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Winning for Thaïs: Gutsy French Front Takes Chatsworth Win in Tough Conditions

The sun shone on Chatsworth today – just, perhaps, a bit too late. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though the sun is shining here at Chatsworth International, tucked away in some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside in the Peak District, it’s an area that has suffered much the same weather as the rest of the country over the last number of weeks: it’s been wet, wet, wet, and although the estate benefits from some serious hills, which should, in theory, help drain the place out a bit, we’ve been met with ground that feels all too familiar after last week’s Badminton. It’s got a deep, holding wetness to it, topped with swiftly drying turf, and the end result is curiously springy feeling when you first put your heel into it – until, of course, you try to follow through on that springiness and find you can’t quite pull yourself back out. It’s a little bit like trying to go for a jog along an endless line of memory foam mattresses: in theory, it all seems quite nice and squidgy, and then you realise it’s very hard work, actually.

But at this point, if we start getting too picky about ground, we’ll have no eventing left at all — and so the intrepid organisers here had to say a sad goodbye to their two-star and Novice (US Prelim) classes, plus a day’s worth of lower-level arena eventing, in favour of the 150 or so CCI4*-S competitors that had come from near and far alike to give this prestigious competition a jolly good go. Bolstering their resolve is the fact that this year is Chatsworth’s first hosting the FEI Eventing Nations Cup, a competition that was previously hosted at Houghton Hall, and which saw a swift fall-off in true international entries post-Brexit. But this venue, with its famous terrain, its much-loved Ian Stark course, and its feeling of prestige and atmosphere, has drawn them all back again, and we saw eight teams and a true international field log some serious miles to get here.

Following 17 withdrawals before the start of the competition, this class (the first of two CCI4*-S sections) saw 82 starters in the first phase – a number that swiftly began to dwindle. Four further pairs withdrew before showjumping, and of those that did opt to tackle this phase, one retired on course and sixteen were eliminated over Chris Barnard’s tough track — mostly for exceeding 20 jumping penalties, which, as of this year, will incur the Big E at FEI events when showjumping comes before cross-country. Now, we were down to 61 — and then fourteen more horses and riders pulled out of the competition, leaving us with a much diminished field of 47 horses and riders who actually left the start box to tackle course designer Ian Stark’s challenge, set in the relentless hills of Chatsworth’s estate. Just 25 would finish: fourteen retired on course, and eight were eliminated, despite the pre-phase removal of an entire complex, the Sunken Hollow at 17AB, and the mid-class removal of 18, the Percuro Perfect Food Table, following a small spate of falls. That, for those of you who are numbers inclined, is a full-competition completion rate of just 30.5% – or a cross-country completion rate of 53% – which, for those of us who aren’t quite so numbers-minded, translates to this: it was reet bloody tough out there today, duck.

Once again, we saw the British team head into the finale of the action as the firm favourites, leading in both the team and individual standings. Ultimately, though, it would be the French team, who had sat in wait in second place throughout the competition, who made the moves they needed to to secure a double victory in a competition that they have long sent riders across the Channel in pursuit of. Not only did all four of their team riders complete — a feat that was unmatched among the eight assembled teams — but all of them finished within the top twelve, delivering swift, accurate, and typically attacking rides across Ian Stark’s tough, hilly course.

Nicolas Touzaint acts as pathfinder with the experienced Absolut Gold HDC. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Team — and competition — pathfinders Nicolas Touzaint and the very experienced Absolut Gold HDC, with whom the former Badminton champion finished in the top ten at both the Tokyo Olympics and the 2019 European Championships, set the pace for the day to come with a 16.8 time penalty round that ultimately ended up being one of the faster efforts of the day.

“It was as I thought it would be; the ground was really wet, but fortunately it dried a little bit today, so it was runnable. It was good for the horses,” says Nicolas, who took eventual seventh place with the 13-year-old Selle Français, following it up with a decisive second place finish with 15.6 time penalties aboard ten-year-old Diabolo Menthe. “These are my two main horses, and the two I count on to take to the Europeans this summer and going into Paris next year. That’s why I’m very happy with the result, because they both worked really well today — I’m pleased with their quality, and because they did a very good competition, and because Chatsworth, with its tough track and the atmosphere, is a very good preparation for the Europeans.”

That there’s been such a strong French front here is no accident: “Our chef d’equipe [Thierry Touzaint] really likes this course to be able to judge the horses, and to prepare them,” explains Nicolas. “We know this is a difficult cross-country, and it really helps them to develop their physical condition. We can really see which horses gallop well and which ones don’t have the staying power – and the ambience of the place help us to evaluate how they’ll do in bigger atmospheres under pressure.”

Winners Stephane Landois and Chaman Dumontceau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But it was to be his teammate who would be the star of the day: 28-year-old Stephane Landois, who had put himself in a very good position indeed when posting a 22.8 with his partner Chaman Dumontceau, climbed to the business end of proceedings when he delivered one of the scant six clears inside the time over Chris Barnard’s hugely influential showjumping track. And when second-placed Mollie Summerland opted not to run Charly van ter Heiden, and overnight leaders Ros Canter and Izilot DHI put 25.6 time penalties on the board, the door was open for him to take the victory with his swift, classy 11.2 time penalty round — the second fastest of the day.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Stephane and his eleven-year-old Selle Français (Top Berlin du Temple x Cocagne des Pins, by Narcos II) secure the bag for the French team: they finished fourteenth, and best of the French, at Aachen last year, helping the team to third place, and they were tenth in the Nations Cup finale at Boekelo in October, too. In their short partnership, they’ve also won a prior CCI4*-S at Lignières and finished second in the CCI4*-L at Saumur last spring. Now, they look an almost sure thing for the European Championships this year – particularly because France, as the host nation, will get extra individual slots to use. But with their stellar form, and the French squad’s current strength in depth where young up-and-coming talent is concerned — and the resources it’s willing to put their way — they should earn their spot on the team.

Stephane Landois and Chaman Dumontceau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

And if they do so, and continue on current form? Not only will they be a formidable threat to all the rest of us, and not only will Stephane set himself up as a known name globally in the sport, and not only will they put themselves firmly on the pathway to Paris — they’ll also, and perhaps most importantly, honour the memory of the gelding’s former rider. Thaïs Meheust died tragically at the age of 22 while competing Chaman Dumontceau in the French Young Horse championships at Haras du Pin — the site of this summer’s European Championships — at just the second fence on course, and her death prompted new pushes for safety in the sport via the Ride for Thaïs Foundation, which continues to raise vital funds for safety devices in eventing. More than anything, the much-loved young rider, who competed for France in three Young Rider, three Junior, and two Pony European Championships, had her eyes on Paris 2024: and now, thanks to her friend Stephane and the horse she believed in so whole-heartedly, that trip could well happen in her honour.

“We have a special relationship; he really listens to me,” says Stephane of the gelding with whom he’s enjoying such a fruitful partnership. “Today, he ran really well, and I’m so happy with him. The ground was a little bit heavy, but he managed it so well. We still have a national competition in France to plan for, and then after we hopefully have the European Championships – so we’re really thinking of that now.”

David Doel and Ferro Point deliver the fastest round of the day. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Great Britain’s second-placed team is best represented by David Doel, who delivered the fastest round of the day — a swift 10.8 time penalties — to finish third aboard the nippy little Ferro Point. The pair added just those time penalties across the country to their first phase score of 35.1, allowing them to climb and climb in this tough day of sport.

“She’s a little, nimble, lightweight horse, and she’s really blood — so I just had a bit of a plan that I make up most of my time at the start,” says David. “I thought I’d use the sort of downhill bit to try and make up as much time as I could, and then I just picked my way through the last third of the track and just let her trundle her way through — and it seemed to work. She made up the ground actually quite easily, and cantered across it really well — but she does lots of hillwork at home, so she loves the hills, and I love Chatsworth as a track –it quite often suits me.”

Though the tricky UK spring season has left many horses and riders under-run coming into these more difficult events, David is enjoying the knock-on benefit of a trip to Kentucky two weeks ago with Galileo Nieuwmoed, where he finished eighth — his third top-ten five-star finish with the gelding — and also, crucially, got his eye in over a big course after a long off-season.

“I feel my preparation has been good all the way through this year,” he says. “I went over to [Dutch international] Kronenberg at the start of the season, and it just got us going, so when everyone else was sort of struggling and trying to get the runs, the decision really paid off.”

David, who has long worked away behind the scenes with his family, balancing a burgeoning eventing career with a bustling ice cream business, is now reaping the rewards of a job well done — though, as he knows well, that usually means the work is just getting started.

“It’s been a long term progression and goals with this crop of horses, and I’m so lucky to have such wonderful owners who let us go abroad to make results like these happen,” he says. “It’s nice that we’ve had a few good results — and now we’re just going make sure I can back it up with the next group of horses!”

Ros Canter and Izilot DHI. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

While Ros Canter‘s impressive dressage score of 18 gave her a decisive first-phase lead with the ten-year-old Izilot DHI — a lead that she narrowly lost out on when adding 2.4 time penalties in the showjumping — it wasn’t to be her win, as she opted to feel out the talented youngster beneath her and let him learn on his way around Ian Stark’s track, picking up 25.6 time penalties along the way. Those penalties wouldn’t cost them much, though: they slipped just a few spots down the order to a final fourth place, giving the exciting young gelding a great experience en route to Bramham, where he’ll contest his second CCI4*-L, having made his debut at Boekelo in October.

“He did come out quite spooky at the start of the year, as he tends to — and he had a bit of an issue with the pink haylage bales at Thoresby as a result,” she says, referring to his uncharacteristic 20 penalties in the Open Intermediate there with a grin. “But that early spookiness isn’t unusual for him, and this time last year, he’d have already had six or seven runs and wouldn’t be feeling quite so cheeky, whereas this time, he hasn’t done so many.”

But, she explains, we’re suddenly entering into the time of year when — rain notwithstanding — young ‘Isaac’ will feel at his best: “He likes it when the sun starts to shine and it gets a little bit warmer and he gets to live outside, and he’s now doing that, so he’s starting to behave,” laughs Ros.

Ros, whose Badminton-winning run last week with Lordships Graffalo was a masterclass in coping with tough ground, found the conditions not dissimilar today: “It’s definitely hard work for the horses — the ground is less than ideal, but Izilot has the benefit of being extremely scopey, so the jumps are well within his capability,” she says. “And I think that’s probably the important thing on ground like this, that you run a horse that you know is experienced and very capable of probably jumping bigger than what they’re jumping today.He’s all of those things, so he actually had a lovely spin, and I think it really benefited him. It’s great for him to see crowds, because that’s what he would find a bit spooky. So yeah, we took it very steady, and we picked around, but I think he had a nice experience today.”

Gaspard Maksud and Zaragoza II. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The French coup continues with another duo of young talents rounding out the top five: Gaspard Maksud piloted Zaragoza II, with whom he finished sixth in last year’s World Championships in the mare’s nine-year-old year. Today, she looked every inch as classy as she did last season, and though she tipped two rails in the tough second phase, she shone across the country to add a relatively scant 14.4 time penalties and take fifth place on a final score of 51.8.

“Personally, I went cross country without a watch – I thought, ‘there’s no point; just let the horse gallop at her own speed’,” says Gaspard, who is the sole UK-based member of the French squad here. “If I wanted to be 20 seconds faster I could have been, no problem, but there was no point — this is a way to prepare for bigger events.”

Even athletic, light Zaragoza found the holding ground quite hard work: “She struggled a bit in the ground, but as we saw at Badminton last week, you’ve got to ride the horse, not the watch. You have to listen to the horse and ride what you’ve got, and mine really felt full of running at the end, like she could have done another four minutes and been fine.”

Now, with this experience in the bag, she’ll head on to tackle the CCI4*-L at Bramham — and then, Gaspard hopes, on to the European Championships to try to follow up last year’s excellent result with another placing.

Sarah Ennis and Grantstown Jackson. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ireland’s Sarah Ennis, who executed one of the fastest rounds of the day here at the ERM back in 2018 with Horseware Stellor Rebound, finished sixth today aboard Grantstown Jackson, adding 1.6 time in showjumping and 14.8 across the country to their first-phase score of 36.5, while Japan’s Ryuzo Kitajima and Feroza Nieuwmoed slot into eighth behind Nicolas Touzaint and his pathfinder, having added 20 time penalties across the country. British team pathfinder and reigning World Champion Yasmin Ingham takes ninth place with stalwart Rehy DJ, who added 26.8 time penalties to his first-phase score of 30.2 and will now head to Luhmühlen for the CCI5*, and tenth place went the way of Belgium’s 22-year-old Jarno Verwimp and his World Championships ride, the eleven-year-old Mahalia, who also secured third place for their country in the Nations Cup competition.

This is the second event of the 2023 FEI Eventing Nations Cup series, which will be a crucially important one this year to those nations that haven’t yet secured their qualification for the Paris Olympics next year, as the highest-ranked as-yet-unqualified nation at the culmination of the series, which finishes at Boekelo CCI4*-L in November, will earn a team spot on the roster. At the moment, things are looking very good for Belgium: they took the win in the first leg, at Italy’s Montelibretti in March, earning themselves a cool 100 points, and their third place today earns them another 80, giving them a 35 point lead over Italy, who now sit on 145 after taking second at Montelibretti and sixth today. Spain sits on 110, while the Dutch are on 115 — so there’s plenty of ground to try to make up at the next leg of the series, which will take place at Ireland’s Millstreet Horse Trials, held June 1–6.

Tomorrow we’ll head back to Chatsworth for the second of the CCI4*-S classes, which will showjump in the morning and then head onto cross-country from 11.00 a.m. This secondary CCI4*-S is a great showcase of new faces and great stories, and is currently lead by Caroline Harris and D.Day on a score of 26, closely followed by Lizzy Baugh and B Exclusive on 27.1. Kate Rocher-Smith sits third on 28.2 with HHS Dassett Class. Keep it locked on EN for coverage of all of tomorrow’s action, plus catch-ups with the leading riders at the end of the day — and until then, Go Eventing!

The final top ten in CCIO4*-S section G, incorporating the FEI Nations Cup.

Dodson & Horrell Chatsworth International Horse Trials Links: Website, Live Scores, Live Stream, EN’s Coverage

Kentucky On Catch-Up: Watch Along on NBC Today

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum: your 2023 LRK3DE winners. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

With Kentucky and Badminton in the rearview mirror, I’ve just about dragged myself out of my mid-spring post-event hibernation — and now I’m ready to relive all the action. Luckily for me, and for you, today’s the day that NBC will be airing its Land Rover Kentucky highlights program, which hits the airwaves at 2.30 p.m. Eastern time. Obviously, all of us want to experience the thrills of THAT win all over again, but you can also consider tuning in an act of giving back to the sport: every single one of us who switches over to NBC to watch will give those viewer numbers a boost, and if we can show the powers-that-be in broadcasting that eventing’s got a robust fanbase, it gives us a foothold for future broadcasting opportunities, which would be great news.

You can also rewatch the action in full from both the CCI4*-S and CCI5* (and, actually, those CSI3* showjumping classes on Friday and Saturday night!) via USEF Network/ClipMyHorse.TV. There’ll be further chances to catch horse sport on mainstream TV, too: the highlights program will also air on CNBC on Saturday, May 27 at 12.00 p.m. EST. Tune in and feel it all, all over again!

Friday Video: Catch Up with Katherine Coleman at Badminton

One of the brilliant victories of Badminton last week — in our humble opinion, anyway — was the illustrious return to five-star undergone by US competitor Katherine Coleman, who piloted her debutant Monbeg Senna to clear rounds in both jumping phases. Not only that, but she was the first rider to deliver a clear on the final day, and the only one in the first session to do so. Horse & Hound caught up with her for a video interview to sum up her week and the journey that’s brought her here — tune in and cheer her on!

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Who Jumped it Best: The Kentucky CCI4*-S Defender Off-Road Combination

Who Jumped It Best?

Our Who Jumped it Best? today takes us back to nearly two weeks ago, when all eyes were fixed upon the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and its two jam-packed, ludicrously exciting classes. We’ve already given you the chance to cast your educated eye over some of the CCI5* competitors, who we pitted against one another over the Wofford Rails before the Head of the Lake, so now we’re turning our attention to the CCI4*-S — and, more specifically, to the Defender Off-Road question at 10ABC. This sunken road complex consisted of a set of upright rails on MIMs clips, a bounce to a step down, and then an arcing left-handed turn to a broad brush-topped spread at the C element, which is what we’re judging today. Bearing in mind the long, downhill approach to the complex, and the need to prepare for another single fence not long after this one, take a look at the following pictures and then scroll down to the cast your vote for the horse and rider who made the best effort over this big fence.

Tamie Smith and Elliot V. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sara Kozumplik and Rock Phantom. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Kuhn and Mr Cash van de Start. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tracey Bienemann and Reg the Ledge. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

John Michael Durr and Blue Rodeo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Andrew McConnon and Wakita 54. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Now, it’s over to you: cast your vote for the horse and rider you think made the best effort, and help them on their way to eternal glory and bragging rights:

LRK3DE: [Website] [5* Times] [5* Scores] [4* Times] [4* Scores] [Schedule] [Live Stream] [Tickets] [EN’s Form Guide] [EN’s Coverage] [EN’s Ultimate Guide]

[Click here to catch up on all of EN’s coverage of the 2023 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event]

Thursday Video: This Cob Can, Badminton Edition

Badminton’s five-star is great and all, but it’s the BE90 and BE100 Grassroots competition that always makes me wish I’d snuck my horse in on my media accreditation. It’s a seriously bold and properly technical test of the levels — and frankly, as someone who’s probably going to spend the rest of my life having a jolly time right around the mid-levels, that’s such a welcome sight to see, and such a brilliant preparation and education for those horses and riders who want to go on to the next big thing. (And some of them go all the way to the big thing: this year, Solo, the mount of Hollie Swain in the CCI5*, is our notable Grassroots-to-Big-Class role model, and we’ve also seen partnerships such as David Britnell and Continuity graduate from one to the next.

In this video, the star of the show is everyone’s favourite horse of the weekend: 20-year-old Dales-cross Star X, who was piloted around the BE90 (US Novice) by Morven Ritchie. Those flying feathers! That brave, bold jump! We’re in love.

Oliver Townend Given Recorded Warning by FEI Following Badminton Elimination

Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

World Number Four Oliver Townend has been given a Recorded Warning by the FEI after the culmination of Badminton Horse Trials, where he was eliminated at fence 24 during a hold on course with the former Andrew Nicholson ride Swallow Springs, with whom he was sitting in third place overnight. This elimination came after the pair had picked up 11 penalties for triggering the safety device at fence 19B, a collapsible table which the 15-year-old gelding banked. Swallow Springs had previously appeared to touch down with his hind legs atop the final element of 13ABCD, the KBIS Brush Boxes, and went on to do the same at 22, the brush-topped corner in Badminton Lake. He was held at 24, an official stopping point on course, due to a horse being transported off the course at 26, and was then not allowed to continue by officials.

He has since been awarded the Eventing Recorded Warning for “dangerous riding/series of dangerous jumps.”

Article 527 of the FEI Eventing Rulebook states that “an Eventing Recorded Warning will be systematically awarded for the following offence:

a)  Athlete continues after clear 3 refusals, a fall, or any form of elimination.

b)  Any other case of Dangerous Riding

c)  Athlete not seeing a doctor after a fall

d)  Athlete leaving the venue after having retired, been eliminated or stopped during the Cross Country Test without having their Horse checked by the Veterinary Delegate

e)  All cases of minor Blood on Horse caused by the Athlete either in the mouth or on flanks from spurs as a minimum or by stronger sanction(s) (as provided for under Art. 526.2).

f)  for pressing a tired horse together with 25 penalties.”

A Recorded Warning differs from a Yellow Card Warning Card, which will be “systematically awarded for the following offence:

a)  All cases of excessive use of whip, as defined above, or by stronger sanction(s) (as provided for under Art. 526.2).

b)  Any other cases of Abuse of Horse

c)  Excessive pressing of a tired horse

d)  Riding an Exhausted horse coupled in addition to Disqualification.”

