brush Buckets.

Eric finds inspiration in all sorts of places – like the waterfall table fence by the Lake, which first came to fruition after Eric saw a similar design used as decoration in a restaurant. A lot of this year’s overarching themes, though, came from a more broadly continental input.

“I’ve got a heap of people I teach in the Netherlands who run at quite a decent level,” he says. “So I went to Strzegom and Arville and a few other places and did some coaching, and a few bits came out of that.”

Wherever inspiration strikes, though, the reality of each year’s Badminton course starts in the same, agricultural way.

“It starts with me and a load of bits of wood, and I go around and put them on the ground and think, ‘well, we can do this, or this, or this, and that, and that’, and then I start playing with angles, and then you come to something else and you think, ‘actually, I could put that there,’ and so you change it.”

“Originally, I was going to do two open corners with cord piles in Huntsman’s [7abcd], and then I thought, ‘actually, if I’m going to do open corners, I’d like to do an open oxer to start’, and so then you take the cord pile somewhere else. So it all starts to develop over three or four months of just fiddling around with it. It’s really handy that it’s a very different process here to anywhere else. Because I live locally, I pop in all the time – and so then you get a very different product because you don’t need the adjustability that a portable fence gives you – you can build permanent. Whereas if you fly in for four days or a week, you need a certain amount of portables that you can pop down.”

The view through an airier Huntsman’s Close.

Each year, it feels like the tree cover over Huntsman’s gets a bit greener, a bit airier, and a bit less like the bit of the woods in a fairytale where the witch appears and bundles a few kids into an oven. Which, you know, is quite nice, as it’s always one of the most influential spots on the track, whether it comes early or late, and probably, the competitors don’t really need a foreboding vibe shift to add to their nerves as they canter down to it.

This year, it doesn’t feel, necessarily, like a radical redesign of the complex, but it certainly shouldn’t be approached with any complacency. There’s a tough, technical direct route and a pretty slow alternative with an additional jumping effort, but anyone with any hope of being truly competitive will need to tackle the quickest line through – both to stay on the right side of the time and to truly sharpen themselves, and their horses, up for what’s to come.

That straight route will see our competitors jump a wide open oxer before powering on down on six (or seven, but preferably not) strides to two left-handed open corners – and the key to success over them will come down to two things: accepting a bolder angle to the first, and committing patiently to the line to the second, which doesn’t make itself completely visible until you’re just a couple of strides away from the second.

“The more angle you accept to the first corner, the easier the second corner will be – if they try to make the first of the corners too straightforward, the second becomes much more difficult,” he says. “Then, they have to be patient, hold their line, and wait for it to open up for them.”

The tough line from corner to corner at Huntsman’s.

Even with its modern, airier feel, this wooded pocket of the course is still plenty full of trees, which Eric sees as one of its greatest selling points from a design perspective.

“There’s a really nice placement of trees in here now, which means you can sort of bounce the riders’ line off the trees and control the angle of how they get to a fence,” says Eric, who puts this into practice with a tree just ahead of the first corner, which he’s expecting riders to be brave enough to go to the right-hand side of. “It means that you can create questions that would only really work in this space – you couldn’t rebuild them at Burghley or anywhere else.”

With the first major test behind them – and yes, this will be one where we’ll see plenty of influence exerted – they’ll head to the lake, jumping a single table at 8 en route.

Fence 9, with course builder for scale.

The first entry point into the lake is fence 9, the Lightsource bp Log, which looks impressive from a spectator standpoint: it’s a heavy, airborne piece of timber that’s offset on an angle from the take-off point, but it’s also a question we’ve seen here and elsewhere before, and it tends to ride very well.

Then, they’ll canter back out of the water, run along the length of the lake, and turn back on themselves at the far end to tackle the main complex here, the Mars Badminton Lake at 10ABCD, which has benefited from renovation work and new banking, and a complete re-levelling within the water itself.

There’s a couple of options here, and we’ll likely see both in action. The direct route begins over a deformable palisade on dry land, after which they’ll immediately head down a short, steep bank into the drink. Then, it’s a stiff line to a wide corner in the water – the same we saw used last year, though repositioned this time – and out over a skinny brush on dry land. The long route involves a different pagoda, a slightly longer route to the corner, which creates a more forgiving angle, and then two brushes on the way out.

The direct route through the Lake complex, which will take competitors over the corner in the water and out over the right-handed skinny brush.

Similarly to Huntsman’s, Eric makes great use of unjumpable elements within this question – though unlike the trees there, they’re not used to make the line trickier, but rather to lend a helping hand. Before the colossal corner in the water, there’s a pagoda to the right hand side, and riders will want to land travelling and balanced from that steep entry into the water, skim close to the pagoda to help them find a super line to the corner, and then, after landing from that, stay close to the second pagoda, which is to the left and on the landing side, and begin their turn to the final element once they reach it.

The key? A forward, travelling, super-balanced pace, and, although all three elements are related, a commitment to seeing each through with its own respective line and approach. If they try to be too direct here, that corner becomes very nearly unjumpable.

The final element at the Lake, with Eric for scale.

For those who opt to take the longer route, they won’t add a hugely significant amount of time – but because there is an additional jumping element, riders will have to be very conscious of how much jump they’ll need to leave in the tank for later in the course.

Finally, the lake segment of the course comes to a close with a familiar skip over the World Horse Welfare waterfall table at 11, which they can travel to at a good pace and enjoy a pipe opener before they begin their journey to the guts of the course.

Before they disappear into the woods, though, they’ll have another fence to jump: the Joules Tables at 12. Competitors will only have one of the two tables to jump, and there’s no conceivable difference between them – it’s just whether the left or right-handed option comes up better for them. This marks a return of last year’s collapsible tables, which were in a similar spot on the lawn of Badminton House last year, though, of course, jumped in the other direction.

Laura Collett and London 52 over the Broken Bridge, last seen in 2022. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

There’s another single fence at 13: the fan-favourite KBIS Broken Bridge, which is a real old-school galloping fence and a test of nothing but boldness. It’s a sloping upward approach to a small upright, and on the landing side of that, a maximum-dimension two-meter drop to the far side of a ditch. Riders will want to approach this with tonnes of pace, which will help their horses land far out from the fence, and will give them enough airtime to really think about their life choices, because who does this? For fun? Bizarre.

At 14 we come to the British Equestrian Federation Triple Bar, which is another pacey, bold, galloping fence, and is just about big enough to park a car underneath it, if that’s what you’re into. They call this a let-up fence, which makes sense if you’re deranged, I guess, because it has a three-meter base spread.

While the last couple of fences have been colossal, though, they certainly haven’t been technical, and now, with a bit of air in their lungs and bravado running through their veins, our competitors will meet the LeMieux Eyelashes at 15ABC, which is a totally new complex this year.

The LeMieux Eyelashes at 15ABC.

In short, this combination is an angled hedge to an open, 1.80m wide water-filled ditch, to another angled hedge. Simple, right? In reality, though, it’s a serious question and a harbinger of a lot of intensity to come.

To stand a chance of success here, riders will need to be ultra-committed to seeing their line through and riding straight and positive to stay on it. But that wide, water-filled ditch lends an element of enormous unpredictability, because horses won’t see it until they’re in midair over the first element, which, in theory, should be a forward one-stride distance, and if they’re surprised by it, take a peek into it, or drop a shoulder while they read it, the line could suddenly disappear from view.

“Perhaps I’m overthinking that,” says Eric, sagely, while absolutely not overthinking it at all. This will be a very interesting combination to watch in action.

A closer look at the ditch to the final brush element of the Eyelashes.

Upon landing, our riders will head into one of the longest galloping stretches on course, where they’ll need to find a high cruising speed to regain some time on the clock while also remaining conscious of their horses’ remaining energy levels. The Countryside Brush Oxer at 16 will help them to get back up in the air after this healthy gallop, before they tackle the Mars Equestrian Sustainability Bay water at 17AB and 18.

Airy enough? The upright rail at the MARS Sustainability Bay water.

The direct route comprises a 1.20m MIM-clipped airy upright rail at A to a narrow 1.30m drop down into the pond. Then, they’ll splash through and canter out of the pond and jump a steeply angled log at 18, which is nearly perpendicular to 17B and is related. Once again, though, we see a handy visual aid here: there’s a tree on dry land on the far end of the pond that riders will need to stay close to, and then use it as their marker for where to complete the trajectory of their curving line to the log. If they cut it too straight, it looks – and likely becomes – almost unjumpable. Done right, it’s absolutely readable and quite a friendly fence, not least because horses will see the wide open space of the long galloping lane ahead stretching in front of them, which is a great encouragement.

The final element of the water, when viewed from a much friendlier angle.

Fence 19, after another long run, is a classic ditch-and-brush galloping fence, which looks particularly imposing from the side, where you can see the depth of that ditch, but shouldn’t cause a spot of bother for horses or riders as they take it in stride.

Then, there’s another big galloping stretch before Eric asks horse and rider alike to close the stride and put their thinking caps on for a much more technical effort. This is fence 20ABC, the Ineos Grenadier Sunken Road, which makes use of last year’s newly-minted sunken road complex. The first element is a skinny brush arrowhead on a slightly bending forward three-stride line to a step up, with plenty of undulating terrain in between, and then a forward one stride to another skinny brush arrowhead.

The Sunken Road at 20ABC.

21 sees another smart use of the estate’s undulations, with an option of two different MIM-clipped birch rails at the top lip of a quarry. The left-handed option is smaller, but set right on the lip, while the right-handed option is set back a bit, but is built to slightly larger dimensions.

Then, it’s over that duo of aforementioned Vicarage Vees at 22/23 and 24/25 – easy-peasy, surely, as Eric points out that the Rolex Grand Slam Rails makes the Holland Cooper Vicarage Vee, the world’s most terrifying rider frightener, ‘slightly easier’, which I’m sure fills everyone who has to jump it with confidence, maybe.

There’s a new look this year to 26ABCD, the Lightsource bp Mound, which is another spot on course that boasts a useful crater of terrain, which has been so well-used in previous years. This year, though, Eric and his team have built a beefy drop into it, and particularly interestingly, he’s put a lip on the edge of the drop to stop horses from sneaking and sliding their way off it – instead, they’ll have to leap, and that’ll add no small amount of unpredictability to how and where they’ll land, because the landing, too, is on a downhill slope.

Looking down from the apex of the Lightsource bp Mound. The direct route will take them over two stumps, out of shot to the right hand side of this view.

“It’s a tiny rail, but it’ll stop them sliding down on their bellies – it’ll throw them further from the bank and create more power that the riders then need to control,” says Eric.

Once they’ve landed and are travelling onward again, they’ll traverse the flat bottom of the dip and then run up a short, steep uphill slope to the final two elements, a duo of skinny brush-topped stumps on offset angles. There’s two bending strides between them, and it’s not one of the toughest lines we’ll see on this course, which reflects Eric’s desire not to overtax a tiring horse.

The primary part of the question, then, really is that drop, and how they prepare for it, how they manage the variables of the landing, and, of course, the line they take over it – jumping it slightly left-to-right will make the rest of the line come up easier. It’s one of the last big questions on this course.

Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue jump the cordwood pile in 2023. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

But it’s not the last question. Next up is 27AB, the Wiltshire Brewers’ Drays, which appears after horses and riders have left the woods and re-entered the heart of the park. There’s two options here: the direct route is a truly colossal cordwood pile with a maximum top spread of two meters, and so if riders feel their horse is tiring, they can opt for a line of two more conservatively-sized cordwood piles. That’s a decision that’ll be unique to each horse and rider; will one large jumping effort take more out of them than adding another whole jump to their roster?

The stiff angles of the Worcester Avenue Brushes.

The penultimate combination on course is 28ABC, the Worcester Avenue Brushes, a trio of angled brushes that can be tackled pretty well straight through, if riders are chasing the time, or can be made a bit more forgiving by steering around unjumpable elements to meet each fence more directly.

Fence 29, the Sound Gates, is a straightforward deformable white upright gate, which will give way if it’s given a clang from a wearying horse, and fence 30ABC, the final combination, sees a change to the end of the course: last year, and in many previous years, there’s been an uphill run at the end of the course from the Keeper’s ditchline, whereas this new route, which travels through the former cooldown area, gives horses level ground, and no climb, to finish on. This final combination, the Savills Keeper’s Curve, is two fences on the direct route or three on the indirect – on the straight route, it’s two wide timber oxers, and on the indirect, it’s a timber oxer to a double of upright rails. Timewise, it won’t have much impact one way or another, so the choice will come down to what a rider knows about their horse: do they struggle with a tidy front end, or with making width, when they’re running out of steam? Most, it’s likely, will choose the two oxers.

And home! No one can possibly miss the final fence, which has a bright new colour scheme this year in honour of new title sponsor, MARS Equestrian.

Having cleared that question, our competitors have just two fences left to tackle: the Rolex Brush Roll at 31, a hefty-enough rolltop in the old collecting ring, and then, finally, the brightly-coloured Mars M at 32, which is in the middle of the arena. Very good riders have made avoidable mistakes at the final fence here before, so it mustn’t be underestimated, but the thrill of the finish, the roar of the crowd, and the proximity to home can be powerful motivators to find that last push.

This year, many of our UK-based competitors will feel confident in their preparation, despite a tricky spring season thanks to the weather. That’s because this year, the CCI4*-S at Thoresby Park was broadly praised for being a much more suitable Badminton feeder course, with sufficient technicality and dimensions to get horses and riders alike into the right headspace.

This, Eric explains, is no coincidence.

“[Thoresby director and designer] Stuart Buntine has been Assistant Technical Delegate here. I had him here for the two or three days when we first put out fences, so he had a bit of an idea of what was going to be here. I think when you start to get into that thought process, when you start to put your fences out you’re a bit braver, because you know you’re still way off of what it’ll be here. But if you’re not dealing with this, and you’re just coaching Pony Club over the winter and what-have-you, and a lot of your winter training’s at a meter, or a meter ten-ish, then you suddenly come here and it’s a bit in-your-face.”

And so, with the course walked, the preparation milestones ticked off, and the breathing exercises jotted down from the Calm App, we’re all — media, riders, and spectators alike — just about to ready to head into the heart of the action. We’ll see you there, ENers.

For a closer look at each fence on the course, head to the Cross Country App guided coursewalk, featuring Mark Todd, or tune in to Badminton TV for a video tour of the course’s intricacies, included as part of your subscription to watch this year’s livestream in full. You can find all the information you need on membership here. Go Eventing!

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

The MARS Badminton Horse Trials: Website | Box Office | Entries | Timetable | Course Preview | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

Rolex Grand Slam Contender Oliver Townend Withdraws from Badminton

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Libby Law.

For the third time, World Number One Oliver Townend has made it to the final hurdle of the coveted Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing, which has only ever been won by two riders, and for the third time, his quest has ended in disappointment. Just a week and a half after taking the Kentucky title with nine-year-old Cooley Rosalent, and following on from a decisive victory in last year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials with the seasoned warhorse Ballaghmor Class, Oliver has announced this afternoon that he will not contest this week’s MARS Badminton Horse Trials, at which he was one of the hot favourites to take the win with his Burghley winner, who has finished in the top five multiple times at the Gloucestershire fixture. Oliver had already withdrawn his other two entrants, Cooley Rosalent – who instead went to Kentucky – and Tregilder.

The decision comes after a notable withdrawal before the dressage for the 17-year-old gelding from the CCI4*-S at Burnham Market, where Oliver historically runs his horses to time after withdrawing them before cross-country at their first four-star outing at Thoresby (or Belton, as it was previously). This, it appears, came as the result of a poorly-timed abscess that has derailed the three-time five-star winner’s preparation.

“Absolutely gutted to withdraw Ballaghmor Class from this week’s Badminton Horse Trials,” writes Oliver in a statement on his social media. “He had [an] abscess earlier in the season and consequently missed a couple of runs and gallops. This morning he went for his final gallop and with the 11&1/2 [minute] cross country course combined with the possible soft ground we don’t feel he’s at his normal 5* fitness right now. This is the first time in his career he’s missed a 5* and with the Rolex Grand Slam being at stake (for the 3rd time for me!) and Thomas’s record with 10 top-5 placings at 5*, 4 of which from Badminton including twice 2nd place, and his 3 wins at Burghley and Kentucky, we really hoped he would finally get the Badminton trophy he so badly deserves.”

To ‘Thomas’s’ legion of fans, Oliver offers some reassurance: “He’s fit and well, and knowing his huge heart he’d give us his all, but it’s simply not in his best interest to run this week and his welfare is our top priority,” he continues. “Thomas will be rerouted to plan B but for now we’d like to give a huge thanks to his owners, our sponsors and our team who are all equally gutted but support us to make this call to look after our superstar.”

This week’s MARS Badminton Horse Trials will see 71 combinations battle for the crown, following today’s last-minute withdrawal of Laura Collett’s Bling, too.

EN’s coverage of MARS Badminton Horse Trials is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products, your go-to source for science-backed nutritional support across all types of horses, disciplines, and needs. Click here to learn more about what KPP can do for your horse — thank you for supporting our wonderful sponsors!

The MARS Badminton Horse Trials: Website | Box Office | Entries | Timetable | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

Tuesday News & Notes from Kentucky Performance Products

 

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It’s here! It’s Badminton week! I am still so jetlagged from Kentucky but I could do a little wee with the excitement of it all! Today, the historic stone stables at the world’s first five-star officially open for their equine residents to move in and I, too, am heading over to sunny Gloucestershire to set my boots on that hallowed turf, ready for a busy week reporting for EN. We’ve got so much content coming your way: before any of the reporting gets started, we’ve got a packed form guide, At-A-Glance visual round-ups of the field, an Ultimate Guide packed with all the information you need, an embarrassingly enormous course preview, and peeks back into the annals of history, too. I can’t wait to tell you all the stories that unfold this week – and if you see me out and about at the event, be sure to say hi! I might make you pose with Chinch for a photo, so prepare yourself.

Events Opening Today: Valinor Farm H.T.Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Summer H.T., Round Top H.T.Stable View Summer H.T.Midsouth Pony Club H.T.Fox River Valley Pony Club H.T.

Events Closing Today: USEA MDHT YEH/NEH QualifierFlora Lea Spring H.T.Willow Draw Charity ShowWoodside Spring H.T.Spring Coconino Horse TrialsVirginia Horse Center Eventing

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

Meghan O’Donoghue is one of the US representatives lining up at Badminton this week, and her debut at this special event has been a long time coming and seriously well-earned. COTH caught up with her to find out more about her journey to the top, and her partnership with ex-racehorse Palm Crescent, ahead of their week of a lifetime in sunny (? maybe?) England. Read the full story here.

We might be heading into one of the best weeks of the year, but we’re still not over the one we just wrapped. If you’re also missing Kentucky, you definitely don’t want to miss the latest episode of the US Eventing Podcast, which sees interim host Rosie Russell sit down for a DMC (that’s a deep, meaningful chat, natch) with newly-minted National Champ Lauren Nicholson. Give it a listen here. Bug 4 Prez.

On the hunt for a fun, horsey job? Ecogold is looking for an Equestrian Sales and Marketing Assistant – and they want someone who’s really passionate about equestrian sport. This sounds like a great entry-level role, and while they’re based in Montreal, they’ll consider remote work for the right person. I’d be willing to be that there’s probably some travel to shows involved with this, and I think you’ll get to meet and work alongside some really cool people, so definitely chuck your hat in the ring if you’re looking for a role!

Hey, breeders and bloodline aficionados, listen up, because this is important: the Marbach DSP Eventers Auction, which will take place on Saturday, has just added a really, really cool lot – the very last frozen straw from the legendary Heraldik. The late Thoroughbred stallion is, arguably, the most influential sire in top-level eventing, and over the last number of years, we’ve seen huge demand for his lines, with several sons fighting for the title of heir apparent. But there’s nothing quite like the real deal, and I’d love to see an EN reader with an eye for matchmaking get their hands on this – I’m already imagining following the story from sperm to superstar, which is the kind of sentence I really can’t say in polite, non-horsey company, but it does thrill me nonetheless. Here’s a little glimpse at how cool Heraldik is, from Marbach:

“The thoroughbred sire of the century from the Birkhof Stud has influenced German and world horse breeding with his offspring like no other. Heraldik, by Caramel xx, born in Slovakia in 1982, was successful in show jumping up to 1.50m level after a short stint on the racetrack. He started his breeding career with the Casper family at the Birkhof stud. Due to his extraordinary charisma, he had many fans right from the beginning and was also widely used beyond the borders of Baden-Württemberg. He has more than rewarded the breeders trust in his hereditary power. While the foals and youngsters were stunning types and great movers, the first “Heraldiks” under saddle were really impressive.

Among his many successful offspring, the Olympic champions Butts Abraxxas (Ingrid Klimke) and Butts Leon (Andreas Dibowski) as well as the individual European champion FBW Halunke (Michael Jung) stand out in eventing. Other 4* and 5* horses by Heraldik xx include Butts Avedon (Andreas Dibowski), TSF Karascada (Kai Steffen Maier), Happy Times (Shane Rose/AUS), Tabasco (Marylin Little/USA), Hamilton (Josefa Sommer/GER), Harry Belfonte (Thierry van Reine/NED), Hilton (Patrizia Attinger/AUT) and Henri Z (Ralf Kooremans/BEL). A total of six of his offspring jumped at 1.60m level, including the licensed Herald (Markus Beerbaum/GER, Eric Lamaze/CAN) and Hoyo de Monterey (Stein Endresen). In the dressage arena there were four Heraldik’s xx at Grand Prix level, the most successful being H-Ekwador, which took part in the Olympic and World Equestrian Games several times under Katarzyna Milczarek. Last but not least, Stan the Man xx’s son LaBiostetique Sam FBW must be mentioned. Michael Jung’s double Olympic champion was bred from a dam by Heraldik xx! No other thoroughbred sire in recent breeding history has produced so many championship horses. Heraldik xx was ranked in the top ten of the WBFSH world rankings for more than ten years, including top spot five times!”

Phew. What a boy. If you’re interested in registering for the auction, and want to see what else is up for grabs, head over to my wishlist.