The cumulative effect of each type of warning differs slightly: should an athlete receive three or more Eventing Recorded Warnings, at any international event and for any offence, within 24 months of the first one, they’ll receive a two month suspension from the sport. For Yellow Cards, the time frame is shorter, but so is the number of chances: any second Yellow Card within twelve months of the first will result in a two month suspension.

This is Townend’s only current sanction within the time frame: he received an oral warning, rather than a Recorded Warning, in the indoor eventing competition at Stockholm in November of 2022 for “abuse of horse/excessive use of the whip”; prior to that, his most recent sanctions date back to 2018, where he received a verbal warning at Badminton and one at Blair, the first of those covering two horses, and both for “abuse of horse/excessive use of the whip”.

The FEI Sanctions lists can be viewed in full here.


Fiona Kashel’s WSF Carthago Euthanized After Badminton Injury

Fiona Kashel and WSF Carthago. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’re deeply saddened to report that WSF Carthago, the mount of Great Britain’s Fiona Kashel, has been euthanized as a result of an injury sustained while on course at Badminton Horse Trials on Sunday. The 13-year-old gelding, owned by Frank Breach, was the first of Fiona’s two rides and the second horse out of the start box, and the pair had executed a clear round up until fence 26, the Jubilee Clump Brush fence, where they were eliminated for a rider fall. Though ‘Revel’ didn’t fall, it appeared from footage at the fence that he may have slipped over the edge of the wide angled ditch in front of the fence. Fiona later opted to withdraw her second mount, Creevagh Silver de Haar.

Badminton Horse Trials released a statement on Monday, which reads as follows:

“A sad postscript to cross country day was the injury incurred by WSF Carthago owned by Frank Breach and ridden by Fiona Kashel. WSF Carthago was treated in the Veterinary Clinic at Badminton and subsequently hospitalised. The extent of injury found in surgery meant successful repair was not possible and our commiserations go to the whole team.”

Fiona Kashel’s WSF Carthago. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Badminton was Revel’s third start at five-star: he finished seventh at Luhmühlen last year in his debut at the level, and completed Pau last autumn. Freelance groom Josh Levi, who has long worked alongside Fiona, posted an emotional tribute on social media to the horse, who had inarguably become an enormous part of the family at Fiona’s Surrey yard.

“WSF Carthago. My Golden Child,” he writes. “I don’t really know how to put into words how I’m feeling right now other than how proud and honoured I am to have had such an integral part of your career and life. From seeing you come onto the lorry in Ireland as a big gangly 5 year old and bringing you home with your beautiful kind eye, to watching you complete your first event, to then be by your side the whole way for 7 1/2 years and getting you to your first 5* last year at Luhmuhlen.

“You forever carried such presence and grace wherever you went. I watched you grow and progress into one of the best event horses I have ever worked alongside who just loved their job and I cannot thank you enough for the journey you took me on. Your little whinny in the mornings at breakfast time at shows to the way you dragged me around when grazing for the best grass, you always kept me going. It’s going to take a long time for my heart to heal knowing you’re not here anymore.
“Such a tragic loss of such a quality and special horse and I will forever cherish the memories we had together and the love I have for you has and never will waver.
I want to say a massive thank you to everybody who has been so supportive and to everybody at Badminton yesterday for helping me out on what was one of the toughest days I had to endure.
“Fiona Kashel you produced Revel so beautifully and I will always be proud of what we achieved together with him. My thoughts are with Team Kashel Eventing at this sad time. Run free King.”
Our thoughts and most heartfelt condolences are with Fiona, Josh, Frank, and everyone whose lives were intertwined with this special horse.

“He Loves Every Phase”: Wire-to-Wire Leader Ros Canter Crowned Queen of Badminton

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo: your 2023 Badminton champions. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

When we started today’s showjumping finale at Badminton, it all seemed rather cut and, well, maybe not quite dry: wire-to-wire leaders Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo, assuming no absolute disasters befell them in the ring, were almost certain to win — the only question was how many of the originally two, and ultimately four, fences in hand she’d need to use to get there. Michele Saul’s eleven-year-old British-bred gelding (Grafenstolz x Cornish Queen, by Rock King) had had just one previous career rail in a long-format international, and that had been in his seven-year-old season, but after the taxing test of yesterday’s competition, and with the pressure of being in pole position looming overhead, would we see a dramatic change in form on this final day?

As it turned out, no: Ros and ‘Walter’ executed a truly classy clear round to secure the diminutive former World Champion her first ever five-star victory.

And taking the Badminton title feel?

“Quite cold, actually,” quips Ros, sheltering from the sudden downpour that had kicked into gear just as the prize giving got underway. “It’s a long, long journey to get here, and to get to a result like this, and it’s great.”

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

That journey began at the very start of ‘Walter’s’ career: Ros debuted him in his first British Eventing competitions in 2017, his five-year-old year, and has largely retained the ride throughout — though he did spend a season under Tom McEwen in 2019, culminating in a top ten finish in the Seven-Year-Old World Championships, while Ros was on maternity leave with daughter Ziggy. Throughout, she’s rated him as a real star, whether taking him around his CCI4*-S debut — at Burnham Market’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-olds replacement in 2020, where he was second — or his CCI5* debut, here last year, where he was also second, or his British team debut, at the World Championships last year, where he was fourth.

“He’s an amazing horse, and he wouldn’t be very good at sitting home doing nothing, so Badminton, I think, is his highlight of the year,” she says. “He’s amazing, isn’t he? He really is. He hasn’t got a classic technique; he jumps a bit with his head in the air, but by God, does he want to clear those fences when he gets in there. I just think he’s the out and out event horse. He loves every phase, and he loves himself, which is great, and he loves the attention from everybody else. This day couldn’t have gone any better for him, I don’t think.”

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

Though Ros had an extraordinary 16.6 penalties in hand — that’s four rails and a time penalty that she could have happily used — she kept her characteristic level head and used up just 1.6 of them, crossing the finish line with one of the scant four clears today and four seconds’ worth of time penalties. It’s seldom we see such a big margin coming into the final phase of an event — the last time was Burghley in 2016, when Australia’s Chris Burton and Nobilis 18 entered the ring in the lead with 20 penalties in hand, and ended up using 16 of them.

“I think we’ve got the mud to thank for that,” laughs Ros. “But he didn’t care, did he? He didn’t notice the mud; it wasn’t about that for him this week.”

Getting to a five-star at all is hardly a solitary feat — and winning one takes the combined efforts of a huge number of people, including, in this case, grooms Sarah Charnley and Travis Lee, and Ros’s family, including Ziggy, who’s been able to be a part of the whole week of competition thanks to help from Ros’s mother and husband Chris.

“The biggest thing since becoming a mother is the team I’ve got around me; I just couldn’t do without them,” says Ros, who was particularly pleased to have her mother along for the ride. “She doesn’t really like coming if she doesn’t have a big job to do and we had two grooms here this week, so it was touch and go whether she’d come and watch — so I’m delighted she’s here, because she’s the main person that keeps the wheels running.”

And, of course, you can’t get to the top without a great horse — and Ros truly knows one of those when she sees one. She’s had the pleasure of partnering the late, great Allstar B, with who she became World Champion in 2018; she piloted her other ride here, Pencos Crown Jewel — a maternal half-sibling to Lordships Graffalo, and both a product of Pennie Wallace’s breeding programme — to ninth place, and she’s got something truly exceptional in this eleven-year-old superstar, who’s now become a Badminton champion at just the start of his top-level career.

“It’s an absolute privilege, to be quite honest,” she says. “It’s a privilege to ride Walter and to have him in our life, because not only is he a great horse to ride, he is the most wonderful character. He’s got character in absolute abundance. He makes us laugh every day. He’s quite untrainable on the floor, but he’s just a brilliant person to have around. I truly feel privileged. When Allstar B started to become successful, I felt quite a lot of pressure riding him, and so I’ve been determined to enjoy Walter — but it’s easy to enjoy him because he just gives his all, all the time, and I just think he really enjoys doing the job he does.”

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

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class take second place in the sixteen-year-old gelding’s eighth five-star start — and eighth five-star top ten. Though they tipped a rail at fence three, they held the rest of the round together and crossed the finish line just one second over the optimum time to climb ahead of overnight runners up Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue.

“I was happy with third, and to finish second is as good,” he says. “I think for any of the horses who’ve finished the competition, they’re all absolute winners, because it was not an easy week at all, in any way, shape, or form. Any horse that has finished here is pretty special.”

Though just one of Oliver’s two starters finished the week here — the 15-year-old Swallow Springs was pulled up by stewards on course — the rider credits his runner-up as being one of the best horses he’s ever had.

“He’s unreal, isn’t he? I don’t know how many Badmintons and Burghleys and Kentuckys he’s done, but he’s still not out of the top five,” he says. “I’ve had too many 2nds with him, bless him, and that’s probably down to the jockey, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of him and the team behind him who know him so well — he literally is part of the family. It’s just a huge relief for me that I haven’t mucked it up too much and that he’s had another amazing run here.”

While the two-time five-star winner is nearing his twilight years, Oliver is still looking to the future with the game, gutsy Courage II son.

“I don’t want to keep him going too long, but every year, he’s still improving,” he says. “He’ll tell me when he’s had enough. I get on him for the first time on the 2nd of January every year and we look at each other and go, ‘do you want to go again?’ So far, it’s been a yes.”

Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Yesterday’s heroes of the day were Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue, who skipped around the tough track and difficult conditions to post the fastest round of the day and climb from 34th to second — and although their two rails and 1.2 time penalties dropped them a placing to third today, they’ve been no less lauded for their contribution to Irish eventing. Their finish here makes Austin the first Irish competitor to make the podium at Badminton in forty years — the last to do so was the now racehorse trainer Jessica Harrington in 1983.

“Hopefully it’s a bit of a lift for eventing at home, and following somebody like Jessica Harrington into that position is pretty amazing,” says Austin. “I’m naturally disappointed; I don’t think he jumped as well on this ground as he normally jumps, and it caught up with us. But hey ho — we’re third at Badminton, on the podium with two heroes, two of the best riders in the world, beside me, so I couldn’t be happier.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

One of the horses with the best chance of a clear round today was the hugely consistent Toledo de Kerser, and he and Tom McEwen duly delivered the goods. Their clear round inside the time allowed was one of just two in today’s competition, and it allowed them to climb one spot from the fifth place they’d held onto after each of the first two phases.

Although they’re arguably one of the most formidably competitive pairs on the circuit, having won a swathe of medals — including team gold and individual silver at the Tokyo Olympics — and a five-star, at Pau in 2019, Badminton has never really been the happiest of hunting grounds for them, nor for Tom generally.

“It’s the only one I’ve ever done any good at,” he laughs. “Finally! Badminton hasn’t really been my place — it might be my most local place, but I just do stupid things all the time. To come out and have a nice fun weekend with my best buddy, it’s quite nice really.”

Tom and Toledo had come into last year’s competition as the firm favourites, though their week ended early when they took a hugely uncharacteristic tumble late in the course. This year, he was still considered among the favourites to win, but his own attitude had shifted — instead of fighting for the top spot, he would just enjoy each phase with the enormously experienced sixteen-year-old. And so, though his time penalties yesterday might have stood in his way, he has no regrets about the way his week has played out — and nor should he.

“Cross country was so easy [for him], just a little bit slow,” he says. “But when they get a bit older, you have to look after them. There’ll be another day — maybe a Burghley in a dry season will be perfect for him. It’s so lovely that he’s had a great time; he was phenomenal all week and he’s come out really well.”

Though the pair have jumped countless excellent clear showjumping rounds together, this one stood out to Tom as a particular highlight.

“It’s probably the best round he’s jumped since Burghley when he came fourth about a billion years ago. I think it was the most connected round; there’s been the odd bit maybe, [where it’s] just not[[quite] as good. For me, there wasn’t one thing that I would change on the whole round. He was unreal, and he was absolutely loving it. If there was a second lap maybe we might have caught back up  a little bit more — though maybe not with Ros!”

Fighting off the onset of jetlag after a quick dash back from Kentucky on Sunday night might not be every rider’s idea of a dream lead-up to an event, but Tom credits the great performance of his ride there, runner up JL Dublin, with helping to set him up for success here.

“I think, probably, having an amazing run with Dubs last week has really helped,” he says. “He was phenomenal last weekend, so then to come out and do roughly the same again this week has been fantastic. Obviously this has been different, with proper testing conditions. It’s been testing for all — I think you’ve definitely seen some amazing riders and some amazing brains; people actually making decisions, and different decisions on course. It’s been very interesting to watch who did what, and when, around the course. And today, you can see how well they’ve all come out.”

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

Tom Jackson rounds out the top five, having completed Badminton with the twelve-year-old Capels Hollow Drift in similar circumstances to last year’s Burghley, where the pair were runners up: they began the week outside the top ten — fourteenth, in this case, on a 28 — and then delivered a swift clear across the country to move themselves towards the business end of the leaderboard. Then, on the final day, they once again delivered an elusive double clear round and got to watch themselves climb, climb, and climb some more. This time, it was from tenth to fifth place, a result that must surely put them well on the British selectors’ radar ahead of this summer’s European Championships at Haras du Pin.

“It makes him even more impressive, doesn’t it,” marvels Tom upon being told he’d delivered the first clear of the afternoon session. “What a horse he is. To give as much as he did yesterday and then come out today and give even more — he just goes above and beyond and it’s just a privilege to ride him. What a horse. I can’t stop saying it. He just gives you everything all the time, and what more can you ask for? I’m just so happy with him.”

One trip to France could well be in the bag for the pair now — but could another, next year, possibly be on the horizon? 30-year-old Tom’s hopeful but determinedly pragmatic about the prospect: “I’d like to, but I’m not sure we’re quite there yet. But we’re we’re getting there, hopefully we can keep edging closer.”

He’s followed in the top ten by an exultant Gemma Stevens in sixth place aboard Jalapeno, with whom she had a solitary rail to hold her post-cross-country spot on the leaderboard, Tim Price and Vitali, who dropped from fourth to seventh after tipping three rails — “the same as at Burghley, but a better three than at Burghley,” he says — Bubby Upton and Cola, who had two rails but nevertheless maintained their spot in the order and completed a climb from first-phase 31st place to eventual eighth, and Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope, who also had two rails and dropped down one place to tenth, 29 places up from their first-phase result.

Luc Château and Viens du Mont. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

That’s a lot of significant climbs to celebrate over the weekend, but none beat out France’s Luc Chateau, who won the Glentrool Trophy — awarded to the rider who executes the largest first-to-final-phase climb over the week — after rocketing up from 56th place after dressage to eventual 11th with Viens du Mont.

“My horse was tired after yesterday, but he has a huge, huge heart,” he says with a broad smile. This is just the horse’s second five-star: the pair finished ninth at Pau last year on his debut. He’s been an out-and-out cross-country machine throughout his career, and this is his 19th FEI run — and his nineteenth clean cross-country round in an international — and though he added 21.6 time penalties yesterday, which was considerably quicker than the average, he’s now added time in that phase in just five of those nineteen runs. His two rails today shouldn’t rule him out as a horse to keep an eye on with the European Championships around the corner.

Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Lillian Heard Wood put a cap on a great week with the seventeen-year-old veteran campaigner LCC Barnaby, tipping a solitary rail but crossing the line inside the time allowed to finish 20th — an impressive forty-place climb from the first phase.

“I’m thrilled,” she says. “I just had the one down at the plank — I’ve had a plank down early before so I had a feeling I might have it down, and then I think I overcorrected. But honestly, I’m so happy. Normally if I have a rail, I’m a nightmare — I hate having rails. But it was muddy in there; he was exhausted yesterday; I was thinking the course was tough. I thought, ‘keep your wits about you, Lillian’, and it rode really smooth. I’m so happy to have done it.”

This is Barnaby’s thirteenth five-star, and so inevitably, Lillian has begun to think about what the finale of his prolific career might look like.

“Well, he’s really sound and he has been for a long time,” she says. “In the last year, and continuing on, each time I do [an event], it’s up to him — I’m not going to push him. The minute he feels like he’s less than he was, then I’m done. I’ve competed another five-star horse up to this age, and at the last one I did with him, he felt less than the horse he was before, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’. [Barnaby] didn’t feel that way this time, so we’ll see, but it’s totally up to him. He’s given me everything I need. If he wants to keep doing it, he can.”

His retirement, when it comes, will be an active one: “He doesn’t want to be done, so I’ll probably have to let some kid ride him!”

In any case, whether we get to enjoy watching him around another five-star or if Badminton does turn out to be his last hurrah, he’s been a huge part of Lillian’s life and a fundamental catalyst for so much of her learned experience — even if, or perhaps because, he’s always been a bit of a quirky soul.

“He’s actually been kind of a nightmare his whole life,” she laughs. “Now he’s wonderful! It actually makes you think about where they need to start in order to be a horse that can do this — it’s not necessarily an easy, simple, quiet horse. I’m thinking about the other horses in my barn and I’m like, ‘OK, this one’s a little bit wild — that’s probably a good sign!’ But it’s pretty cool because when you’re at an event like this, where it’s very difficult conditions, and I’m inexperienced at this event and I want to freak out, I just keep saying, ‘most experienced horse, most experienced horse, you’re gonna be OK, he’s the most experienced horse’. Even if you don’t know, he knows it’s OK. I probably won’t ever have this feeling again in my entire career, so I’m going to enjoy it.”

Katherine Coleman and Monbeg Senna set the standard in the first session. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Just one rider in this morning’s ten-strong jumping session managed to pin down a double clear round, and that was US competitor Katherine Coleman, who closed the book on Monbeg Senna‘s first five-star in fine style. The 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse maintained his high-flying jumping style, well demonstrated throughout yesterday’s cross-country, to make the influential course look very nearly easy.

“He was super,” enthuses Katherine. “I knew he had it in him — he’s such a super jumper. I just didn’t want to let him down out there, and he jumped brilliantly. What a horse!”

Though she made light work of the track, she explained that the challenge set by Kelvin Bywater was not at all insignificant: It’s really big — the depth of the water trays, that combination — I think it’s a proper Badminton show jumping track,” she says.

For Katherine, this week has been a particularly special one: it has marked her long-awaited return to five-star, a level at which she last competed back in 2017, when she contested both Badminton and Luhmühlen with Longwood. Now, after putting in the miles and the hard graft with the excellent Monbeg Senna, who she bought from Ireland’s Aoife Clark as a newly-minted Novice horse in 2016, she’s back — and not only has she nailed the long-awaited completion, she’s done so sans jumping penalties to take home a very respectable 23rd place.

“What a mental week,” she laughs. “This is his first five star and with the lack of preparations, when we set out yesterday I just wanted to complete, so we were a bit slow — but I still had a lot of horse left in the end, which is wonderful to know. I’m like, ‘ooh, I could have gone a little bit faster’, but I’d rather finish feeling that way than the other.”

As she told us yesterday, it truly does take a village to get to this point — and she’s had an enviable support team, from groom Hannah Quick to a full line-up of friends helming her on-site fan club.

‘It’s a huge team behind every horse that’s here,” she says. “Our groom probably got five hours of sleep in total this week. It’s a real testament to all the team at Badminton.”

And with that, we come to the end of another Badminton: it’s been a rather wet and wild one, but a competition to remember, certainly. Keep your eyes peeled in the coming days for some bonus content from the last couple of weeks of five-star action, but for now: Go Eventing.

The final top ten at Badminton 2023.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack


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Behold: the face of your two-phase Badminton leader, Lordships Graffalo. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone with a smile better suited to taking the top honours in this prestigious competition. What a noodle. It’s also well worth noting that both Ros’s rides, Lordships Graffalo and Pencos Crown Jewel, who’s currently sitting seventh, were bred by the same person, Pennie Wallace, and are out of the same mare, Cornish Queen. What a boon for both British breeding and fans of trawling a good dam line.

National Holiday: It’s National Reward Yourself Day. Yes, you do need that thirtieth saddle pad.

U.S. Weekend Action:

Catalpa Corner May Madness Horse Trials (Iowa City, IA) [Website] [Results]

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

Stable View Local Charities H.T. (Aiken, SC) [Website] [Entries] [Results]

The Event at Skyline (Mt. Pleasant, UT) [Website] [Results]

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

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

WindRidge Farm Spring H.T. (Mooresboro, NC) [Website] [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

Amid all the action of Badminton yesterday, there was one round that stood out among the rest. Perhaps not for the reasons the rider in question had hoped for, mind you: after a barnstorming trip around two thirds of the tough course with the excellent little Liberty and Glory, Tom Crisp came a cropper after being jumped out of the tack at the huge corner in the lake. But how he dealt with the dunking? Well, that’ll live on in Badminton legend forever.

If you’ve been on horsey Facebook recently, you might have seen something rather haunting: a curiously faceless nonhuman entity atop a horse, merrily undergoing a lunge lesson. That little nightmare agent is Sandy, a dummy that’s been designed to help horses with neurological deficits learn to balance with weight on board, without the extra complications that come with a real human being. It’s frightening, but it’s a great idea, actually. 

Omega-3s are everywhere at the moment — heck, even I’m taking them. But what benefits do they actually offer to your horse’s diet? Are they worth the money or another snake oil supplement? Here’s everything you need to know. 

Riding from Canada to Brazil should be impossible, right? Wrong — although we can only imagine how much planning, and dehydrated food, something like that would take. If you want to dive into all the details of Filipe Leite, who undertook the trek in 2014, a new documentary premiering this month offers the chance to follow him. It’s a New Zealand release for now, but should be followed by a more widespread release. Get the popcorn ready.

You can put all the thought you like into breeding the ultimate sport horse, but a top eventer needs something that’s not always that easy to breed for: grit and gumption. Justine Griffin rounds up some of the best examples of pure heart at Kentucky in this piece.

FutureTrack Follow:


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If you’re not hugely familiar with continental eventing, the name Gireg le Coz might be a new one to you — but he’s well worth keeping an eye on, particularly when partnered with his incredible Aisprit de la Loge, who logged a second clear round at Badminton yesterday to put him well in contention.

Morning Viewing:

Rewatch all of Ros Canter’s leading round at Badminton with Lordships Graffalo here and get inspired ahead of this afternoon’s showjumping:

All Pass With No Overnight Withdrawals at Badminton Final Horse Inspection

Overnight runners-up Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue demonstrate the general mood of the morning at a soggy final horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

After the close of competition yesterday, which saw thirty horses complete after battling the holding ground, we were all pretty unified in one sentiment: this morning’s horse inspection would be an interesting one. How many would withdraw overnight? How many would be sent to the holding box? In a passing chat with one of the commentary team, I put my bets on our numbers going down by three; he said he reckoned five.

British-based Kiwi Hollie Swain (28th) wrangles a very fresh Solo up the trot strip. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As it turned out, we were both wildly wrong, which is something I never begrudge when it comes to something like sound horses. All thirty of yesterday’s finishers materialised in front of Badminton House this morning, and all thirty were deemed fit and ready to compete by the ground jury of Angela Tucker, Xavier Le Sauce, and Andrew Bennie — and even better, several of those thirty still looked as though they could tackle another batch of solid fences, particularly fiery Solo, who spent most of the trot-up alternatively trying to canter down the strip or send poor Hollie Swain crowd-surfing.

Charlotte Holifield takes the top groom’s prize. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Treehouse Sporting Goods was on hand at the inspection to award a prize for the groom of the week, who was deemed to have taken the most robust care of the horse or horses in their charge throughout the course of the competition. The prize went the way of Charlotte Holifield, longtime groom for Oliver Townend’s Ballaghmor Class.

Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno, sixth overnight. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Now, we head into the showjumping finale, which will begin at 11.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. EST) with the ten riders placed between 30th and 20th. The top twenty will jump at 2.55 p.m. (9.55 a.m. EST) — and although we saw all our competitors looking fresh and well this morning, there’s still plenty of potential for movement: the rain has kicked back into gear today, which will turn yesterday’s holding, sticky ground into the kind of bog that’ll be particularly tricky for horses to jump out of on the final day. There are some extraordinary margins to play with, which riders will be glad of — particularly overnight leader Ros Canter, who’ll head into the ring with Lordships Graffalo with a healthy nine penalties in hand over Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue. That’s two rails and two seconds over the time to play with — which could open up further if the riders before her struggle in the conditions. Third placed Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class sits 12.2 penalties off the lead, giving Ros three rails in hand over them, and from top spot to tenth place is a margin of 24.7, or six rails and a time penalty.

The top ten going into showjumping at Badminton.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

MIM’s the Word: Ros Canter Leads Badminton After Influential Cross Country Day

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

There was a palpable air of trepidation ahead of cross-country day at Badminton, and fairly so: yesterday, the heavens opened heartily throughout the day, turning the grounds into a veritable mud bath — and a dry night and still, breezeless sunshine today meant that that slop quickly turned into the trickiest sort of sticky, holding ground for eventing on. Beyond that, there were MIMs clips galore to take into consideration, including that contentious one into the Lake — but now, with the day’s sport behind us, the relief is nearly tangible. It’s been something of a classic day of sport: there’s been room to climb from the low ebb of the leaderboard to very near the top; there have been thrills and spills that have ultimately proven harmless; and time and time again, we’ve seen wise decisions and good horsemanship, whether that’s been the decision to leave the stopwatch behind entirely (Harry Meade, notably, among others), to put one’s hand up when feeling a fit and well horse tire (Alex Bragg; Emily King, and more), or to withdraw entirely if the conditions weren’t quite right (we saw six pairs scratch before their ride, most notably seventh-placed Laura Collett and Dacapo, ninth-placed Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin, and tenth-placed Harry Meade and Tenareze).

Now, we’re left with 30 competitors down from the 64 who completed dressage, and there’s been no shortage of action, with seventeen eliminations, eleven retirements, and no shortage of safety devices activated — even if just a scant few opted for that direct route at the Lake, which largely jumped well when chosen. Chief among those non-completions were some of our top ten: overnight third-placed Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs, who activated a collapsible table and were later pulled up by stewards; overnight second-placed Kitty King and Vendredi Biats, who suffered some truly rotten luck when not quite making the distance of the widest fence on course at 5, and eleventh-placed Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On, who opted to walk back unscathed after a stop at the MARS Sustainability Bay water at 10.

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

Dressage leaders Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo remain at the top of proceedings after delivering the second-fastest round of the day — adding just 11.6 time penalties — as one of the final pairings out on course. This was her second round of the day: the first, aboard Pencos Crown Jewel, didn’t just provide useful intel for her later trip with last year’s runner-up, it also netted her another spot in the top ten. She currently sits seventh with the mare with 26.8 time penalties, hoisting them up from seventeenth.

“It felt hard work out there — harder work than on the mare, in terms of galloping,” says Ros, who has nine penalties in hand going into the final phase. “The galloping definitely felt drying and sticky. He had to dig deep out there for the first time ever, which was probably a bit of a shock to him halfway round, but he’s so honest, and such a fantastic jumper — but he’s an economical jumper at the same time, so you can’t get much better.”

But although she and the rangy 17.1hh gelding, who she partnered to fourth at the World Championships last year, made the tough day’s sport look almost easy, going for the clock isn’t actually among the former World Champion rider’s natural skills, she explains.

“You’ll see me at Aston-le-Walls on Thursday, and I’ll be going around for 25 time faults,” she says with a laugh. “It takes quite a lot of mental work to get me in the frame of mind to be competitive. I tend to struggle at the smaller events, but I think I’ve turned it into a strength, and I work hard [on it] while I’m here. I don’t have much fun, and I do a lot of mental preparation, but I think I know myself now, and that pays off.”

Rosalind Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Both Ros’s rides today came from the same breeder, Pennie Wallace, and share a dam, Cornish Queen — a testament to the rise and rise of British breeding efforts. ‘Jasmine’s’ run, too, was testament to the faith and patience that Ros and the horse’s owners, Kate James and Annie Makin, have held in the fourteen-year-old.

“She’s actually nearly 77% Thoroughbred, so I was fairly confident that she was going to go round. In hindsight, I could have pushed a bit harder, because she came home still very responsive and still jumping well — but I couldn’t be prouder of her really. She’s only little, and I never really dreamt she’d go around Badminton, but she just did.”

Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

There’s been so much discussion within the sport about the importance of cross-country, and the influence it must hold over the outcome of a competition — and though there’s no doubt that the conversation about safety devices, all-weather surfaces, and tired horses will continue on at fever pitch over the coming weeks, there’s one thing that can’t be disputed: today’s Badminton track really did allow extraordinary cross-country horses and performances to rise to the forefront. Though there’s several riders who gave brilliant examples of that — take France’s Luc Chateau and Viens du Mont, for example, who climbed from 56th to 11th, or Switzerland’s Felix Vogg and Cartania, who rose from 42nd to 13th — the most exemplary of the lot was Ireland’s Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue, who seemed to skim right over the top of the boggy ground to deliver an unruffled, truly world-class clear round with the fastest time of the day, adding just 10.8 time penalties. That was good enough to boost the Irish partnership, who finished best of their nation at Tokyo despite their travelling reserve call-up, from equal 34th all the way to overnight second place. And even better? The gelding pranced his way back through the finish looking ready for another loop of the course — a testament, he says, to the work the O’Connor Eventing team put in day in and day out to keep ‘Salty’ feeling top-notch.

“He’s the real deal, and he’s been the real deal for a few years now and luckily he’s healthy, he’s well, and I’ve got a great team at home,” says Austin. “They do a great job — as good a job as I do getting here.”

Though his round was, to the viewing eye, the easiest of the day, Austin tells us that Salty still didn’t find today’s course and conditions a walk in the park: “He just tried the hardest he’s had to try around five-star. God, did he try.”

This, though, is what we do this sport for, he explains — the chance to face an unexpected challenge head on, and rise to the occasion.

“Eventing is about weather, and weather changes,” says Austin. “It was hard work even for a very, very good horse, but surely to God, that’s what eventing’s all about.”

And even with that time — a lightning fast one, considering how many horses we saw come in two minutes over the 11:35 optimum — Austin reckons there were a couple of places on Eric Winter’s course where he could have snuck a few more seconds into his pocket.

“He was a little careful down the Savills Staircase to begin with, which I didn’t mind because it was better than being rash,” he says, ” and actually, the hedge to the narrow little ditch [at 13ABCD] had to get a little bit agricultural, but otherwise, everything walked as it rode.”

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

Oliver Townend remains in third place overnight, though with a different horse than the one he’d started the day with: he was third out of the startbox this morning with the former Andrew Nicholson ride Swallow Springs, and was certainly one of the earliest riders that fellow competitors in the riders’ tent would have been keen to watch for useful intel, but the usually very consistent 15-year-old never seemed to truly fire on all cylinders from the get-go, and the pair were ultimately pulled up at fence 24 after banking the second of the collapsible tables at 19AB and then appearing to bank another fence, too. But when he left the startbox for the second time, this time on veteran Ballaghmor Class, with whom he’s never finished outside the top five at this level, the round was a different story entirely. They made best use of their long partnership — which has seen them win both Burghley and Kentucky previously — to get home with a relatively swift 21.2 time penalties, moving them from sixth to third overnight, despite riding on some of the worst of the day’s ground.

“He’s very, very special, and I know I always say it, but I’m not eloquent enough to tell everyone how much he means to me,” says Oliver. “We’ve been together since he was four years old and we know each other inside and out. We’re great mates. There’s no reason for him, at this stage in his life, to do what he’s just done, but he’s like me — he can be a little bit of a nightmare at home when he’s not busy! We’re very similar in character, and we’re both just a lot better with each other. Life would be a lot more boring for me without him, and without those special old horses. You can just rely on them.”

Though they got the job done, their round wasn’t without its occasional rough-and-ready moments, including a tricky jump at the HorseQuest Quarry at 27:  “I trusted him a few times out there,” says Oliver. “When he finds the ground hard work or he starts getting a little tired, or a little bit stuck in gear, he’s very difficult to shorten — he’s basically a great stayer. A couple of times today I’ve not been able to see a distance, and I’ve thought, ‘just keep going until the stride pattern lands on the fence’. And just about every time, it’s worked. He helped me out coming out of the Quarry — when I came out of the corner we were a little bit all over the show, and then we went on the big one. It’s moments like that that you think, ‘thank god I’m sat on you’ — because if he had put down, that’s what makes you look like a bit of a monkey, or have a bad fall, or do something stupid, whereas those good horses dig you out.”

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Tim Price may have halved his chances at a win when deciding to withdraw his Maryland 5* champion Coup de Coeur Dudevin, but Tokyo ride Vitali more than stepped up to the plate as one of the earliest horses out, romping home with 24 time penalties — which remained the fastest round of the day for no short time — to move from equal 11th to overnight fourth. Now, though, he’ll have to contend with tomorrow’s showjumping finale — arguably the two-phase specialist gelding’s weakest phase at this point in his career.

“He’s just an athletic horse — he sort of flings himself and throws himself, and he’s got a long stride and doesn’t fight in front of the fence,” says Tim. “Those things [make him] quite a handy five-star horse, but we’re still working on the show jumping. I’m hoping for a better go that tomorrow, and that would be the last piece on the armoury to set him up for his future. He’s really cool, and he really gave me everything I asked him — to stand off, move up, stay close, operate. He was super with everything, so I was really happy with him.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The mixed zone at a major event is a funny sort of place: often, it’s a hive of activity, with rather too many bodies clustered into a small space, all watching different horses and having different conversations and, at the same time, interviewing a number of riders who all seem to appear in swift, thick groupings after a long break of no one at all. But when Olympic team and individual silver medallists Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser set out on course, it was different — and everyone, no matter which country they’d come from to report on proceedings, fell silent and jumped nearly every fence along with him.

It’s hardly surprising, really: the pair, who won Pau in 2019 and have been among the most consistent competitors in the sport in the last number of years, came to this event last year as the hot favourites, only to suffer a shock fall in the latter third and shelve their dream for another year. This time, though, Tom — fresh off a second place finish at Kentucky with JL Dublin — changed his mindset entirely as he left the startbox with his exceptional sixteen-year-old.

“I’ve messed up here beyond belief too many times with the most amazing horse, so I came this year with the idea of actually having fun,” he explains. That served them beautifully: they put in a very, very good clear round, though their 30.8 time penalties — “perhaps I could have been more positive in places” — meant that they wouldn’t climb from their overnight fifth position, which they hold going into tomorrow’s final horse inspection.

“To be fair, he put in a near enough perfect round in terms of jumping performance, but the ground is horrific — it’s now really holding, and it’s tough on them.”

To mitigate the difficulty of the conditions, Tom found several key places on course where he could slow down a touch and let his horse catch his breath, which might not have been a tactic that lent itself to speed, but certainly will be one he’ll be grateful for tomorrow, when he tackles the finale of the competition on one of the best showjumping horses in the field.

“There were a few places where we could recover — for me, it was sort of the first part, which is quite difficult in terms of knowing how you’re going, and the lake, weirdly enough, before we dropped down by the house,” he says. “And actually, out the back was very good going where I could recover, and I could gain a bit back, and he was really recovering very well — but it was hard, hard work. For him to have some big jumping efforts — and especially with the two big oxers at the end — you have to conserve. You have to have the mindset that we’ve got rain forecast all day tonight and tomorrow, so we’ll need some left in the tank.”

Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Just a scant few of yesterday’s top ten remain at the business end of proceedings after cross-country, and one of those is Gemma Stevens (nee Tattersall), who channelled the spirit of her late, great Arctic Soul to bring Jalapeno home to sixth place, dropping just two places from fourth with her 32.4 time penalties. Her air punch of exaltation said it all, though: she and her team have put an extraordinary amount of work and thought into fine-tuning the mare’s fitness routine on her return from injury, and this, her first five-star since Pau in 2019, has been a testament to that effort.

“It was really, really good — but also terrifying, really hard!” says Gemma with a laugh. “[It’s] such a relief to get to the end, I’m not gonna lie. It’s really tough out there today — I don’t think the conditions could be any tougher. We’ve got drying, soggy ground, and sun with no wind, but my horse was amazing. She kept trying the whole way, she kept jumping really well, and so I kept quietly, gently just pushing her along basically, but they just don’t seem to travel through this ground, so it was hard.”

Gemma was one of a huge number of riders to opt for the longer — though only very slightly — route at the lake, which was a last minute change of plans when the mare came into the complex feeling just a touch starstruck.

“I had every intention of going all straight ways for sure, including at the lake,” she says. “She jumped the oxers and the two tables really well and I thought, ‘Do I, don’t I?’ But then, as I came around the corner to jump the jetty just before, I felt her go, ‘bloomin’ heck!’ And I thought ‘no, go long’, because that was my instinct at that point. And I think it was the right one.”

Of course, despite the lake’s late appearance in the course this year, it was far from the last big question on course: Gemma was also among the considerable number of riders to express her dislike of fence 26, the Jubilee Clump Brush, which was an angled ditch and brush fence on a turn — and it was only once she could get that big leap behind her that she felt that homecoming rush.

“I had to kick and I just thought, ‘I hate this brush, and I just want to get home now!’,” she says. “So I went round, and I saw the stride, and I thought ‘Uh oh, here we go, we’re off. We’re going now, Jala!’ And to be fair, she went. Then she jumped actually beautifully all the way home, and actually I felt like she galloped up to the end really well.”

Bubby Upton and Cola. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Young rider and recent university graduate Bubby Upton put her Badminton demons to bed — she’d picked up a run-out here at the final fence last year — by executing a classy clear with 24.8 time penalties aboard her longtime partner Cola, boosting her well up the rankings from overnight 31st on 31.4 to 8th as we head into the final day.

“I don’t think [the round] was quite as polished as Burghley and 99.9% of here last year,” says Bubby. “There were a couple of moments where he didn’t quite go on the stride that I thought he would and I think, to be honest, that’s probably the deep ground. It was so tough out there. I’ve never quite had to ride as positively as I did out there. But he kept plugging along; he dug so deep, and boy did he work hard for me out there, so I’m so proud of him.”

Though they were among the fastest rounds of the day, Cola is actually a horse that Bubby has never found naturally swift — it’s his consistency and rhythm, she explains, that helped her to get home relatively quickly in the tough conditions.

“His top speed is not fast at all, but I never have to pull on the reins,” she says. “I know him inside out and he just chugs away in the same pace — keeps going, keeps digging deep — and that’s why he’s fast. I can waste so little time, and he’s so easy that I can get away from fences is really fast. But I think I’m kind of kicking myself a little bit because if I just sat a bit quieter a couple of times he wouldn’t have had to chip in and scramble out of things, and then he probably would have come home even more full of running.”

Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

As just the fifth pair out of the box this morning, Pippa Funnell and Majas Hope were one of our true trailblazers — and that’s not the first time they’ve provided that sort of role. At the European Championships in 2019 they were the British pathfinders, which is a fitting role for them to take: Pippa’s experience, and the gelding’s exceptional cross-country form, more than make up for how tricky he finds the first phase. Today, as he did then, he put the dressage well behind him, delivering the goods and executing a swift climb. He now goes in to the final day in ninth place, 30 places up from yesterday, after adding 24.8 time penalties to his 32.6 on the flat.

“He’s the best horse in the world to sit on in this phase, and the worst horse in the world to sit on for the first phase,” says Pippa, who explains that although he’s a real specialist in this phase, he’s not necessarily easy to prepare. “I’ve got so much confidence in him: he knows his job. But he has to be surprised — I can’t warm up, so the first fence I jumped was the first fence [on course[. You can’t go near the warm up fences, and so you just have to hope that your eye is in.”


Pippa’s ride was interrupted by a hold just before she came to the controversial lake question, with its divisive MIM-clipped direct route — and that hold, she explains, influenced her choice to skip the popular indirect option and give it a jolly good crack. She was just the second rider of the day to make this choice; the first, New Zealand’s Dan Jocelyn, had gone just before her and activated the safety device — she, on the other hand, executed it sans penalties, though she wasn’t sure until she’d returned whether she’d pulled the feat off or not.