Joe Meyer and Harbin. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Sponsor Corner: Joe Meyer’s Harbin has officially proved himself as a 5* horse! The Defender Kentucky Three Day Event was the gray OTTB’s first time moving up to the level. After Sunday’s show jumping phase, he earned a very impressive 14th place. Sally caught up with Joe to discuss Harbin’s past, present, and future. Coverage sponsored by Kentucky Performance Products.

Watch This:

Badminton Grassroots competitors Evie and Donut have made their final preparations and headed to Gloucestershire – here’s how they got those last boxes ticked:

Young Superstars and Jung Superstars: Our Picks of the 2024 Marbach DSP Auktion Line-Up

Generally speaking, when we’re about a month into the off-season and the weather is truly grim, life’s excitement levels are at an all-time low, and I’ve rewatched the entirety of both Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s magnum opus Fleabag and Natasha Lyonne’s seminal Russian Doll in their entirety for about the eighth time, you can usually find me feeding my hunger for thrills and eventing in one way: sitting in my jim-jams on my sofa, drinking cheap Sauvignon Blanc and window-shopping for the young horses I’d most like to get a sugar daddy to buy for me from any of the major sport horse auctions about to unfurl in Ireland.

And so what a special treat it is to find myself spending the weekend between Kentucky and Badminton, at the cusp of the first fever-pitch of excitement of the season, also sitting in my jim-jams on my sofa, quaffing the savvy b and casting my beady little eyes over some of the stars of tomorrow, who would look really, really, really good on my yard if anyone fancied chucking some loose change my way to make that happen.

This time, though, they’re not sequestered on the Emerald Isle, waiting for me to strike gold and come get them – they’re in Germany, that epicentre of equine excellence, and being sold through Marbach’s DSP (that’s Deutsche Sport Pferd, or German Sporthorse, for us uncultured swine) auction.

You know who’s a very good example of a DSP? Tamie Smith’s 2023 Kentucky CCI5* winner Mai Baum, that’s who, and the folks at Marbach knew exactly how to convince me to open their catalogue up by putting him right there in pride of place on the cover. Yes, I harbour delusions of grandeur! Yes, I do believe that if I were in a position to buy one of these horses, I, too, could maybe win Kentucky! No, I don’t spend much time thinking about the fact that my greatest eventing moment thus far is that I once led the dressage at a Novice (US version, too, not even the UK variety) and then got eliminated at the first fence in showjumping because I could not get my horse near it! That, I think, could be cured by shopping. Everything can be cured by shopping. I love the post-capitalist hellscape my brain has become; it’s a happy, hopeful place to be.

Anyway! Perhaps you, too, can see yourself producing the next Mai Baum, or the next La Biosthetique Sam FBW, or the next Billy the Red, or FE Lifestyle – I can go on listing high-flying DSP representatives for hours, you know – and perhaps you actually do have a budget and a more robustly backed-up faith in your own ability to do so. In which case, let me insert myself into your main character moment by helping you to pick out the horse that’ll change your life, and find yourself safe in the knowledge that when you do buy the horse, and when you do win that five-star in a few years, I will be here, writing smug articles that make it all about me and how I knew the horse was a world-beater from the first moment I saw its photo. It’s a win for everyone, right?

There are 18 horses in this year’s Marbach auction, which will take place on Saturday, May 11 (that’s Badminton cross-country day, which is a very good omen that will definitely push you over the edge and make you buy the horse you’re eyeing). Here are the five I’d most like to put my hand up for.

Lot 1 – Champ

Three-year-old stallion (Canoso x Sue, by Stan the Man). 61.62% blood.

Straight off the bat, they’re getting me where it hurts. A Stan the Man maternal grandson! Oh, lordy, I do like a Stan the Man. You know who else is a Stan the Man? La Biosthetique Sam FBW, that’s who, and he’s been quite good at this eventing malarkey. Champ is the only unridden lot in this auction, but he looks very promising loose-jumping. He’s by Canoso, a very capable jumper, whose sire, Catoki, jumped at the top level and in World Cup classes before stepping down to help educate a young rider. That’s something I like to see: it says there’s a good brain, and a willingness to take a joke, and I’d love to imagine that perhaps that’s one of those winning qualities that’s been passed down to this guy.

Lot 11 – Amadea

Five-year-old mare (Amadei-Geli x Diana, by Diamond Hit). 69.97% blood.

Straight away, I’m charmed by this plain brown wrapper who’s obviously got a tonne of talent tucked away in an unassuming exterior. She’s a tidy, careful jumper, with an expression that looks workmanlike and considered, not like a young horse who jumps high and tight because they’re worried and overcompensating. I get the impression that she’d have a great brain and would be seriously good fun to produce.

I’m also very interested in her breeding: her dam, Diana, who’s already had offspring out eventing successfully, is by dressage stallion Diamond Hit, whose own pedigree is flashy toes on top (he’s a son of Donnerhall) and jumpers on the bottom (he’s a great-grandson of Ramiro Z via Ramino, who jumped at 1.50m). Dressage breeding creeping into eventing isn’t a wholly new concept, and it’s not always something that works out, but when it does, it’s special – look, for example, to Mollie Summerland’s Luhmühlen CCI5* winner Charly van ter Heiden, who’s a son of Contendros Bube. That actually makes him sort of, kind of related to this mare, who’s got Pik Bube I, Charly’s grandsire, through her own sire’s granddam. That might be too tenuous a link to base a horse purchase off of, which is fine, but consider this, too: that example of a top-level dressage-bred eventer made the time twice at five-star, despite boasting only about 23%, while this mare is nearly 70% blood, thanks to – wait for it – her Akhal-Teke sire, Amadei-Geli. Yes, really, the golden horses from the horse breeds encyclopaedias your aunts and uncles bought you every Christmas and birthday. Can I name a single Akhal-Teke in any Olympic discipline? No, I absolutely cannot. Do I think it would be a really cool story, and one that our breeding expert here at EN, Amanda Chance, would jump on like a fly on the proverbial, if you were to take a half-bred Akhal-Teke to the top of the sport? Totally. Akhal-Tekes are a desert breed, well used for endurance, and as someone who’s obsessed with the toughness, talent, brains, and stamina of Anglo-Arabs, I think this combination could be a real sleeper hit. Be the one to set the trend.

Also, for what it’s worth, Amadei-Geli is owned and produced by Germany’s Julia Schmid, and if you don’t know that name, remember it: a lot of the very best riders in the world give her a call when they’re looking for a seriously special young horse. She knows her stuff, and if she rates this stallion, then I rate it too, by default. She only found and produced a young fischerRocana, after all.

Lot 12 – Conde

Five-year-old gelding (Casino Berlin x Stalypso’s Lady, by Stalypso). 37.45% blood. 

Look, if you’re going to shell out on a horse from Germany, you want it to look German, right? And let’s be real, this boy looks so German that I heard a faint ‘genau’ as I turned the page onto him. He’s practically shoving a schnitzel and a bucket of mustard at me through the screen. I’ve been told not to mention the war around him. (I kid, I kid, I’m sorry – I have a German passport, please don’t cancel me for my crap jokes.) Anyway, he’s very much of a type, and that type is full-bodied (like a nice glass of Bordeaux?) yet somehow still elegantly proportioned, with a continental, compact head and a set of knees that love to visit the sky. He’s a fine-looking stamp of a thing, and looks to have no shortage of scope to play with. I like his breeding, too: his sire is by Eurocommerce Berlin, also known as Caspar, who has sired excellent eventers including Clarke Johnstone’s Menlo Park, and Berlin is himself a son of the excellent Cassini I, whose knees seem to be stamped through generations. The bottom half of his sire line is no less interesting; he’s got a great-grandsire in Landor S, who has contributed, either as a parent or grandparent, to a number of serious eventers, including DSP Quintana, who competed at Badminton last year. I used to ride a Landor S who was a bit of a teenage dirtbag, actually, but he could really jump, and I did quite enjoy his antics, because he was smart and surefooted and never, ever boring.

I think, probably, you’ll need to buy a cob- or pony-sized bridle for this cute little head, but frankly, if you’re buying a smart young horse from Germany, you can cough up for a trip to the tack shop – and it’ll be worth it, anyway, because whether you keep him for the long haul or produce him as a serious young riders’ prospect, there’ll be plenty of reason to pat yourself on the back for taking this one home.

Lot 14 – Gladdys

Five-year-old mare (Icare d’Olympe AA x Gräfin Guayana, by Donauzauber). 50% blood. 

Hello! Only me again, here to tell you about how much I like Anglo-Arabs for eventing! I mean, seriously though, can you blame me? Some of the sport’s coolest, most versatile, toughest horses with the most memorable characters have made use of this savvy mix of Thoroughbred and Arabian lines, and when that recipe is folded in with a sprinkling of continental quality, it yields a delicious result. Vassily de Lassos! Tamarillo! Opgun Louvo! fischerTakinou! These are just a tiny smattering of the top-level event horses who are either themselves registered as Anglo-Arabs, or who have significant Anglo-Arab breeding. The French, who I think are the world’s leaders at finding the balance between blood and quality (sorry, Germany, you are also very, very good) are very much on the AA hype train already, and young horse master Tom Carlile loves an Anglo-Arab dam line. You don’t have to listen to me, but definitely listen to that lot, because they are well good.

Gladdys here (what a name, by the way) is by the Anglo-Arab sire Icare d’Olympe, a French Anglo-Arab who competed to Advanced himself. On the bottom, she’s Trakehner – another breed I love for similar reasons – and goes back to the great Gribaldi, so there’s some dressage influence coming through there, too. On video, she’s an interesting prospect: her trot isn’t anything to write home about at this early stage, but if you buy for a trot, you’re a silly sausage anyway. Her canter is active and balanced, her footwork to a fence is catty and clever, and, if I’m perfectly honest, every bit of her says “I’m Anglo-Arab up top and Trak down below which means you’d better sit tight and listen to a few options, buddy, before I start winning things for you.” More power to her, frankly.

Lot 9 – Vino

Four-year-old gelding (Vingino x Nastasia II, by HPH Candillo). 47.27% blood. 

Forgive me for skipping around a bit, here – I’m like a child in a sweet shop with auction catalogues, and I follow no man’s rules but my own. And one of those rules? Only ever fall in love with a grey if you’re sending it in someone else’s direction and thus won’t ever have to wash poo stains off it at four in the morning before a dressage test. And so, I present to you: Vino. What a charmingly-named chap, and what a sweet, game soul he appears to be. He’s got a lovely, active hindleg, a sunny countenance, an appealing buoyancy and balance to his paces, and a cute-as-a-button pop over a fence, and I think he’s going to make somebody very, very happy. (That somebody will not be the person holding the stain-removing spray in a few years when he really starts to fade, mind you.)

Vino’s sire line is a who’s-who of jumping tours de force, with Voltaire and Cassini I contributing to all those qualities I like in him, and on the bottom, he’s… also got Cassini I, which is quite Sweet Home Alabama of him. No Hapsburg chin to be found here, though, so we’ll consider this example of kissing cousins an acceptable one.