“William ran over to say ‘don’t do the lake’,” she says. “Meanwhile, I had spectators saying, ‘are you aware that you’re missing the left fore?’ And I went, ‘Like, an over reach boot?’ and I saw I’ve got an overreach boot, and they said ‘shoe’, and I said, ‘Oh well, I can’t do much about that!’ So psychologically I did think, ‘Oh no, I’m missing a shoe, am I going to do the lake?’ Anyway, he jumped the table and made that distance short, and he felt so good, so I thought, ‘If I can’t do it on him, I’ve got no chance.’ And then I did it and I didn’t get a very good stride! And then I heard this clank and I thought, ‘Oh no — but I can’t look around now, I’ve got to look at the corner.'”

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

Last year’s Burghley runners-up Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift take a little leap up the leaderboard from 14th to 10th overnight, adding 30.4 time penalties to their dressage score of 28 and once again showing the up-and-coming young horse’s exceptional ability over a tough track.

“He’s just class,” beams Tom. “It’s his second Badminton, his third five-star, and he just gets better and better. Those conditions are really difficult out there, and it’s not his favourite going, but he just dug so deep and really gave me everything.”

Though many riders will choose to watch some of the early action ahead of their rounds at major events like this, Tom was one of several who opted to avoid the screens and rely on instinct — though he did take some vital feedback to heart.

“I got a bit of feedback from the warmup saying to forget about the watch — horses are just getting tired, and that’s sort of what I did,” he says. “The feedback I got was, at the lake everyone was looking quite tired, and actually there when I kicked on he really started to move away and I thought ‘well, maybe I’ve got a bit more under me than I thought.’ But coming up to Huntsman’s, I felt him go, ‘Okay, are we nearly done yet?’

That was when he brought in the big guns in his toolbox: “I don’t normally talk when I’m going around, but that’s the first time I was getting the voice out and encouraging him along — like, ‘come on boy, keep going!”

Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Both our US competitors completed with clear rounds, too. Lillian Heard Wood now sits 24th, climbing from 60th after adding 48 time penalties with the veteran campaigner, LCC Barnaby, who now has thirteen five-star runs under his belt and roundly put their Badminton demons of last year, when Lillian fell on course, to bed.

“He was awesome,” says Lillian. “I went pretty slow, because when he started out, I could feel him labouring in the mud — not like he was tired, but he was like, ‘What is this?’ And I really wanted to finish, and maybe I let that get too much in my head, but I was like, ‘It’s okay if you want to do it at this speed — I just want to do it, so however you want to do it, I’m down!’ It’s probably one of his last runs — I didn’t want to not finish it!”

Katherine Coleman and Monbeg Senna. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Katherine Coleman and Monbeg Senna now sit 26th, up one place from 27th, after adding 62.8 time penalties — but both horse and rider impressed when they hit some tricky patches on course and exhibited serious stickability and gumption, particularly at the solar panel water question at 15AB, where the horse nearly jumped Katherine out of the tack, but both stuck to their line and made it out the other side.

“[He’s got] so much scope,” marvels Katherine. “There was a lot of prayers said before this event, I have to be honest. Especially with the ground being as it is, and our lack of runs. I just set out and was like, ‘I just want to come home,’ and set it out at that pace where I’m not trying to beat him around, I’m just trying to finish. It’s his first first-five star, and he does have tons of scope, which you do want to be sat on for the last day, but I was just worried. But God, he was so good through the solar panels, because I was a little bit late to power him up there, and he was a little further off of it than you want to be at that fence. So I was like, ‘Whoa!’ and obviously layed all over the back, and had to sit tight there. But what a horse to jump out. I mean, I just couldn’t be prouder of him.”

This is Katherine’s first trip to Badminton since 2017, and the gravity of the moment wasn’t lost on her.

“Especially being on a horse I’ve produced, it’s really special,” she says. “There’s no other event like it, I don’t think. Especially when you when you watch — you’re back in the barn and you’re thinking ,’I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it.’ And then you go out there and you get a horse that gives you their heart, and then it’s just so special.”

Tomorrow’s final horse inspection begins at 8.30 a.m. (3.30 a.m. EST), and will be followed by the first batch of horses and riders at 11.30 a.m. (6.30 a.m. EST). The top twenty will jump at 2.55 p.m. (9.55 a.m. EST). Keep it locked on EN for all the updates — and until then, Go Eventing. Or go to bed. Or go to the Lake for a drink! The world is your oyster!

The top ten after cross-country at Badminton.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Alterations Made to Badminton Course Ahead of Cross Country Day

Fence 27AB at Badminton, the Horsequest Quarry, will now feature just one element.

Today’s tempestuous weather conditions saw over 7mm of rain dumped over Badminton, which has led to some alterations to the cross country course. These are as follows:

Fence 15: Lightsource BP Pond  – hardcore stone footing to be placed behind the B element.

Fence 17: The Lemieux Mound – the B element, which was to be a choice of two brush boxes, has been removed, leaving just the A element, an upright rail atop a hill.

Fence 21: The Badminton Lake – the water level to be lowered.

Fence 26: The Jubilee Clump Brush – some decoration around the fence will be removed to make it a smoother line on the approach.

Fence 27: The HorseQuest Quarry – the A element to be removed, leaving just one of the two stone walls, which will be situated on the flat at the apex of the uphill approach.

There is no alteration to the optimum time, time allowed or distance. You can check out the original course in full in our comprehensive course walk with designer Eric Winter here.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Saturday at Badminton: Ros Canter’s Second Comer Eyes Succession at End of Dressage

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

And that’s a wrap on dressage here at the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials — a memorably soggy one, mind you, but a day of sport in which the cream really rose to the top. This morning’s leaders, Kitty King and Vendredi Biats, now find themselves in overnight second place on their score of 22.3, thanks to a narrow usurping by last year’s runners up, Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo, after the long lunch break.

They put a score of 22.1 on the board, which thoroughly trounces their 26 here last year – but though first ride Pencos Crown Jewel, who sits 17th on a 29.2 going into cross-country, has been on best behaviour this week, ‘Walter’ has been a bit of a different story. We caught up with delighted groom Sarah Charnley just after his test, who confessed that it had taken an hour and a half to get plaits into him for the trot up, while Ros herself told us yesterday that he has “rocked up and thinks he knows his job a little bit better than me — so there’s some work to be done!” Today, though, all that hard work from the whole team paid dividends, and he delivered a performance that belied his scant eleven years.

“He’s just an immense horse,” says Ros. “He came out the start of this week extremely fresh and excited, very jolly, and giving way too much all of the time — and I didn’t know whether I’d get it in there, but he started to settle this morning and then he goes in and he loves it — he absolutely loves it. I mean, the crowd could stand up and start stamping their feet and the horse would just give a little bit more, and just enjoy it a bit more. He’s never had any fear, and that’s what makes him so great.”

Though the continual rain lead to some inevitable deterioration of the dressage ring, Walter made light work of the going, which Ros attributes to his light build — even if he does stand at over 17.1hh.

“He danced his way through it,” she says with a smile. “He’s a slight horse and he’s light on his feet, and I suppose he’s lucky that he’s only carrying me as well, which is hopefully going to help tomorrow! He’s a beautiful horse to ride, and I just think the world of him.”

Though the horse’s score has improved, Ros tells us that the process of getting to that even more competitive state with her World Championships partner has just been a case of refining what was already there.

“It’s just consolidating. He’s always been very steady in his trot work, but there’s even more medium and extended to come, I think, and more expression in the half passes, and then the changes — I still have to get everything absolutely right.”

One thing that’s still on the ‘to do’ list, though is solidifying the flying changes, which Ros explains are still slightly fragile in their execution. Today, the latter two snuck up into the 8s, while the first two dipped down to the 6s.

“I was out there [in the warm-up] with Ian [Woodhead], and every time I did a change, he told me to do something different,” Ros says. “He’s just a little inconsistent in the feeling he gives me running up to a change, so it would be great if I could get them really steady. But I try stay very relaxed with him because he’s a giver of a horse, and he is only still eleven. Hopefully in five years time there’s going to be more, but I’m certainly not going to come out next year and try and change anything.”

Now, Ros has the perhaps unenviable task of mentally preparing for two runs across the (very wet) country on two different horses — and though the 2018 World Champion has no shortage of experience, it’s going to be a test of skills she’s not yet had to use at five-star.

“I’ll hold my hands up and say I’ve never ridden in conditions like this above two- or three-star level,” says Ros. “I’ve actually only been at this level for four or five years, and we’ve been blessed with sunny and  hard conditions most of the time, so it’ll be a new experience for me, definitely. I think it’s a serious question. And I think tomorrow’s going to be a case of reacting and looking after the horses, but being attacking so that they have the best ride possible.”

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

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats remain in second place going into tomorrow’s cross-country on their score of 22.3, while day one leaders Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs now sit third on 23.2, followed by Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno on 23.3 and this morning’s Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser in fifth on 23.6. Although Oliver had hoped that the only horse who might beat his day one ride would be his second day ride, the hugely experienced Ballaghmor Class didn’t quite get there: his first and final flying changes earned him 4s and 5s, pulling his overall mark to a still very competitive 24.7, good enough for sixth overnight.

“I’m pleased enough,” says Oliver. “Honestly, if it carries on like this, I don’t think dressage is going to matter too much, so he’s close enough, and I was happy with his mind in there. The conditions are horrible, and the ground in there isn’t easy — it’s very, very patchy, but I’m happy with where we are, and on to the next bit.”

For Oliver, today’s very wet conditions may be something of an exciting challenge: both his horses are in their mid-teens with plenty of experience — particularly Ballaghmor Class, who has won at both Badminton and Kentucky, and has never finished outside the top five in any of his seven previous five-stars. Nevertheless, he plans to set out of the start box with his horses’ individual needs at the forefront of his mind.

“It’s obviously going to be very, very tricky, and we’re just going to have to be sensible. It’s going to be one of those Badmintons — it doesn’t happen very often, but we’re just going to have to go out and ride the horse, ride the course, look after them, and see where we get to.”

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though it was a disappointing blow to see the withdrawal of Laura Collett‘s 2022 Badminton champion London 52 from the entry list a couple of weeks ago, she still duly logged an excellent starting score with ‘second string’ Dacapo, with whom she sits seventh overnight on 25.2 — a level personal best at the 14-year-old gelding’s second five-star. Though ‘Cal’ hasn’t always been the easiest character, this is the latest in a now quite considerable string of mature and polished performances from the reformed bad boy.

“He hasn’t been in an atmosphere like that before, but he held it together, which I was quite pleased with,” says Laura. “He had every excuse to have one of his moments and not give it his all, but he really tried in there, even though obviously it’s a bit muddy and a bit gluey.”

Of course, it’s not over until it’s over — and as the weather’s worsened, the reigning champion, like so many of her fellow competitors, is shelving some of her original plans for tomorrow’s cross-country in favour of a fence by fence, line by line, minute by minute approach.

“When we walked it I thought it was a great track and a proper 5* course in all the dimensions and everything, but to be honest, now it’s just about feeling what you’ve got underneath you,” she says. “I don’t think you’ll be really riding to the minute markers. It’ll just be a case of looking after the horses, and especially with Dacapo, trying to just keep him thinking that it’s easy, when it’s not going to be easy.”

Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

William Fox-Pitt, who delivered one of the last tests before the lunch break, now sits eighth with Grafennacht on a 25.8, while Maryland 5* winners Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin slot into ninth overnight on a 25.9 — an improvement of 1.5 marks on his Maryland test of last year, even with mistakes in two of the changes and a divisive final centre line.

“Even though he’s won a five star, he’s an up-and-coming horse, and it’s a new thing for him to to get lower on the flat,” says Tim. “So this is by far the best quality he’s shown in the ring. There’s a couple of mistakes, but he’s just got so much action in his hind end, and it’s quite hard to get his bum down and just get him through in that moment. We’ve been getting better and better outside, but inside [the ring] he was almost too overreactive, just from a bit of nerves, I guess.”

The tough French horse, who was campaigned previously by Australia’s Chris Burton and, briefly, by Tim’s wife, Jonelle, is the type that Tim hopes will cope well with the muddying ground tomorrow: “He’s a great scrambler,” says Tim, “and he’s got the action where it’s a bit of a sufferance in here in terms of a flying change, but for the ground, he’s brilliant. He just battles and runs, and so I’m really looking forward to him in these conditions — which isn’t to say it’ll go totally to plan, but he doesn’t really pay attention to the ground in the way he goes and who he is.”

As he heads to the startbox, he’ll carry with him a bit of wisdom inherited from another great Kiwi.

“He’s the last to go, so [the ground] isn’t going to get any worse than it is with him — but the rain’s moving, actually, so at least the ground isn’t holding,” Tim philosophises. “They’ll be slopping through it instead, and we do get to practice in it out here. I remember Andrew Nicholson saying to me once that when the ground’s like this, go and put them in it: part of your training and preparation is to let them experience that kind of ground and grow in confidence.”

Harry Meade and Tenareze. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Harry Meade rounds out the top ten after the first phase with his second ride, the former Tom Carlile ride Tenareze, who delivered a 26.9 — his best international score since his earliest two-stars.

“It’s his best test, at his first big five-star,” says Harry, who also sits 16th on a 29 with the experienced Away Cruising. “He hasn’t been in this kind of atmosphere, so you always learn something about them. I was thrilled with how he went;  he goes over the top very easily, so I did very little with him beforehand, and he was very cool in there.”

Though the weather has changed dramatically since Harry completed his first test yesterday, his aim for the day to come hasn’t, particularly, even with the rapidly changing ground and the changes it has effected to the course.

“I don’t think it changes the plan; usually, you ride on the feel the horse gives you and when the conditions are like, this we ride accordingly,” says Harry. “I just hope they don’t change the course any more, because horses go in this going. I think the worst conditions are when it’s been dry all week off the back of a wet period and it’s really holding. In this, they should go well, and I think it probably makes people ride better because they don’t chase the clock so much — they ride the horse underneath them. I think there’s a danger, if you if you make too many adjustments to the course, that it encourages people to just ride like they’re machines, whereas the greatest benefits to horses from their riders is when there’s an element of forecast fatigue, because you make sure you hold some back in the tank. If you change the course too much more, people won’t hold it back.”

Tomorrow’s cross-country challenge is set to begin at 11.30 a.m. BST (6.30 a.m. EST), and has already seen some changes to the track, including two removed fences and a number of take-off and landing treatments from the hardworking ground crew here at Badminton. Keep it locked onto EN this evening for further information, plus thoughts from the riders on the tricky track to come — and as always, Go Eventing.

The top ten at the culmination of dressage.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Day Two at Badminton: King in Command Ahead of Coronation + Lunch Break

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Day two of Badminton started extra early today in order to ensure a two-hour midday break for the Coronation of King Charles — and so it all feels rather serendipitous that our new leader from the morning’s efforts should be a King in her own right. But to consider Kitty King and Vendredi Biats‘s 22.3 simply an act of kismet would be a discredit to them as athletes: the pair led the first phase at Burghley last year, too, and have consistently gotten better and better over the years between the boards. Today, the Selle Français, who was once prone to the odd naughty moment, danced sweetly despite the deepening mud and worsening rain — or perhaps, because of it.

“I know he’s great in sloppy ground — he led at Burgham in similar weather,” says Kitty. “Although he’s lovely and white and pristine because of my amazing groom, Chloe Fry, he loves to slop around and be a dirty, muddy Frenchman so he was having a great time splashing about!”

That reformed inclination to lose focus is something that’s always been easier to manage at long format events: “He’s just got so consistent in this phase, and he really comes into his own at the three days. At the one days he’s a bit normal, and then you go into a big arena and he’s just so with you. He couldn’t have gone any better.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Though ‘Froggy’ always looks a consummate first-phase specialist, with his round, uphill build and big movement, Kitty explains that it actually takes rather a lot of quite basic work to encourage him to use himself correctly.

“We basically spend our entire life working on trying to keep him round and through, because he likes to fall in against the leg and stick his head up in the air most of the time,” she says. “How he came out of the arena, with his head in the air and his ears up my nose, that’s how he’d like to go all the time. That’s his natural way. So he spends most of his life living on a serpentine with a ten meter circle in the top of every loop — he spends his entire life during that in trot and canter, basically!”

Now, there’s plenty to focus on for Kitty as she prepares to better her Burghley result with the gelding, where she finished sixth after activating a frangible pin — but like many of the riders we’ve spoken to today, her first priority in the tough conditions tomorrow will be listening to her horse and giving him the ride he needs, whatever that may be.

“There’s lots to jump out there,” she says. “It’s big all the way, and the ground’s obviously going to play a massive part, so we’ve just got to go out and ride our horses as we find them;  just use our feel and give them a good experience.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Some slightly stuffy flying changes precluded a leading score for Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, but nevertheless, the perennial favourites shone in the gloom of this morning’s session to put a 23.6 on the board, earning them a provisional seat in fourth place, just 1.3 penalties — or three and a bit seconds — behind the leaders.

Despite his thorough soaking, Tom was delighted with the circumstances of his test, in large part because he’d expected empty stands for his early morning start time.

“Toledo’s not one for early mornings and smaller crowds — but it’s amazing to see, even at eight o’clock, how dedicated everyone is. They’re all up in the rafters under cover,” laughs Tom. “He loves performing and if people weren’t there, I was actually a bit worried — for him, an empty stadium is the worst thing that could possibly happen. So I was really hoping for a Friday afternoon test for him.”

All’s well that ends well, though, and even without his preferred draw, he was able to pull a very respectable test out of the bag with the enormously consistent French-bred gelding.

“I’m delighted with him — the way he went about it was fantastic,” says Tom, who gave the walk work — typically Toledo’s weakest pace — a nod as being a personal best effort. “It’s a little bit of a balancing act between having all power to get the real high marks, to then actually getting the walk and the stretch and the balancing in between.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

And while the lead may have eluded him, Tom remains wholly pragmatic about what that might mean for the two days yet to come.

“To be honest, all you’ve got to be is there or thereabouts to get into the top mix — the rain is coming down and it’s forecast across the day, so I think it could be very influential on the course tomorrow.”

Furthering that pragmatism is the memory of last year’s Badminton, where he and Toledo came in as firm favourites, but took a hugely uncharacteristic tumble at the solar panel bounce in the latter stages of the course. This time, he’s taking his week one stride at a time.

“I came last year with the mindset all about winning and this year, for me, it’s more about actually just enjoying the horse I’ve got,” says Tom. “This year, I’ll be riding the horse I’ve got underneath me, enjoying the situation. He’s been in most situations more than most [horses], so definitely with his enthusiasm I think I’d prefer to be on him than any other.”

Also on his side? That little trip to Kentucky last week, where he finished second with the former Nicola Wilson ride JL Dublin, and gave himself some valuable pipe-opening mileage that’s knocked off rust in a way other riders have struggled to do in this fractured spring season, plagued as it’s been by cancellations.

“I didn’t quite realise how much of an advantage Oliver has had for so many years,” jokes Tom. “Going away and seeing an amazing course and amazing ground and an amazing place, it fills you with confidence. It’s actually great to go and see a big track considering how hard everyone’s tried this year to put on any shows. They’ve done an amazing job all round, but most of these horses haven’t seen as much cross country as they usually have.”

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

William Fox-Pitt makes a decisive move into fifth place with the five-star debutant Grafennacht, who was initially intended for a Kentucky run but was rerouted here after the loss of so many of the spring’s prep events. The eleven-year-old mare continued her 2023 run of sub-30 scores with an impressive — and rather better than projected — 25.8.

“I’m dead chuffed with that,” says William. “She is quite good on the flat; she’s always had it in her to be to be good, but she’s inexperienced. She had last year off, pretty much, so she’s been a bit raw this year and looking everywhere — so to go in there and behave like that, I was dead chuffed with that, actually.  I’ve always thought she could do a good test one day, but to do a 25 today — good girl!”