Plus, if you’re into damlines, Michael Jung, and great names, don’t miss…

  • Lot 2, Arocan, who’s out of a full sister to fischerRocana and by the same Akhal-Teke stallion as lot 11, mentioned above
  • Lot 18, Senorita, who’s out of a full sister to Nereo and Armada and by Ramiro B, which might make her Oliver Townend’s new favourite young horse
  • Lots 16, 17, and 18 again, who were bred by Michael Jung
  • Lot 15, who’s called… Kumquat

You can check out the Marbach DSP Eventing Auction catalogue in full here, and find videos of each lot in this playlist. The 2024 auction will take place on Saturday, May 11, and will be run in a hybrid format, so you can either bid and follow along from afar, or head to Marbach to get involved and try your dream young horse before you buy. Horses will be available to view and try from tomorrow, May 6, through Friday, May 10, and during the day on Saturday, they can be viewed on the cross-country course before the auction begins at 7.00pm local time/6.00pm GMT/1.00 pm EST. For more information, or to register as a bidder, head to the website here – and happy bidding!

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

Gorgeous foal alert – and what better way to start a drizzly Badminton week, frankly? Hot Bobo, the 2023 Kentucky CCI4*-S-winning partner of Canada’s Karl Slezak, has now got a redheaded baby on the ground, and while the filly was born a month prematurely, her bloodwork’s looking promising and, as Karl’s partner Katlyn reports, she’s a little fighter like her mother. No names have been decided upon yet, but they’re thinking of ‘Hot Tamale’ for this star of the future, who was born on Cinco de Mayo. There’ll be a long journey ahead for the little one, and her devoted team of people, but we reckon we could see this one lighting up the prize giving at Kentucky 2034!

U.S. Weekend Action

Riga Meadow at Coole Park Combined Test (Millbrook, NY): [Website]  [Results]

Stable View Local Charities H.T. + USEA Interscholastic/Intercollegiate Eventing Championships (Aiken, SC): [Website] [Results]

Texas Rose Horse Park H.T. (Tyler, TX): [Website] [Results]

The Event at Skyline (Mount Pleasant, UT): [Website] [Results]

Waredaca H.T. (Laytonsville, MD): [Website] [Results]

Windridge Farm Spring H.T. (NC): [Website] [Results]

UK International Events

Osberton International I (Worksop, Notts.): [Info / Schedule] [Results]

European FEI Events

Jardy Standard Show (France): [Info / Entries]

Pratoni del Vivaro Standard Show (Italy): [Info / Entries]

Sopot Standard Show (Poland): [Info / Entries]

Your Monday Reading List:

In the world of horses in sport, often the story of those who don’t finish atop the podium is even more fascinating than that of those who do. At this year’s Kentucky Derby, the story that most piqued my interest – and I’m far from alone in that – is the tale of West Saratoga and trainer Larry Demeritte, who is just the second Black trainer to have a horse in the Derby since the ’50s. The 74-year-old is also fighting a battle with cancer and a rare heart disease, but isn’t letting anything slow his roll as he chases his dreams. Dive into the pair’s remarkable story in this piece from The Atlantic.

There are so many ways to get yourself into legal trouble in the horse world. Could a red ribbon in your horse’s tail be one of them? Tying one in has, for as long as anyone can remember, been an easy and visible way to let other riders know that their horse may kick – in effect, it’s a little sign saying ‘give me a bit of space, please’. But could acknowledging your horse’s tendency to reactiveness be the same as admitting guilt if something were to happen to another horse or rider? Horse & Hound caught up with legal experts to find out.

How does it feel when you sit the trot? Do you feel like you’re made of rubber bands, and every part of your body is on the move? Or do you feel tough and hard and still, impervious to any bouncing? And actually, which of those is the right feeling – or is it neither? Dressage pro Amelia Newcomb’s back to help you get the measure of this tough, but essential, skill.

High-flying multi-hyphenate Valerie Pride is Sideline’s newest eventing columnist, and we can’t wait to follow along with her season, her thoughts, and her stories as she continues to navigate balancing judging, coaching, and top-level competition. Here’s her debut column.

Have you got a few dollars or pounds to spare? Here’s a seriously worthy cause for you to consider sharing it with. Stepney Bank Stables, in the northern English enclave of Newcastle, has existed as a pillar of the community for many years, working as a charity to provide support and access to ponies and riding for kids from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s been a lifeline for kids from low-income households, kids struggling with school, neurodivergent kids, and anyone who has a passion and needs a bit of help to see it through. In fact, it was the starting point into horses for Adam Short, best known for being Tom McEwen’s loveable, bloody hilarious, and incredibly talented travelling groom – but now, it’s facing potential closure due to finances. Check out their story, and help them reach their fundraising goal and keep kids in the saddle, here.

Deadline alert! Applications for the 2024 MARS Bromont Rising grant program close today. Click here for all the info and to apply. 

Morning Viewing:

As we head into Badminton week, get to know reigning champ Ros Canter in the latest of LeMieux’s Journey to the Top short documentary features.

Blue Grass & Blue Ribbons: EN’s Team Picks for KY3DE

 

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tilly Berendt

Winner: I’m eenie-meenie-miney-mo-ing it between Tom McEwen and JL Dublin and Yas Ingham and Banzai du Loir – and I think it’s probably Tom’s year. That decisive third place finish at Pau last year, plus the second at Kentucky, suggests that the win is on its way, and I reckon it’ll be seriously close, but it’ll go his way this week. Yas will, I think, also have her redemption with a podium finish.

Top US Finisher: It’s got to be Liz Halliday and her formidable Cooley Nutcracker for me. I’ll be real, here: I actually wasn’t ever that wowed by this horse when he was younger and learning the ropes with Astier Nicolas. But since he’s grown into his legs and figured his job out, I’ve been so thrilled to be proven wrong – and in the two years that Liz has had him, boy has she proven me wrong. They’ve got 13 FEI runs under their belts so far and have been in the top ten in 11 of them, including taking the USEF CCI4*-L National Championship at the tail end of last year. This’ll be the gelding’s first five-star, but last year he came achingly close to winning the tough CCI4*-S, but for an 11 at a table that I still haven’t emotionally recovered from because from where I stood, he looked super over it. In any case, he won his next run — the CCI4*-L at Tryon — and so that bodes well for this week, because he had an 11 in his last prep run at Stable View. I like to turn a bit of rough luck into a good omen in whatever tenuous way I can, frankly.

Best Mare: Logic says Boyd’s Maryland victor, On Cue, or Oliver’s Blenheim Eight- and Nine-Year-Old champ, Cooley Rosalent, but actually, I’m going to throw my vote the way of the sole Irish combination here, Susie Berry and Clever Trick. Clever Trick, or Owl, is a real classic kind of cross-country horse – she’s game, and blood, and quick with her footwork and her thinking, and I really rate her as the kind of horse that the late, great Jimmy Wofford would have been vocal in his admiration of. She’s not done a five-star yet, but I think she’ll be serious on Saturday, and while her dressage isn’t her strongest phase, if Derek’s built us a blinder this year, she’ll climb and climb. There’s another reason to get behind Susie, too – she helped produce Morswood, and rode him around a Young Rider Europeans before he came over to be Allie Knowles’s best ginger boy.

Dark Horse: He shouldn’t be a dark horse, really, but I suspect that Stateside audiences may not yet be super familiar with Germany’s Christoph Wahler, who has been second at five-star and seriously consistent at Championships with his top horse, Carjatan S. His ride this week, the leggy D’Accord FRH, is a debutant at the level, but quite a cool one. He and Christoph came together in 2022, and after a few early runs where they ironed out the getting-to-know-you bits, they’ve been absolutely on fire: in their last eight FEI runs, they’ve never finished lower than twelfth place, and have been clear and inside the time in six of them, adding just 2.4 time penalties in the other two. They’re also excellent show jumpers, which will be another tick in the box to help them climb from their first-phase score, which will set them around the 30 mark. While five-star first-timers always have the inevitable question mark over their heads about whether they can make the difference, I would be the most unsurprised person in the Rolex stadium if these two popped up in the top ten, or even the top five on Sunday.

Heart Horse: I’m not sure who I love more, Phelps or Mia Farley — but I do know that I want them to have all the nice things, all the time, because they’re great. This is, in part, because I’m a sucker for an OTTB, but it’s also because every interaction I’ve ever had with Mia has come about because she’s been helping me and Sally bully her partner, Woods Baughman, which means that she’s totally and completely a woman after my own heart. They were so, so, so cool at Maryland, and I really hope their Kentucky debut fulfils all their dreams, too.

CCI4*-S Winner: Shout-out to Katie Malensek, who pilots STX Mex in this class – this is definitely a horse to watch this year, and I really enjoyed seeing him develop on this side of the pond with my pal Tom Crisp aboard.

Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Cheg Darlington

Winner: I’m convinced it’ll be JL Dublin’s day on Sunday and we’ll see Tom McEwen grinning as he gallops ‘round the Main Arena for his lap of honor. He was pipped to the win by Tamie here twelve months ago due to cross country time penalties, but this pair have another year together in their saddlebag and have come out in winning form this season, taking the title in the 4*-S at Kronenberg last month. Dubs truly is a special horse: his dressage is genuinely a sight to behold, his bravery on the cross country is matched by his talent, and he’s super reliable on the final day. Still etched into the database of great eventing moments in my brain is the image of Nicola Wilson at the top of the podium at the European Championships in 2021. Dubs was a just a ten-year-old when he took that title after finishing on his dressage score of 20.9. He’s a true event horse, and Tom’s a true eventer – a winning combination – and, although it would be cool to have another US victory at Kentucky, I think Tom and Dubs would be popular champions.

Top US Finisher: I reckon we’ll see Hannah Sue Hollberg and Capitol H I M as the best of the US camp. ‘Chito’ really showed his mettle at Maryland last fall when he finished 4th – they were the highest placed US combination that day. He’s come out this season in hot form with a win in the 4*-S at Bouckaert Farm a few weeks ago and I really hope that momentum takes them forward and up the leaderboard at Kentucky. Chito’s brand number is 3, and he was drawn as third to go. They’ll actually be the second combination up the center line on Thursday after being bumped up the order by a withdrawal, but hey, I’m taking the numbers as a sign and predicting that this pair may well be on the podium come Sunday afternoon.

Best Mare: This is actually a really tough category because there are a number of very nice mares on the start list at Kentucky this year. I’m plumping for Oliver Townend’s Cooley Rosalent to top the herd. This mare is truly an exceptional talent and must be a very exciting prospect for Oliver, particularly given that she’s still only a ten-year-old. She’s proven that finishing on her dressage is entirely in her wheelhouse – in fact, she came racing out of the start blocks this season and did just that in the 4*-S at Burnham Market a couple of weeks ago – and when the dressage score is consistently in the low-20s, well, you’re surely onto a winner. Her third place at Maryland 5* last season really showed that she’s growing from each experience she has – putting the green 20 from Luhmuhlen firmly under her cinch and coming back out all the better for it. I hope she’ll do the same with the two poles that kept her from the top of the podium at Maryland and turn out a classy performance across the three phases this time around. I do want to add a shout-out to Kirsty Chabert’s Classic VI also – this mare’s day at the top of the top level is surely just around the corner. I was disappointed to see the chance of a 5* podium slip away from her in the show jumping at Pau, but I’ve no doubt that someday soon the three phases will come together for them like they did at Luhmuhlen in 2022 – where they finished on their dressage for second place – and Kirsty will take home the 5* win that this mare surely has in her. Just not this time around, purely because there are a few horses who’ll be higher up the board after the dressage, although to be honest, I hope I’m wrong about that and she starts her show jumping round on Sunday – after the speedy clear she can definitely deliver on Saturday – in with a real chance.

Dark Horse: I’m torn between two combinations for this – they’ve both got solid experience at the level and decent form in terms of podiums and placings. In no particular order, I’m hailing Ariel Grald’s Leamore Master Plan and Lauren Nicholson’s Vermiculus as dark horses to watch out for. They’re both exceptional geldings with plenty of experience at 5* as well as Championships appearances – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the pair of them added another great result to their cards this week.

Heart Horse: Ah, this one is super easy – I’m a one guy kinda’ woman and that guy is Barnaby. There are three reasons why I love Lillian Heard Wood’s LCC Barnaby:

1. My first pony was called Barnaby.
2. My Barnaby looked just like a mini version of Lillian’s Barnaby.
3. LCC Barnaby is the epitome of an eventer who lays his heart out on the cross country course.

This guy literally grins as he gallops and jumps his way around 5* courses. He’s so up for the game and his enthusiasm for the sport never fails to remind me why I love eventing like I do.

CCI4*-S Winner: Wow, the line-up for the 4*-S at Kentucky is stacked this year! I’m going with Pan-Ams individual gold medalists Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake. If you write up their last seven FEI runs like a racecard, it reads 3352112. That’s one heck of an impressive streak. With a dressage score that’s likely to sit mid-20s, super careful show jumping and no cross country jumping penalties across 20 international competitions – with the turn of foot to match – I think this combination is going to be pretty hard to beat.

Monica Spencer (NZL) and Artist. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Diana Gilbertson

Winner: Well, well, well, here we are again – Team Picks – and my indecision grows ever worse. This time, the difficulty is deciding between Yas Ingham and Tom McEwan. I feel like both of them have a point to prove. Last year she and Banzai du Loir came across the Atlantic as one of the favourites, after a sparkling debut here in 2022 when she finished 2nd to a record setting Michael Jung. An out of character blip across country left them out of the running though, and instead it was fellow Brit Tom who took the runner up spot. But he and JL Dublin didn’t have a straightforward season after that, either, although they did end the season back on the podium in Pau. SO after all that, who do I think will take the win? Er…One of them. I just don’t know which. Like seriously cannot choose. Yas. But only because I flipped a coin and she was heads.

Top US Finisher: When I grow up, I want to be Liz Halliday. She has got an insane FEI competition record, and one of the most impressive string of horses out there. Cooley Nutcracker is no exception. This may be his 5* debut, but he practically eats the cross country at 4* level, so this should pose no problem to him. Plus, Liz is a seasoned 5* rider, and has been round Kentucky more times than most, so who better to show him the ropes at the level. Bali is ready to take centre stage as the latest in a longline of superstars from the Halliday stable, and this weekend will see him do just that.

Best Mare: Again, tough call, like asking to choose my favourite Spice Girl. For me, as with most of my colleagues here at Eventing Nation, it would seem, it is between Cooley Rosalent, Clever Trick and Classic IV. I love them all; they are all feisty, independent women – the Destiny’s Child of the equine world, if we are going to keep on with the girlband theme. But Oliver Townend and Rosie’s round at Maryland is still fresh in my mind, so I am going to plump for Cooley Rosalent to take the Best Mare moniker here. That and I am a sucker for a grey. I might even be so bold as to say she could take the third place on the podium behind Tom and Yas – testament to her talent, not her colour, I might add.

Dark Horse: I don’t know if Calvin Böckman and The Phantom of the Opera count as a dark horse – at the tender age of 23 (he celebrates his 24th birthday over Kentucky Weekend), this guy has already got more medals than most, and he and The Phantom of the Opera have a verrrry impressive FEI record thus far. But still, this will be their first 5* start, and so for me, that qualifies them as a contender for the Dark Horse category. That, and the fact that the name ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is, for me at least, synonymous with mystery and intrigue (it also happens to be one of my favourite musicals). They have every chance of finishing well up the leader board having rarely been out of the 20 in recent years. I’m not one to make bold, predictory statements, but I would say that these two are The Next Big Thing.

Heart Horse: Mia Farley and Phelps, with a side of Monica Spencer and Artist. Actually, you know what, I’ve a big heart, so there’s equal room in there for both. Artist stole my heart after that Pratoni performance, when he and Monica appeared out of nowhere (or New Zealand, whatever), taking the International Eventing scene – ad the rest of us – by surprise, and they have continued to impress ever since. Similarly, Mia and her best pal Phelps exploded onto the 5* scene last Fall at Maryland, where they romped around their first 5* – the only pair to finish within the time – to finish fifth. The story behind both of these horses – bought for next to nothing ($1, in Phelps’ case) after a failed racing career, only to become world class eventers – never fails to bring me out in goose bumps, and my heart swells every time I watch them. I love a Thoroughbred at the best of times, and these two dudes are flying the flag loud and proud for OTTBs. Top 10 for both of them I reckon. I’ve made wilder predictions.

CCI4*-S Winner: Yikes. The entry list for the CCI4*-S is as exciting as that of the 5*, with a slew of top names, including Pan Am Gold medallists, Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake, winners of the Grand Prix Eventing showcase, Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS, as well as the afore mentioned Goddess Liz Halliday with three rides – Miks Master C and Cooley Quicksilver amongst them. Up until the beginning of this week of course, the wonderful Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, last year’s fairytale winners of the 5*, were also on the list. Obviously they would be my go to here if that were still the case, but since their unfortunate withdrawal I am going to have to revert to another one of the afore mentioned big shots. I can just about narrow it down to Miks Master C — third in last year’s 5* — and Chin Tonic HS. On account of the fact that I chose Liz as the best US finisher in the 5*, I am going to go with Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS. Got to keep things fair here, after all – and he does seem to have hit his prime this year – long may it last…there’s a pretty big event happening over in France later where that form might come in handy…. Still, with an entry list like that, it will be a fight to the finish, and I am looking forward to seeing it all unfold It really will be (one of) the Best Weekends all year! (I mean, we still have the Olympics to come, guys. Kentucky can’t have it all this time).

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Abby Powell 

Winner: It’s incredibly hard not to pick last year’s runner up Tom McEwen and JL Dublin for the win this year (unless you pick Yasmin Ingram and Banzai du Loir, honestly flip a coin) so I’m not going to! Tom and Dub’s partnership is another year older and another year stronger. A 5* win for this pair is simply a matter of time and Dubs seemed to quite enjoy his time at the Horse Park last year. A my disclaimer though, seriously, I’m not betting against Yas and Banzai either!

Top US Finisher: She’s 18 years old this year, but age is just a number so don’t count On Cue out. She may have had a bit of time off post-Maryland, after she won the inaugural event in 2021, but her rider Boyd Martin clearly felt that the special mare had more to give. They came back to the 5* level at Burghley last year, finishing an extremely respectable 10th place. In fact, in all their previous three starts at this level, they’ve never finished lower than 10th. If On Cue can pull out a clean jumping round in the final phase like she did that year at Maryland, I believe the fairytale could happen again.

Best Mare: Other than On Cue (as above), I think that Ema Klugman and her syndicate-owned toe-flicking Bronte Beach have the potential to take this title, despite this being the mare first appearance at this level. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Bronte in-person a handful of times now and she sure shines in the sandbox and is a beast around the cross country! If she takes a liking to the Rolex arena and puts her best foot forward in the show jumping on Sunday, who knows how far up the leaderboard this pair could ultimately end up.

Dark Horse: Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way are my pick here. It feels like it wasn’t all that long ago that “Mason” was running his first 5* (it was 2021 when he made his debut at this level which I guess is a hot minute ago now, but time still feels like a blur post-2020. I digress) but this will be his sixth appearance at the level and he’s clocked completions and top-half of the pack finishes at minimum in each of them. We know Mason has the potential to go sub-30 in dressage — he did it at Burghley — and he’s a cross country machine. If Will can get this “little boy in a toy store on a sugar high” (his words in a previous interview!) then the sky is the limit for this pair!

Heart Horse: I think Mia Farley and Phelps stole a lot of hearts, including mine, after their 5* debut last year at Maryland. Mia was the epitome of realness and relatability throughout the whole event and how can you not have a soft spot for an OTTB who can rock around cross country like Phelps can? Just keep your jumping shoes on for Sunday Phelps, c’mon!

CCI4*-S Winner: I have to admit I haven’t been quite as involved with coverage this years as I have in past years, so I am just really looking at the 4* entry list right now and yikes, that’s one big stacked list! Out of a good handful of serious contenders, if I have to pick one, I’ll pick out Liz Halliday and Miks Master C to scoop up the win here. Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS might have the edge after dressage, but “Miki” and Liz have the edge in cross country time, which I think will ultimately give them the upper-hand.

Mia Farley and Phelps. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Sally Spickard

Winner: Tom McEwen and JL Dublin

It’s been a bit of an “always a bridesmaid” for Tom McEwen and JL Dublin, who’ve twice hit the podium at the 5* level, including a second place finish at Kentucky last year in the pair’s first 5* together. They followed that up with a third place finish at Pau that fall. While this partnership is still relatively young, it benefits from the experience of both horse and rider, and one could be fooled into thinking the two have been together for much longer than two years. “Dubs” has a 4*-S win under his belt this spring and seems to have come into Kentucky in fighting form. I think we could see Tom nab his second 5* title (he also won Pau in 2019 with Toledo de Kerser) this weekend.

Top US Finisher: Doug Payne and Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap still seems like he tends to fly a bit under the radar at these major events, but in truth he’s one of the best jumping horses in the field. Doug’s been working hard on some updated warm-up strategies for Quantum, encouraging him to flow more forward in his dressage work. That practice has paid off this year as the 13-year-old U.S. bred gelding has been delivering some quality tests. If he can squeak down toward his personal 5* best of 29.5 (Maryland – 2022), he’ll be in good standing to make a bid, but don’t count him out if he scores a little closer to his low-mid 30s average — this is a pair you can nearly count on to climb their way up the standings with clear and quick jumping rounds. Experience is also not to be counted out: Quantum has completed six 5* events to date. Could this be lucky number seven?

Best Mare: Cooley Rosalent

Oliver Townend and Cooley Rosalent are not a pair to count out for the win, but I’m slotting “Rosie” into the Best Mare spot for now. This exciting younger mare seriously impressed with a gusty performance in her 5* debut at Maryland last fall, where she finished third. Oliver has had great success on this side of the pond in past years, and he’s also making an astonishing 100th start at the 5* level this weekend — good luck beating that number.

Dark Horse: Mia Farley and Phelps

Mia Farley and Phelps are a great underdog story. Phelps, who was purchased off the track by Joanie Morris and then sold on to his current owner, David O’Connor as a sale project. No one stamped Phelps to be an upper level horse, full stop, in the beginning. But I’ve grown to really respect Mia’s ability to quietly and empathetically produce a horse, and mostly to her surprise she put in the work and secured a top five finish in her very first 5* last year at Maryland as the only rider to go clear inside the time on cross country. Mia is nervous for this first go at Kentucky, but she should believe in her preparation and the relationship she’s built with Phelps and who knows — maybe a podium finish is in the cards for this easy-to-root-for pair.