While it’s a heartening start for the horse, who was second at Boekelo in 2021 before her year out, the enormously experienced rider doesn’t think the first phase will have any bearing on the competition once tomorrow’s competition begins — especially as the rain continues to fall.

“I think we forget the dressage, I mean — what a complete waste of time,” laughs William. “It’ll be a good old Badminton [in this weather]!”

Where rain — and shelving doubts — is concerned, he has some quantifiably excellent experience in his back pocket: “Tamarillo won it in the rain [in 2004]. I nearly didn’t run him: I remember the ten minute hold and Yogi Breisner going ‘do you, don’t you? It’s awful, but why don’t you just go and see how it goes and jump the first few?’ Oh god, the steeplechase was horrendous — I mean, literally, plastered in mud wasn’t the word. I was at the end of the day, I was just going to jump the first few, and he just flew round — so we all must stop faffing around and get on with it.”

Aaron Millar and KEC Deakon. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The first rider of the morning session, who entered the ring at a rather unsociable 8.00 a.m., was one who had rather slipped under the radar among the big name horses and riders here — but Aaron Millar and KEC Deakon roundly thrust themselves into the spotlight with their smart test, which earned them a 28.8 and put them into ninth place at the halfway point of today’s action.

“It’s a very good start, and I’m really pleased with the horse — he went in there and knuckled down and really tried,” says Aaron of the thirteen-year-old son of Chacoa. Though the Irish Sport Horse has always done a respectable enough test, he’s tended to be a low-30s scorer, both with previous rider Millie Dumas and with Aaron — but a new trainer in the Millar camp has helped him to peak at the perfect moment.

“He’s a bit of an introvert, so he can come a bit inwards sometimes, but we work with [dressage rider] Dannie Morgan, and he’s just amazing in the way he trains them,” says Aaron. “Even outside here, it’s like I’m at home having a lesson rather than at Badminton, and I think that massively helps, because he knows me and the horse inside and out and can get me to be brave outside and say ‘come on, get on with it’. Whereas if I was by myself, I think I’d play it a bit more safe. Dannie’s definitely been the key to this horse.”

Though the rain’s been coming thick and fast, Aaron was the first of a number of riders today to find himself pleasantly surprised by the conditions in the arena, which still allowed horses to show themselves well.

“The ground’s actually, surprisingly, really good in there. He felt like he was cutting in, but he’s got big studs in, so he wasn’t slipping, and it wasn’t holding ground — I always worry more when they get sort of stuck in the mud. But it rode really well in there.”

Now, he joins the ranks of riders who have completed the first part of their week and now have to focus their attentions on planning how to tackle tomorrow’s tough track and tricky conditions.

“This horse has done Pau before, but it’s a big test for him, and a big ask — but this is why we have horses,” he muses. While it’s a Badminton debut for the horse, it’s a welcome return for the rider, who competed here in 2009 with Stormsay.

“It’s been a long time — I’ve got a few more wrinkles since then,” laughs Aaron. “It’s really good to be back; the first horse I had here was a bit tricky on the flat but an absolute machine across the country; he was clear inside the time and things, whereas Deakon is a very good jumper, but I just want to look after him a bit out there and make sure he’s got enough energy to get home.”

Michael Winter and El Mundo. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Canada’s Mike Winter slotted into provisional equal 25th with the extravagant El Mundo after posting a 32.2, though he was frustrated to lose two marks for an error of course after forgetting the stretchy canter circle at the tail end of the test.

“I’m always pleased with him, but I don’t know what I was thinking,” says Mike. “I think I’ve been saying it that way all morning to myself about the stretch circle, and then I did it without the stretch circle, so I feel like I let him down a little bit. But I love riding the horse, and I love being here.”

Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The second of our US competitors, Lillian Heard Wood and the very experienced LCC Barnaby, sit 45th on a 39.5 in their twelfth five-star together.

“He’s not very good at this bit,” laughs Lillian. “He’s done a lot worse — the score is actually the worst I’ve ever gotten, but he has been much more crazy in there before, so  walking out I was happy — and the qualities that make him not very good in there are what make him very good on cross-country, so I’ll be happy to be on him tomorrow!”

Barnaby’s expansive US fanbase will have been disappointed not to cheer the pair on around their home five-star this year, but, as Lillian explains, she was keen to come back and tick the Badminton box before the end of the gelding’s career after an early end to their week last year.

“I’ve done Kentucky lots of times, but if I had been successful here last year, I probably would have left the money in my bank account and not come,” she says. “But I thought, I’ve got one more year, and I want to give  a try.  Also, because he’s not very good at this phase, Badminton and Burghley  actually suit him better, because they’re such cross country competitions.”

We’ve got a long break now as the Coronation of King Charles plays out on big screens across the venue, but we’ll be back in action from 13.00 BST (8.00 a.m. EST) with the last 15 horses and riders, which include last year’s runners-up Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo, Burghley and Kentucky victors Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, and Maryland winners Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin. Our first rider after the break will be Emily King — quite fittingly, all things considered — with her recent Grantham Cup winner Valmy Biats. We’ll be back with a full report from the culmination of dressage this afternoon. Until then: Go Eventing!

The top ten at Badminton after the Saturday morning dressage session.

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Badminton, Day One: Oliver Leads Overnight; Caroline Powell Best After the Break

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

Though we saw a hot line-up of horses and riders after the lunch break today at Badminton, no one could quite topple those lofty morning scores – and as a result, our top three remains exactly as it was as we went into the lunch break, with Oliver Townend holding onto the top spot with Swallow Springs (23.2), Gemma Stevens sitting second with Jalapeno (23.3), and Tim Price rounding out the top three with Vitali (27.1).

The star of the afternoon sessions, though, slotted neatly into fourth: New Zealand’s Caroline Powell has, perhaps, been lacking in truly competitive five-star horses since the glory days of Lenamore, with whom she won Burghley in 2010, but it’s been impossible to ignore the upward trajectory of young upstart Greenacres Special Cavalier over the last couple of years. From her days in the young horse classes at Le Lion d’Angers, which hosts the Six- and Seven-Year-Old World Championships, she’s been pipped as a Paris prospect — and since she made her step up to five-star at Pau last year, finishing fifth as just a nine-year-old, there’s been no denying that she’s the real deal. The Irish-bred mare is a tough little tank of a horse, but where those types can sometimes find themselves having to climb through the rankings over a weekend, ‘Cavvy’ is just as proficient on the flat as she is over fences. She roundly proved that today, delivering a smart and professional test to post a 27.4 — three-tenths of a point better than her single previous five-star start.

“It’s all always been there with her, but it’s taken a while to connect her because she’s so long — she’s in different counties sometimes,” laughs Caroline. “But she’s got a really good head, and the main thing we’ve tried not to do is change the length of her — we tried that once and she got a bit fiery, so we’ve learned to leave her where she’s comfortable. That’s actually the way you need to produce her — whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know!”

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

Though a big horse like Cavvy isn’t always the quickest to produce — “there’s certainly room for everyone on her,” jokes Caroline — it’s that brain that sets her apart, and even with their excellent Pau result behind them, Caroline is treating Badminton as another rung in the ladder for the horse’s long-term career.

“We just went [to Pau] to sort of see what we’ve got and to be honest, we’re here to see what we’ve got as well,” she says. “She’s been an absolute joy to produce right the way through; I got her as a four year old and here she is. She just loves it, and she’s really enjoying the work, so long may it continue! She’s done a really nice test, so that’s one box ticked — and who knows what’s going to happen on Sunday. It’s a big course, and there’s a lot to jump out there, and if she goes out and does well, that’s great.”

Tom Jackson, fourth at the lunch break, now moves to fifth overnight with Capels Hollow Drift (28), while Harry Meade slips down a notch to sixth with Away Cruising (29).

Rosalind Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Ros Canter, who rode her test this morning with Pencos Crown Jewel, now sits seventh overnight on a good score of 29.2 in the mare’s third five-star — though with prior scores of 24.2 at last year’s Burghley and 27.1 at Bicton in 2021, she was disappointed to lose marks in the flying changes and miss out on the kind of score the mare ordinarily produces.

“The quality of work that she’s doing this year is by far superior to what she’s done before,” she says. “She’s struggled a bit with her balance — she’s quite croup-high, so most of the time we’ve done dressage tests she’s been quite heavy on the hand, and the last couple of times out she’s felt amazing. She did today, but unfortunately, every single change didn’t come for us today, which has always been a little bit of a bugbear — but recently we’ve been quite good at them, so that was a little bit frustrating.”

Those changes, which earned scores between 4s and 6.5s, were the only low point in an otherwise polished performance.

“I didn’t really get any how I wanted them in there, but her brain was great, and her quality of work was, I think, exceptional,” says Ros. “So if we’d nailed the changes, I think we wouldn’t have been that  far off the low 20s — so there’s lots of exciting things to come.”

Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Loire. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Another two morning riders follow her on the leaderboard: Kirsty Chabert, looking no worse for wear after catching the Monday night red-eye back from Kentucky, delivered a 29.3 with Opposition Loire in the 12-year-old mare’s five-star debut, besting many of her four-star performances, while Izzy Taylor put a 29.6 on the board with five-star sophomore Happy Days, eclipsing the eleven-year-old’s previous five-star mark of 31.7, earned at Pau last year.

“It’s her first time doing a test in any sort of atmosphere, so I’m pretty chuffed,” says Kirsty, who, like many British riders, has found herself short of runs this year — and so that trip to Kentucky, where she finished 21st with Classic VI, has been a welcome pipe-opener. “I think come Sunday morning, it’ll all feel familiar, because that was just a week ago. I’m not sure it would have been a pleasant experience with all the nerves, having just run at a couple of Open Intermediates! But with this horse in particular, I’ll do as I feel is correct for her on the day, and take it step by step, really.”

Izzy Taylor and Happy Days. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

For Izzy, keeping her horse’s focus on the task at hand was her primary job for today — and that box was one she was delighted to have ticked between the boards this morning.

“It’s his second five-star, but it’s actually only his fourth three-day event, so for him to come here and keep his brain as well as he did, I was really pleased,” she says. “He’s a lovely horse, and he tries so hard — a little too hard, sometimes, as he demonstrated with his second change! He’s got loads more to come: he’s not old, he hasn’t done a lot, and [he got a score like that] without a ‘clear round’, so that’s really exciting.”

Gireg le Coz and Aisprit de la Loge. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

France’s Gireg le Coz rounds out the top ten overnight with Aisprit de la Loge, with whom he finished in the top twenty here last spring. They didn’t quite catch the 26.7 they posted on that occasion, but their 29.7 will put them well in the mix come Sunday’s cross-country — something Gireg is particularly grateful for after a tricky start to the week.

“He was very good, I think — he’s been very tense since he arrived here; maybe he knows where he is,” says Gireg with a smile. “But he was very professional today. I missed a change at the end, and normally he’s very good at them, and we didn’t get great marks in the trot — just average — but the horse, I’m pleased with. He’s a big mover with a lot of energy, but it’s not about dressage only — it’s very big out there [on cross-country]. But I do feel confident, because now I know we can do it, and I couldn’t be on a better horse.”

Katherine Coleman and Monbeg Senna. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

We’ve got just two US entrants this year, and the first of them — Katherine Coleman with her five-star debutant Monbeg Senna — delivered a test near the end of proceedings today, earning themselves a 31 and provisional fourteenth place in Katherine’s first Badminton since 2017. Their score, notably, is also the horse’s second best ever international score — the best, a 29.8 at Gatcombe Park, came when he was still at two-star level.

“I’m over the moon with him,” beams Katherine. “With the lack of runs and practice, and being as fit as they are, he’s been a mentalist. So coming into this test, I was like, ‘oh my god, I just hope I stay between the boards!’ He’s been bucking in his changes and flying around — but he went in there and did super changes. I couldn’t be more proud of him!”

Even just before entering at A, Katherine wasn’t totally convinced it was all going to come off: “I wasn’t sure what to expect, because usually he’s one of those horses who comes out really hot like a dragon, and then ten minutes in he’s like, ‘I’m exhausted — carry me!’ But I haven’t gotten to the exhausted point yet; he’s just been getting hotter and hotter, and there were a lot of pre-rides involved!”

Tomorrow takes us into day two of the dressage here at Badminton, though it’s a funny, fractured sort of schedule, due to the late morning break for the coronation of King Charles: dressage will begin an hour earlier, at 8 a.m. BST (3.00 a.m. EST), starting with Aaron Millar and KEC Deakon, and will wrap up for the morning after the test of Canada’s Mike Winter and El Mundo, which will begin at 10.07 a.m. BST (5.07 a.m. EST). We’ll then resume proceedings from 13.00 BST (8.00 a.m. EST) with Emily King and Valmy Biats, before closing play after the final test, that of Maryland 5* winners Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin, at 15.26 BST (10.26 a.m. EST). As always, keep it locked on to EN for all the news and updates; tune in on Badminton TV to follow the action live; and stay tuned for much more from Badminton! Until next time: Go Eventing!

The top ten at the end of the first day of dressage.

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Friday at Badminton: Oliver Townend Leads at the Lunch Break; Gemma Stevens is Comeback Queen

Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs lead the way at Badminton. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The first half of the first day of competition is behind us at the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials, presented by MARS Equestrian, and leading the charge into the lunch break is Oliver Townend with the first of his two rides, the former Andrew Nicholson mount Swallow Springs. They set an early standard as the third pair into the ring this morning, and the ground jury of Angela Tucker, Andrew Bennie, and Xavier Le Sauce roundly rewarded their test with a 23.2 that wouldn’t be usurped.

The score is a career best at CCI5* for the 15-year-old gelding (Chillout x Kilila, by Cult Hero), eclipsing his previous personal best — a 23.6 — achieved at Burghley last year. The very good score came despite one mistake: as the Irish gelding entered the extended trot, he broke to canter for one early stride. The rest of the test, though, was a testament to the marking power of accuracy: though Swallow Springs hasn’t got big or extravagant paces, he’s been meticulously produced, and delivered a very technically correct performance.

Oliver’s two rides this year are at the peak of their careers in their mid-teens — second ride Ballaghmor Class, who will perform his test tomorrow, is sixteen — and to this end, Oliver credits his team on the ground for keeping them feeling their very best.

“It’s great for the team; we’ve come here with two older horses, and I don’t think they’ve ever felt as good as they do now, whatever the result. To turn up with a fifteen- and a sixteen-year-old and for them to still be improving is very positive for everybody at home, who all put in the early starts. It’s a very good result.”

Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Oliver originally had five horses entered — a testament to the remarkable strength in depth of his string — and was able to use those extra entries to swing the drawn order the way around he’d hoped for his two horses.

“We tried to get Swallow Springs on early enough,” he explains. “You can only do so much Badminton to help yourself with the draw and so forth, but at the same time, we’re very happy with where we drawn. I think that will suit him down to the ground; I’ll be able to pick fresh ground. He’s the quickest event horse I’ve ever ridden, so fingers crossed.”

Our friends at EquiRatings discovered that Swallow Springs will be Oliver’s eightieth starter at this level since 2008 – a remarkable (and, we have to assume, exhausting) effort – and one that has seen him hone his craft to something of a science over the years. But experience isn’t the only thing that’s helping him to consistently make a bid for the lead at this level – he has another weapon in his arsenal, too.

“Better dressage horses!” he laughs. “I always felt that I had a certain amount of feel, perhaps, but I wasn’t able to do it stylishly. I’ve obviously always rode a lot of young horses and breakers and problem horses, and now I’m on the raw material — so there’s no excuse not to go in there and do a nice job. Hopefully I’m continuing to improve, and hopefully I’m getting more relaxed in that. But at the same time, the horsepower is a different world to what it used to be.”

Even with those many, many starts behind him, Oliver, like all the rest of us, finds it easy to get caught up in the thrall of Badminton, and all that it means to the sport: “It’s just special to be here,” he says. “I wore out VHS videotapes watching this place [when I was a kid], and as you get older you think, are you going feel the same when you get here? But the minute you arrive at the stable yard, you know you’re somewhere very special. It’s just a huge privilege to be here and as I get older, I’m enjoying it more and more. I’m trying to take the pressure off myself and kind of smile occasionally and just enjoy the whole thing. I’ve got two beautiful horses, with beautiful chances, and I’m just enjoying being here.”

Gemma Stevens and Jalapeño are all smiles after their nearly-leading test. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

The very last rider of the morning batch might have had to wait a while for her score to come through, but when it did, Gemma Stevens‘s whoop of joy could be heard throughout the stadium. She earned a 23.3 (“damn it, I was so close to beating Oliver,” she laughs) with Chris Stone’s Jalapeno, who returns to five-star for the first time since 2019 after over a year off and no small amount of care and patience from Gemma and her team.

That score marks Gemma’s own personal best at the level – an accolade that usurps another Jala test.

“It was actually really enjoyable — the horse is lovely to ride,” says Gemma. “She’s very soft and fluent and she felt completely relaxed. I could really ask for the movements, and I felt like I tried to ride every single inch of grass of that test — and she let me.”

Though Gemma is best known, perhaps, for her longtime partnership with the late, great Arctic Soul, this was always his trickiest phase – and now, finding herself aboard a horse who can really relish the atmosphere of the first phase is a particular joy.

“I felt myself really enjoying it — and that was just so nice after years of sitting on the old boy,” she laughs. “It’s just really nice to go in there and sit up and enjoy it — and try to smile!”

Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

We last saw Jala, who was previously partnered by Belgium’s Karin Donckers, take on this level at Pau in 2019, where she sustained an injury that saw her sit out all of 2020 and a large chunk of 2021. But in bringing her back, Gemma has left no stone unturned where management and fitness are concerned, which means that her routine coming into a big event — such as Blenheim, where she finished in the top ten in both 2021 and 2022 — are wholly different from the regime that Gemma’s other horses undergo.

“She’s been swimming once a week and galloping once a week since the middle of January, because I wanted a long, slow process,” says Gemma. “I didn’t want to pummel her with too much at once, because she gets a bit sore in her back and her body. So we’ve gone for the long, slow approach, and I’ve been so careful with her prep. It’s all been about working on her strength — like, really just keeping her happy and strong and actually not doing too much schooling. In a two week period, I’d probably only school her three times. She goes to the water treadmill twice a week, and she canters, and she’s been doing some fitness hacks — very slow trotting up hills. I feel like I’ve learned how to manage her, she’s a lovely, lovely mare, but she’s fragile. I think it’s all about horsemanship, every time you get a horse fit, you learn something new.”

Just as Jala’s customised fitness routine has helped her blossom, so, too, has Gemma’s own workout regime.

“I actually did twenty minutes of Pilates before I got on today!” she says. “I think I’ve just grown up a bit. I’ve got stronger. I’ve been working really hard on my own fitness. hat’s probably what it has changed a little bit — getting myself really, really fit and strong and feeling better.”

That Pilates session may have had another knock-on benefit: “I felt really relaxed today,” she says. “Just chilled, and I went in there, and yes, you get heart flutters, but I didn’t feel tight or tense, I just felt relaxed. So maybe I’m just getting old!”

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tim Price‘s Tokyo mount Vitali put the naughtiness of yesterday’s first horse inspection behind him to deliver a sweet test that, while not quite in the realms of his 21.3 at Burghley last year, earned them a competitive enough 27.1 for third at the lunch break. While it’s not quite what he was aiming for, he’s tempering his expectations — after all, he explains, there are still two very big jobs to do.

“You’ve got to be philosophical in this game, and while he’s an outstanding dressage horse, I want him to be an authentic five-star horse — and so it’s about three phases,” he says. “So I’m just trying to spread my feelings across the three phases, even here straight after the dressage. [The score] could have been a lot lower had I not had a couple of fluffy bits in the canter. The trot work was some of his best, and he’s a fantastic dressage horse, so unless you absolutely maximise on all those elements of what he can deliver on the flat, you will be a little bit disappointed. But a 27 with a few mistakes is still not too bad.”

Like many five-star horses, Vitali is a funny sort of soul – which is why Tim would always rather find himself on board than trying to trot him up in front of the ground jury.

“I don’t know the best way to describe him, but he needs support,” he says. “And when you give him the right support at the right time in the right way, then he can look soft and lovely. He’s a fun horse — I really like him and I respect him immensely for what he does.”

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

Last year’s Burghley runners-up Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift sit fourth at this early phase after putting a 28 on the board — the 12-year-old Irish gelding’s best score yet at this level, despite left-to-right changes that still aren’t quite established.

“I’m over the moon with the horse,” says Tom. “I know there’s a couple of little mistakes in there, but on the whole, I felt that he was going better than he’s ever gone, so I couldn’t ask much more. He’s improving all the time, and particularly the change on one particular rein has been difficult, but they were clean this time — just a little bit exuberant. So we’re definitely going in the right direction, and he’s still a relatively young horse so hopefully we can keep edging closer. He’s a lovely mover and a very rideable horse, but he’s not necessarily the biggest flashiest mover, but I thought he felt really smart.”

Harry Meade and Away Cruising. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Harry Meade rounds out the top five at this stage after a smart test with longtime campaigner Away Cruising, who posted a 29 — another level personal best for the horse, who has only slipped sub-30 on one previous occasion from his six prior starts at the level.

“He’s a lovely, Irish, old-fashioned type; he’s not a big-moving warmblood, but I was really pleased with him — he put in a very solid test and didn’t really miss a bit,” says Harry. “Last year, I kicked myself because I wanted him fresh and I shortened the warm-up to do that, and then he was too fresh, so this year it was once bitten, twice shy – I worked him a little bit longer, perhaps ten minutes too long, and he just lost a bit of his sparkle. But it was a lovely clear round of a test, so job done!”

Dressage will commence again from 14.15 BST (9.15 a.m. EST), with Tom Rowland and Possible Mission launching us into the second half of the day. You can follow along live via Badminton TV, follow along with our up-to-the-minute live updates, and tune back in for the full report shortly after the close of play. Until then: Go Eventing!

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

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

In It To Win It: Team EN Picks Their Winners — and Beyond — for Badminton 2023

Badminton 2023 is upon us, and with it, another chance for the EN team to put our metaphorical money where are mouths are and pick our favorites for a big result this year. Here are our choices — let us know yours in the comments!

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Tilly Berendt

Winner: I think Kitty King has come here with a point to prove, especially after a Burghley last year that she so nearly scooped. She and Vendredi Biats put their best five-star score on the board there — a truly ludicrous 21.2 that saw them lead going into cross-country – and had it not been for a truly unfortunate triggered MIM at those achingly wide oxers, they’d have finished second. She’s been so close to a big one for so long, and I think the fire is truly lit — now that ‘Froggy’ is past his naughty years, he’s a serious competitor and wouldn’t be at all out of place on the illustrious roster of Badminton winners.

Best Foreign Entry: I’m choosing not to consider any of our British-based Kiwis ‘foreign’, because otherwise it’s very difficult to look past Tim Price and Caroline Powell, and frankly, I’d like to give someone else a moment in the sun here. I’m a big fan of Aisprit de la Loge, the ride of France’s Gireg le Coz, who made his Badminton debut last year, finishing in the top twenty after a very good dressage and cross-country and an uncharacteristically lacklustre showjumping. Pau, in October, didn’t go quite to plan for them, but I think they’ll be back with a bang here — and if they can stick to their usual showjumping form, they should pin down a great result. Special mention, too, must go to one of my favourite horses, Lithuanian competitor Aistis Vitkauskas‘s Commander VG. I’ve been following this horse since he was a nine year old, and while his first and final phases will stop him from being truly competitive here, he’s an absolute joy to watch on cross-country, where he’s kind, genuine, and just plain fun. I think he’ll gain a lot of fans this week.

Best Debutant (horse or rider): It’s hard to call Felix Vogg‘s Cartania inexperienced when she’s performed so well at both a World Championships and a Europeans (14th and 8th respectively, for what it’s worth) — but in the grand scheme of things, she is still pretty green, and will be making her debut at the top level this week. She’s flying rather under the radar, as she tends to even on the continent, where she lives in the shadow of stable star and 5* winner Colero, but sometimes those are exactly the right conditions that a horse like this can use to throw out a result that surprises everyone except their rider. I think a very good week could be in store for this pair.

Best Mare: It’s a tough call between Ros Canter‘s gritty, gutsy Bramham runner up Pencos Crown Jewel and the young phenom Greenacres Special Cavalier, who finished fifth in her five-star debut at Pau last season. The first one is my ‘head’ choice and the latter is my ‘heart’ choice, and I’m going to chalk my indecision up to jet lag and keep them both in here, because I think they could both very easily finish in the top ten.

Spoiler Alert: Watch out for Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno — this super blood mare has been out of action for a fair while, but Gemma and her team have put tonnes of manpower and thought into strengthening her for her comeback, and she’s been looking brilliant in the lead-up. I think they could sneak well into the mix, especially if time becomes a big factor on Sunday.

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Amanda Chance:

Winner: Ros Canter and Lordship’s Graffalo
I think this was the hardest category to pick, since there are legitimately several horses that are capable of winning this thing. While it seems obvious to go for Tom or Ollie, I’m feeling like taking a little bit more of a risk. I mean… not really much of one, because I’m picking Ros, but considering this will only be the second start at CCI5* level for “Walter” (who is only 11 this year), he’s not as established as some. He’s excellent on the flat though, and has never had a cross country penalty in an international start, so I feel like Ros and Walter could absolutely take the win here.
Best Foreign Entry: Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin
Look, it’s Tim Price. I can’t NOT pick one of Tim’s horses for something, and I’m absolutely obsessed with this horse. It’s another young one, at 11 years old, but “Joker” is top class, and a very good cross country horse. Watching this pair win Joker’s first 5-star last fall at Maryland left me with a massive crush (on the horse, not Tim. No offense Tim.). I think the horse literally threw himself between the flags a couple times, and that’s the level of commitment I’m after. He’s bred for the job, he’s got one of the best riders in the world, and he’s already won a 5-star. Enough said.
Best Debutant: Alex Bragg and Quindiva
It’s hard to watch this mare jump and not want to root for her – she’s got springs in her feet. “Diva” has also been trending sub-30 for her dressage scores and hasn’t had a rail since 2019, so while obviously Badminton is no small ask by any means, she’s entirely capable of not only delivering, but also being competitive.
Best Mare: Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel
Did I pick two Ros mounts and two half-siblings? Indeed I did. These are my predictions, I can do what I want. It’s hard not to love this mare, “Jasmine”, who is from Pennie Wallace’s phenomenal Cornish Faer damline. This will be her first go at Badminton but her third 5-star, and she finished 5th and 11th in her first two goes at the level. This mare has grit, tenacity, and quality – everything you need for success at Badminton.
Spoiler Alert: Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno
Gemma is an absolute queen and so is this little mare, Jala. She’s also bred to the nines for eventing, by Chilli Morning out of a Shaab xx mare. This pair has had some ups and downs along their journey, but she’s super competitive on the flat and a great jumper, and I can think of no one better than Gemma to team up with a gutsy mare to pull off an upset. Can Jala follow in her sire’s footsteps and bring home the Badminton title? It would certainly make a great story, and I’ll always root for that.

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Cheg Darlington

Winner: Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser – I just can’t help thinking that this will be their year. After the high of winning Olympic team gold and individual silver in Tokyo, and the disappointment of last year’s Badminton (my jaw was literally on the ground with them when they fell), coupled with Tom’s great form at Kentucky last week (where he was second with JL Dublin), he’s got to be fired up for this one. Although… my heart’s set on Kitty King and Vendredi Biats. I believe this is a horse and rider that’s overdue a big win and that they were unlucky not to be even closer to the top of the leaderboard than they were at both Badminton and Burghley last year (they were 7th and 6th). I would love to see it happen for them here.

Best Foreign Entry: This is a total heart pick but I’m going with Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby because I think he’s such a game kinda guy – also, I had a pony as a teenager called Barnaby – he even looked like his 5* namesake. With eight 5* completions together, Lillian and her Barnaby have rather better form than I managed with my Barnaby, and I really hope that they can add Badminton to that list this year on their second time of trying. LCC Barnaby’s 17 now and he’s been such a game campaigner for Lillian over the years that I think he deserves it.

Best Debutant (horse or rider): Kristina Hall-Jackson and CMS Google. When you hear Kristina speak about Google, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the excitement she has for their partnership. They’ve completed at all but one of their 24 FEI starts together and Kristina says the mare is ‘as brave as a lion’, something that will definitely come in handy on Badminton cross country day. They’re an exciting prospect and I’d love to see all that potential realized this weekend.

Best Mare: Quindiva – Alex Bragg’s ride. With her penchant for double clears, and her trend for sub-30 dressage scores, this could be a very successful week for the little mare, despite it being her first time at the level. She’s known to be a diva and we all know that with great talent comes big personality. It’d be cool to see Alex up there too.

Spoiler Alert: It wouldn’t exactly be a spoiler if he did win it – EquiRatings have him down as favorite – but this could be Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs’ year. He was 5th with Andrew Nicholson in 2019 and 3rd with Oliver last year, and I just have a feeling that it may be third time lucky for this lovely horse. Having said that, Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift are definitely worth a shout out – they were 16th at Badminton last year – the horse’s first 5* – and then went on to finish 2nd at Burghley – that’s got to have Tom feeling great about his chances this weekend. Also… World No.1 Tim Price and Vitali (they were 3rd at Burghley last year) are on my radar – particularly after all the show jumping practice they’ve had recently on the Sunshine Tour – and of course Coup de Coeur Dudevin who Tim won Maryland 5* with last year when the horse was just a ten-year-old… Oh boy! It’s all to play for at Badminton!

Wills Oakden and Oughterard Cooley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Diana Gilbertson

Winner: My inability to make a decision plagues me on a day to day basis, so to pick just one winner was agonising, I kid you not. I mean, I could just go for an easy, sentimental cop out and say they’re all winners just for getting to Badminton. Let’s face it, it’s pretty much the pinnacle of eventing, and to even get a horse here is no mean feat.

That being said, I have spent far too much time thinking about this over the last few weeks to take the easy road so, I’m going to settle on Tim Price. Or Tom McEwen. Or Tim Price. OHMYGOODNESS THIS IS HARD!

No. I’m going to settle on the Individual Silver medallists from Tokyo 2021, Tom and Toledo de Kerser. Having won Pau 5* in 2019, they are long overdue another 5* win. They took a nasty fall here last year, and who knows who would have lifted the trophy if they hadn’t –he could well have given Ms. Collett a very good run for her money. Reliable (despite that blip) in the jumping phases – his show jumping record is one of the best in the field – and usually at least top 5 after dressage, Toledo and Tom will certainly be looking to lay their ghosts to rest and nab themselves the top spot.

Best Foreign Entry: Can you count Tim Price as a ‘foreign entry?’ I mean, I know he’s a Kiwi, but the World No.1 and his wife (and World No.2 ),  Jonelle have lived in the UK so long they’re almost natives. Still, I’m going to focus firmly on the NZ after his  name, and ignore such minor details.

Tim brings forward two incredible horses, the Maryland 5* winner from last year, Coup de Coeur Dudevin, and Vitali, second at Burghley last year. It’s impossible to choose between them (or at least it is for me). The former has less 5* experience, but his natural ability  is obvious and I doubt Tim is bringing him here for an easy jaunt around. Similarly, Vitali has all the right ingredients, as long as he remembers to pick his knees up on the final day, his only weakness.

I refuse to pick one or the other – they’re both incredible horses, and certainly ones to keep an eye on for the future, so I’d expect them both to be in the top 10, if not higher.

Best Debutant (horse or rider): Tough one, given there are several horses lining up here for the first time – the current Badminton champion, Laura Collett is riding one herself. So I’m going to narrow it right the way down to a first time rider and first time horse, Georgia Bartlett and Spano de Nazca. Georgia has had Nono for 7 years now, and they have done everything together, all the way from BE100. She calls him her ‘best friend,’ and he might not be right up front after dressage, but his fantastic form across country could well see this pair climb the ranks. Trust me, this is a pair worth watching.

Best Mare: Again, there are SO many incredible mares in the field this year (girl power!), but for me, there are two standouts…Ros Canter’s Pencos Crown Jewel, and Caroline Powell’s Greenacres Special Cavalier.

My ultimate pick is probably the latter. She may well be less experienced than Ros’ ‘Jasmine,’ but her form thus far is impossible to ignore. She didn’t have a single jumping fault last year, and came fifth in her first 5* last year at Pau, even though Caroline openly admitted she was really only taking her there for the experience. She clearly has great faith in the mare then, to enter her here, and given Caroline’s own prowess and experience, it seems silly to look past Cav as the best mare in the field. I would even go so far as to say she could be a Badminton winner in years to come…

Spoiler Alert: Well, I’ll freely admit, I’m not really sure what this means. But since it’s my own choice, and so my own interpretation, I’m going to say it’s a result no one saw coming. So I’m going to completely disregard all of the sensible and informed chat I’ve given thus far in my picks and say that ladies and gents, girls and boys, Kings and Queens, your Badminton 2023 winner is…

Wills Oakden and Oughterard Cooley (GBR). Admittedly I’m biased – Wills lives quite close to me and I’ve admired his quiet determination for years – but this man is a serious talent, as is this horse. 13th on their Burghley debut last year, they are capable of a competitive first phase score, and could well climb again after cross country. Ok, I will admit it would be a massive curveball (sorry Wills) if they took actual first place, but I am telling you, they will be RIGHT up there in the final placings. About time too: Wills has been knocking on the door for years now, and its about time  he had his moment

Alex Bragg and Quindiva. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ema Klugman

Winner: Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser (GBR)

Toledo is one of the most experienced horses in the field, and perhaps the most talented in all three phases. He and Tom have eight CCI5* starts to their partnership, not to mention two World Championships and an Olympic Games. Their winning 2019 cross country round at Pau was as close to magic as I have ever seen in eventing: the horse just looked like it was cantering around for a school at home. They are a true “triple threat,” and if they can finish on their (likely very good) dressage score, I cannot see anyone beating them. And there is something about just having being beaten on American soil in Kentucky—an event that Tom would have won if not for the force of nature that is Tamie Smith—that has probably lit a fire under this rider. We may just see him run away with it.

Best Foreign Entry: Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue (IRL)

This scopey grey will be mid-pack after the dressage, but he is so reliable in the jumping phases that he will make up a lot of ground that the dressage-bred horses tend to lose on cross country day. I first watched this horse at Tokyo, where he was originally named as a reserve. He jumped off the bench for Team Ireland in style, finishing as the best of their bunch, and absolutely jumping the lights out in the two show jumping rounds. Austin is a cross country rider we should all emulate: he’s smooth, fast, and brave, and he and this horse are an incredible team to watch. With seriously good experience under their belts already (including Olympic, World Championship, and previous Badminton experience), I would expect these two to finish on their dressage score. 

Best Debutant (horse or rider): Alexander Bragg and Quindiva (GBR)

When I watched Quindiva on the live stream of Thoresby Park last month, the words that came to mind were “true athlete.” The horse can seriously jump, and hasn’t had a rail in the last three years. Because the show jumping at Badminton can be so influential, she may really shine on the final day. Her jockey, Alex, has quite a bit of five-star experience, so it will be exciting for him to have another horse at this top level. If all goes to plan, she should be in the top 15 or 20 by the end of the competition.

Best Mare: Greenacres Special Cavalier

This ten-year-old Irish Sporthorse mare is exceptional. She is the youngest entry in the field, but with a jockey like Caroline Powell, I would not count her out. I remember watching her show jump at Pau last year and you could have convinced me she was a pure show jumper. She looked as fresh as anything and like the cross-country had taken nothing out of her. On top of that, she has already shown that she can score in the 20s at the five-star level. Badminton takes some jumping, and this horse has jumping talent coming out of her ears. I would expect to see a very good result for this mare this weekend, and even more excitingly, for her to be a great horse for Team New Zealand for several years to come. 

Spoiler Alert: Kitty King and Vendredi Biats (GBR)

Partnered together for nearly a decade, this horse and rider have been knocking on the door for a long time, and for some reason, I think it will all come together for them this weekend. If they were on any other country’s list of pairs in contention for selection, they likely would have been at both the recent Olympics and World Championships, but British selection has been so competitive recently that they have just been left off the squad a few times. That disappointment likely has Kitty hungry and gives her a real point to prove. They came close to a big result at Burghley last year after winning the dressage on a 21 but having a pin on the cross country, but maybe that sort of “almost” result has driven them to be completely ready for the challenge this year. I just love “Froggy’s” expression as he goes around the cross country: he hunts for his fences and looks as honest as they come. If everything goes their way this weekend, I think they could just end up near, or at, the top. 

Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Cassidy Oeltjen

Winner: Rosalind Canter with Lordships Graffalo. I feel like the 2018 World Championships really taught Rosalind how to win – an important skill when you’re riding a horse with as much promise as ‘Walter’. He was second here last year to London 52 at his first 5* and fourth at the Eventing World Championships in Pratoni at the ripe young age of 10. I think 11 just might be his year to come out on top.

Best Foreign Entry: Tim Price with Coup de Coeur Dudevin. I’m not going to be the one to bet against the top ranked FEI rider in the world, even if it’s on a horse that he’s only had the ride on a short time. Tim brings two very talented horses to this year’s Badminton, but I think it’s this young, striking bay that will be up the leaderboard on Sunday. They won the 5* at Maryland last fall, and although it was a small field, the pair proved their worth, finishing on a 28.2, and I thinkthey could finish lower here (as long as he keeps the rails up on Sunday!).

Best Debutant (horse or rider): Caroline Powell with Greenacres Special Cavalier. Besides Coup de Coeur, I think another experienced New Zealander will find themselves going late in the day on Monday with their debutant Badminton horse. This mare might be young, but I always think the best horses have some quirks, and this one was one of the quirkiest as a young horse. But a wise man once told me that 10 is when Irish horses get their brain in the mail, so Badminton might just be the place that Queen Bee gets her chance to show off her smarts.

Best Mare: Rosalind Canter with Pencos Crown Jewel. Rosalind’s two rides are actually half siblings who share another 5* mare in their lineage. Having tenacity in her blood will help Jasmine move up the leaderboard, although they shouldn’t be too far off striking distance on
day one. It may be her first Badminton, but she’s no stranger to big tracks, and with Rosalind as her jockey, she should be in good shape to best the rest of the mares in the field.

 Spoiler Alert: Amanda Pottinger with Just Kidding. I love a longshot, and I love a thoroughbred. And I REALLY love a little (15.2) thoroughbred who loves to fancy-prance. Last year he scored a 25.9 in the first phase here, and if he can match that, he’ll be sitting pretty to storm around the cross country. Show jumping may be his achilles heel, but if the cups are deep and the pole-tapping gods are on his side, I think they could be sitting pretty Sunday afternoon.

Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Abby Powell

Winner: Tom McEwen will be rolling into Badminton fresh off his second-placed finish at Kentucky with JL Dublin. Worried about him being exhausted from riding in back-to-back five-stars? Nah! Tom’s a marathoner in his “spare” time! Not to mention his Olympic silver-medal winning mount, Toledo de Kerser, isn’t exactly a slouch either. After an uncharacteristic fall on course here last year, this pair is in it for both the big win and little redemption while they’re at it.

Best Foreign Entry: It really feels like Tim Price shouldn’t quite count as a foreign entry, given his residence in the UK. But he does very proudly fly the New Zealand flag after all, so I’ll take it! If I can use this category to stick him and his Maryland 5-Star winner Coup de Coeur Dudevin up in the ranks, then do so I shall.

Best Debutant (horse or rider): I’ve got to throw a US pair into the mix here somehow, so I’m picking Katherine Coleman and her five-star first-timer Monbeg Senna for this accolade. 

Best Mare: Ros Canter’s Pencos Crown Jewel will be making her third 5* start here at Badminton, having placed fourth in the pop-up 5* at Bicton in 2021 and then jus outside the top ten at Burghley last year. This mare has a big bright future and I’ll be watching her closely this weekend.

Spoiler Alert: Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs may be EquiRatings favorites to win, but they feel a little more like spoilers to me for whatever reason. Oliver and former winner here, Ballaghmor Class, could also just as easily snatch another win here. Oh, and watch our for Ros Canter and Lordships Graffolo too! Gosh, this is another tough one to call.  

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sally Spickard

Winner: Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalo

I think it’s going to be time for Lordships Graffalo — who at the age of 10 was a narrow second here at Badminton in 2022 — to have his day. With another year of experience under his belt, as well as a fourth place individual finish at the FEI World Championships last fall, we should see this pair ready to smash out a win or two on the international circuit in 2023. In 2022, Ros and Lordships Graffalo finished the Badminton weekend on their dressage mark of 26.0 — if they can achieve this or better this year, we could be looking at our next champion.

Best Foreign Entry: Tim Price and Coup de Couer Dudevin

Our Maryland 5 Star winners in 2022, Tim Price and Coup de Couer Dudevin are ready to tackle another major event. While Badminton might bring a slightly stiffer field, I think this Kiwi pair could be ones to impress or even swoop in for the whole win this weekend. An easy choice for this pick would also be Tim’s Pratoni mount, Vitali — toss a dart at the wall to figure out who the better pick would be. It’s science!

Best Debutant (horse or rider): Georgia Bartlett and Spano de Nazca

Ok, real talk: I’m mostly picking this pair because I am newly OBSESSED with the diminutive-but-mighty Spano de Nazca, who’s absolutely going to be chomping to get this weekend underway. If you haven’t met this pair, don’t miss their rookie profile penned by Diana Gilbertson here. While this pair won’t threaten the leaders on the first phase of competition, they’re a pretty reliable cross country pair who stands poised to make a climb on their first 5* effort.

Best Mare: Pencos Crown Jewel

I’m just on the Ros Canter train this weekend, and I think you might even be able to swap out this lovely mare for her stablemate in the winner pick column. Even better, “Jasmine” is a half-sister to Lordships Graffalo, really keeping it in the family of incredibly talented horses on Ros’ string at the moment. This will be another pair that will need to do some climbing through the jumping phases, but if they can finish on their dressage mark we could see them finish in that top percentile of this very competitive field.

Spoiler Alert: Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser

It feels somewhat silly to put Olympic silver medalists (and team gold medalists) into the spoiler field, but this is EN and we do what we want. Tom is hot off a second place finish at Kentucky with JL Dublin this past weekend and will be eager to get his old friend back out on a big track at Badminton. While they suffered a pretty heavy fall (no injuries) at the tricky solar panels on the 2022 track, that was an anomaly if nothing else as we can typically expect this pair to go quick and clear across the country. If Tom can manage a FOD again this weekend, Toledo could be the one wearing the crown when the dust settles on Sunday.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Crown Jewels On Show and Goths On Tour: The Badminton Golden Chinch Trot-Up Awards

Once more unto the breach, dear friends: scarcely does one five-star end before the next begins, and with it, my next chance to lose friends and not influence people at all. What fun! What japes! What a great risk of losing my accreditation for next year! In any case, though, I always think it’s important to start these momentous weeks, full as they are of derring-do and extraordinary athletic achievement and emotional highs and lows, with a little bit of lighthearted ribbing. It keeps all our feet on the ground, doesn’t it? It helps us laugh as we teeter on the precipice of the things that frighten us. I am using a lot of words here to try to justify this; to quantify it as a great service to all of humanity and eventing. Have I convinced you yet? I’ve convinced myself, anyway, and that’s good enough for me. Slap a Medal of Honor on me, for I have served the Eventing Nation. And now, it’s time to give out some truly dubious prizes for my favourite looks from this year’s first horse inspection at Badminton.

First up…

The Golden Chinch for Honouring Monarchs or Burgers; Unsure

Lauren Innes and Global Fision M. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Look, I’m going to start with this one, because I know you’ll all be waiting for it. We saw a lot of nods to this week’s coronation of the Man Who Would Be Tampon — err, sorry, King — throughout the course of proceedings today, with patriotic scarves, ribbons, and much, much more besides on show from a number of riders. But none encapsulated the moment quite like Lauren Innes, who simply chucked a crown on her noggin and went sprinting down a strip of tarmac, alongside a horse, in the pissing-down rain. The whole situation, when you actually step back and think about it objectively, is faintly ridiculous, and I love that Lauren just kind of owned that. She reminds me of the good old days when you’d get six nuggets and a cardboard crown for being a Very Good Girl while your mum went shoe shopping. I hope she wears it for all three phases.

The Golden Chinch for War Efforts on the Home Front

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We’ve got to talk about this silk headscarf, which is a truly land girl accessory. In it, Laura Collett screams “we’re only allowed a fistful of sugar, a spoonful of butter, and two apples per week, but I’ll make you a cake that’ll prompt you to propose to me immediately.” She bellows “oh, your leg’s hanging off? Bite down on this spoon, darling, because I learned to amputate and cauterise a wound at the age of 15 when my family’s reception room was turned into a makeshift hospital, and I’ll have you sorted in no time.” She heartily screams “let me show you my abundance of turnips: I planted them myself in a secret garden I created between two paving stones using some manure I just found somewhere and now we shall never starve again. Don’t mind the sirens! The root vegetables don’t!” If she came at me in a Land Rover with all the doors sawn off, I’d jump in immediately and assume I’d make it through whichever World War she’s singlehandedly battling. For King and Country: Laura Collett. She might be wearing hot pink, but she’ll still sort this place out.

The Golden Chinch for Gucci Collabs that Haven’t Even Happened Yet, But Should

James Rushbrooke and Milchem Eclipse. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s something very ‘I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay’ about this look from James, but actually, it’s more than that: it’s very ‘I’m a lumberjack and I’m about to release the hottest hip-hop album of 2023, and Kendrick Lamar can fight me if he thinks otherwise.’ I want to inspect this man’s mouth immediately because I just KNOW he’s got a stacked diamond grill on those gnashers of his. That look of deep concentration isn’t because he’s trying not to trip while jogging down the strip; it’s because he’s currently thinking up some SICK BARS for verse three of Straight Out of Badders, a song I’ll want to hate because the nickname ‘Badders’ makes me do this awful full-body cringe thing, but actually, I know I’ll secretly love it and shamelessly play it on an endless loop in my house, thus contributing to James’s inevitable skyrocketing trajectory up the charts, which will end abruptly when he’s invited onto Celebs Go Dating and admits that he wasn’t potty trained until he was like, eight, or something. Then he’ll be forced to spend the rest of his career reinventing Straight Out of Badders for adverts for, I don’t know, toothpaste, or anti-diarrhoea medication, or something, until we all agree that it might be nice to let him headline Glastonbury, just once, as a special treat, ironically. Then he’ll become a national hero, like Elton John, or Mr Motivator.

The Golden Chinch Award for Egregious Overcommitment to Y2K Trends, Part One

Izzy Taylor and Happy Days. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Right, Izzy, let’s have a chat: you’re definitely at least the same age as me, which means we lived through this horror already. You know what I mean, girl: the year 2004. The year boho inflicted itself on us all because Sienna Miller or Mischa Barton or someone willowy and blonde wore something that Seventeen magazine quite liked, and then it was inescapable. It was all crochet knits and peasant tops and, horror of horror, wide circle belts that served absolutely no purpose whatsoever. They just dangled there! On our hips! Holding up nothing! Making us look like we’d just stepped out of a casting call for extras in Gladiator! What were we thinking!!!

Fortunately, Izzy had a change of heart halfway up the strip and got rid of the belt, because in this, the year of our lord 2023, we like our accessories to actually do something for us.

The Golden Chinch Award for Egregious Overcommitment to Y2K Trends, Part Two

Alice Casburn and Topspin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I’m almost willing to give Alice Casburn a bit of leeway here, because at 22, she’s a card-carrying member of Gen Z, which means she didn’t have to suffer through the indignities of early noughties fashion, because when we were all being told by tabloids that having a full set of internal organs actually makes you a shameful heifer of a human being, she was being born. Yeah, take that one in. It makes me have a funny turn, too.

Anyway, as a Gen Z-er, she won’t be immune to the cyclical nature of trends, and I might be approximately 200 years old, but I do know that those teens and their TikToking are trying to bring all this suffering back into the spotlight. While I dig (do young people still say dig? Help) the flares here, I’m horrified to realise that it’s even possible to buy low-rise jeans again, because I’ve wasted so many of my young and hot years trying to wrestle my bum crack back into submission in those monstrosities that I simply do not have the energy to fight anymore. What I will say is this: Alice, if you want to do Y2K fashion, you have to do all of it. You have to really live it. I want to see you on Monday morning at the final horse inspection with a zig-zag parting in your hair. I want to see at least three butterfly clips on either side of that parting. I want you to locate some blue eyeshadow and some frosted lip gloss. I want Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse smeared along your jawline. I want those flares to have disintegrated at the back bottom seam from being stepped on so many times so that you’re walking around with a sad, wet, muddy tail dragging along behind your ankles. I want you to borrow Izzy’s belt. Don’t let me down, Casburn.

The Golden Chinch for Making My Camera Sensor Go Funny, Again

Harry Meade and Away Cruising. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ahh, Harry, we meet again. You are Cordings of Piccadilly’s most loyal customer, and the only man for whom I need to change the exposure settings on my camera, not because of your sparkling grey horse (although well done to groom Jess Errington there, because Away Cruising looks great), but because your trousers are so much. At one point a neon yellow ambulance trundled past the trot-up and I thought I was getting a sneak preview of your Sunday look. You are a mad man and you cannot be tamed and I have to respect you for that, begrudgingly.

The Golden Chinch for Nailing the Dating App Brief

Felix Vogg and Cartania. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

So often, when you’re scrolling through, say, Hinge or Bumble (this isn’t something happens on Tinder, which is an unapologetic shag-fest, frankly) you’ll come across people who are basically just there because they desperately need to find a plus-one for a wedding they’ve been invited to. I don’t blame them, actually: surely nothing is worse than being the Token Single at a wedding and thus finding yourself tactically seated next to the Other Token Single (usually a godawful third cousin with curiously alt-right leanings), who’ll spend the whole evening talking at you before eventually doing that hot-breath-exhale-and-lean-in move that a certain type of man is so adept at. This one, you know:


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Here, though, Switzerland’s Felix Vogg presents himself as the answer to all your troubles. He responds to your Hinge prompt sympathising with your plight (“weddings! The worst! Is there an open bar? Count me in!”) and although it’s highly odd that you have to summon him by saying “Hinge plus one” three times into the mirror, when he appears in his natty little three-piece suit and bow-tie with that smirk on his face, you’re like, “holy shit, I think this is actually going to be great.” And at first, it is: you turn up to the wedding with a veritable snack on your arm, and that one girl you’ve maintained some public semblance of friendship with since college even though she’s actually horrible is so vexed by it all that she walks around looking like someone’s just deposited a gentle fart on her upper lip for the next four hours. But then you lose track of your date for a while, decide to grab your coat so you can slip outside for an illicit smoke… and find him in the cloakroom, attempting to consummate anyone’s wedding, really, with the mother of the bride. You vow to start trying to meet men at normal places, like… garden centres. Or bake sales. Or soup kitchens. Then you decide to maybe just not meet men at all. That’s also fine.

The Golden Chinch for Maybe Packing a Ouija Board in her Tack Trunk; Who Knows

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was a baby goth. From about the age of eleven, which was just after the moment when I got over my long-held idea that I might be Kurt Cobain reincarnated (a notion that was finally quashed when I ran out of compelling arguments against the fact that I was two years old when he died), I embraced the dark side wholeheartedly. I shopped in Hot Topic, recreationally pierced various bits of my own face with hot safety pins, listened to screamy punk about, like, disembowelment and heartbreak and the intersection of those two topics. (Actually, I still listen to all that, and I’m quite happy to make recommendations. Hit me up.) If you need further evidence, here’s me at 12, just before I discovered hairdye and eyeliner, but well after I figured out that if you put a medieval font on a random string of words, it won’t matter that they don’t actually form a legible sentence, because it’ll just look really really cool:

I am the princess of darkness, and if you ask me real nice, I might let you borrow this outfit for the next trot-up.

Anyway, all this is to say that I spend my life playing one long game of Is It Goth? And in truth, all I want is for everything to pass that spooky barometer. I want you all to come to the side of bats and black lipstick and New Wave vibes with me. I want us all to look a little bit like Robert Smith (not the showjumper) on his wedding day, which is what I kind of accidentally look like most days so I really do need that look to be cool again. Black horse? Arguably Kinda Goth. Black leather-look waterproof breeches? Maybe a Little Bit Goth. Holland Cooper coats and Fairfax and Favor boots? Not Goth At All. Emily King in a Wednesday Adams dolly dress with a black low-denier tight and a boxy blazer? Very, Very Goth. Welcome to the dark side, Emily. Here’s a song about disembowelment and heartbreak to make you feel like one of us.

The Golden Chinch for Understanding that Masculinity Spans the Colour Spectrum

This! Was simply! A Lot! But you know what? I applaud a man who has the courage to mix his pinks. Whatever that means.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Form Guide] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

All Pass Multi-Seasonal Badminton First Horse Inspection

Laura Collett and Dacapo swim their way down the strip. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

From one straight into the next: we’ve all scarcely caught our breath from a wildly overexciting Kentucky, and now we’re straight into the thick of it at the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials, presented by MARS Equestrian, where 65 horse and rider combinations presented at this afternoon’s first horse inspection.

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

Thanks to the Badminton micro-climate, classic British weather, and probably global warming or something; I don’t know, we got a whirlwind tour of a multitude of weather systems, which was about the most exciting thing that happened in this otherwise wildly uneventful first horse inspection. First we got spring — all five minutes of it, which is the best we can hope for this year, really — then we got an endless sea of muggy grey sky, and then, then, the heavens opened, and we got all the rain, all of it, all at once, and for the first time ever, Badminton’s competition introduced a wet t-shirt contest element that’ll eventually serve as the tie-break, should it come to that on Monday. (Not really. But imagine.)

There wasn’t a single visitor to the holding box throughout the course of proceedings, which saw the ground jury — made up of President Angela Tucker (GBR), the exceptionally named Xavier Le Sauce (FRA, obviously), and Andrew Bennie (NZL) — kept good and busy, but the holding box veterinary, for their part, had to spend an hour and a half twiddling their thumbs. Sorry, lads, but we do prefer it that way.

One conspicuous absence from proceedings, though, was Australia’s Sarah Clark, who opted to withdraw LV Balou Jeanz prior to the inspection.

“We got dressed up, we went to the party of our dreams, but we didn’t get to dance,” she writes on her social media. “I’m more sorry than I can put into words and want to apologise from the bottom of my heart to the many people who have supported us on this journey. I’m gutted to let you all down. But Jeanzs’ long term well-being must come first and foremost.

“It’s not been a smooth preparation and devastatingly he’s come out of the stable not trotting up 100% right. I know if I asked him to he’d run forever and jump anything, even if it broke him for good. But I feel it’s better to get to the bottom of whatever might be niggling him rather than running him with it and risk doing further, more long term damage. He might disagree, but better to take the time to get him feeling as good in his body as he is in his brain.

“And so, with much disappointment, we shall enjoy Badminton Horse Trials from the sidelines and re-asses this years goal posts. If you had told me 20, 10, 2 years ago we’d even make it this far I’d be overjoyed. Thank you to everyone who has made that possible! Thanks more than anyone to this phenomenal horse, who by saving for another day I hope will be back out chasing down our dreams before too long.”

The Hi-Ho Silver jewellery company was once again on standby to award prizes for the Best-Dressed Male and Best-Dressed Female riders: these went the way of Britain’s Alex Bragg, who presented first-timer Quindiva, and Kirsty Chabert, presenting her own debutant in Opposition Loire, respectively. We’ll be bringing you our own, rather more thorough (read: insane) outfit prizes later on this evening, so stay tuned, you crazy kids.

Wills Oakden and Oughterard Cooley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Dressage will kick off tomorrow morning from 9.00 a.m. BST (4.00 a.m. EST) — an earlier start than usual, thanks to Saturday’s two hour break in activities to squeeze in the coronation of King Charles. The first rider between the boards will be Scotsman Wills Oakden with the first of his two rides, Oughterard Cooley. You can check out tomorrow’s times in full here, and to catch all the action as it happens, make sure you sign up for a Badminton TV subscription — this’ll be the only place to watch the action this week, other than a brief highlights programme and the last batch of showjumping on Monday, which will be shown on BBC2 in the UK.

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Form Guide] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Big, Bold, and Technically Challenging: The Badminton Grassroots Course, Unpacked

Voltaire Design General Manager Matt Tarrant, Paul Tapner, and James Willis.

Before the hullabaloo of the Badminton CCI5* begins, there’s another whole competition taking place in the grounds of the Badminton Estate: the Voltaire Design Grassroots Championship, which is the country’s biggest, beefiest goal event for competitors at the BE90 (US Novice) and BE100 (US Training) levels. We took a walk around this year’s track with designer James Willis and Badminton 5* winner Paul Tapner to unpack the secrets of the course.

Want more Grassroots action? Check out the CrossCountry App’s guided walks with Yogi Breisner at both BE90 and BE100, and follow along with the live scoring here.

Fence one – the 90cm version of which is shown here – is straightforward enough, though still a sizeable jump that’ll give horses and riders a sense that they’ve got a big test to come.

“At the 90cm level, we aim to build with 100cm technicality in mind, while the 100cm course is built with Novice (US Preliminary) technicality,” explains James Willis, chief course builder and designer for this track. “That’s our thinking behind creating this as a championship track.”

The start of this year’s course is separate from the hustle and bustle of the centre of the venue, though horses and riders do get to experience the buzz of it – and gain useful exposure – while hacking up to the start. There, though, they’re met with relative peace, which will help them gather their thoughts and prepare for what’s to come.

And what is to come, exactly? Well, for the first few fences, it’s as you’d expect: a number of single fences, each with straightforward but varying profiles, which will give them a chance to jump a few things out of a rhythm and gain in confidence while also ticking a few boxes and making sure their horses are listening to them.

“The first fence isn’t difficult,” says Paul, “but dealing with the nerves of leaving a start box in a championship situation is.”

Fence two — here, the 100 — is also designed simply to promote a good rhythm, while being fairly hefty, too.

Likewise, fence two is a very straightforward one — though, once again, dimensionally big for the level. Kick on, folks!

Fence 3, the stone wall, injects a bit of Badminton history into the grassroots course.

“If you really know your eventing history – and you’re as old as me – you’ll remember the five-star jumping the corner at this stone wall,” says Paul as we reach fence 3. “I would personally be very excited, as a 90 or 100 rider, to jump this stone wall thinking, ‘hang on, I’ve seen Ian Stark and Ginny Leng over this!’ You get to jump the same thing, which I think is quite special.”

Though neither class will be asked to tackle the original corner, they’ll get to face that little snippet of eventing history as an upright wall, “the difficulty of which lies in the terrain on the approach,” explains Paul. “That could cause a few people to have a few problems at this fence.”

Those who sit up, adjust the canter accordingly, and get a balanced shot over the fence, though, will be handsomely rewarded later on — because this track, like the five-star one, plays heavily with the going on the Badminton Estate.

Fence 4 is a simple brush fence, but with a slightly cambered approach that’ll help set horses and riders up for the challenges to come.

That terrain question comes up again fast — after jumping the wall and crossing the track, they’ll come to an upright brush. The line riders choose on the approach, Paul explains, will impact how they have to ride it — especially in the 100 class, where there’s an incline just before the jump that could catch riders unawares if they’ve not planned carefully enough.

“The jump itself is very easy, but the terrain can make it difficult, especially as it’s so close to fence three,” he says. “Fences one and two are a nice easy gallop  and jump, but once you hit three and four, you’ve actually got quite a bit of work to do. It’s quite tough for a 90 or 100 rider to be on the ball from that early on, but there are options here: depending on how straight or how curved you want your approach to be, you can tailor it to suit your individual horse. The major point, though, is not to just steer at the fence and go — you have to pay a bit of attention to what, exactly, you want to do to get there.”

Legs on! At fence 5, the BE100 competitors will leap a seriously beefy trakehner, which repurposes a log previously used in the CCI5*. Not that that’s any comfort to anyone, mind you.

At fence 5, 100 riders will get another chance to have a crack at some five-star history: they’ve got a whopping great big trakehner to pop, which uses a log previously housed on the main course here.

“This is the site of the famous Keepers’ Brush, and this is the ditch — although it’s slightly narrower than it would be on the five-star,” says Paul. “And the log is an ex-five-star log, too, which has been donated to the 100. I think it’s great that these competitors get to take in iconic features of Badminton.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking too long and hard about history as they gallop up to this mammoth jump, though — instead, it’ll be all about keeping eyes and shoulders up and instilling your horse with confidence so you can leap across and into the meat of the course. Meanwhile, 90 competitors will have their own fence to jump – a hanging log with a solid base.

Fence 7ABC is the first combination on course, and it’s a familiar one to anyone who’s competed here before: the coffin complex, which is plenty technical for the levels. This one is the 90 route.

On their way to the coffin complex at 7ABC, which is a mainstay of the Grassroots course here, both classes will jump a railroad tie at 6, which is a straightforward fence in and of itself, but should be used well in order to create the rideability and canter that’ll be necessary to negotiate the coffin.

“This is really here just to help set you up for the next fence,” says James. “The coffin is quite a tricky fence, but anyone who’s been here will be expecting it. It’s a good test for the levels.”

Because of the direction of the course this year, its early appearance on the course lends an extra challenge, James tells us: “The way the park’s laid out, if you go this way, you get all the terrain in the first half — and then it gets quite flat. We want to use the terrain, but we try not to overuse it, too, because it all comes up quite quickly.”

As a result, the final dressings for the fences will reflect this, creating an easier profile rather than staying stark, bare, and ultimately more difficult to read.

Paul explains that while both the 90 and the 100 classes will have a good challenge on their hands here, it’s the 100 line that’s a true technical test.

“The 90 is fairly straightforward — it’s a fairly small fence going in, and it’s a fair distance from the ditch, and it’s all in a straight line,” he says. “It’s a pretty standard rail-ditch-rail question, in terms of the distances for that height. The 100, on the other hand, is significantly more difficult than the 90: not only is the A element bigger, it’s also closer to the left hand edge of the ditch. It’s very obvious to the horse that there’s quite a bit on landing after that, whereas the 90 is very in front of the horse. In the 100, your eye is almost taken to the left hand side of the white flag at B, which might make the A element quite difficult as the horses will know there’s something coming up fast.”

Fence 8AB offers another callback to the 5* course, with a double of solar panels on a bending line.

There’s no breather after the trials of the coffin, because fence 8AB, a double of solar panels on a bending line, comes up fast enough. Again, Paul explains, the 100 riders have much more of a technical test ahead of them here. In both cases, though, there’s a gentle natural quarry of sorts to negotiate between the two — and a low hanging tree overhead to avoid in the 100.

“Right now I’d be looking at that tree branch and thinking about how to avoid it taking my head off,” says Paul. “So I’d plan my line accordingly — and that’s part of cross-country riding. You have to negotiate natural features. The ground here, too, is an influence — it’s a combination fence, and so you have to make sure you’re getting to the B element. The 100 course could see horses go through in four strides, or five strides, or get there in a half stride and have a run-out at B. It’s a proper measured distance. It’s asking riders, ‘can you actually ride these distances? Can you ride these cross-country questions?’ The 90 is much more straightforward, but it’s checking to see if the rider can stay secure in their position, as their horse might jump massive or might just pop the first element. Both are being tested for security and balance.”

One tip that Paul gives his students is to plan their course walk sensibly, and this fence, with its risk of surface glare, he tells us, is the perfect example of why.

“I always tell riders to walk their course at the same time of day they’re going to ride it,” he says. “At the moment, the trees are letting through a huge amount of sunlight, but they may or may not let through the same amount when you’re due to ride them.”

Fancy a thrill? At 9, BE100 competitors will jump a level-appropriate approximation of the Vicarage ditch line…

There’s a single fence at 9, but “it’s a big test of bravery,” laughs Paul. For the 100 competitors, there’s an angled hedge over a ditch — a smaller, less technical version of the Vicarage fences we so often marvel at on the five-star course – and for the 90s, there’s a ditch and brush that’ll get them right up in the air.

…while competitors in the BE90 section will get to test their mettle over a ditch and brush.

“The 100 is once again significantly more difficult than the 90; it’s a real championship test,” says Paul. “It’s going to warrant a horse that’s really ready for a championship at BE100, rather than ‘just’ a BE100 horse. The 90 is a big fence and a proper bravery question, but it’s a lot more straightforward, and I think most horses will be able to do this.”

At fence 10 and 11AB, terrain becomes the main character.

At the high point of the course we meet fence 10, which is a natural elevated log apiece, followed by a downhill run to fence 11AB, a double of brush-topped mounds interspersed among the up-and-down terrain of this part of the course, which was once the site of an ancient settlement.

The line between 11AB, shown here on the 100 course, is a technical test.

These brush fences might look familiar: they were situated in the Lake last year as part of the five-star track. In this setting, they provide a very interesting challenge: riders will need to be secure and balanced in the saddle to cope with the terrain, which changes throughout, and they’ll need to be confident in their approach, too.

“If there’s any doubt in the riders’ bravery or security, this will see them stopping or saying hello to their horse’s ears in a close way,” says Paul. “The rider needs to react to what happens over the first fence, which is actually very like Eric’s 5* course. There’s a slight unknown because the horses might jump the A element in a variety of ways, and you need to react as a rider to what happens in that moment in time if you want to get to the next one. It walks as a three-and-a-half, but actually, it’s a forward three with room for four if you don’t have a nice jump over the first one. That decision is the reaction you’re being asked for here.”

The calibre of horse and rider at this championship, Paul says, mean that you’ll probably see most of them able to scramble their way through this combination one way or another — but they should aim for better than that.

“We talk a lot about the cumulative effect of confidence around a course, and this is one of those fences where you can really give it, or you can really take it away,” he says. “If you lose it now, though, then later on in the course your horse might say he’s had enough and doesn’t want to try anymore. You shouldn’t rely on your horse’s good nature to fumble on through here.”

Fence 12: “just” an airy, MIM-clipped timber oxer, which is skinnier on the 100 course, as seen here.

At fence 12, there’s a big, beefy let-up fence, which should be respected — not least because it’s MIM-clipped — but will ultimately give a great feel without the mental challenge of the previous questions.

A chance to breathe: the wagons at 13 shouldn’t cause any problems, and riders will enjoy a great view of Badminton House in the distance, too.

Similarly, 13 is a mental breather, which simply serves to get horses and riders up in the air after a long galloping stretch. That’ll help prepare them for the next combination, which comes up fast — as you can see in the background of this shot.

At fence 14 – shown here on the 90 course – a house has been cleverly whittled into a corner, which creates an interesting bending line question with another house, just visible past the unjumpables in the middle.

Fences 14 and 15 are separately numbered, which means that should they need to, riders will be able to circle between the jumps without incurring jumping penalties, which does give the option of jumping both fences as tables. To save time and maximise smoothness, though, they’ll prefer to go straight — and though the line looks like two tables on a rather mad angle, the first element has actually been whittled down on the lefthand side to create a four stride corner-to-table question on a bending right-handed line.

Here’s a better look at that whittling job on the 100 line.

“This is a very significant question,” says Paul. “The horses have galloped up the hill and they’re just starting to feel their lungs. Up ’til now, the riders have had a few tests, but now, you’ve got to really ride. I love that on both courses, fence 14 is solid, but it’s definitely a question of a corner on the white flag, or a totally different line across the tables. This is the modern interpretation of a something we often saw when I was young, where you could pick your line over an apex and get different stride patterns depending on where you chose. On both courses, they’re numbered separately so you can ride straight through or circle, which would waste plenty of time but gives you an option to react if something doesn’t go quite to plan.”

On the 90 course, the direct line is dictated in part by unjumpable elements — in this case, discarded skinnies from near the end of last year’s 5* course.

“I always tell my students that they need to practice riding their horses past cross-country fences in the warm-up,” says Paul. “That skill will come in handy here — because otherwise, you’ll definitely see some horses thrown off their line because they’re spooking at the fences as they canter past!”

The Coronation Corral at 16AB is shared among all three courses, with appropriate technicality levels for 90, 100, and 5*.

As the competitors head up towards the house, they’ll get to tackle part of the new Coronation Corral at 16AB, which also features on the five-star course. They’ll approach on a curving line and then pop a double of MIM-clipped white gates on a curving line.

“I love that all three courses go through this corral — it really features as part of the main course,” says Paul. “But it’s not like it’s a mini five-star — it’s very much their own course and question. There’s a lot of safety and innovation in this fence, with hinges on the top of the gate, which is great because horses of all experience levels can have difficulty with this kind of fence.”

At fence 17, competitors get ready to meet Badminton Lake.

Next, they’ll head on down to the house end of Badminton Lake, where both classes will have a timber fence at 17 to jump before embarking on their individual routes through the water.

For the 90 competitors, there’s a swan on dry land at 18A…

For the 90, this begins at 18A with a carved wooden swan on dry land, followed by a left-handed turn through the water, out over a MIM-clipped hollowed-out log at 18B on dry land, and down over a brush fence.

…while 100 competitors will get the chance to tackle the same jump in the water.

In the 100, though, they’ll get the rare chance to pop a fence in the water, before following the 90s out over that same B element and down to their own brush fence.

At 18B, both classes’ competitors will pop this hollowed-out, MIM-clipped log, before heading on down to the brush fence.

“It’s not often that 100 competitors get to jump in the water, and while it’s not a huge jump, it’s very much in there,” says James. “Then they jump out on a left-handed turn and continue that curving line down the hill to the brush fence. There’s a lot going on here — it gets very busy down here on cross-country day.”

Paul says that this will add an extra dimension of challenge: “the horses will be distracted, so they’ll really have to ride here — and it’s quite a technical question, with that rail at B situated very close to the water. They’ll need to be on their A game, especially the 90 riders. The 100 riders should be fine, because they’ve had so many fences so far that have been a significant test — but this is the most significant test so far in the 90.”

The brush fences at 18c.

At least the house provides a good incentive to keep looking up, right?

The Voltaire Design Saddles at 19 will give competitors a great souvenir: their photos over this fence will be framed by the facade of Badminton House.

Once they’ve cleared the water, our competitors get to jump the Voltaire Design Saddles at 19, which they’ll want to do with a smile on their faces — because this is prime photo territory, not least because this jump is right in front of Badminton House. They won’t have time to appreciate the artwork while riding, but while walking the course, they should definitely find a moment to appreciate those new, intricate wood carvings alongside — a real bit of craftsmanship from James and his world-class team.

“This is the motivation to get through all those difficult combinations — to prove you were at Badminton,” says Paul with a grin.

Big enough for ya?! Here’s the 100 class’s fence 20, which will give a super feel, but looks pretty enormous from the ground.

We’re three fences from home now, and even the let-up fences are starting to look pretty colossal, as you can see here at fence 20. It’s wide and brushy, but with a forgiving profile that encourages a run-and-jump approach — “a yahoo! fence,” says Paul. “At this point in the course, even if you haven’t had a good time so far, you’ll get a good feeling over this one. You’re leaving the main atmosphere of the park, the guts of the course are behind you, and you’ll have a bit of fun over this. You don’t have to think for this one.”

At fence 21AB, a fallen log and arrowhead have become a classic eventing question – as shown here on the 90 course.

Then, it’s on to the final combination at 21AB, which features a fallen tree at the A element and a wooden arrowhead at the B.

“I like the concept of these trees, because ever since I was a kid, I’ve always looked out of car windows and spotted things that could be jumps,” says Paul. “You’ll see a fallen tree and think ‘I want to jump that’ — and this is your chance, in both classes. It takes you back to being a kid in the woods, playing with your pony. It’s an innate urge that’s present in me and a lot of other event riders, and to have that here is very cool.”

The curving left-handed line to the arrowhead will encourage riders to sit up and take notice, because there’s an easy side-door option for horses or riders who’ve stopped paying attention near the finish.

Nevertheless: “there’s certainly enough strides between the jumps for the horses and riders to have time to figure out what they need to do, so it is very fair,” says Paul.

Every competitor’s favourite sight: the final fence, which both classes will jump.

And then, everyone’s favourite fence: the last one.

“Whether it’s a point of celebration, relief, or commiseration, at every level, this is always a welcome sight,” says Paul. “They’ll be smiling over this one, because then they can have a celebratory ‘yeehaw’ and a tipple of choice afterwards.”

So often, we see riders get a messy jump at the final fence, because they’re so close to the end — but to avoid this, Paul tells his students to think of the finish line as a jump in an of itself, and to ride the final fence and the finish line almost as though they’re a related distance, keeping the approach and balance appropriate to such a line.

“The final fence happens as part of a combination on the way to these flags,” says Paul. “You need to know whether you need to go faster or slower to get to them in the right time, and you need to have a plan for your line to them — maybe it’s a shorter distance to the left or right hand flag, so you need to have your eyes on them and a plan for your line. Your course doesn’t finish until you’re through the flags.”

Good luck to all the competitors in the Voltaire Design Grassroots Championship — and remember, kick on, have fun, and Go Eventing!

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Form Guide] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Badminton 2023 At A Glance: Meet the Horses

Every time we pen a form guide here at EN, I know the eventing world will be split into two camps. First, there’s the diehard nerds – the ones who’ll gobble up every one of those 25,000+ words of minutiae and enjoy every second. Then, there’s the second camp.

For you folks, we like to spin out our At A Glance posts, which you can skim read in under five minutes to get the basics of the field down pat. Don’t say we never do nuffin’ for you, chums. First up to bat, we’ll be taking a look at the horses of this year’s Badminton field – so gird your loins and dive on in; the water’s fine.

(‘Other’, for what it’s worth, includes all of our one-offs: Thoroughbred, Spanish Sport Horse, and so on!)

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Form Guide] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Just Five Hours of Badminton, Baby

Let me tell you something about me: I’m so easily distracted by an eventing rabbit hole that I’m a danger to myself, my income, and everyone around me, somehow. So when Badminton TV was launched, with its bottomless archives of previous years’ content, I was on that thang so fast I gave myself whiplash. I recommend it wholly for anyone who wants to get absolutely nada done. For those who haven’t bitten the bullet yet, though, you might be feeling a bit of FOMO — and so I wanted to share with you one of my perennial favourites from the depths of YouTube. This chonky boi features ALL the action from cross-country day in 2017, which was, incidentally, the first year I worked at Badminton as a journalist — and you better believe I flung myself into the collecting ring/hugging zone when Andrew Nicholson won that year. Did I know him well enough for that at the time? Absolutely not. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not. Anyway, if reliving this heaping helping of action doesn’t get you in the mood for this week, I don’t know what will – and it’s also a fascinating opportunity for us eventing nerds to see how course designer Eric Winter has developed his concept since this, his inaugural year at the helm. Happy watching!

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The Ultimate Guide to the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials

EN’s coverage of the 2022 Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products and its wide array of supplements available for your horse.


The iconic CCI5* competition, which began in 1949, is the second Rolex Grand Slam leg of 2023 — though the new live leader, Tamie Smith, isn’t entered, which means we’ll start a new round of Grand Slamming (no, that’s not the official way of referring to that) here, with arguably the sport’s most coveted prize. The dressage test will be FEI CCI5* Test A, the same used at Kentucky last week. That’s a nice change from 2022, where we saw B in use at every single five-star, including the World Championships.


Most crucially? A shot at the highly-coveted Badminton trophy and a share of the £360,750 prize pot. But this is also a pivotal opportunity for riders to impress their respective selectors ahead of this year’s European Championships (and Pan-American Games!). Beyond that? There’s also a battle for FEI World Rankings points, particularly as the current World Number Two, Jonelle Price, is conspicuous here only by her absence.


There are 65 total entries spanning 56 riders, and covering ten nations: of course, there’s a strong British contingent, plus a good showing from Australia, France, New Zealand, and Ireland, two solid entries from the US, and an entry apiece for Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Lithuania.


There’s a truly top-notch cast of ground jury members on duty at Badminton. Great Britain’s Angela Tucker will serve as president of the ground jury, having just collected some frequent flyer miles with a trip to Kentucky, while France’s Xavier Le Sauce and New Zealand’s Andrew Bennie will work alongside her. The FEI Technical Delegate for the week is the USA’s Andrew Temkin, assisted by Marcin Konarski of Poland. The cross-country course will be designed by Eric Winter, who has been in charge of the action since 2017. On Sunday, the remaining field will tackle a tough course on grass, designed by Phillip Bywater.

This year’s Badminton follows a slightly different schedule, owing to the coronation of King Charles on Saturday, May 6th. In order to accommodate a stop in play to allow spectators to tune in for this historic event, which will be broadcast in part on screens around the venue, the entire competition has now shifted back a day, with the first horse inspection on Thursday and the showjumping finale on Bank Holiday Monday, May 8th.

Wednesday, 3 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

Thursday, 4 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

Friday, 5 May:

  • 9.30 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, 6 May:

  • 8.00 a.m. – 10.15 a.m. (3.00 a.m. – 5.15 a.m. EST): Morning dressage session
  • 10.15 a.m. – 12.45 p.m. (5.15 a.m. – 7.45 a.m. EST): Coronation of King Charles III
  • 12. 45 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. (7.45 a.m. – 12.00 p.m. EST): Afternoon dressage session

Sunday, 7 May:

  • 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

Monday, 8 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
  • 2.40 p.m. (9.40 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

For the second 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.


#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.


Badminton 2023 At A Glance: Meet the Horses

The Big B Cometh: Your Guide to Every Competitor in the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials

Breaking New Ground and Championing Safety Tech: Walk the 2023 Badminton Course with Eric Winter

5* First-Timers of Badminton: Team Work Makes the Dream Work for Helen Martin

5* First-Timers of Badminton: A Tick of the Bucket List for Georgia Bartlett

Big, Bold, and Technically Challenging: The Badminton Grassroots Course, Unpacked

In It To Win It: Team EN Picks Their Winners — and Beyond — for Badminton 2023


“He Loves Every Phase”: Wire-to-Wire Leader Crowned Queen of Badminton

All Pass With No Overnight Withdrawals at Badminton Final Horse Inspection


MIM’s the Word: Ros Canter Leads Badminton After Influential Cross Country Day

Tough Mudders: Live Updates from 2023 Badminton Cross Country

Stamina, Questions, Controversy – and a Specific Request From Alex Bragg: Riders React to Badminton Cross Country


Catching Up with Nicola Wilson at Badminton

Alterations Made to Badminton Course Ahead of Cross Country Day

Saturday at Badminton: Ros Canter’s Second Comer Eyes Succession at End of Dressage

Day Two at Badminton: King in Command Ahead of Coronation + Lunch Break

Day Two at Badminton: It’s Saturday But Not As You Know It – Dressage Live Updates Thread


Badminton, Day One: Oliver Leads Overnight; Caroline Powell Best After the Break

Friday at Badminton: Oliver Townend Leads at the Lunch Break; Gemma Stevens is Comeback Queen

Day One at Badminton: Live Updates from Between the Boards


All Pass Multi-Seasonal Badminton First Horse Inspection

Crown Jewels On Show and Goths On Tour: The Badminton Golden Chinch Trot-Up Awards


Badminton Draw Order: Wills Oakden to Lead, Americans Mid-Pack

Defending Champion Withdrawn from 2023 Badminton Horse Trials

Sneak a Peek at 2023 Badminton Horse Trials Entries

Badminton Box Office Opens for New-Look 2023 Renewal

Badminton Horse Trials Announces 2023 Schedule Change in Honor of King’s Coronation

Badminton Horse Trials: [Website] [Entries] [Schedule] [Form Guide] [Live Stream – Badminton TV] [Radio Badminton] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]