Heart Horse: Claus 63

This was a bit too easy of a choice, as I’ve worked for Sharon White for several years now and have had the privilege of watching Claus flourish under her expertise. Claus is the sixth horse Sharon will have brought to this level; many fans will know her well from the iconic photo of her and former 5* partner Cooley On Show over the ditch and brush fence on cross country. In Claus she has found a different type of ride, but one she believes very strongly in. She’s been qualified to bring Claus out at 5* for a couple years now, but as is her nature she meticulously ensures no stone is left unturned in her preparation. I’ve watched her continue her own education as a horsewoman while also helping Claus be his best self in all three phases. Their record has a few growing pains on it, but on their weekend this pair is absolutely capable of delivering a competitive finish. Education and setting the horse up for a long career will be her priority this weekend, but Sharon’s also as competitive as they come so you know she’ll be in it to perform her best.

CCI4*-S Winner: Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS

Is this a unanimous team vote? I’m not sure, but I feel it likely might be. While the Cosequin Lexington 4*-S is very competitive this weekend, and while I also know Will is setting his horses up for the Olympics rather than necessarily trying to go for gold this weekend, he’s also sitting on a potential world-beater that could earn 10s in his sleep. Time will be tricky to make on cross country as it usually is in a short format, but should Will find himself atop the board after phase two it’s hard to imagine anyone besting him.

Veronica Green-Gott

Winner: Phillip Dutton & Azure
We all know Phillip Dutton’s credentials, it would come with very little surprise to see him at the top of the podium. Azure is a slightly more controversial choice to win the 5* this weekend, as this will be the mare’s second attempt at the 5* level. However, if you look at Azure’s record, you’ll quickly see that this mare is a real athlete with a top-level pilot on board. This deadly combination has had no obstacle faults on their record, and the time penalties they do receive are typically at the 4*-S level. I think there’s enough galloping room on this track for the brave mare to really hit her stride and crack on to finish with few time penalties (I’ll refrain from saying zero to avoid jinxing them).

As for last year’s elimination at their first 5* attempt at the Maryland Five Star, that was a combination of a bit of bad luck and some miscommunication. As Phillip said, “I accept the blame, as I didn’t get the right line for her to the second corner.” We all have a few bad days sometimes, and I’m willing to bet Phillip has fewer than pretty much everyone. All that being said, he and “Sky” seem to be back at it and right as rain based on their 2024 performances. I wouldn’t hold their involuntary dismount against them heading into this weekend’s competition.

Top US Finisher: Barring Phillip & Azure, Liz Halliday & Cooley Nutcracker
Barring Phillip & Azure, Liz Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker would be my choice for Top US Finisher. Sure, it’s the gelding’s first crack at 5*, but I’d be willing to bet Liz will be riding competitively. “Bali” is just as much a competitor as his rider with a record filled with podium finishes. Together, I wouldn’t put it past this pair to make their first 5* a great one.

Best Mare: Ema Klugman & Bronte Beach
When I ran into Ema on the cross country course this morning, I greeted her by calling her Esquire Klugman, before remembering that she’s a lawyer, not a medieval knight-in-training. Either way, I’m a big fan of Ema Klugman Esq. and hope to see her at the top of the pack. I’m also a big mare person and Bronte Beach just seems like a lovely horse. Plus, with Bendigo on her shoulder, there’s no other mare I’d rather believe in. According to her record, “Bronte” is particularly brave, with only one run out/refusal. She does get some time penalties, but with fewer on the longs than the shorts, the galloping room at Kentucky may work in her favor there.

Dark Horse: Mia Farley & Phelps
If you were there when Mia Farley and Phelps crossed the finish line as the only pair to make the time at the Maryland Five Star last year, you would have them as your dark horse pair, too. The cheering, the tears, the hugs, the joy– the whole mix zone/rider tent celebrated with her. Mia always has a smile on her face and a great attitude to go with it. Plus, I’m a sucker for an amazing OTTB and Phelps is absolutely one.

Heart Horse: Chin Tonic
You know how some people are convinced that some celebrities are just lizards disguised as people? Well, I’m convinced that Chin Tonic is not actually a horse, but a Pegasus in disguise. This horse is so silky smooth and catlike in his movements; I could just watch him all day long. If I ever had the chance to ride Chin Tonic (hell I’d take a pony ride) my life would be complete.

CCI4*-S Winner: Danito & Tamie Smith
How can you not choose a horse with the nickname Danito the Flaming Cheeto as your 4* winner? After a brief hiatus, I’m thrilled Danito is back and ready to go. He’s finished on the podium at events like the Maryland Five Star and Rebecca Farm. While this will be his first return to competition at the Kentucky Horse Park since he was eliminated here in 2021, I have faith that this redhead can get the job done.

Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Gillian Warner

Winner: It’s hard to not pick Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir. While we see an incredibly talented field, these two consistently wow with a low 20s dressage score, typically pick up just a bit of time cross country, and jump well under pressure on the last day. They’ve certainly had their experience under pressure, and have delivered. It will be exciting to watch them in Kentucky again this year.

Top US Finisher: I’m keeping my eye on Liz Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker. Although this will be his 5* debut, with top ten finishes in seven of the nine 4* these two have run together, and with Liz’s extensive experience, I imagine they’ll impress.

Best Mare: I love a good mare, and there are plenty competing this weekend I’d love to take home with me. That said, a few in particular catch my eye, including On Cue, who has only ever finished in the top ten at the 5* level, and Karma, who may be making her 5* debut, but who has two 4* wins under her belt, as well as a top 15 finish at the Boekelo Nations Cup.

Dark Horse: 5* debutante Wakita 54 has my eye. As I said, I love a good mare, and “Kiki” and Andrew McConnon have years of experience together, including three top ten finishes at the 4* level in 2023, an impressively clean cross country record, and a trip around the Kentucky 4* last year.

Heart Horse: I have to pick Doug Payne’s sweet Quantum Leap. During my time working with Doug, Quantum’s kind personality, athletic ability, and adorable face made him so easy to fall in love with. Of course, he’s also finished in the top ten in five of the six 5* events he’s competed in.

CCI4*-S Winner: This is near impossible with so many strong pairs in the mix for the 4* this year. For me, it’s between William Coleman and Chin Tonic HS and Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake. Both are wildly impressive in the dressage, hold incredible cross country records (HSH Blake without a cross country jump penalty to date) and tend to show jump quite well. Chin Tonic HS has competed through the 5* level, and HSH Blake has the experience of a win at the Pan Ams last year. It’s hard to pick, and I could see it going either way, but I’ll go ahead and say Caroline Pamukcu and HSH Blake.

Liz Halliday and Cooley Nutcracker. PC – Sherry Stewart.

Token Horse Show Boyfriend of Team EN, Alex 

Winner: A rumour, that I am definitely not starting right now in this article, has it that Yasmin Ingham prepares for every cross-country round with 37 Cadbury’s creme eggs, bought at a post-Easter discount price. I think that’s probably the diet of a champion so she’s going to win this with Banzai du Loir.

Top US Finisher: Liz Halliday dropped 200 pounds of dead weight over the winter and I reckon that’s probably made her even more aerodynamic than usual. Cooley Nutcracker is ready to crack some nuts, and so is Liz, probably, and if I’m honest, I’m a bit scared of her, but also very impressed. Go show ’em, Liz.

Best Mare: I pick Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI, because Kirsty is a real magician. This is an inside joke that I’m including purely to make it very clear here that my primary role at these shows is to befriend everyone, but also I don’t annunciate very well, because Kirsty thought I was a magician when I told her I was a musician. You win some, you lose some. Anyway, Kirsty wears good sunglasses for cross-country and I do think this horse could move into my winners’ spot if she, too, wore sunglasses. Just something to think about.

Dark Horse: Susie Berry and Clever Trick seem really cool. I base this entirely off the fact that Tilly went to their yard recently to do a photoshoot and all the horses looked like nice horses. Also I hear the Irish have started winning five-stars now. Good for them!

Heart Horse: Last year at Boekelo’s Tuesday night party I confidently told Christoph Wahler that he and D’Accord FRH were going to win. They came twelfth, so this time, I’m just going to say that I like this horse.

CCI4*-S Winner: I was going to say Liz again, but then Tilly reminded that Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS exist. He’s a pretty-coloured horse, isn’t he? Just an excellent shade of horse. I think that’s all you really need to win.

 

One in the Pink; A Journalist on the Brink: The 2024 Kentucky Golden Chinch Awards

Every year, I grow more and more convinced that EN only buses me out to five-stars for one reason: to lose friends and do whatever the opposite of influencing people is. But boy, oh boy, do the riders keep giving me plenty to work with. Every time I write one of these things I also live in abject fear and horror of the day that some probably-well-meaning but also faintly deranged person tries to fight me in the comments, so as always, a disclaimer: everyone at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day looks fabulous. I bully you because I love you. I also often miss at 90cm fences so if you want to make fun of me right back, I promise I’ll make it easy for you.

And with those i’s dotted, and those t’s crossed, let’s get down to the serious business of being recreationally mean on the internet. It’s time to hand out some Golden Chinches, folks.

The Golden Chinch for Just Being Ken

Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Look, let’s get the elephant – or the rhinestone cowboy – in the room out of the way nice and early, shall we? Will Faudree, who presented Mama’s Magic Way, has already won the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, no matter what happens from here on out. I’m certainly not the first to draw a Barbie comparison here, nor will I be the last, and I certainly can’t top the trot-up announcer remarking that Will had just stepped out of the cover of Beyonce’s newest album, so I won’t even try. Suffice it say that if Faudree’s job is just beach (or, um, trot-strip sand dune), then he’s, like, really good at it. Anywhere else he’d be a ten; here, today, he is a twelve.

The Golden Chinch Award for Requiring Your President to be Locked Up

Sara Kozumplik and Rock Phantom. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It works better as a visual, I’ll admit, if you picture JFK rather than any of our more immediate recent presidents, but in any case, Sara Kozumplik’s shimmy-worthy white wiggle dress is giving Marilyn Monroe huskily breathing out a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, much to the chagrin of wives everywhere. I honestly have no idea how she ran in this little number, but by god, did she make a good show of it. It’s a look that says ‘when you’ve got a trot up at 2, a PTA meeting in which you’ll need to get your flirt on with your son’s geometry teacher because he’s failing the class and only a bit of extra charm can save the day at 5, and an upmarket competitors’ party which will swiftly descend into chaos and table-dancing at 8′. In short, she looks smoking hot, AND she doesn’t have horse bogeys on her, somehow, so really, gold stars all ’round. Also well done to Rock Phantom for not treading on her toes in those admittedly wildly impractical flats.

The Golden Chinch for Getting the Milkin’ Done in Time for the Show

Phillip Dutton and Quasi Cool. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Well done, Phillip! You got all 600 of those heifers drained right on time to present your horse. We love a man of many talents, we love a practical jacket, and we really love it when, after a moment of deep concern, we spot the THIS logo on the red cap and can breathe a sigh of relief that today is not the day that the Facebook comments go ham.

The Golden Chinch For ALSO Frightening Us All with a Hat

Buck Davidson and Sorocaima. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Two red hats, two very different vibes. Would you like to buy a nice little hatchback, only 20,000 miles on the clock and definitely, 100%, absolutely working in a totally functional and reliable and legal way?

The Golden Chinch for Legacy Admissions

Boyd Martin and On Cue. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Earlier this week, before I got to the Horse Park, I spent a day exploring Lexington, by which I mean I kept somehow choosing Starbucks franchises on Google Maps that didn’t have a drive-thru or any parking because they were actually tucked away inside the University of Kentucky campus. I ended up so lost within the guts of the place that I’m not convinced that I didn’t accidentally matriculate at some point and now, probably, I am about to be financially eviscerated by student loan debt that spirals out of control faster than my mental health on day four of a three-day. Ha ha, just kidding, I’m fine! We’re all fine! Anyway, while being held hostage by UK (go Wildcats! So High School Musical of them! We’re all in this together, babayyyy!) I saw a lot of examples of two specific kinds of people: Stanley Cup girls (“why are they all carrying around sippy cups?” asked my beleaguered other half, with a touch of dismay) and frat boys. And it would appear, perhaps, that one of them might have been Boyd Martin, who looks for all the world like he’s about to sidle up to me at a bar, tell me about his crypto accounts, neg me a bit, and then ask for my Snapchat. Ultimately, though, it’ll all end in tears, because I know, with all the confidence in the world, that I would thrash him at beer pong and he wouldn’t like it, not one bit.

The Golden Chinch for Copyrighting a Colour

Sharon White and Claus 63. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In 2016, artist Anish Kapoor somehow managed to acquire exclusive rights to use Vantablack, a revolutionary paint so black that it traps, rather than reflects light, which is actually quite cool and also a really weird and unnerving effect. Anyway, those exclusive rights meant that no other artist could use the paint, which pissed a few people off in the art world – which is something I really love, because it proves that no matter how niche of a world you live in, someone will be annoyed about something really petty within it. The story gets even better, too: not long after, another artist, Stuart Semple, decided to create the world’s pinkest pink, and made it available for any artist to use, except… Anish Kapoor. Take THAT, art nerd!

Anyway, all this to say that I truly hope Sharon White considers filing for exclusive use of her signature shade of orange, which she’s truly made totally emblematic of her brand over the years. Every time I see her, I think of Josie and the Pussycats. “It’s new, it’s orange!” And really, all I ever want to be doing is thinking about Josie and the Pussycats, the most underrated film of the early 2000s.

The Golden Chinch Award for Teaching Me Maths and Making Me Like It, Maybe

Bec Braitling and Caravaggio. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If Sara Kozumplik (see above, by a few slots) is on her way to a PTA meeting to flirt shamelessly with a geometry teacher, Bec Braitling might well be that geometry teacher, because the combination of sharp tailoring and muted plaids feels, on paper at least, like quite an academic sort of aesthetic. But if that’s the case, then she’s the really cool substitute teacher that appears twice a year and thrills all her students by dropping savage one-liners about the other teachers and occasionally doing a little swear while teaching. Also, actually, there’s no way someone who’s really into math would wear such a fun shirt, so I’m going to say she’s a cool substitute English teacher, and one who’ll give you a bonus point on your essay because you closed it out by saying “In conclusion, Holden Caulfield is actually a bit of a dick.” Maybe this is just wish fulfilment for what I wish my own English teachers had been like. Maybe I desperately seek the validation I didn’t get when I was sixteen, even now I’m thirty-two. Maybe I ought to take this up with my therapist.

The Golden Chinch Award for Getting the Comments Section Going

Calvin Böckmann and The Phantom of the Opera. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

All I’ve seen on various social media platforms and eventing message boards today is Calvin Böckmann objectification. So here you go, you thirsty, thirsty readers. Wait ’til you see how he salutes the ground jury in his dressage test.

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Tickets] [Scoring] [Live Stream] [Ultimate Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

The Ultimate Guide to the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

We’re beyond excited to finally have arrived at the first day of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian at the lovely Kentucky Horse Park. To prep you for the weekend ahead, we’ve compiled our traditional Ultimate Guide, which we’ll keep updated with links to each day’s posts so consider it your handy guide to keeping up with all the coverage from both the 5* and the 4*-S.

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Tickets] [Scoring] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

THE OFFICIALS

The Ground Jury panel for the 5* this weekend will be presided over by Robert Stevenson (CAN), joined by Xavier Le Sauce (FRA) (both Robert and Xavier are also members of the Ground Jury for the Paris Olympics) and Judy Hancock (GBR). The 4*-S will be judged by president Christian Steiner (AUT), Valerie Pride (USA), and jumping judge Charlotte Skinner-Robson (USA).

The cross country course is designed by the USA’s Derek di Grazia, assisted by fellow designer Jay Hambly and the hardworking jump building crew. The show jumping will be designed by Steve Stephens (USA).

THE ENTRIES

You can view the Form Guide for the 5* here and the 4*-S here to learn all about the competitive field in attendance this year. We’ve got strong entries in both divisions with plenty of Olympic selection potential on the table; most of the horses aiming at Paris for the U.S. are opting for the 4*-S this weekend, but that by no means indicates we should count out any of the 5* pairs.

THE IMPLICATIONS

Across both classes, there’s a coveted title on offer – especially in the feature CCI5*. But excellent performances in either class, too, will help certain riders and horses make their mark on their country’s selectors as we head swiftly towards this summer’s Paris Olympics. As far as the US race for selection goes, we’re largely seeing it play out in the jam-packed CCI4*-S class, which features heavy-hitters such as Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS, Boyd Martin and Fedarman B, and Liz Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C, to name just three of a seriously solid list.

But the five-star isn’t devoid of Olympic battles, either – they’re just largely playing out for other nations. Yasmin Ingham and Tom McEwen are both trying to earn podium finishes, which would help to put a couple of wobbles last season behind them and thrust them into contention for the formidable British team, and our trio of high-flying Germans are also here with a point to prove.

HOW TO FOLLOW

The Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event will be livestreamed on ClipMyHorse TV / USEF Network. If you don’t have a ClipMyHorse account or a USEF account, you can sign up for a FREE Fan Membership, which will give you access to the live stream at no cost. Click here to sign up. ClipMyHorse members (including those overseas) can click here to access the live stream.

Wednesday, April 24

  • 2 p.m. – CCI5* First Horse Inspection — High Hope Inspection Lane

Thursday, April 25

  • 7:45 a.m. – CCI4*-S Dressage Test Ride
  • 8 – 12:30 a.m. – CCI4*-S Dressage
  • 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – EEI Invitational Pony Club Mounted Games – Walnut Arena
  • 1:00 p.m. — Retired Racehorse Project – Walnut Arena
  • 1:00 p.m. – CCI5*-L Dressage Test Ride
  • 1:30 –4:30 p.m. – CCI5*-L Dressage 

Friday, April 26

  • 8–11:30 a.m. – CCI4*-S Dressage
  • 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. – Champions Live! — Booth #316 (The Hill)
  • 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – EEI Invitational Pony Club Mounted Games – Walnut Arena
  • 11 a.m. – Kentucky Invitational CSI4* Jog, sponsored by Hagyard Pharmacy-Claiborne Ring
  • 12:30 – 4:10 p.m. – CCI5*-L Dressage
  • 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. — Retired Racehorse Project – Walnut Arena
  • From 7 p.m. – Kentucky Invitational CSI4* $38,700 Welcome Speed Cup 1.45m, presented by Hagyard Equine Medical Institute

Saturday, April 27

  • 9:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. – CCI4*-S Cross-Country 
  • 11:45 a.m.  – Kentucky Invitational $35,000 Special Phase 1.45m – Rolex Stadium
  • 1–4:15 p.m. – CCI5*-L Cross-Country
  • 6:00 p.m. – $225,000 Kentucky Invitational CSI4* 1.60m – Rolex Stadium

Sunday, April 28

  • 7:30 a.m. – CCI4*-S and CCI5*-L Horse Inspection, sponsored by Hagyard Pharmacy
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – CCI4*-S Jumping Test; reverse order of placing
  • 12:30 – 12:45 p.m. – Presentation of the Awards
  • 2 p.m. – CCI5*-L Jumping Test first group; reverse order of placing
  • 3 p.m. – CCI5*-L Jumping Test second group; reverse order of placing
  • 4 p.m. – Presentation of the Awards

Pre-Event Coverage

Behind the Barn with Doug Payne and the Pitfalls of Lactose

Bec Braitling Reflects on a Return to 5* Two Decades in the Making

Behind the Barn with Liz Halliday and Tamie Smith

One for the Money, 63 for the Show: EN’s Form Guide to the CCI4*-S at the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

We’re Back! EN’s Form Guide to the 2024 Defender Kentucky CCI5*

Behind the Barn with Will Coleman and His Sunscreen

“Timing is Everything”: Reigning Kentucky Champion Withdrawn from CCI4*-S

What’s Happening at the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event

Kentucky CCI5* At A Glance: The Horses and Riders of The Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

Get a First Look at Derek di Grazia’s Defender Kentucky Cross Country

Behind the Barn with Sara Kozumplik and Sharon White

Kentucky Entry Update: A German Withdrawal + A New Trailblazer

Buy a Mai Baum Hat, Support Strides for Equality Equestrians at Kentucky

Defender Kentucky Drawn Order is Live; Phillip Dutton to Lead Off

Behind the Barn Returns: Get to Know Boyd Martin and Will Faudree

Fancy a Career in Equestrian Broadcasting? Learn from John Kyle at Kentucky!

Feral to Five-Star: Camarillo’s Ready to Step Up with Doug Payne

Catching Up with Derek di Grazia Ahead of Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

Defender Kentucky Entries Released: 47 Entries Headline 5* Field

Cosequin® Lexington 4*-S to Offer Increased Prize Money at 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by MARS Equestrian

Kentucky 5* Gets a New Name: Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, presented by MARS Equestrian

Wednesday, First Horse Inspection Day

One in the Pink; A Journalist on the Brink: The 2024 Kentucky Golden Chinch Awards

Behind the Barn with the Next Generation

All Horses Pass First Horse Inspection at Kentucky, but Not Without Drama

Join EN and Ride iQ for a Kentucky Course Walk with Kyle Carter + Will Faudree

Behind the Barn with Jennie Brannigan and Her ‘Distinctive’ Salute

Make Your Nominations: Choose the Achieve Equine #Supergrooms for the Defender Kentucky Three Day Event

Thursday, Dressage Day One

Behind the Barn with “The Smiling Assassin” Jessica Phoenix

Yasmin Ingham Sets Sail on Day One of Defender Kentucky CCI5*

Will Coleman and Chin Tonic HS Withdraw from Lexington CCI4*-S at the Kentucky Three-Day

Commando 3 Surges to Front In the Final Ride of the Day in Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S

Let’s Get This Party Started! – Live Blog from the 5* Dressage Day One at the 2024 Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

Behind the Barn with Buck Davidson and Leslie Law

Blue Grass & Blue Ribbons: EN’s Team Picks for KY3DE

Do You Accept Your Mission? EN’s Trivia Tour with Chinch

Behind the Barn with Phillip Dutton and A Walk Down Memory Lane

Friday, Dressage Day Two

Tom McEwen Takes Command, U.S. Riders Charge on Final Dressage Day at Defender Kentucky CCI5*

Miks Master C and Dyri Tie for Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S Lead Heading in to Cross Country

Dancing Shoes On for 5* Dressage Day Two – Live Blog from The Best Weekend All Year – Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

Behind the Barn with Caroline Pamukcu and Hannah Sue Hollberg

Saturday, Cross Country Day

McEwen and Ingham Retain Top Placings, Leaderboard Shuffles Beneath on CCI5* Cross Country Day at Kentucky

The Liz, Will, & Boyd Show: A Wild Day of Cross Country at the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S

The Best Day at The Best Weekend All Year – Live Blog from the 5* Cross Country at Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

Hold Onto Your Butts: Much Ado on the Defender Kentucky CCI5* Cross Country Course

‘It’s Like He Likes Horses’: Riders React to Derek di Grazia’s 5* Cross Country Course at Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

Eyes On: The Start Box Beckons – It’s Cross Country Day at Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event! – Live Blog from the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S.

Behind the Barn with Yasmin Ingham and Tom McEwen

Sunday, Show Jumping Day

Cooley Rosalent Rises to the Top of All-British Podium with Oliver Townend for Defender Kentucky CCI5* Victory

The Diabolo is in the Details: Will Coleman Goes Clear for the Win in the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S

The Kentucky Crown Awaits – Live Blog from the Conclusion of CCI5* Competition at Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event

One Withdrawn, All Others Pass Final Horse Inspection at Defender Kentucky Three-Day

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Tickets] [Scoring] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Tuesday News & Notes from Kentucky Performance Products

Want to make your own mark on tomorrow’s first horse inspection at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event? Then make sure you give Liz Halliday’s latest reel a watch and make your vote count in the comments, because this stylish gal needs some help narrowing down her outfit choices. (I’d like to raise my hand and ask very nicely if she’ll be discarding the second, third, and fourth-place options, but I guess being blocked by Liz for solicitation before the competition has even begun probably isn’t my wisest move. Also, though, Liz…I’m here. And I like shoes.

Events Opening Today: Mill Creek Pony Club Horse TrialsMiddleburg H.T.Cobblestone Farms H.T. IGolden Spike H.T.

Events Closing Today: Winona Horse TrialsRiver Glen Spring H.T.Queeny Park H.T.Majestic Oaks Ocala H.T.Unionville May H.T.Galway Downs Spring H.T.Tryon International Three Day Event

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

Find yourself spending the majority of your time in the arena? Obviously, in a perfect world, you’ll be able to add lots of variety to your horse’s life, because hacking, or finding new places to school, gives him exposure as well as preparing him for variable terrain, which is an essential innate skill for cross-country. But sometimes, you are a bit stuck, whether that’s for lack of access to riding space or because you’re on a very green horse. Here’s some tips for making sure he doesn’t get sour in the school.

Sometimes, articles are worth a read almost entirely because they created such a maelstrom of split opinion and conversation online. This piece, published in the Chronicle of the Horse, is certainly an example of a conversation-starter: when I last checked, the Facebook comments were popping off with thoughts and opinions. The subject? Electric vehicles, and whether they’re the future of towing horses. It’s well worth a read if you’re interested in making your rig a bit more environmentally forward-thinking, but also if you, too, want to spend some time with your popcorn in the comments (where, it’s got to be said, a few fair and valid points are also being made). Give it a read here.

It’s an interesting time for the FEI’s Nations Cup series, across the three disciplines. Over in the showjumping world, we’ve seen the series rebrand this year as the Longines League of Nations, with mixed feedback so far, and in dressage, a couple of key venues have decided to follow Aachen in switching to a team competition format but outside the bounds of the Nations Cup. Horse & Hound has more on this.

And finally, need a good listen to start your day? Tune into the latest episode of the USEA Podcast for an Interscholastic and Intercollegiate Eventing special, as a team of brilliant ladies gets together to chat through Championships, opportunities, a whole heaping helping of excitement for a whole lot of riders, and more. Listen here.

Sponsor Corner: 

Does your horse have spring allergies, or is just me? Find some help on identifying and managing horse allergies here.

 

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A moment, please, for Will Coleman.

“Timing is Everything”: Reigning Kentucky Champion Withdrawn from CCI4*-S

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’re very sad to share the news that Tamie Smith and hot favorite Mai Baum, 2023 CCI5* winners at the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event, will not be contesting this week’s CCI4*-S competition as planned, following an unfortunate incident at home that slightly derailed the gelding’s preparation for the competition.

“We arrived in the amazing state of Kentucky and [are] excited for a great week ahead with the Young Guns!” writes Tamie in a post on her social media channels. “Sadly, Mai Baum will be sitting out this Kentucky 4S and resting up for an exciting summer. They say timing is everything and while I was away competing some of my other horses last weekend, Lexus was a bit wild & feeling exuberant and pulled away from his handler and tweaked himself. He wasn’t 100 percent in time to make the trip across the country to Kentucky and we have elected to withdraw him from the Defender 3-Day Event.”

The CCI4*-S at Kentucky is set to be a significant event in the Paris selection infrastructure for the US Eventing Team, with many of the sport’s heaviest hitters lining up in this, rather than the feature five-star, class.

“It can be difficult to withdraw your horse from a key competition, especially leading up to this summer, however, this decision is in his long-term best interest and the one thing we’ve never wavered from is our commitment not to compromise the well-being of any horse,” continues Tamie, who won with Mai Baum in their prep event at Galway Downs CCI4*-S this spring. “I look forward to seeing everyone in the Blue Grass state; and, although I know Lexus will certainly miss seeing all of his fans, he has been given strict orders to behave himself until I return home.”

While we won’t have the treat of seeing the Ahearn family’s eighteen-year-old superstar in action, there’s still two exciting shots in it for Tamie: she’ll ride Danito, who was second at the MARS Maryland Five-Star in 2022, and nine-year-old Kynan, who’s never finished lower than seventh in an FEI event, in the CCI4*-S. Plus, you can still represent Team Lexus this week – just head to the USEA booth at the Horse Park to pick up your Mai Baum x Strides for Equality baseball cap, which will help fund the Mai Baum SEE Scholarship to help increase diversity in the sport.

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products.

Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event: [Website] [Tickets] [Entries/Drawn Order]

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

 

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Last week, we shared news that the European contingent of horses had all cleared quarantine en route to the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event – and now, they’re not only in situ at the Horse Park, their riders have all arrived, too! I fly in yesterday from London and was surprised to bump into Germany’s Christoph Wahler at the gate – but because eventers are truly bonkers, he explained to me that he’d ended up coming via Heathrow because he wanted to squeeze in a last-minute show with his young horses in the morning and getting a short flight to London to then travel long-haul to Cincinnati was the only truly viable option. I, on the other hand, considered heading to the yard to squeeze in a short 8.30 a.m. schooling session and ultimately decided that I simply could not be bothered to add another thing to my day, so that’s probably why I’m not a professional rider.

Anyway, insanity aside, so much goes into these long transatlantic journeys, and I think it’s all too easy for us to assume that once people get to that level of sport, it’s all pretty smooth sailing. Christoph was filling me in on his own Kentucky drama as we waited to board: when the horses arrived at Chicago from Germany last week, somehow, his tack trunk didn’t come off the plane. And so groom Lilly and his horse, D’Accord, have been without, well, everything for the past few days as she’s settled him into his new digs. Fortunately, a local tack shop kindly lent her everything she needed to get her charge out hacking around the park, and, Christoph has been told, his trunk should be with him today. We’re crossing our fingers – and I’m on a mission to find out which tack shop saved the day, because this is such a classic example of horse folks just being really quite good eggs.

National Holiday: It’s the Monday of Kentucky week, duh. I won’t even say ‘for those who celebrate’, because… come on now.

U.S. Weekend Action:

Fair Hill International April H.T. & CCI-S (Elkton, MD) [Website] [Results]

Masterson Equestrian Trust YEH/NEH Qualifier (Lexington, KY) [Website] [Results]

Meadowcreek Park – The Spring Social Event (Kosse, TX) [Website] [Results]

Ocala International Festival of Eventing (Ocala, FL) [Website] [Results]

Sporting Days Farm April H.T. III (Aiken, SC) [Website] [Results]

Major International Events:

Adelaide Equestrian Festival: [Website] [Results]

Strzegom Spring Open II (Poland): [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Results:

Kelsall Hill International (Kelsall, Cheshire): [Website] [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

As a news site, we maintain some degree of necessary impartiality when it comes to sharing the stories of the folks and horses within our sport. But we’re also only human, so permit us a little leeway to be complete and utter fangirls this week when one of our own, Ema Klugman returns to the five-star level with a very, very cool debutant mare. Ema’s a pretty cool character, if we say so ourselves, and there’s no shortage of reasons to throw your cheering power behind her: not only has she been part of the Nation Media team for a good few years, she also first made the step to the top level as the youngest rider in the Kentucky field aboard the oldest horse when she, at 23, piloted the late, great Standardbred-cross Bendigo around Kentucky. He was nineteen at the time, and it wasn’t to be his only outing at the top level, either. Beyond that? She’s an outspoken advocate for human rights, and alongside producing her string of horses, she’s also busy at law school. Just before shipping to Lexington, she passed the Virginia Bar Exam. This week, we all want to #BeMoreEma. Check out US Eventing’s weekend long-read on her to double down on your own fangirl vibes!

Speaking of very cool women to cheer extra-loud for, may we suggest Susie Berry? It always feels a bit naughty doing this – this is an article I wrote for the Chronicle of the Horse, but I so firmly believe in everything that Susie is doing and building, and I’m also such a big fan of the game and gutsy mare she’s brought to Kentucky this week, that I can’t not share it. Find out how the 28-year-old sort-of-accidentally became a pro, which crowd favourite US five-star horse she had a hand in producing, and plenty more about her Kentucky ride, Clever Trick, in this long read, which I named after a Lindsay Lohan film, because of course I did.

Speaking of serious, top-level competition, apparently the hobby horse movement is on the rise in the UK. For those of you who haven’t been graced with the incredibly odd videos of hobby horse ‘riders’ that make their way around social media fairly regularly (and in which you may well have been tagged by a non-horsey friend saying “haha is this u”), let Horse&Hound take you on a bit of a journey through the madness. I’ve already decided that my magnum opus for 2024 will be a full-length documentary following my non-horsey partner’s journey from a local hobby horse show to the World Championships, but I’m still trying to find the right moment to break that news to him.

Need a pre-Kentucky listen to get your day going? The Heels Down Happy Hour pod is here to serve. Pour yourself an Old Fashioned (it’s five o’clock everywhere, all the time during Kentucky week, which operates under airport rules) and tune in.

Morning Viewing:

Kentucky might be all we can think about this week, but Badminton’s creeping up, too! Catch up with amateur eventers Evie and Donut as they continue their prep for the Voltaire Design Grassroots Championship: