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

The wide log piles, jumped here by Piggy French and Vanir Kamira in 2019, make a return as the biggest obstacles on this year’s track. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Welcome to the 2023 Badminton Horse Trials, presented by MARS Equestrian — the third CCI5* of the year, but for many folks, the most hotly anticipated. This year, it’s got what course designer Eric Winter describes as a continental flair to it, featuring considerably fewer ditches and dimensionally enormous fences to last year and a lot more accuracy questions — and, pivotally, arguably the most deformable or collapsible fences we’ve ever seen at the venue, with over half the course set with safety devices or made of brush. We headed out for a walk with Eric to find out what’s to come and how he went about pulling it all together.

Most of us probably imagine that the course designer’s only job during the event itself is to watch, learn, and feel all-day butterflies, but it’s actually one of the most pivotal working weeks of the year, because it’s when the majority of the conceptual work for the following year is done.

“Each year’s course is designed, at least in part, almost a year before,” Eric explains. “At last year’s event, I already had a definite thought process of what I wanted to do this year, before I even got on site for the week of the event. By the time I left the event, almost all of it was done and thought of. It’s important to start that early, especially if you have big groundworks to do, and we did have those for this year’s course — so we could just start those straight away.”

“On Sunday I always do a walk around the course in the opposite direction of the way it was run, because I find it really interesting to walk the footprints. It shows us how horses landed, but it also gives us ideas for how to use that ground for the following year, when the event will swap directions and run in the way we’re walking it.”

While last year’s course was best suited to a bold, galloping type of horse with a great jump — a Toledo de Kerser on paper, though not, as it happened, in practice — this year’s has gone in a different direction, and Eric thinks his 2023 winner will be the one that’s been trained to deal with accuracy questions, and, crucially, is ridden by a rider who can keep thinking the whole way around.

“I think it’s a different horse to last year, because it’s more technical and there’s more opportunity to run out,” he says. “I think they have to be a little bit better at staying on a line, but they don’t have to be quite as brave as they were last year. That’s my feeling at the moment, that it will be a horse that can really stay on the line and look for the flags. Your great horses can do everything, but if you have something that’s a bit inclined to jink out to the left or jink out to the right, I think you could find it a long way round.”

In one way, Eric has certainly continued on with one theme from last year: the addition of terrain to Badminton’s historically relatively flat track. He and his crew have been hard at work, both unearthing new areas of the course and creating their own lumps and bumps in the ground, as well as re-siting fences to make best use of interesting divots and lips in the terrain, which he hopes will encourage riders to get out of the arena in training.

“They have quite a lot of terrain to contend with this year. I always said when I started here that I wanted to influence people hire a JCB for a week and plough up their schooling course and put lots of mounds and lumps and bumps in so they could practice over those things and teach their four year old horses to be quick on their feet. Years ago, that was a standard practice thing, whereas now it’s not such a thing.”


Optimum Time: TBC – but probably around 11:50

Jumping Efforts: 45

Cross Country App Interactive Map: Available here!

Now let’s check out the most significant parts of the 2023 course. After popping the first fence in the arena, and the second, a wide table over a ditch, outside it, our competitors will head on down to fence 3, the Tortworth Hotel Brush.

Fence 3, the Tortworth Hotel Brush, is most interesting because of its variable terrain on approach.

The terrain here is unique, with a number of not insignificant lumps and bumps on approach to the fence that are speculated to be the aftereffect of an ancient settlement that once rested on this site. (Amateur horror film directors, take note: we, for one, would be well up for watching Badminton: The Haunting, a film about an event horse that gets possessed by a peasant woman from 1100 AD en route around the course. You can have that idea for free.) This terrain can be helpful in a lot of ways: it’ll certainly encourage riders to sit up and take notice, and it’ll naturally engage the horses’ hind ends, but it also takes a bit more riding than a free gallop down to a straightforward brush fence would do. That, though, makes it a really useful set-up for what’s to come, as the first combination on course will appear quite swiftly thereafter.

Though Eric is always on the hunt for new and innovative ways to use the Badminton estate, this bit of unused ground actually ended up on the 2023 course by a happy accident.

“I initially laid out the track as I wanted it, but I found I finished up with much more distance, and a time that was over twelve and a half minutes, so I had to move a few things around,” says Eric. “This fence ended up moving back, which shortened the distance down, but also gave it a completely different feel because of the ground it’s now situated on.”

The Savills Staircase returns for 2023 as fence 4ABC.

That bit of terrain will set them up well for the first significant question on course: the Savills Staircase at 4ABC returns for 2023 and looks no less enormous than it did when we saw it in 2019. The first element is a chunky oxer table, followed by a variable stride pattern — it could be four, it could be five, it could be six, thanks to the undulations in the ground and the very viable option of a step or two of trot — to a bounce of steps down, then a bowl on to another of these capacious spreads.

It’s the first time we’re really seeing Eric ask the competitors to make a plan A, B, and C, and commit to the stride pattern that their horse’s landing style dictates in the moment, rather than sticking to their guns and valuing strides over all else. It’s classic Eric, it’s classic Badminton, and it’ll help propel them into the course proper.

Then, it’s time to open those strides back up as we head out to the beautiful facade of Badminton House, and the rather more frightening facade of the Countryside Alliance Stick Pile combination at 5AB.

Fence 5AB features the largest fence on course…

There’s a long route here, but most will opt to go straight, jumping the two beefy log piles on a left-handed turn. The first of these is visually enormous: with a 2m top spread, Eric reckons it’s the biggest fence on this year’s course.

…a logpile with an impressive two meter top spread.

Wide fences like these ones require a longer, flatter jump, which dictates the canter needed — competitors won’t want to be pussyfooting on the approach to these, although a flat-out gallop isn’t appropriate either, because they’ll need to negotiate the turn in between. A positive, punchy, powerful canter that remains engaged and in control will be the key.

At 6AB we find a new complex: the Coronation Corral, with two upright clipped gates on a bending line.

New this year is the Joules Coronation Corral at 6AB, which features routes for the CCI5* and the two Grassroots championships alike, all watched over by the impressive facade of Badminton House. The five-star route is a sweeping left-handed turn from white gate to white gate – both equipped with collapsible devices in case of a hung leg – and  with a route that’s defined by a decorative pagoda in the centre of the ‘corral’, which the riders will aim to keep inside of, though they will have the option of going around the outside of it, too, which will add “just a couple of seconds,” Eric predicts. But, he says, the most important thing is that riders take stock of their straightness and balance, riding considered, sensible turns rather than just trying to scrape through the gates on a wing and a prayer.

For Eric, putting a combination like this after the big, bold, wide fences just prior is an important part of the test he’s aiming to set in this year’s track.

“The early part of this course really asks you to lengthen, then shorten, then lengthen, and then shorten, and so I wanted to ask them to jump a very wide fence and then really throttle back for this question, before attacking the next, more forward question,” he says. “It’s all about testing the adjustability.”

Fence 7, the Air Ambulances UK Bullfinch, is simple, old-fashioned – and very, very big.

There are few things more modern than upright gates with safety devices and showjumping stride patterns, and there are few things more ‘old school’ than whopping great bullfinches, one of which we find on a very straightforward bit of ground as we head down towards the intense middle section of the course. Though the primary, thick segment of brush here falls within the usual dimensions for a brush fence on a five-star track, bullfinches are defined by their wispy top sections – and these twiggy bits, which are meant to be jumped through, can tickle seven feet tall. It makes for an imposing-looking jump, but the task at hand is actually a pretty simple one: find your line nice and early, add plenty of pace, stay positive, and enjoy the feeling of taking flight.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a bullfinch on Eric’s course here: he famously put one in coming out of the lake on his first course, back in 2017, which asked a very different question than this one does, purely by dint of being part of the water complex. There were some very mixed feelings about it upon its reveal then: some riders thought that this very vintage style of fence no longer had a place in the modern sport, while others were delighted to see a fence like this make a return. In any case, it’s hard to imagine anyone running into any trouble with this one – the only question is whether we’ll see one or two of the very careful jumpers treat it like a Puissance wall, rather than a brush fence.

Though I’m struck by how good the ground feels around the estate, it’s at this gateway to the back fields that you can start to see some evidence of the record-breaking rainfall that England has experienced this year, wreaking havoc on the short spring season. For Eric, the risk of either a very wet or very dry spring is something he has to consider well in advance, and it can affect how much preparation time he and his team get, too.

“Before the rain came in March, we actually had a really good winter — so good, in fact, that we were able to start getting fences out in the middle of February, about a week earlier than we’d planned,” he says. “It was glorious sunshine, so we said, ‘stuff it, let’s do it this week’, and we put out the guts of everything that was really heavy — the tables and things — then. But you do have to have a contingency plan, and if we had consistent rain coming into Badminton week, we do have plans and ideas for how we can slightly alter some routes to accommodate that.”

Fence 8ABC, the Lightsource BP Hollow, crosses new terrain and opens up a whole new field for the Badminton course.

Once they’ve cleared the Bullfinch, riders will get to do some horsey tourism: the next expanse of the course is one that’s never been used in the event’s history. This includes a new stretch of field, with a question on the way in and another on the way out – but really, what’s most interesting about this spot is the groundwork that’s been done to create an entrance into the field. The natural perimeter of the new field is abutted by a ditch and stream, and Eric and his team have spent the last year digging a wide expanse of it out and refilling it to create a natural sunken road of sorts. This year, they’ve used it to create a combination that features a MIM-clipped upright rail, a big down bank, and then an angled brush fence atop an incline, but the beauty of the space is its nearly limitless potential going forward.

“We started digging the ditch out in November, with the idea in mind that there were so many different combinations we could place here, whichever direction we’re running in,” he says. But groundworks of this magnitude at Badminton always require a careful touch – not because of the rich history of the place, but because of what can be found underneath.

“Years ago, [course builder] Alan Willis was putting in some carved mushrooms,” he recalls, and then gestures at a nearby sewage works. “That has a high pressure pipe that comes through the entire estate, and it really does run with an enormous amount of pressure. While they were putting the mushrooms in, they were driving the stump down, and there was suddenly a rumbling — and with that, the pole went forty feet into the air, followed by a column of eighty feet of high-pressure human shit!”

Woe betide Andrew Nicholson, who went on to fall from Jagermeister at that spot, and probably wondered why the ground had such a tang to it.

The Isuzu 4 Bar at 9 will require a very positive ride.

Fortunately, no sewage pipes were harmed in the creation of the new field, despite its proximity to the source of the material, but perhaps that’ll be another good motivator for competitors to stay on as they navigate that three-part combination at 8ABC and gallop on down to a very imposing bit of firewood indeed: the Isuzu 4 Bar at 9. This is another very old-fashioned fence that demands a positive, forward, attacking ride — and those who get a bit backwards to it could pay the price in annoying frangible penalties, because a backwards horse will find the enormous jumpable width of the fence a big ask and could well clip it on the way over. In a way, it’s this year’s Broken Bridge — it certainly requires the same kind of approach, anyway, and shouldn’t cause any real trouble.

“I think it’s always the thing with five-star that your run-and-jump fences are rarely really just run-and-jump fences,” says Eric. “They always have to lift you off the ground and require a bit of effort, whereas at four-star, the run-and-jump fences are more likely to be boxes with a nice shape to the front.”

The MARS Equestrian Sustainability Bay water at 10AB features a deceptively large drop in…

After clearing the 4 Bar and landing running, Eric will once again ask riders to shorten up — but here, at the first water question on course, he’s done a classic Eric Winter: there’s no telling, really, how a horse will land on the steep drop landing of the A element of 10AB, the MARS Equestrian Sustainability Bay, so there’s no real guarantee of what your stride pattern will be to the log in the water.

The trick? Walk all the variables, whether your horse jumps up in the air and lands steep, or whether he’s nearly launched himself into the water, and prepare to think quick and decide which plan you’re committing to in that moment before touchdown, says Eric.

…to a small-ish log fence in the water that must be respected.

“I think they’ll generally land a long way down,” he predicts. “But they need to have variable stride patterns in mind, and not go too straight, either.”

Though the log in the water at 10B is one of the smaller fences on the course, it also has a narrow jumpable area, so if a rider doesn’t offer it enough respect, we could see a silly slip out the side door here, making those careful multitudes of walks all the more important.

Though Badminton is historically considered a flatter five-star — certainly in comparison with the likes of Burghley — Eric has been pleased to find and make best use of some considerable undulations between that new ‘sunken road’ of sorts and this water. That’ll add in an extra mental and physical test, and it also lends an appealingly gutsy and old-fashioned feel to the back end of the course.

12AB, a bounce step to an owl hole, comes so close after 11, a t-bar ditch and log, that it feels rather like a CCI4*-S.

After that, it’s down to a T-Bar fence with a ditch on the approach at 11, followed by a rollback turn to a step up to an owl hole at 12AB, which looks sparse enough at the moment but will be getting a serious dressing up with plenty of brush. This section, Eric says, is more like a CCI4*-S in its intensity and number of fences per 100m, so horses and riders alike are truly in the guts of the track now and will need to keep their wits about them.

13ABCD is a serious question, featuring a trio of brush boxes and a small, but significant, ditch.

All the intensity of the last couple of minutes will pay dividends as competitors get to 13ABCD, the KBIS Brush Boxes. Here, there’s a couple of options — but the best, and fastest, is the direct route that hinges almost entirely on how well thought out the approach is that riders devise to the first element, a broad brush box. In order to get the best line to the small ditch, situated at the bottom of a little hollow and then back up over an angled brush box, they’ll need to jump that first element on quite a steep left-to-right angle — one that’ll be partially defined by an unjumpable element on the approach.

“That means that if you go the slow way, and jump the first element straight, you can’t get to the ditch — so you’re forced to take the long route, which takes you around to another brush box and then over a rolltop,” says Eric. “It’s a very long alternative — and it’s a long way mentally, too — so I think you’ve got no choice, really, if you’re going to try to go for the win. It’s easy to think you can come to Badminton and just have a nice time and plan to take all the long routes, but I think this question really pushes you to make a decision.”

The ditch sits in a natural quarry, adding intensity.

Eric’s looking forward to seeing how riders tackle the tricky direct route, which he thinks will be one of the most interesting combinations of the day.

“How the distance works up that bank [to the final element] will be very interesting,” he says. “The more you put an arc on the line, the more likely it is to get you there on the two-and-a-half or maybe the three, but if you ride it straighter, you get there in two — but in doing so, you need to accept and prepare for a more extreme angle of fence, which makes it harder.”

The Footbridge returns, but this time, Eric says, it’s been given an ‘easier’ approach.

Though Badminton purists will be sad to see that this is one of those years sans Vicarage Vee, its infamous ditch line does get put to use by the faintly terrifying Footbridge at 14, which features a wide, MIM-clipped oxer set at a steep angle over the ditch. It’s a mainstay of the Badminton track, and it never looks any smaller year on year — but, Eric says, of the two directions you can approach it from, this clockwise run down to it is actually the slightly easier of the two.

“It’s probably as good as it gets,” he says with a laugh. “The terrain picks up slightly on the approach, so you’re coming to it on a slight arc, and you’re set up to gallop to it easily. There’s a certain way to get to a fence that’ll make even a moderate horse look classy, and this is it. When you come from the other way, you have to make a turn, and you’re in charge of making it yourself, whereas this year it does a lot of the set-up for you.”

The Lightsource BP Pond reimagines those tricky solar panels of last year, taking away the bounce question and inserting, in its place…

Last year, the Lightsource BP Solar Panels made an auspicious debut when their tough open distance-to-a-bounce combination saw hot favourites Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser end their day early, and a whole spate of experienced horses and riders make a bit of a scrambling effort through the question. This year, the bounce is no more — but they’ll still demand plenty of respect at 15AB, where they now feature a bit of variable terrain and another small water to cross en route to the second element.

For Eric, one of the great responsibilities of a course designer — and especially the designer of arguably the world’s premier three-day event — is to impact how riders train at home, particularly in a sport where safety is constantly under scrutiny and education can’t reliably be standardised.

“The bounce [from 2022] was a good learning experience for the riders,” says Eric. “They don’t do a lot of bounces in training, generally — everyone jumps plenty of skinny fences, but I think there’s less of an emphasis on making horses quick off the ground [in training], so there was an element of wanting to encourage that sort of work that went into setting that question.”

That’s a responsibility he certainly doesn’t take lightly. “I always think good course designers have something to say,” he muses. “They aren’t just putting a fence down in a field. There are some courses you see where it’s just boxes around the edge of a field — just dotted around as best they can to get a couple of days of sport. But actually, you need to really think about the skills that riders might be neglecting in training, then you can start to look at how you build question to encourage them to revisit those skills. The best thing about having the Badminton job is being able to affect riders’ training — so you start to educate course designers, and you influence riders in what they do at home, which starts to work on the process wherein they train horses to be quicker and sharper. That, on a fundamental level, makes the sport safer than anything else. No amount of deformable clips will make up for the horses not being trained to be quick with their feet and able to get out of trouble.”

Last year’s bounce, and its subsequent impact on training, might not be in evidence here — but there are still bounces on this course, at both the Savills Staircase and the Owlhole, which Eric is looking forward to seeing in action.

…another water.

At this question this year, there’s a choice of three A elements and four B elements, lending a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure feel to this question. The most direct route can be seen in the photo above: that’s the A element of choice just visible in the foreground, where it’s situated atop an incline, and from there, they can head out over either of those B elements, each on an angle. There’s plenty of different lines available to them just from that A to those two Bs, or, if they want a slightly more straightforward journey, they can do a wide arc back to one of the two other Bs, not visible to the right of the photo, which will require them to then turn themselves back around to head down the galloping lane. The other A elements, to the left of the one pictured, also create a slightly longer, but slightly easier, trajectory.

Then, they’ll head on down to fence 16, a let-up fence in the form of the wide, solid Pedigree Dog Kennel table, which puts them right on their line for…

Fence 17A is an upright rail atop a respectable mound.

…fence 17AB, the LeMieux Mound, which begins with an upright rail atop a fairly sizeable mound. That’ll get them sitting and popping neatly — in theory, anyway — before they free-wheel back down the hill and into a shallow quarry of sorts, at which point they’ll need to be very sure which of the B elements they’re aiming for on their way out.

After leaping the A element at 17, the LeMieux Mound, competitors will have the choice of two boxes, which will be covered in brush.

The B elements were last seen in action in 2022, where one was the final element of the Quarry – and the site of that slightly contentious whoopsy for Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs, which ultimately resulted in no penalties. If they don’t look familiar now, it’s because they’ve not yet been dressed in the thick, green layers of larch brush that will slightly beef up their dimensions come competition week.

The more direct route is the left-hand one – here’s the line from the lip of the incline.

So how to ride them for maximum efficiency? Go left, for one thing, says Eric. While the angle of this box is much steeper, when he walks me through the line, it all begins to make a lot more sense: if you ride pretty well straight up the lip, there’s a point at its apex where the left-handed turn presents itself to you, and that line suddenly looks much more doable.

“The more you hang right, the more time you waste, but there’s a reasonable distance from the top of the incline to the flat ground on the approach to the mound,” he says. “But I think it’ll be interesting, because in my experience, horses always go to the top of these banks — but if you walk the line from the lip of the incline to the fence, you’ll find yourself way off the take-off spot and in No Man’s Land, as it’s eight yards.”

Riders will need, then, to plan the spot on the bank meticulously, giving themselves a nice one-stride distance to get over this steeply angled B element. If they want to take some of the difficulty out, they can plan to go right instead — but this adds time on the clock, as it requires turning back afterwards to get back to the track and on to the next section of the course.

Fence 19AB is a related distance of two tables after the MARS M at 18 – and most notably, they’re both collapsible.

Now, the really intense bit of the course in the back field is behind them — but riders mustn’t fall asleep at the wheel, as there’s still plenty to come, including Badminton’s iconic lake. First, though, they’ll pop fence 18 — the MARS M — and then bowl over 19AB, a pair of tables fitted with new and novel collapsible technology.

It’s impossible to talk about this year’s course without reflecting on last year, in which we saw this question comprise the M followed by two flower boxes, one of which was subsequently removed from the course after several high-profile horse falls — including that of Nicola Wilson’s JL Dublin. Though Eric and his team scrutinised the line intensely both before and after the event, he still isn’t quite sure what went wrong — but this year, he’s doubled down on safety and introduced these deformable tables, which are still relatively new technology, as a way to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

For Eric, too, taking the fence out in last year’s track was a no-brainer.

“If you have a course that relies almost entirely on one fence to exert influence, you don’t have a good course,” he says. “You have nothing to lose from discarding one fence if there’s a balance of influence around the course. But you stand to lose so much if you leave it in and you have another serious accident.”

Collapsible tables in action.

One of the major takeaways from last year that Eric wants to impress upon competitors is that if they’re not happy with a combination, they must feel able to speak to the course designer or another official about their thoughts, because the course — even once it’s been signed off by the ground jury — can still be altered if there’s compelling reason to do so.

“After the event, I had several people come up to me and say, ‘oh, I knew it wouldn’t jump well for this reason or that reason’,” he says. “But not one single person approached me before cross-country to say anything at all about it.”

The lake features an interesting, and more difficult, question this year, with a broad brush corner to a frangible rail into the lake, followed by another corner in the water.

After clearing the tables, competitors will canter perpendicular along the side of the lake, jumping the World Horse Welfare Jetty at 20 — a table with flowing water over its top face that has become a staple of the course in recent years — before heading to a major question at 21ABC and 22. This year, it looks set to be a much more influential part of the track than last year, when it was fairly straightforward. The key here for Eric is to build both a suitable question for competitors, and something that’ll be exciting for spectators — because this is the most crowd-heavy part of the track.

“You’re under some pressure, as a course designer, when it comes to the lake — because how on earth do you do something innovative on a spot that’s been designed on since the 1940s?” he says. “It’s really tricky to do something new. When I was very first here, I walked with Hugh Thomas and he said, ‘this is the lake; you fancy yourself as a bit of a designer, don’t you, so any suggestions are welcome!’ I was actually here as a technical delegate, but I did want to design courses, and I thought, ‘how could you do that?!’ But actually, he was dead right: when you remember all the old courses, we’ve seen so much built through here that the options feel limited. It’s not the longest stretch of water; you can’t really build a mound in the middle of it. They tried building a bridge in the middle one year and it was a complete disaster area. It’s difficult to know what to do with it, but I think we’ve got something really different this year.”

Last year, he felt his question here was “formulaic”, but this year, it’s an interesting marriage between old- and new-school eventing. The first element is a broad, brush-topped corner, followed by a left-handed turn to a MIM-clipped rails. The faster route is to the left, which is a drop directly into water but with a very clear line down to the final element, another left-handed corner, this time in the water. Because of the lettering of the fences, once riders have opted for that left-handed corner at the first element, they need to commit to going straight the whole way through — it’s an AB, whereas its right-handed alternative is simply an A, and the left-handed rails are a C, while the right, which pops you onto a stride of dry land before hitting the water, is a BC. The corner in the water is separately numbered and is 22, whether you jump it on the left or the right. There’s also an alternative 22 on dry land for those who need an easier escape route.

The use of rails dropping into the lake isn’t new: we’ve seen it several times before, particularly in the 60s, when a very similar jump was built and reused a few times. The difference, of course, is those safety devices, which have raised some questions about whether horses’ natural instinct to drag their hind ends over a drop fence to slow their trajectory will be punished with penalties here. Eric, though, believes that riders who really manufacture the correct canter to this fence will have very little to worry about.

“If you just float to it and let go of your reins, you’re going to lean all over it and probably take that clip. When I had a big log here without brush on top of it, a few people came to it and dropped their reins and chased and missed. They ended up all over it and then ended up in the water — and I don’t want that. I thought this would be a good place to exhibit the new technology we have working, and to encourage riders to really make a proper job of it and ride it straight and balanced.”

Two open timber corners make up the question at the Voltaire Design Huntsman’s Close at 25AB…

Next, they’ll gallop back around the edge of the lake and then splash back through it at the end closest to the house, popping over one of two identical brush-topped skinnies on dry land at 23, which is an easy enough question after the intensities of the previous few minutes.

Of course, that mental breather isn’t going to last for long — this is Badminton, after all. After jumping a wide brush-topped table at 24, the Beaufort Brush Box, they come to Huntsman’s Close, which feels a bit lighter and brighter (and visually clearer, too) this year after the removal of a few more trees. This year, the question they’ll meet is a duo of MIM-clipped, open timber corners at 25AB. The first is right-handed and the second is left-handed, which means that a one-sided horse won’t be favoured here — but those who need a bit of extra wiggle room will have a long option to hand.

“It’s a very different place from how it was in the 70s,” says Eric. “I wanted to create a slow route here near the end of the course in case it’s very wet, so that it could still flow and not pull the horses off their rhythm too much or doubling them back on themselves too much. That’s tough on them when they’re tired.”

…and with both a left- and right-handed corner in the mix, one-sided horses won’t have an easy time here.

The Jubilee Clump Brush at 26, with its open ditch and 1.45m brush, is another mental breather before…

The HorseQuest Quarry at 27AB appears as it did in 2019.

…they pop through the HorseQuest Quarry at 27AB, which is a familiar wall-to-wall combination without any added extras this year. Its dip and rise between the jumps does increase the intensity of the question somewhat, but also, it’ll serve to help a tired horse re-engage the hind end, so although it’s a combination fence, in a way it’s almost a bit of a let-up in itself, because it’s so clear. The only real risk comes if riders try to cut corners and jump on an angle with too much forethought, because the grounds flows away so quickly upon landing from that first element, and it wouldn’t be a real reach to expect a horse to hang a leg at this stage.

The broad timber boxers at 28AB, the Wiltshire Brewers Drays, are the final combination on course.

Then, as they head back towards the safe enclave of the main arena, there’s one last combination to tackle: the wide Wiltshire Brewers’ Drays at 28AB. Though they’re visually imposing — especially without any dressing on them yet — they’re well equipped with safety technology in case a horse doesn’t quite get off the ground enough here.

Last year, Eric explains, he saw some riders pick up too much speed in this final minute, taking risks as a result — this, he hopes, will slow them down and force them to respect the fences and look after their horses on the way home.

“There’s four frangible fences in the final six or so fences,” he says. “They’re not enormous, but that just serves to slow them up for the final distance.”

The familiar Rolex Pheasant Log reappears at 29 as the penultimate fence, while the final fence, the Coronation Finale at 30, has been moved back to the entrance of the arena.

“We’re just playing with the location to see if it’s better. Several riders said that when they came into the main arena and had to make the turn, their horses sort of switched off a little bit — so this is different.”

Though the job of the course designer certainly doesn’t end when the jumps are laid out and decorated, Eric’s looking forward to the incomparable education that he, and the riders, will get on Saturday. Even now, he tells me, the course designing game never ceases to surprise him.

“Last year was confusing, because several very good horses were eliminated, but then a lot of much less experienced horses and riders flew around without issues,” he says, referring to 2022’s high percentage of clear completions.

But, he says with a wry laugh, “I started last year thinking I knew a bit about course design, and finished last year realising I knew f*&%-all! I designed the courses at Hartpury for the Junior and Young Rider European Championships, which are held at CCI2*-L and CCI3*-L, and then we re-used the same courses – no changes at all – for the main international event there, two weeks later. The ground remained the same; the weather remained the same. You’d think the statistics of which fences caused trouble would be the same – but it wasn’t at all. The most influential question one week didn’t see a single issue the other week, and vice versa. I sat down afterwards and looked at the statistics and thought, “well, I can’t explain that – maybe I know nothing!”

Somehow, we doubt that. Go Eventing!

Badminton Horse Trials Links: [Website] [EN’s Form Guide] [Live Scores] [Badminton TV] [The Ultimate Guide] [EN’s Coverage]

Toothpaste Trousers, Flying Squirrels, and One Heck of a Hat: Welcome to the 2023 LRK3DE Golden Chinch Awards

One of the things that makes these long-standing five-stars feel so special is the chance to relish in tradition: to boldly go where the forefathers of our sport have gone before us; to take the well honed elements of our sport and refine them into something that’s both new and old; to embrace this evolving beast and celebrate what it’s been before us. It’s also about starting new traditions that will outlive us — our legacies.

And this one’s mine: the Golden Chinch Awards, in which I, a professional armchair commentator, gently and lovingly take the piss out of the outfits of the stars. I like to imagine that the next video in the Behind the Barn series will feature a segment asking riders how they feel about me, and it’ll kind of have this vibe:

If one can’t dare to dream, what can one do, really?

Anyway, we like to sweeten the deal for the riders by offering them a consolation prize (even though they already look incredible, to my endless chagrin) – and this time, there’s a pair of the brand new Le Chameau x Fairfax & Favor l’Alliance boots up for grabs. Keep scrolling to meet this week’s contenders, and then head on down to the bottom to vote for your winner – there could be something in it for you, too, you lucky devil.

The Golden Chinch for Being a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World

Booli Selmayr and Millfield Lancando. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The bubblegum blazer. The pink aviators. The high blonde pony tail. The ability to RUN in HEELS. Booli Selmayr has evidently seen the previews for Greta Gerwig’s soon-to-be seminal classic Barbie movie, and she’s moving hard in the direction of Margot Robbie and her pink dream car. But who needs Ryan Gosling and his olive oiled abs when you’ve got a great hunk of a man like Millfield Lancando? A man who can do the fancy trots, the big jumps, and even the smiling at the camera thing that a lot of horses simply do not manage. A catch! A ten! Life in plastic might be fantastic, but I reckon life in the entry list for a five-star might be even better. If I don’t see a hint of pink in her tailcoat, though, I shall simply revolt. In the meantime, I’ve been asked to do, like, loads of hard work here in the EN house, but instead, I’ve just been making these:

The Golden Chinch for Mastering the Meatloaf

Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One of my favourite outfits of the day came from Meghan O’Donoghue, whose crocheted two-piece set goes full Stepford Wives on the Trot Strip. This woman will cook you a nourishing three-course meal; will ensure your chrome plated appliances are sparkling; will help the children with their homework; will ultimately slay you in the living room when a pair of teeny weeny rifles erupt from her brassiere and her head spins around. Hang on, have I mixed up the Stepford wives and the fembots again? Maybe. They’re all much of a muchness, right? In any case, I think the general vibe is exactly what Meghan’s gone for: lull everyone into a false sense of security by looking sweet as peach pie on day one; leave ’em all in the dust (…mud) come Saturday. Boom, boom, pow.

The Golden Chinch for Getting the Leg Grease Out Three Days Early

Hawley Bennett Awad and Jollybo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a pretty warm afternoon at the horse inspection, and I was pretty sure my mascara was starting to migrate down my cheeks at the midway point — until Canadian phenom Hawley Bennett Awad appeared and provided me with a perfect mirror for making sure I was still presentable. I wasn’t.

She, though, brought the noise. Homegirl wore COMBAT BOOTS to the TROT-UP. She swapped her trademark Daenerys Targaryen plaits for a bit of recreational parrot abuse. She donned a lipstick so pink that I’m reasonably confident that she left the Horse Park immediately after the trot-up to go dance on stage at a White Snake gig. In short, I loved it.

The Golden Chinch for the Most Minty Fresh Man in Town

Zachary Brandt and Direct Advance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

9 out of 10 dentists recommend a mouthful of Zach Brandt morning and evening for improved gum health, minimised risk of gingivitis, and pearly, pearly white gnashers. I’m not sure I’m going to get that one past the censors, but I’m hoping we’ve got enough content coming out today that the EN overlords (and the tenth dentist) just…forget to read this one before we hit publish.

The Golden Chinch for Kicking Ass and Taking Names

Jennie Saville and Twilightslastgleam. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I unapologetically fight for front row centre when Jennie B comes along for a trot-up, because these last few years, the girl has been killing it. It’s giving 90s grunge princess meets online goth girlfriend. It’s making me want to spend fifteen hours on Reddit arguing about whether or not she was behind Kurt Cobain’s death. I feel like if I meet her after dark behind the stables, she’d give me a prison tattoo with some India ink and a plaiting needle. Sometimes I think I’m really rock and roll, hoiking around a massive camera with a half-sleeve tattoo on show, and then this one appears with her thigh highs and her leather and her SILVER STREAKS poking out from under her black hair and I realise that I am what I always feared I’d be: a poseur. On the outside, you see a high-powered elite horsewoman, but inside of Jennie, there’s this:

The Golden Chinch for Vaudeville Shenanigans

David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Come one, come all: it’s the David Doel show, filled with thrills, I very much hope no spills, and almost certainly an interlude in which he’ll juggle while riding a unicycle while also singing the blues. I just know that this man secretly has a dancing dog and a fast-track pass for the finale of Britain’s Got Talent. Here’s a fun fact about David that’s actually true: alongside being a very busy, very hardworking, and very talented event rider, he’s also a key part of his family’s ice cream business. In this get-up, he could have wheeled the soft-serve machine out straight after handing his horse off and I think we’d all have bought into the progression with nary a batted eye. You know what this is, folks? It’s versatility. What could channel the spirit of the sport more than that?

The Golden Chinch for Donning a Technicolour Dreamboat

Allie Knowles and Morswood. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Except this story, I hope, will be a bit less…exciting than the hit musical and the Bible story on which it’s evidently inspired. No less toe-tapping, though, if I have anything to do with it.

It’s mee-maw’s quilt, but this time, it’s actually kind of great. Sorry to your mee-maw.

The Golden Flying Squirrel Award for Destiny’s Child Tribute Acts

Remember back in the day when Beyoncé, Kelly, and the other one would show up on like, TRL or the MTV VMAs in outfits that were kind of the same thing but also kind of not at all? Like, maybe there’d be a camo theme, but Tina Knowles would have sliced Kelly’s up into the teeny-tiny crop top and miniskirt combo that we all aspired to, Beyoncé would have a curve-hugging bodycon dress that was a real 12/10 showstopper, and the other one would have, I dunno, the offcuts or something, I can’t remember. Can anyone remember? Where is the other one now? Anyway, in the case of Alina Dibowski, Liz Halliday-Sharp, and Sydney Solomon, there’s definitely no ‘other one’, because they all look smoking hot, in a ‘frighten me and I’ll take flight into the trees and gaze down at you with very big eyes, for you are an apex predator and I am but a tiny marsupial’ sort of way. It’s also very this:

Never change, ladies.

This Golden Chinch is Brought to You Courtesy of the Red White and Blue

Sandra Auffarth and Viamant du Matz. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

If you’d asked me this morning which non-American-born rider would wear something outrageously patriotic for the trot-up, I’d be wallowing in shame right now for getting it so wrong. Gone are the days of Boyd Martin’s stars-and-stripes suit, and in their place, we have something arguably even better: honky tonk cowgirl and former World Champ Sandra Auffarth, who’s here to put a boot in yer you-know-what, [because] it’s the American way, or something like that, anyway.

As country music star(?) Gretchen Wilson sang, “[Sandra Auffarth’s] a redneck woman; [she] ain’t no high class broad. [She’s] just a product of my raising; [she] says, “hey ya’ll” and “yee-haw”. (Truly, though, if you can get a hey y’all and a yee-haw from her on camera this week, I’ll find a prize for you myself in the EN swag closet.) Now excuse me – I’ve got another hoe-down to organise. And, of course, a poll. It’s time to cast your vote, cow folks and pokes.

Good luck this week, you spicy little fashionistas, and git ‘er done. And for the rest of you?

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

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

Want more LRK3DE info each day during competition? Sign up for the free LRK3DE Daily Digest email, which will be sent each day through Monday, May 1. Find all of EN’s latest coverage, sponsor promotions and discounts, chances to win daily giveaways, and much more! Click here to sign up.

Tuesday News and Notes from Kentucky Performance Products

Can’t find the staff? Might as well breed your own, as Doug Payne demonstrates!

Events Opening Today: River Glen June H.T.Queeny Park H.T.Middleburg H.T.Cobblestone Farms H.T. I, Unionville H.T.Golden Spike H.T.Apple Knoll Farm H.T.

Events Closing Today: Majestic Oaks Ocala H.T.Hitching Post Farm H.T., Unionville May H.T.Winona Horse TrialsGalway Downs Spring H.T.-Modified Pending USEF ApprovalSpokane Sport Horse Spring H.T.Tryon International Three Day Event

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

Want to feel deeply tired? Read about a day in the life of Laura Collett, who’s on the first of 15 or so horses by 6.45 a.m., and you’ll definitely be ready for a nap. It’s fascinating stuff, though, particularly the way her side job riding racehorses has made her a better eventer. [It’s all go go go]

The FEI Sports Forum is about to begin in Lausanne, Switzerland, and there’s plenty on the agenda. Paris 2024 prep, safety tech, and much more will be part of the meeting and forums, and you can watch along from home, too. [Here’s the info you need]

Whether they’re riding for the win in Kentucky or gaining valuable experience, communication with their horses is key. In his latest column for COTH, Kyle Carter reflects on the partnership required for success — and the need to be able to whisper. [It’s a good’un]

Tuning in from afar this week? Make sure you know when — and where — to watch, with our comprehensive live stream guide! 

Want more LRK3DE info each day during competition? Sign up for the free LRK3DE Daily Digest email, which will be sent each day beginning Tuesday, April 25 through Monday, May 1. Find all of EN’s latest coverage, sponsor promotions and discounts, chances to win daily giveaways, and much more! Click here to sign up.

Reckon you know the Kentucky winner-to-be? Submit your choice for the chance to win a 6-pack of FLAIR strips and a VIP Pad from Achieve Equine!

Sponsor Corner: What’s the difference between Elevate Maintenance Powder, Elevate SE, and Elevate W.S.?

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Watch This:

Catch up on Elisa Wallace’s Ocala C.T. Advanced win:

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack


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A post shared by Sara Kozumplik (@sarakm_overlookf)

I’ve just touched down in the States after a long day of travelling, and this post from Sara Kozumplik made me laugh purely because it’s so accurate — my suitcase contains layers and options for all weather types at Kentucky, and I’ve been primed to expect both a sunburn and soggy knickers at some point in the week. But if I’m honest, the thrill of a five-star is always enough for me to scarcely even notice the weather, even if it hovers over 100 degrees (hi, Luhmühlen) or features flash floods so drastic that bales of shavings start floating away and the local fire trucks are used to siphon water OUT (um, also Luhmühlen, but a different year). I think I’m pretty well prepared, is what I’m saying, and even if I spend the whole week wrapped up in my waterproofs, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than the Horse Park!

National Holiday: It’s National Email Day! Please don’t send me one.

U.S. Weekend Action

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

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

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

River Glen Spring H.T. (New Market, TN) [Website] [Results]

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

UK Weekend Results:

Kelsall Hill (Kelsall, Cheshire): Results

Forgandenny (Perthshire, Scotland): Results

Solihull (Bentley Heath, W. Mids): Results

Horseheath (Horseheath, Cambs): Results

Your Monday Reading List:

70 coaches got together recently for a round-table summit of sorts, and the result is an awful lot of interesting ideas. We’ll probably never standardise riding education — in part because we’ll probably never get everyone to agree on the ‘right’ way to do anything — but bringing all these hard-earned perspectives together to look at things from a number of different angles is a great start. [Working for a smarter sport]

As a serial burnout sufferer, mostly because I always try to do ALL THE THINGS, learning to ditch ‘rider’s regret’ has been huge for me. I work really hard not to beat myself up if I decide I’m too worn out to manage a ride, and instead just hang out with my horse in the field. But for writer Ellie Woznica, battling Multiple Sclerosis means that she really does feel the regret if she misses a chance to ride. [Here’s her perspective]

There’s a lot of things we consider when packing for a show. But have you ever thought about bringing your own toilet? Okay, okay, but hear me out: when the only other option is a seriously manky portapotty that a lot of other riders have expressed their nerves into, wouldn’t it be nice to do a widdle somewhere else? [Here’s some ideas for ya]

And finally…Horse & Hound has headed down memory lane, reliving Mary King’s 1992 win at Badminton. That win, with the great King William, was one of those cornerstone career moments, and it was all borne out of a Pony Club childhood bussing up to the great event to spectate, wide-eyed, at the very best horses and riders. Becoming one herself perhaps wasn’t on her radar, but she sure managed it. [Badminton’s best moments]

Want more LRK3DE info each day during competition? Sign up for the free LRK3DE Daily Digest email, which will be sent each day beginning Tuesday, April 25 through Monday, May 1. Find all of EN’s latest coverage, sponsor promotions and discounts, chances to win daily giveaways, and much more! Click here to sign up.

FutureTrack Follow:


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It’s got to be Black Equestrians for pure, unadulterated Black horse girl joy. A tonic for the soul.

Morning Viewing:

I am a big fan of Boyd Martin’s new ride, Commando 3. Get to know him and join me with hearts in your eyes here:

Goodbye to French Team Campaigner and Prolific Sire Upsilon

Tom Carlile and Upsilon. Photo by Ben Clark.

We’re sad to report that the exceptional Anglo-Arab stallion Upsilon has died at the age of 15 — though the legacy he leaves, which is writ large in his extraordinarily successful offspring, remains untouchable.
Upsilon (Canturo x O’Vive, by Fusain de Defey) first shot to prominence as a young horse with rider and co-owner Tom Carlile of France, winning his international debut at CCI2*-L at Bazoges en Pareds and following it up with another decisive win at Pompadour’s CCI2*-S. He then finished fifth in the Six-Year-Old World Championship at Le Lion d’Angers, returning as a seven-year-old to take silver. It was at the CCI4*-S level, though, that he truly came into his own, particularly in the limelight of the Event Rider Masters series: he won the tough Barbury legs back to back in 2017 and 2018, setting a venue record while doing so with his eye-wateringly low scores, and was victorious at 2016’s Blenheim leg, too. In eleven four-star runs, he won four times, and finished outside the top four just three times.

Upsilon shows off his scope. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“My dear Upsilon, you have been our waking dream,” writes Tom in a social media post, translated from the original French. “From your very first steps, you had [breeders] Patrick & Mapie [Sisquielle] in awe of their success. Remember when I first met you… You blew me away with your charisma & presence. No one could remain indifferent in front of you. [Co-owners] Dad, Mom, Gérard & Philippe quickly joined your adventure. And what an adventure! You left us with amazing memories. You will have marked so many minds with your brilliance & talent.”
Upsilon’s exciting career was sadly cut short in 2019, when he was struck with a neurological condition that nearly killed him. Though the diagnostic process took the better part of a year, the stallion was eventually rehabilitated and — once it was determined that the condition had come as the result of a bacterial infection, rather than a hereditary limitation, he was able to step fully into his ‘other’ career as a prolific sire of jumping and eventing horses.
Upsilon’s legacy includes several of Tom’s own rides, including his 2022 Six-Year-Old World Champion Golden de Beliard. His offspring have been roundly dominating the French young horse classes over the last number of years and several of his sons, too, are continuing his bloodline, including showjumper Espri du Figuier and young eventer Future Hepsilon.
Thomas Carlile and Upsilon.

Thomas Carlile and Upsilon. Photo by Clarke.

“In your second breath, we could only do so much for you — but you showed us all the fighter you were,” writes Tom, crediting girlfriend and head groom Camille Coton with Upsilon’s recovery and ruing the lost chance at a happy retirement. “I’m sure that Camille was your confidante and an angel for you, she knew how to give you wings again. You could have enjoyed those sweet years of peace that were owed so much. The injustice of life has returned to strike you without warning. How we miss you Upsilon. Rest in peace, my friend. Every horseman’s dream is to one day cross the path of such a horse. The devotion of the entire Clinique Equine de Meslay team around you has been remarkable and we extend our gratitude to them. Thank you.”

Monica Spencer Takes Dressage Lead in Adelaide CCI5*

One of my fondest memories of the World Championships in Pratoni last year was the palpable excitement in our media villa when EN’s Shelby Allen discovered the phenom that is New Zealand’s Monica Spencer and her excellent Artist. It’s so rare that we get to see those competitors who base themselves in the Southern Hemisphere full time battling it out against the global titans of the sport, and particularly thrilling when they come in with such impressive stats: she and the racing-trained-but-not-actually-raced ‘Max’ had won the CCI4*-L at Puhinui, brought a 27.3 dressage average to the table (and had earned a 25.5 at that CCI4*-L victory site), and had one of the best cross-country speed and reliability ratings on the roster, too. They’d also travelled over 18,000 kilometres to get to Pratoni after fitness training in a cow field, and so when Shelby started championing this impressive athlete, we all got caught up in the buzz.

And when she laid down 25.6 to take the early dressage lead? Man, did that feel good. So it’s no surprise, really, that we all quietly tipped her to make a great show of the 12-year-old gelding’s first CCI5*, which she’s currently undertaking at Australia’s Adelaide, which runs for the first time in three years this week. They currently sit pretty atop the leaderboard of 16 after throwing down a 24 in the first phase. They squeak ahead of Australia’s Sam Lyle and BF Valour, second going into cross-country on 25.6, and hot favourite Shane Rose, who holds third and fourth with Be My Daisy and Virgil, respectively, on 26.4 and 28.1. Fellow Kiwi Diane Gilder rounds out the top five on Your Attorney on a score of 28.9. You can check out the rest of the scores in full here.

“There was a bit of atmosphere out there,” says Monica. “I felt him ride up under me but he stayed with me all the way through and I was rapt. He just stood there perfectly still to finish and for the cheers of the crowd. I think he loves the crowd.’’

Adelaide Equestrian Festival Chairman Greg Rolton has been delighted so far with attendance at the jam-packed event, which also hosts a CCI3*-L and CCI4*-L alongside a bustling trade fair highlighting the region’s cuisine and culture.

“What a perfect day here at the dressage, and the forecast is for another sensational day tomorrow for the cross country,” he enthuses. “Today’s competition was great to watch, and the record crowd enjoyed it immensely. We can’t wait to host everyone this weekend for more great equestrian action, food, wine and family fun. We’re proud that already over 25,000 tickets have been sold for this week’s event, but with our vast and stunning parklands there’s still plenty of room and time for everyone to buy their ticket for tomorrow or Sunday and experience this great festival with us.”

Stay tuned for a peak at the exciting course, designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, that’ll take competitors and spectators alike for a jaunt through this unique inner-city event. Go Adelaide, and Go Eventing!

Thursday Video: The Lexington ’78 Retrospective

Whenever I find footage of the (in)famous 1978 World Championships in Lexington, I always dive right in and then share it here – but even I had never seen this 45 minute retrospective of the eventing, which features some really interesting insights and commentary looking back at that landmark event. So much has changed in our sport – and at the now iconic venue! – since that event, and there’s so much to learn from going back into the annals of history, too. I, for one, am so heartened to see how safety has come on across the board, from helmets and body protectors to collapsible fences – and as someone who never got the chance to run in a true long-format event, I always find it really fascinating to see how horses are managed throughout them. Consider a ‘classic’ very much on my bucket list!

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Badminton Through the Ages

Hang out with me for long enough in basically any scenario, and you’re bound to be subjected to me pulling up the British Pathé Archives on YouTube and showing you the latest old-school eventing clip I’ve found and rewatched about fifty times. I am a shameless eventing history nerd! What can I say! But even if you just want a quick bit of entertainment, these are great for some terrifying fences, even more terrifying ‘helmets’, and a slightly bonkers frame rate that makes everything look like it should have a comedy soundtrack over the top. I’ve just walked this year’s Badminton course, and I’m even more delighted than ever that the vast majority of what I saw was collapsible or deformable in some way — a far cry from the courses of old! Here are some of the highlights from the archives.

Poor performance? Sour attitude?

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Catch the Action from 2023’s First CCI5* on H&C

Hazel Shannon and Willingapark Clifford. Photo by Julie Wilson.

When we think about Covid hiatuses, we often forget that the Southern Hemisphere got seriously hit by them – and so the return of the Adelaide Equestrian Festival, which hosts the first CCI5* of the 2023 season, is actually its first time on the calendar in three years. Its postponement to this spring (the eagle-eyed among you may have clocked that it’s usually the last five-star of the year, with a November calendar date, historically) means that we get three consecutive weeks of top-level eventing action, which, frankly, is music to our horse-nerd ears. And thanks to our pals over at Horse&Country? You don’t have to miss a moment of it, even if it does require some slightly wacky scheduling to cope with those time zones!

The competition has already gotten underway with the first horse inspection for the CCI3*-L, which kicks off its first phase tomorrow (technically, anyway!). Here’s how the week’s CCI5* competition and streaming schedule looks, converted into both BST and Eastern Time for ease of use.


Thursday, April 20th – First Horse Inspection 8.00 a.m. local (23.30 on April 19th BST; 6.30 p.m. EDT)

Friday, April 21st — Dressage 1.00 p.m. – 4.00 p.m. local (4.30 a.m. – 7.30 a.m. BST; 11.30 p.m. on April 20th – 2.30 a.m. April 21st EDT)

Saturday, April 22nd — Cross-Country 1.00 p.m. — 2.30 p.m. local (4.30 a.m. – 6.00 a.m. BST; 11.30 p.m. April 21st — 1.00 a.m. April 22nd EDT)

Sunday, April 23rd — Final Horse Inspection to follow CCI3* and CCI4* from 8.00 a.m. local (23.30 on April 22nd BST; 6.30 p.m. EDT)

Jumping — 2.45 p.m. — 3.15 p.m. local time (6.15 a.m. — 6.45 a.m. BST; 1.15 a.m. — 1.45 a.m. EDT)

You can sign up for H&C+, via a one-time event pass or a monthly or annual subscription, here. Happy viewing — and Go Eventing!

Tuesday News & Notes from Kentucky Performance Products

CAN we just talk about the corgi butt that broke the internet yesterday? I was at Badminton all afternoon walking the course there with Eric — and with no signal whatsoever — and when I emerged back into the real world, that Kentucky course preview video had come out and done the rounds like wildfire. Now, all I see when I open social media is screenshots of the corgi jump, which, let’s be real, is the best thing any of us has ever seen on a course. I can’t wait to not move from it all day long next Saturday. Someone bring me a mimosa if you happen to be walking past.

Events Opening Today: Essex H.T.Carriage House Farm Combined TestPoplar Place June H.T.Ocala Summer H.T. IGMHA June H.T.MCTA H.T. at Shawan DownsThe Spring Event at ArcherIEA Horse Trials

Events Closing Today: Riga Meadow at Coole Park Combined TestWindRidge Farm Spring H.T.Waredaca H.T.Texas Rose Horse Park H.T.- Modified Pending USEF ApprovalStable View Local Charities H.T.Catalpa Corner May Madness Horse TrialsThe Event at Skyline

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

Are you part of the the USEA Adult Riders program? Don’t miss your chance to see the Kentucky course up-close-and-personal with insights from course designer Derek di Grazia in this very cool, members-only opportunity. It’ll take place at 9am on Thursday, April 27th, and you can get more info and sign up here.

This op-ed is hunter-jumper specific, but it raises salient points for our sport, too. Is there a disconnect between trainers and young students? Are we unable to tell kids that they’re not ready for that move-up yet, because we’re worried their parents will jump ship and take them to another trainer that’ll let them hit their goals sooner? Could this be contributing to safety issues? 

Speaking of trainers, how do you find the right one for you? It’s a bit like finding a therapist, or dating, isn’t it? But by being very clear on the answers to some of these questions ahead of time, you’ll narrow down the selection by easily culling those who simply won’t be a good fit for your lifestyle or goals right off the bat. Get the process nailed here.

And finally: barn moms. They’re great, aren’t they? My own was never that keen on getting involved but at every barn I rode at, there were a couple who were willing to take us all in (and they always provided the best horse show picnics!). Get in your feelings here.

Sponsor Corner: Are you getting ready to hit the road with your horse? Follow these travel tips from Kentucky Performance Products to...

😓 Ward off stress-related digestive issues

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Watch This:

Got a nappy horse? So does amateur eventer Lucy Robinson, who’s been working hard to nix the habit in ex-racehorse Ember. Here’s what she learned when she decided to try a hunter trial to help him get past it:

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

One man’s quest to get the perfect eventing selfie: completed, with help from Hallie Coon and Global Ex.

Let’s talk about non-horsey partners, shall we? For years, I was very happy single, but also convinced that if I did ever want to settle down with someone, they’d have to also work in eventing so we’d actually have half a chance of seeing one another. How wrong I was! Turns out, it works just as well if you find someone who can barely spot a horse in a field of cows, but cares enough about what you love to make an effort. I’ve been so lucky to find that with my partner, a very talented musician who now brings my mare, Bella, bags of carrots while I’m away reporting; who came with me to Boekelo CCI4*-L in October and not only befriended the World Champion but also took it upon himself to teach himself how to use my camera, which meant that I turned around at one point to see him kneeling down in the prize giving looking for some serious angles; who asks earnestly to re-watch all the events I’ve been at the second I get home; and who’s jumping on a plane with me to Kentucky next week as a confirmed eventing super fan. I’m very, very lucky, and I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong in my notions.

Of course, relationships are all about give and take, and it’s been so much fun supporting him in his music career, especially as his band, Lilies in my brain, releases poppy, punky indie bangers that my friends and I just cannot get enough of. Even better, they’ve just been handed the potential for an opportunity of a lifetime: they’ve been shortlisted, down from 2000 bands, to play one of the UK’s biggest festivals. This is a particularly big deal because unlike many bands, they haven’t outsourced work to a recording studio, or a PR person, or a manager, or anything: our living room is the recording studio, my boyfriend does all the mixing and mastering (and playing guitar, and writing drum tracks and bass lines, and splitting songwriting duties with the lead singer), I’ve taken on the role of de facto manager and PR person and booking agent, and last week, we even taught ourselves to screen print so we didn’t have to pay through the nose to make t-shirts for the merch stand. And actually? Every step of the way, it all feels so familiar — because it feels like that sort of let’s-make-it-happen scrappiness that I love about our eventing community. So, while I appreciate that this is a very cheeky use of our News & Notes round-up, I reckon we’ve all got to embrace our newest superfan and show him some love back — especially because it might just mean that pretty soon down the line, we have another person with a really big platform who’s able to help us all tell the world how cool eventing really is. Please give Lilies in my brain a vote for Truck Festival 2023 here; give them a listen on Spotify here; and if you like what you hear, follow them on Insta here for all the latest updates!

(Note to my editor: I did use one of their songs on one of our reels once, so it’s kind of relevant; please don’t fire me)

National Holiday: It’s National Cheese Ball Day. Count me in.

U.S. Weekend Action:

Twin Rivers Spring International (Paso Robles, CA) [Website] [Results]

FENCE H.T. (Tryon, NC) [Website] [Results]

Longleaf Pine H.T. (Raeford, NC) [Website] [Results]

Plantation Field Horse Trials (Coatesville, PA) [Website] [Results]

Poplar Place April H.T. (Hamilton, GA) [Website] [Results]

Spring Bay H.T. (Lexington, KY) [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Results:

Barefoot Retreats Burnham Market International (Burnham Market, Norfolk): [Results]

Oxstalls (Stroud, Gloucs.): [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

Eventers are a pretty barmy bunch, but we’re also very capable of pulling our socks up and serving the greater good, too. That’s always in evidence when the London Marathon rolls around, which always features a rotating cast of equestrians — but eventers, as always, remain at the forefront. Check out who’s running it this year (if you haven’t seen a certain couple of riders sprinting around in wellies recently, which may have offered a clue or two!) [Eventers running to the clock]

Talent is a nebulous concept, but being a great student is something any of us can do. Sidelines‘ advice columnist introduces us all to the concept of the ‘five Cs’, which will help to ensure you’re improving as quickly as possible, but will also get your confidence on track so that when your trainer tells you it’s time to move up, you actually believe them. [Get to grips with the Cs]

I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to horse-shopping stories. Maybe it’s the perennial window-shopper in me, but reading people’s tales of travel and trials to find the perfect match is one of my favourite idle pastimes. Especially when the person at the keyboard is COTH blogger Lauren Sprieser. [Get in loser, we’re going shopping]

Burnham Market delivered Britain’s second CCI4*-S over the weekend – and for once, Oliver Townend didn’t win it. Instead, we saw Laura Collett’s Dacapo step up to the plate in this hot field of entrants, and we also saw quite a lot of the same weather issues that plagued Thoresby last month, which is a bummer. Will England ever dry out? [Catch up on Burnham Market’s finale]

The FutureTrack Follow:


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After watching her ride with wisdom beyond her years around Burnham Market yesterday, it’s got to be Izzy Cook, the 18-year-old daughter of the legendary Tina Cook, and a British team medallist in her own right. There are big things coming for this young talent!

Morning Viewing:

If you’re a fan of Love Island, you might know the name Gemma Owen — dressage rider, footballer’s daughter, and now reality tv star. Get to know her, if that’s what you’re into:

Saturday Video: Perfect Your Position with David Doel

One of the most fundamental things you need to succeed in eventing is a full arsenal of cross-country positions and the understanding of which situations to use each of them in. In this taster for new H&C series Back to Basics Eventing with Voltaire Design, five-star eventer David Doel explains the mechanics of each and gives some great tips for solidifying them all, helped along by Cameron Beer and Tina Wallace. It’s a great primer ahead of the busy bit of the season — and a great introduction to the delightful David, who heads to Kentucky for the first time in a couple of days!

Friday Video from SmartPak: The TerraNova Debrief with Elisa Wallace

I, for one, wish every rider was able to release videos like these full-length event debriefs that Elisa Wallace treats us to: with all three phases, and insightful commentary on the decisions she made at each step and how her horse reacted to them, they’re a great educational tool and just plain fun to watch. I was away at the UK’s very soggy Thoresby CCI4*-S while TerraNova was on, and so this has been a great way for me to see what the competition was like on the ground — supplemented, of course, by EN’s coverage from the marvellous Amanda Chance! I think I’ve added a new must-visit event to my list, in any case (especially if it takes me out of England in March…!)

Have you heard of the SmartPak SmartBarns service yet? SmartPak wants to make it easier for you to take great care of the horses and clients in your barn. The SmartBarn Services Team pairs you with your very own Barn Consultant, giving you access to exclusive benefits, including: Supplement advice & planning, Personalized account management, and Inside access to SmartPak Experts. Visit to learn more.

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Emily King’s Big Spring Win

So far, anyway! The British eventing season kicked off in earnest a couple of weeks ago at a tumultuously weathered Spring Festival of Eventing at Thoresby Park, and all of us weathered some serious storms to catch a cross-country finale that was rather bloody exciting, all things considered. And the ultimate victor? Well, she couldn’t have had a more excited team of people behind her with her Event Horse Owners Syndicate followers cheering her every step of the way. Relive Emily King’s super round with her Badminton-bound Valmy Biats in this cracking video from our pals at An Eventful Life!

Poor performance? Sour attitude?

Neigh-Lox® Advanced provides a scientifically advanced blend of ingredients that work synergistically to maintain your horse’s digestive tract in peak condition by supporting both the gastrointestinal tissues and the beneficial bacteria that populate the gut. Maintaining a healthy digestive tract reduces the risk of colonic and gastric ulcers, colic, laminitis related to hindgut acidosis, and oxidative stress that damages digestive tract tissues themselves. Horses with a well-balanced GI tract have good appetites, absorb more nutrients from their diets, maintain a strong immune system, and stay healthier.

The horse that matters to you matters to us®.

Have you grabbed your winter running horse stickers? Check them out at



Tuesday News & Notes from Kentucky Performance Products


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In just about a week or so, our British contingent for Kentucky will be hopping on a plane across the pond — and with them, they bring some seriously high hopes for a big win. It’s pretty hard to bet against the likes of last year’s runners-up, Yas Ingham and Banzai du Loir, but Tom McEwen’s chances look pretty swish on Nicola Wilson’s reigning European Champ JL Dublin, too, in his five-star debut. Frankly, though, I’m quietly convinced that Liz or Will might be waiting in the wings to snatch the crown back for the US. I’m getting butterflies just thinking about it! My first Kentucky! What a thrill! If you see me wandering around in a happy daze, clutching a massive camera and a chinchilla, do say hi – I want to know who you think is going to scoop the title!

Events Opening Today: Tryon International Spring H.T.- Pending USEF ApprovalVirginia Horse Center EventingUSEA MDHT YEH QualifierWoodside Spring H.T.Mill Creek Pony Club Horse TrialWillow Draw Charity ShowMay-Daze at the Park H.T.Equestrians’ Institute H.T.Spring Coconino H.T.

Events Closing Today: University of New Hampshire Spring H.T.Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Spring H.T.Horse Park of New Jersey Spring H.T.

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

Southern belles have plenty to look forward to this year. Check out what US Eventing has in store for Area V — which comprises Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma — in 2023, and get your diary out, because there’s plenty to be jotting down as far as season goals go! [Head down to Area V]

When it comes to gym bros, protein is king. But is this essential macronutrient the most important part of your horse’s diet, too, or should it take a back seat to more critical conduits of nutrition? Equine nutritionist Madeline Boast is setting the record straight, so you can put that boiled, unseasoned chicken away for a moment. [Getting your horse’s protein right]

Who among us hasn’t wept bitterly over the death of Ginger? A whole new generation is about to be traumatised by Black Beauty, which is getting a brand new edition  in partnership with longstanding British equine charity Redwings. The book will help raise vital funds for the horses, ponies, and donkeys in Redwings’s care, which means that it’s a must-have on every pony-mad kid’s birthday and Christmas lists this year… just be prepared to gift them a bit of therapy a few years down the line, too. [Bookworms unite]

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to know I have every duck in a row in every situation — but in eventing, those ducks are usually punch-drunk squirrels having a bar fight, and I haven’t got a hope in hell. That’s why I was so keen to dive into blogger Justine Griffin’s recap of a two-day eventing clinic in Ocala, where she learned that you can only control certain parts of your ride — but you can maximise the positive influence you’re exerting over them to yield a better, more fun outcome. [Things I need to learn, volume 4584830]

Sponsor Corner: Did you know that Omega-3 fatty acids…

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Check out Contribute from Kentucky Performance Products if you think your horse could use any of these benefits!

Watch This:

I’m gearing up for my first ever trip to Kentucky, and I’m so excited that I cannot stop watching old YouTube videos of previous years’ cross-country rounds. Join me:

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

Happy lazy Monday to all those benefitting from a day off work today! For all the rest of us (hey, horse people), I hope you get your paws on plenty of discounted Easter choccies today. I’m planning a trip down the road to get those £1 Easter eggs for a 25% markdown, and if that means all my meals today are in chocolate form, then so be it. We’ve got to fuel up for the season ahead, friends.

National Holiday: It’s National Hug Your Dog Day. Do any of us really need any extra encouragement?

U.S. Weekend Action:

Stable View Spring 2/3/4* and H.T. (Aiken, SC) [Website] [Results] [EN’s Coverage]

CDCTA Spring H.T. (Ruckersville, VA) [Website] [Results]

Pine Hill Spring H.T (Belleville, TX) [Website] [Results]

Rocking Horse Spring H.T (Altoona, FL) [Website] [Results]

U.K. Weekend Results:

Norton Disney (Lincoln, Lincs.): [Results]

Breckenbrough (Thirsk, Yorks.): [Results]

Larkhill (Amesbury, Wilts.): [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

National Hunt — that is, jumps racing — horses are a special kind of tough. They tend to keep racing far longer than their flat racing counterparts, and afterwards, they can enjoy several more careers. In case you need any further evidence that Thoroughbreds are just the coolest, H&H caught up with a few legends of the sport to find out what they’ve been getting up to since their final fling across the finish line. Spoiler alert: there’s at least one Grand National winner out eventing.

British events love a bit of glamping, don’t they? Bramham is the next Big B to get the Glastonbury treatment, with boutique yurts available to book this year. If you can nab yourself an invite to the Thursday night cocktail party, which is always rather rowdy, you’ll be glad of a bed within stumbling distance. Here’s how to book.

Do you love a trail ride with your dog? If you’ve got the space to do so safely, I completely envy you — it’s a no-go here in the UK for those of us who use public bridleways! This piece, though, will help you finesse the process if you do have enough land to want to get out and about with both of your four-legged best pals. Happy trails!

It’s time for a sit-down with Bobby Costello. His tenure as interim chef d’equipe has turned into a permanent appointment in the position, and along the way, US Eventing has achieved some seriously lofty goals. But how did Bobby get where he is now, and what’s next on the agenda? Exciting times for the US Eventing team!

The FutureTrack Follow:

Formerly British eventer Julia Norman has made the big decision to swap to Zimbabwean nationality — a claim she can make via her mother’s birth in the country. That’ll make her just Zimbabwe’s second-ever five-star eventer, and you can follow her adventures and results on Instagram!

Morning Viewing:

Oh, NBD, just Jessica von Bredow-Werndl absolutely smashing it again.

Friday Video from SmartPak: Cross-Country Prep from the Ground

There are so many reasons why you might want to work on cross-country skills from the ground: your horse might be too young or inexperienced to learn them under saddle; you might be dealing with a confidence crisis or an injury of your own; or, you might fancy just giving your horse the opportunity to figure out his own footwork without having to compensate for the balance of a rider on top. Whichever reason compels you, it’s a great way to use your time — and one that even the great Michael Jung uses frequently with his horses. This intensive video lesson will show you how best to tackle everything you’ll find on course, including ditches, water, banks, and more, both safely and effectively. Happy jumping!

Have you heard of the SmartPak SmartBarns service yet? SmartPak wants to make it easier for you to take great care of the horses and clients in your barn. The SmartBarn Services Team pairs you with your very own Barn Consultant, giving you access to exclusive benefits, including: Supplement advice & planning, Personalized account management, and Inside access to SmartPak Experts. Visit to learn more.


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Buck Davidson Takes Pathfinder Position at Land Rover Kentucky as Draw is Revealed

Buck Davidson and Erroll Gobey. Photo by Abby Powell.

Second only to the excitement of the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event entry list reveal is the reveal of the draw — and, as such, the reveal of who’ll be first out of the box come Saturday in the northern Hemisphere’s first five-star of 2023. Well, folks, that draw has happened today, and we’re delighted to reveal that (not for the first time!) Buck Davidson will be taking the honours there. His pathfinder ride will be Erroll Gobey, who’ll be chasing his first five-star completion after making his debut here in 2021. While that might not seem like the most auspicious start to the weekend for Buck and his three rides, in a way, that’s actually probably quite a nice draw: he won’t have his plans altered by anyone else’s feedback, nor will he feel the pressure to run quickly, and instead will be able to give his relatively inexperienced mount a steady, confidence-boosting run ’round, which will yield intel he can take back to the start box for his next two rounds.

Following him swiftly out of the start will be second out, Jennie Saville, who’ll start her day on Nina Gardner’s Twilightslastgleam. Third out will be Will Coleman and DonDante, who’s bringing plenty of experience to Kentucky, and fourth will be Will Faudree and Mama’s Magic Way. The day — which currently sits at 46 starters in the CCI5* — will be wrapped by the last out, and what a finale that’ll be! Will Coleman‘s delectable Chin Tonic HS will be one of the rounds to watch in his five-star debut, and he’ll be the last one we get to see in this class. As if watching wasn’t nerve-wracking enough!

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Over in the CCI4*-S (which has been jokingly referred to as a five-star short for its intensity), we’ve got a seriously experienced pathfinding combo: Ariel Grald and her World Champs individual mount Leamore Master Plan will be first out of the box, and no doubt everyone in the riders’ tent will be watching their round closely to see how they navigate this tough track. They’ll be followed by Canada’s Lindsay Traisnel and Bacyrouge, who come to Kentucky with the confidence of a top-ten Carolina finish under their belts, and Shannon Lilley and Ideal HX will be third out. Tamie Smith and Elliot V will close out the class.

Check out the full five-star draw here, and the four-star draw here — and, as always, Go Eventing!

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Ride Around TerraNova CCI4*-S

We had an enormously busy weekend where four-stars are concerned: our EN team had boots on the ground at both TerraNova and Galway Downs in the US, and Thoresby in the UK, giving us an all-angle look at top-level eventing around the northern Hemisphere.

And now? We’re reliving every minute we can from a different angle — behind the ears, of course! Take a spin around TerraNova’s CCI4*-S with Elisa Wallace and Renkum Corsair and fend off the post-event blues!

Poor performance? Sour attitude?

Neigh-Lox® Advanced provides a scientifically advanced blend of ingredients that work synergistically to maintain your horse’s digestive tract in peak condition by supporting both the gastrointestinal tissues and the beneficial bacteria that populate the gut. Maintaining a healthy digestive tract reduces the risk of colonic and gastric ulcers, colic, laminitis related to hindgut acidosis, and oxidative stress that damages digestive tract tissues themselves. Horses with a well-balanced GI tract have good appetites, absorb more nutrients from their diets, maintain a strong immune system, and stay healthier.

The horse that matters to you matters to us®.

Have you grabbed your winter running horse stickers? Check them out at!

Monday News & Notes from FutureTrack

We’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days talking about Thoresby’s weather — but we haven’t really mentioned Thoresby’s loony-bin of horses who haven’t had a run yet this season and were positively loopy as a result. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video of India Wishart attempting to mount up in the stables. Truly quality content.

National Holiday: It’s National Blue Ribbon Week, which sounds quite nice and horsey, but has actually been set up to raise awareness of the various forms that child abuse can take and the long-lasting effects it can have. Let’s all take this as our cue to keep an eye on our smaller barn denizens and help to safeguard them in any way we can.

US Weekend Results:

Chattahoochee Hills H.T. (Fairburn, GA) [Website] [Results]

Galway Downs International H.T (Temecula, CA) [Website] [Results]

Jumping Branch Farm H.T (Aiken, SC) [Website] [Results]

Morven Park Spring H.T. (Leesburg, VA) [Website] [Results]

The Event at TerraNova (Myakka City, FL) [Website] [Results]

UK Weekend Results:

The Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park (Newark, Notts): [Website] [Results] [EN’s Coverage]

Arena Eventing Championships: [Results]

Your Monday Reading List:

Equestrian sport is heralded for its gender equality – but that’s actually a pretty recent thing. COTH has been looking back at how women first made their way into the sport, the battles many have faced to be allowed to participate, and the state of the union now. [The curious history of female equestrians]

A 15-year-old, £600 OTTB has made its Grand Prix dressage debut in the UK. ‘Rosie’ isn’t just a testament to the versatility of the Thoroughbred — she’s a testament to out-of-the-box thinking, too, with some unique training tactics on the table that have helped her learn the trickier movements of these top-level tests. [Thoroughbreds rock, tbh]

Struggling with hindend engagement? Sounds like you need some simple exercises to add into your schooling arsenal. These ones, from our sister site Horse Nation, will help you get that eureka moment where you feel your horse step under himself and elevate his forehand. It’s a nice feeling, that. [Engage the booty]

The FutureTrack Follow:


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Got an interest in showjumping, too? Liv of EquiSportif is one of those cool people I only see around once or twice a year, because she basically does all the things I do — just in that discipline, rather than this one. Her photos are gorgeous and I’m constantly screenshotting them for inspo — and whether you’re a ‘tog or just a horse lover, I reckon you will, too.

Morning Viewing:

Turn those subtitles on and head to Germany to train with Juliane Barth and Nico Aldinger!

Emily King and Piggy March Victorious in Overhauled Thoresby Finale

The weekend’s champions: Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In many ways, it feels like I’ve split this week between two — or more — completely different events. On Thursday evening, I arrived at the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park on a warm, sunny afternoon to see a very small early group of four-star horses and riders complete their tests. We sat on the ground! We were warm! I think I might have actually taken my coat off at one point! The next day, though, the rain poured down all day, while scores of horses rattled through their tests in worsening ground and the mood around the place plummeted. Then, Saturday dawned, grey and dreary but mercifully dry, but at that point — after all that mud and a CCI2*-S showjumping session that had left everyone’s sanity in tatters due to the conditions — an enormous number of withdrawals had already been logged, and many of the riders I chatted with were considering whether the ground on Sunday would even be functional for a much-needed run ahead of this spring’s five-stars. And then we had today: gloriously, unexpectedly sunny (and truly, it’s not often that the forecast is wrong in a positive way), blessed with a ground-drying breeze and a by-now unfamiliar wholly unfamiliar feeling of overwhelming positivity about the place.

And you know what? They really did pull it off. Stuart Buntine and his team at BEDE Events have moved mountains — or, at least, arenas — to try to find the best going in the park, which saw CCI4*-S showjumping hoiked up to an unused patch of ground near the lorry park and the former main arena space, with all its trade stands and food trucks, turned into a bustling country fair and activity zone instead to keep the tradesmen and the punters happy. Fence 10ABC, a table-open corner-table combination in front of the house, bid adieu to its final element, a decision Stuart had kept in his back pocket in case the ground wasn’t quite up to par. Take-offs and landings were reinforced with stone; times for classes were shifted around a bit, and the show went on. For those who had opted to stay and cash in their run, it turned into a very good day at the office indeed: we saw just 34 runners in the Grantham Cup feature CCI4*-S, and 31 of those went on to complete, while in section P, 25 of the remaining 29 starters, most of whom were on inexperienced horses, completed.

Alex Bragg and Quindiva. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

While it’s disappointing for the organising team that so many of their original field of 148 didn’t start, it’s also understandable: Thoresby is a new venue, and is in just its second year of hosting the fixture that was previously run by the same team at Belton. The joy of longstanding events is that riders get to know them; they know how the ground will react if we’re in a dry patch, and they know how it’ll react in a wet month, and they know which segments and fields will get deep or choppy or difficult, purely because they’ve run so many times, in so many years and so many different conditions, that they’ve gained an intimate familiarity with the place. In the case of an event like Thoresby, though, we’re all still just on a second date asking it what its favourite colour is and if it has any mental exes lurking in the woodwork that we need to hastily block on Instagram. This isn’t yet a long-term relationship; it’s still a getting-to-know-you venture, and so riders and owners alike had to make a tough decision with limited knowledge of what was to come.

For organiser Stuart, this has been slightly frustrating — but, he hopes, this week’s event will have helped to foster confidence in competitors for the years to come, because they now know that the ground can actually take a serious beating and then still deliver on the most crucial day.

“When we lost Belton, we were looking for somewhere that had ground as good as that,” he explains, “and in my heart of hearts, I knew this ground would work. But I’ve only had two years’ experience here, too, so it’s a bit of a wing and a prayer. Five days ago, I was really confident because the forecast looked good — and then it went down again. But my commitment was, at the beginning of the week, to give the big boys that run for Badminton, and that was what I set out to do. And so we had to sacrifice those early classes. Probably against my better judgement, we accepted all the four star horses [in the entries], because we originally had 110 [and would waitlist the rest]. And we’ve pushed that up to 160 this week, which nearly doubled the workload on the arenas and all that type of stuff.”

Wills Oakden and Arklow Puissance. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

That decision, though, came as part of his desire to ensure any horse with a big event on the horizon would get the experience, and the crack at a qualifying result, that it needed — even if it meant resorting to plans B, C, D and beyond to make it happen.

“It was an interesting one, because I had two choices: move the showjumping, or cancel the event,” he says. “There were times when you were looking down the barrel and thinking, ‘are we right continue on?’ Thursday night, I was pretty worried. Friday night, I was even more worried. But we got there. I knew there was other ground we could use for showjumping, and okay, that we had to make a sacrifice with the dressage, but these guys do lots of dressage — what I didn’t think they’d got enough of  [this year] is cross country rounds. I suppose what’s disappointed me the most was I kicked out 200 riders [in the cancelled national classes] to give the big boys a chance, and then a lot of them went home — and I don’t think today, anybody can say a word against the ground.”

This result, he hopes, will encourage riders to wait a little longer in future before withdrawing — but, he says, there also needs to be further engagement between riders and organisers through the event so that everyone can stay on the same page.

“We did do a riders’ briefing every night, and it’s disappointing when they don’t turn up and they don’t engage,” he says. “The big guys like Piggy, Pippa, Harry [Meade], people like that have been engaging all week, so we could talk through and be open with them saying, ‘look, I think this is right’. It helps, but it’s disappointing when so many people don’t even engage. And it’s hard for us as organisers, because we’re trying to do the right thing. If they don’t engage, it makes it it makes it difficult, because it shouldn’t be them versus us. Our absolute passion and aim is deliver a really great event.”

It’s always better to end the week on a more positive note than it started on, though, and Stuart’s happy in the knowledge that that box has been ticked — and the spectators turned up in their droves today, too.

“I remember listening to [Chair of the Organising Committee] Seb Coe before London 2012, and he said, ‘if you provide the best facilities in the best situation, you get the best competition. If you get the best competition, you’ll get the best crowds.’ And that’s the frustrating thing from my end, that I had people turning up today because we had good competition and we did get good results. So that’s the sad part. But hopefully, they’ll learn from us and trust us.”

Emily King and Valmy Biats accept the Polly Phillips Trophy from Vere Phillips. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The rider who’ll perhaps be happiest she trusted in the system is Emily King, who came into cross-country still in second place having delivered an easy clear round in the showjumping aboard Valmy Biats. When overnight leaders Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir opted for a steady clear and picked up 18.8 time penalties, the door was opened — and when the pair crossed the line having picked up a relatively scant 14.4 time penalties, they stepped into top spot, winning the coveted Grantham Cup ahead of their second Badminton bid next month.

“I can’t really believe it — it’s like it didn’t really happen,” says a beaming Emily, who also won the Polly Phillips prize for the best-placed British rider who hasn’t yet ridden on a Senior team. “He was just fantastic all week; this is his first run of the season, and so if he’d been a bit feisty in his test, I’d have fully forgiven him. But he was a really good boy, and then this morning in showjumping he was superb — I couldn’t have asked for anything more from him.”

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

On cross-country, she explains, she wanted to balance giving him a suitable prep for Badminton — which requires putting some pressure on these more experienced horses — with keeping him confident and running at a sensible pace, which was a communal ethos across the class.

“I wanted to let him travel on the good ground and look after him; there were patches that were deep, but we knew that from walking the course, and so I made a conscious effort to just go steady through them. I wanted to go a bit speedy but my number one priority was that he was perfect on the fences for when he goes to Badminton, so I was like, what will be will be with the time.”

Designing a course for this part of the year is a tricky ask, because when a wet month hits and horses miss early national runs, it’s often the case that they come to the first international on no runs at all — and that was certainly true for many of this field. That means that the course needs to be forgiving enough to allow for some rust being knocked off, but because of Thoresby’s proximity to Kentucky and Badminton, it also has to be serious enough to actually prepare horses for what’s to come. Last year, it was felt that the course leaned more towards the former qualities than the latter, and this year, Emily reckons they’ve found a happy middle ground.

“I think it was a really nice balance for ones like him that haven’t run yet this year — you know, not too crazy and big and technical, but also enough to get your eye in and get their eye in. There were some real accuracy questions, and then there was a very open distance in one line — so you had to actually do stuff in the combinations. There was a nice level of testing, but also confidence-boosting. For Val, he finished how I wanted him to at the end of the course; he was in a really good frame of mind, and he felt like he had a nice calculated round — for him, it’s about building his capability for listening to me and not getting too brave and too onward-bound, and I think it did that as a good stepping stone for him.”

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

One factor that may well have played a part in Val’s success in all three phases here is that he lives out in the field 24/7, come rain, shine, or snow — a choice that has helped the gelding, who’s majority-owned by Emily and breeder Philippe Brivois, alongside Jacquie and Jeremy Shere and the Event Horse Owners Syndicate, flourish.

“He’s actually the only one of mine who lives out full-time, although they all go out every day or every night,” Emily explains. “At Philippe’s stud, the horses all live out full-time, and they’re brought up like that. Val’s had a few riders, so I don’t know what they did with him, but with us, we found he can be quite a fussy eater, but when he’s living out, he just mooches around happily and eats really well. He’s so much happier — if he’s in a stable he weaves and box walks, but when he’s out, no matter the weather, and so happy. And because he’s used to that, and used to the ground changing, his legs are accustomed to it — and it helps that we gallop on grass at home, too.”

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

Ros Canter also logged a showjumping clear this morning with Bramham runner-up Pencos Crown Jewel, who then cruised home with 15.6 time penalties to take the bridesmaid spot here, too.

“I was really happy that the conditions kept drying, because I love it here — it’s good for my riding, and I think it suits me,” says Ros, who also logged a sixth-place finish with Lordships Graffalo and 13th with new ride Dassett Cooley Dun.

Ros Canter and Lordships Graffalol. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“It’s really exciting [for Pencos Crown Jewel] because I’ve had her since she was three, and the owners are still supporting me, so it’s been a long old journey,” she says. “She’s such a trier, and probably the most talented horse in the world whose heart’s in exactly the right place. And for [World Championships mount] Lordships Graffalo, it was really important for him to run here today on this ground. He’s only rising eleven, and he’s gone pretty much his whole career running on good to firm ground. At Lincoln [in the mud], he stumbled a couple of times across country, and I thought it was probably because he wasn’t very educated on the ground, so I was quite keen to get around here. And he’s definitely come on from Lincoln and coped really well today. He’s just a lovely horse to ride cross country; I feel very lucky every time I point and shoot because he just does make me feel full of confidence.”

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

Though reigning World Champions and two-phase leaders Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir had to sacrifice a win with their decision to run conservatively, they still finished in third place — and, as Yas explains, they achieved the only goal that truly mattered to them: logging a first and final run ahead of their trip to Kentucky in a couple of weeks.

“It was definitely not the most straightforward of weeks, just hoping to run,” she says. “Obviously the weather’s been a huge influence on a lot of people’s decisions, and it certainly made me think really hard about my decision today. But I thought the best thing was just for me to wait it out, see if it improves and how much it improves. And with the weather improving, I thought it was silly not to give it a chance — and it certainly felt really nice and soft, and they ran well on it. The plan was to come here and get our pre-Kentucky prep rolling, and I think we’ve done that nicely; to be honest, he just kind of picked his way around. Obviously, there’s parts that were a little bit deeper than others, but we just kind of stayed to the string and he jumped all the big combinations super, and was just nice and competent.”

Now, Yas is feeling good about her chances on her return to Kentucky, where she finished second in the horse’s five-star debut last spring: “I’m really excited, actually, and I do feel slightly better knowing what’s to come. Derek de Grazia is a very good course designer, so I’m going to expect a very big, bold course like last year, and he’s very clever with his questions, so I think we’ll just keep training — and now we’ve had a good run here, I think it’s silly not to be thinking positively into Kentucky.”

Kirsty Chabert took fourth place with Luhmühlen runner-up Classic VI after lodging one of the fastest rounds of the day, adding just 9.2 time penalties — though the win eluded them as the result of a rail in this morning’s showjumping. Georgia Bartlett, who will make her five-star debut at Badminton next month with Spano de Nazca, rounded out the top five with a clear showjumping round and 11.2 time penalties. The fastest round of the day in this class went the way of rising star Alice Casburn, who piloted her homebred five-star partner and Young Rider medallist Topspin to seventh with 7.6 time penalties, just a hair faster then eighth-placed Tom Crisp and his own homebred, Liberty and Glory, who will go back to Badminton brimming with confidence after finishing ninth at Burghley last year.

The top ten in the Grantham Cup feature CCI4*-S class.

Over in section P, which was reserved for lower-pointed horses, Piggy March made good on her two-phase lead to win with new-old ride Brookfield Cavalier Cruise, who added 11.2 time penalties to his first-phase score of 25.4 to seal the deal. This isn’t her first season with the gelding, though it’s her first international run with him — and only his second four-star. He took a top ten finish in his first, at Little Downham last year with Tom McEwen in the irons, but some of his earliest Intermediate runs were logged with Piggy aboard a few seasons ago.

Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“He’s basically one that a lot of people have ridden, and he’s won for every rider,” says Piggy of the ten-year-old. “He’s a lovely natured horse, and he’s a really talented horse; a straightforward character who really enjoys his job. But he’s a very big horse, and so the time it’s taken him to get to this level really wouldn’t have done him any harm. He hasn’t been hammered as a young horse at all, and so he’s very exciting — he’s been off the radar, but I think he’s one that won’t run masses, and doesn’t need to run masses, because his temperament’s so good. I think he could go to some exciting places — I’m a very lucky girl and he’s a really cool horse.”

Piggy, who won the Grantham Cup here last year with Brookfield Inocent, was another rider who was delighted to see how the course had been developed after feeling that last year’s was slightly too soft to be a true five-star prep run: “It’s definitely a step up from last year,” she says. “It was a stronger course, and I think they’ve done very good job. I think there’s a lot of potential there, and they’re going the right way of making it a good course to prepare you for Badminton. My worry when I wrote about it last year was, is there enough places in the spring to actually prepare horses, with a good bit of timber or a decent sized ditch to put you on the right track for Badminton? But it did have more of that feel today.”

Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

She was also quick to emphasise the importance of everything we’ve collectively learned about the venue — and its capacity for handling inclement weather — this week.

“It’s a new place, and it’s the unknown,” she says. “I think there’ll be a lot of people that were quick to judge, who’d have been amazed at how quickly it dries, and how we learned what different parts of the grounds are like. The organisers have done an unbelievable job to keep it going and doing all they possibly could to keep the show on, which the sport needs. I think there’s so many positives here to take away, and I know a lot of people were feeling negative because they saw the lorry park on day one and everyone was so up against it [with the weather]. There was a lot of emotions flying everywhere. But I’m personally very glad I did stay out for today. I could have easily not been here from Friday, but I’ve learned a lot from the ground — so I hope it has a very positive feel for next year.”

Much of the rest of the leaderboard might well be the greatest Harry showdown we’ve ever seen: Harry Meade took second place and fifth place with Red Kite and Cavalier Crystal, respectively, while young Wesko Foundation member Harry Mutch took third and fourth with Shanbeg Cooley and HD The One.

Harry Meade and Red Kite. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

For Harry Meade, the ground was actually a highlight of his weekend.

“Most ground that we compete on is verging on being too firm,” he explains. “It’s not the fault of the events; they work really, really hard, but it’s a summer sport, and from a horsemanship point of view, it’s so easy for us just to run week in, week out on ground that’s too firm. But when you get the spring ground, horses go in it really well, and there’s nice light soil here, so it’s not heavy and holding.”

Part of his proclivity for softer going comes from his grounding in ‘old-school’ production, which includes hunting horses that need it.

Harry Meade and Cavalier Crystal. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

“Every horse has its own programme on my yard, and some spend the winter doing more showjumping and dressage, but I do have five horses who hunted through the winter — they had between four and eleven days each, depending on what they needed. And when I’ve been happy that that’s done the job it needed to, I’ve taken some of them to point-to-point courses — the day after a point-to-point, they’ve gone and run up alongside a few racehorses and they’ve done what they needed to.”

Though Red Kite didn’t hunt this season, he has done in the past — “he’s not naturally predisposed to cross-country,” explains Harry — which has been a critical turning point for him in terms of coping well with various ground conditions.

Harry Mutch and Shanbeg Cooley. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry Mutch is now reaping the rewards of the changes in his system and training implemented as part of his Wesko training, which saw him relocate for a period to trainer Pippa Funnell’s Surrey yard.

“We changed everything we do, and they’ve come out feeling on a whole different level,” he says. That helped him deliver the quickest four-star ride of the day: third-placed Shanbeg Cooley cruised round with just 3.6 time penalties, putting him lightyears ahead of his competitors in terms of speed — despite, or perhaps because of, a tricky lead-up to this week.

“His last big run was at Blenheim, and he fell, so I ran him really slow at Lincoln last month and he was horrible,” says Harry with a laugh. “He. just hates running slowly, so I went out today, and I was like, well, I need to wake up, first of all. It’s a good challenge for me to go really fast in order to find that comfortable rhythm that he just sits in. He just went around like an absolute speed demon, and made it really easy. Everything he came to, he was just like, ‘no problem!’ I think he actually took a stride out in one of the later combinations and everyone was like, ‘should you really have done that?’ but I just didn’t notice — it was just there to take.”

The top ten in the second CCI4*-S class.

And that, folks, is what we call an emotional rollercoaster. It’s been one heck of a week for everyone on the ground here at Thoresby (and, frankly, for the ground here at Thoresby), but I can pretty safely say that the mood shifted as dramatically as the weather today. The lorries being towed out of the event this afternoon will be full of much happier horses and riders than the ones that left previously. And now? We’re all one step closer to Badminton. Bring it on, and Go Eventing!

The Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park: [Website] [Times] [Live Scoring] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Emily King is Best of the Bunch on Final Dressage Day at a Complicated Thoresby

Hey! Recognise these guys? That’s Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser! You probably really like them! You also won’t read about them in this report because they withdrew so quickly after dressage that I couldn’t even tell you what place they were in at the time, let alone where they’d have been now. Anyway they scored a 27.6 if that’s information that you’re into. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

I’ve been at this game for a fair while now, but even so, eventing still finds ways to treat me — and, well, all of us — to entirely new experiences. The absolute onslaught of appalling weather that the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park has been besieged by isn’t exactly a novel experience; we’re in England at the cusp of spring, after all, and if us Brits do one thing well, it’s rain (and whinging, also, probably). Nor is mud a new thing; nor is the debate about whether or not to run or save horses for another day. We’re used to seeing plenty of withdrawals, too; I’ve reported on events where we’ve lost half a class before cross-country because the ground is too wet, or too dry, or too something else entirely — but even I’ve never spent a morning trying to report on dressage when there’s effectively an entire judging break between every single test. That’s no exaggeration: yesterday, as the rain hammered away at us, the warm-up ring was chock-full of horses at all times and both the three- and four-star arenas were abuzz with activity all through the day, without so much as a lunch break to be had from 8.00 a.m. ’til 5.00 p.m. But today? When I arrived at just past 8, there was one lone horse pootling around the arena, and no one to be seen in the warm-up. And that’s how it continued on for hours: there’d be a long span of nothingness, then one horse would appear, warm up on its own, do its test on its own, and leave us all in silence with nothing at all to look at once again. It was a little bit like eventing after the apocalypse, which isn’t actually a totally far-fetched idea, because I’m beginning to think that those of us mad enough to love this sport really would keep doing it even if life as we know it stopped existing entirely.

Imogen Murray and Shannondale Vintage take a spin around the Open Intermediate at the tail end of a day of cross-country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But then you’d step outside of the walled garden in which those two dressage rings are ensconced, and things felt a little different. Both the remaining OI sections, plus the CCI3*-S, tackled showjumping (mercifully moved out of the main arena, which has now been relegated to a country fair activity area) and cross-country, and though they suffered an eye-watering number of withdrawals, too, there actually was some action going on. Not loads, mind you: at one point in the first OI section, just one horse trundled by over the course of nearly an hour, but it was happening. There may have been just ten horses left to run in one OI and thirteen in the other, but that still counts, right? And those who did run actually largely did so sans drama, albeit slowly. Despite yesterday’s drama with those deep arenas and that seriously tough footing in the showjumping, the cross-country — or at least two-thirds of it — held up remarkably well, helped along by a crisp, dreary, but almost entirely dry day. (And, actually, we did have 65 horses go cross-country in the CCI3*-S, lest I misrepresent this as a day when just a small handful of horses tested that theory.)

Not that anyone ever regrets withdrawing a horse, for what it’s worth, but for those who truly need this run — the ones who have a five-star looming; the ones who have seen every single previous intended run cancelled — it was heartening. Will anyone run quickly tomorrow? It’s hugely unlikely. Will our original start list of 148 CCI4*-S competitors be cut in half? Almost certainly — as of right now, it’s down to 78, and we’re sure to see plenty more riders who are staying simply to log a showjumping round and call it a day. But right now, the show looks like it’s actually going to go on, and frankly, kudos must go to everyone involved; the team at BEDE Events, who have been doing no less than the best they can after being a truly crap hand, of course, but also the riders, and the owners, and the grooms who have put in hours of deliberation to make the best decisions they can for their horses, whether that’s to run or to withdraw. That Thoresby has been a bit of a stressful situation so far isn’t anyone’s fault but the weather’s (and I guess, by that token, we could argue we’re all to blame for being a bit crap at recycling, for booking long haul flights, and for not burning massive corporations to the ground, but that’s another rant for another day. Hey, did you know this has been the wettest March recorded in the UK in 40 years? We all certainly do!)

In any case, while the CCI4*-S worked its way through a long final day of dressage that could have been a quick matinee performance of dressage, really, and while the three-star and Intermediates cracked on with all their bits and bobs outside, there have been plenty of changes in the works to ensure that whatever we wake up to tomorrow, we’ve got the best of it. Now that the main arena has been well and truly canned off, showjumping will relocate up near the lorry park to an untouched field that should have housed the cancelled Novice dressage tests, and continued work is being done on restoring the ground on cross-country where it’s needed, with take-offs and landings being reinforced with stone. I suspect we’ll all be glad for a duvet day of some description on Monday, but for now, we have something to crack on with. That’s something, at least — even if we do have to forfeit seeing some of the super horses we’d hoped to see as a result of all those understandable withdrawals.

Among them? A number of the horses formerly in the top ten, including yesterday’s third-placed Tom McEwen and JL Dublin, and overnight leaders Laura Collett and London 52. That means that overnight runners-up Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir now lead on their score of 25.4 as they face the tricky decision of whether or not to run in what is the horse’s last — and, actually, first — prep run ahead of Kentucky.

Emily King and Valmy Biats. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Emily King slots into overnight second place with Valmy Biats, who she co-owns with breeder Philippe BrivoisJacquie and Jeremy Shere, and the Event Horse Owners Syndicate group, which provides membership-based microsyndicate subscriptions to fans of the sport. They were out in force to support ‘their’ horse and rider, who were among the small handful of competitors to come forward for today’s second half of the first phase in this class — and their round of enthusiastic applause upon completion of the test was the first we’ve heard here at Thoresby. (Fortunately, they’re all very nice people, so they stuck around to cheer on the sparse few subsequent competitors, too – which certainly brightened up the eerily quiet walled garden.)

There was enough to cheer about, too: Badminton-bound Emily and Valmy earned themselves a 26.8 with a polished, professional test and no visible issues with the ground — though, as Emily explains, “he lives in the field literally the whole time, so he’s used to it!”

Even for horses who are confident on tricky ground, though, there’s the fine art of getting the warm-up right that needs to be negotiated first, and Emily’s one frustration following her ride was a niggling feeling that she’d slightly overcooked it.

“It was a fine balance, because you want them to get used to it, but it’s also tiring for them — it’s like working in sinking sand,” she explains. “But I was really pleased with him; he’s getting so much more chilled and rideable. I didn’t go for it [in the extensions] because I didn’t want to risk him losing his balance and make a mistake, so I was purposefully a bit more guarded in there than usual. Actually, he can be a bit of a hothead in his first tests of the year, so just for him to go in and be so calm was the main thing.”

Sarah Bullimore and Corouet. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sarah Bullimore‘s tiny — and rather fresh — European bronze medallist Corouet takes fourth place, just behind Emilie Chandler and Gortfadda Diamond, who remain in podium position two days after their test. Though ‘Elfie’, who Sarah bred herself from former team ride Lilly Corinne, had plenty of pep in his step before and after his test, he executed a professional, mature performance in the ring to make the best of the holding conditions and earn himself a 27.3.

Like all of the elite first-phase performers we’ve seen this week, his result doesn’t rival his very best at the level (a 19.6, for what it’s worth, earned at Burgham in 2021) — but conditions like these require slightly more conservative riding, with an aim to produce a correct, positive test, rather than one that risks a wobble or a loss of confidence in a patch of questionable ground. With that in mind, Sarah was pleased with the work her stable star produced.

“He stayed with me, though I did slightly over prepare for the second flying change, and he had a bit of a skip,” she says. “That’s normally a highlight, but actually, for him to stay with me and not try to be naughty was lovely.”

Sarah and Elfie are among those lucky few pairs to have already managed a couple of runs this season, though even this, Sarah explains, requires a bit of finely-honed balancing: “The more runs you get in, the faster he gets — but on the flip side, the more runs he has, the feistier he is,” she laughs. “But then, in order to know I have control, I have to run — so it’s all a work in progress, but he was lovely at Poplar and while he was a little feistier at Lincoln, he finished second because a lot of people got stuck in the mud.”

That’s not an issue for 15.2hh, finely-built Elfie: “You’d think being so little, he’d get stuck in the mud – but actually, it helps me ride him, so it’s probably a good thing,” she says with a smile.

Ros Canter rounds out the top five with her 2022 Badminton runner-up Lordships Graffalo, who posted a 27.4, and she also sits sixth overnight on Pencos Crown Jewel, who earned a 28.3 for her sweet test yesterday.

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

The only other new entrant to the top ten from today’s competition is William Fox-Pitt with the classy Graffenacht, who returns to FEI competition after sitting out the 2022 season.

“She’s feeling great after her unexplained sabbatical last year, which we hope time will have sorted,” says William, who currently sits seventh on 29.9 with the eleven-year-old 2021 Boekelo runner-up. This week will ostensibly be a prep run for either Kentucky or Badminton — if he decides to run. That decision will also impact which of those two entries he’ll keep, and which he’ll discard. But even getting this far, he explains, has been something of a bureaucratic process after her time off.

“She has to have a four-star run because she needs the qualification [to go five-star] — but actually, she wasn’t initially allowed to come here, to be honest,” he explains. “Under the new rules, she’d have had to have done a three-star to do a four-star to do a five-star, and there wasn’t time, so British Eventing had to write a letter to the FEI applying for an exemption to be able to run here, which they granted.”

Should he decide not to run the mare, though, there’s another option: “She could go to the four-star at Burnham Market in two weeks, but they fly to Kentucky so soon after that it would be unfair to do that — so if she has to go to Burnham Market, she’ll go on to Badminton. I don’t really have a preference, but having had a year off, Kentucky might be a fairer question. It’s just a more friendly occasion; it was bloody serious the last time I went there, but it’s also a bit more on a plate for them, whereas at Badminton, you get Eric Winter fences — you have to kind of shut your eyes and hope a bit!”

Whichever way he decides to structure the rest of the mare’s weekend, though, he’s been infused with a burst of optimism after expecting a horror show at the dressage, and finding — well, perhaps something more like ‘good hunting ground’, as Nicola Wilson later referred to it with a grin.

“To be honest, [the dressage ring] is amazing compared to what I was expecting,” William says. “I was expecting this” — he gestures towards yesterday’s warm-up ring, which resembles nothing so much as a freshly ploughed field — “but actually, although it’s muddy and mucky, it hasn’t gone pothole-y. They can work in it, and she couldn’t care less; she’s a tough old wench!”

The top ten going into the two-phase final day of Thoresby in the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S.

Piggy March retains her lead from yesterday in the CCI4*-S P section with the relatively inexperienced Brookfield Cavalier Cruise, who sits nearly two points ahead of second-placed Harry Meade and Red Kite on a score of 25.4 to Harry’s 27.3. Yesterday’s second- and third-placed competitors, Flora Harris and Monbeg Alcatraz and Edie Campbell and Fireball F, now sit third and fourth respectively. This division, which is for lower-ranked horses, is chock-full of up-and-coming, inexperienced horses and some new faces among the riders, too, so stay tuned for a full report and catch-up with the section leaders tomorrow, when we’ll be focusing our attention on their cross-country performances.

The top ten after dressage in the second CCI4*-S section.

Tomorrow’s schedule has been slightly rejigged to accommodate the mass withdrawals, and so we’ll now see the national Advanced class start the day’s proceedings with showjumping from 9.00 am local time (4.00 a.m. ET) and cross-country kicking off at 11.00 a.m. (6.00 a.m. ET). The CCI4*-S classes will run back to back, with the Grantham Cup feature class showjumping from 10.30 a.m. (5.30 a.m. ET) and going cross-country from 12.30 p.m. (7.30 a.m. ET), while the second section will showjumping from 11.50 a.m. (6.50 a.m. ET) and go cross-country from 2.00 p.m. (9.00 a.m. ET). Horse&Country TV will be live-streaming the whole day’s cross-country action, so tune in to watch it as it happens, and keep it locked on EN for a full report on the finale of Britain’s first four-star of the 2023 season. Until then: Go Eventing! I think we actually might!

The Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park: [Website] [Times] [Live Scoring] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Seriously Soggy Thoresby CCI4*-S Rides Wave of Uncertainty on Dressage Day One (and a Half)

Tim Price (tenth overnight in section O) embodies how we all feel in his test with Maryland winner Coup de Coeur Dudevin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The British eventing season: Will it? Won’t it? And is even the first international of the season, the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park, doomed to succumb to the weather? Certainly, it’s doing its best not to — but as the forecast continues to grumble on in really quite crap style, actually, I’m not sure any of us are equipped with much of a sense of optimism anymore.

That feeling has been compounded by scenes in the CCI2*-S today, which ran both jumping sections and offered a first glimpse at what measures may yet need to be put into place to ensure safe runs for those who want to continue on over the weekend. The showjumping in the main arena was the weather’s greatest victim: unlike the dressage, which had a slightly more desirable deep warm-up/functional competition arena ratio, the showjumping warm-up was comparatively comfortable to ride in — which took horses by surprise even more when they entered the competition arena and its deep, tricky tracks of churned up ground. Despite the organising team’s best efforts, which included moving fences onto fresh ground, we still saw nearly a quarter of the class fail to complete this phase, retiring or facing elimination in their rounds. A huge number also opted to withdraw, which meant that the 93 starters in the class became just 27 for cross-country, though all bar one of those went on to complete.

In an effort to save the ground, organisers BEDE Events announced the cancellation of further national classes this morning, leaving the two Open Intermediate sections still standing — and those sections, plus the CCI3*-S, are due to embark on their jumping phases tomorrow, with the Advanced and CCI4*-S to follow on Sunday, if the event can continue to forge on.

But feelings are mixed on the ground, and decidedly complex. No one can fault BEDE and its crack team for the efforts they’re making to ensure that those horses heading to the two swiftly approaching five-stars get runs, which is why they’ve prioritised the ‘pathway’ classes — the four-star and those OI sections — while selectively axing what they can. For many of those horses, this has ended up being their first chance at a run, because so many events this month have been forced to cancel either due to the heavy rainfall or, earlier in the month, snow. Looking ahead, we’re already seeing next weekend’s events start to drop, too, with South of England Horse Trials making the call this morning due to standing water on the course. Kentucky fast approaches, and beyond it Badminton, and Stuart Buntine’s team is desperate to provide that much-needed chance to get a run into these horses. Many riders and owners, though, are beginning to wonder if the risk is worth the reward, and many of those riders who are lucky enough not to need the run quite so urgently are making the call to withdraw. In some camps, even those who do desperately need the run are doing the same, while everyone else waits in the wings, obsessively checks the forecast, and wonders what Mother Nature will throw at us next. We’re not sure yet what’s to come, but in any case, our 148-strong field in the four-star will no doubt be significantly smaller come Sunday, and with murmurs of withdrawals from some of those at the top end of the leaderboard, our final top ten could look very different to today’s results list, too.

And so let’s shelve Sunday for now, at least until the end of this piece, mostly because after nearly twelve hours on site, I’m as bored of speculating about it as you will be reading about it. If all we get is dressage, let’s review that, hopefully someplace warm and dry.

One of the big, and very welcomed, decisions BEDE made in the run-up to Thoresby was to do away with waitlists in this class, instead opting to accept every entry so that those horses can all get runs in. That’s how we ended up with two CCI4*-S sections, rather than just one: the O section, which is the traditional Grantham Cup section and arguably the feature class here, and the P section for horses with fewer points.

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Though even the fleetest of foot couldn’t give 100% of their flashiest movement in the tricky conditions, we still saw the usual suspects rise to the top – and no one who’s paid attention to any eventing at all in the last few years will be surprised to see reigning Badminton champions Laura Collett and London 52 at the helm at this halfway point of the first phase in the Grantham Cup. Though they didn’t rival their usual circa-20 scores at this level, they delivered a polished test for a 24.3 that reflected the slightly conservative ride necessitated by boggy corners in the ring.

“He’s come out and just knuckled down and got on with the job, which is really nice — finally, at the age of 14,” laughs Laura, who also sits fifth with her other Badminton-bound ride, Dacapo, who posted a 27.2 after a professional trip around the arena. “Obviously the conditions aren’t there for superstar marks, but I’m really pleased with him — he’s in a really good place for the long run, and I was delighted with Dacapo, too. They both just came out and were so professional, and even though it’s really hard work for them in there, they both dug deep and got on with it.”

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura will be sleeping well tonight in the lorry park: her week at Thoresby began with some unwanted drama when her head groom, Tilly Hughes, was kicked and broke her arm — but we’re happy to report that after a successful bit of metalwork installation this morning, she’s out of hospital and on the mend with Badminton in sight. And in the meantime? Laura’s been getting stuck in and mucking out her own stables, too, though you’d never guess the increase in her workload from the broad smile on her face today.

“I’m bloody exhausted,” she laughs. “I thought I was in for four days, nice and easy, just four horses to ride — so it’s been a shock to the system relearning how to plait and do quarter markers, but I think all the tack’s in the right place, and I’ve not been eliminated yet!”

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

Reigning World Champions Yasmin Ingham and Banzai du Loir were among the only pairs not to get sucked down into the depths of the swamp of sadness — sorry, I mean the warm-up ring — thanks in large part to how deft the French gelding’s footwork is, even in truly rubbish conditions. They sit second on a 25.4 in what is their first outing of the season.

“He’s such an athletic, elegant type, so he’s very lucky that he doesn’t struggle with conditions like this,” says Yas. “Although we’d like it to dry off a bit! We’ve had two of our pre-season runs cancelled, at Oasby and Cirencester, so hopefully we can get a run, but of course it’s just such bad luck for the organisers [to get hit by weather like this]. It’s not ideal, but hopefully the weekend can be salvaged.”

With Kentucky so close on the radar, Yas was pleased to see that Thoresby had responded to rider comments last year and duly beefed up the course to make it a suitable prep run this year.

“I think it’ll be good preparation; you need to have a good round of cross-country before you go to Kentucky, and it’s definitely pretty large out there,” she says.

Though many British eventing fans were disappointed not to see the World Champs on the Badminton line-up, for Yas, the decision to return to Kentucky — where the pair finished second last year — was a simple one.

“As much as I would have absolutely loved to have gone to Badminton this year, our goals for the next two years are a little bit different than the Badminton/Burghley path,” she says. “We’re sort of focusing on the championships for the next two years, and we just thought that Kentucky set him up so well for Pratoni last year that it would kind of be silly not to try and replicate what we did last year to try and get that kind of result again. That’s the reasoning behind that, and then I’d like to think that past next year, we’ll be able to look at Badminton — but he’s still only young, and he’s still got plenty of years left in him, so for me it’s just a case of trying to preserve him as much as possible and look after him; I know how special he is, so I want to make sure he lasts a long time and enjoys it, too.”

Returning to Kentucky as the new World Champion adds a different kind of pressure into the mix for perennially positive Yas, who remains wholly pragmatic about the challenge to come: “It’s funny, because obviously there’s a lot of pressure and expectations and things like that, but obviously, we absolutely want to go out and try and do our best this year and continue to form. And you’ve got to do that; you can’t just expect things to happen. You’ve got to really make sure you’re on form.”

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The winter is a time for growth, for learning, and — for those riders who picked up new additions to their string mid-season — a chance to really get to know one another. That’s exactly what Tom McEwen has been focusing on with the excellent JL Dublin, who became the European Champion in 2021 with Nicola Wilson aboard. After Nicola’s accident last spring, Tom took the reins for owners Deirdre Johnston and James and Jo Lambert, debuted the horse at Little Downham CCI4*-S in October, which he ran as a combined test, and then ran the CCI4*-L at Boekelo, finishing in second place on the same score as the winners. They looked a picture together then — an accolade that Tom has firmly accredited to Nicola’s impeccable and sympathetic production — and months later, there’s a real sense that they’re taking the next step as a team.

“He was absolutely unbelievable at Boekelo, and the jumping is phenomenal, so for us, it’s just been about catching up on the flatwork and getting him back to where he was when Nic had him,” says Tom, who posted a 25.7 with the gelding to sit third overnight. “He’s phenomenal on the flat, but it’s all about making sure I know him — I’ve had years with my other ones; both Toledo and Eliza I’ve had since they were very young, so their problems are my problems. With this one, I’m just learning — like, not to over adjust, because he’s so correct in what he’s doing that you don’t want to do too much.”

It’s all looking very positive for the pair, who have put in an entry for next month’s Land Rover Kentucky CCI5* — an event that, if he makes good on his entry, will be a first-time visit for Tom.

“It’s massively exciting, but I’ve never been — I’ve just been watching videos,” he laughs.

Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Emilie Chandler made a sparkling impression in the short day one session yesterday, posting a very competitive 27 with longtime partner Gortfadda Diamond to take provisional fourth, while just two-tenths of a penalty behind Laura and Dacapo in fifth are 2021 Luhmühlen champions Mollie Summerland and Charly van ter Heiden, who danced their way to a 27.4. The question, of course, is how many of those will still remain in situ when the sun rises tomorrow, and how many of them will have had their lorries towed out of the bottomless mud in the lorry park and scurried home for a well-earned duvet day.

The top ten after the first full day of dressage in section O.

Piggy March and Brookfield Cavalier Cruise head section P after the first full day of dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Section P took up the mantle through the afternoon, featuring those horses with fewer points to their name. Piggy March holds the overnight lead in this class on new-ish ride Brookfield Cavalier Cruise, with whom she’s making a four-star debut this week — though he has previously competed at the level once with Tom McEwen in the irons, finishing in the top ten at Little Downham last season. But although Piggy has never yet contested an international with the horse, who has also been campaigned by Harry Meade, she did briefly ride him in 2020, taking an Intermediate win as a souvenir. Now, she’s happy to welcome him back to her string as part of her ongoing collaboration with Brookfield Sport Horses, for whom she rides alongside Tom.

“He’s a beautiful horse, and the judges really like him,” says Piggy, who deftly piloted him to a significant lead on a score of 25.4. “The thing is, there’s still loads more to come as well, which is exciting.”

Their smart test and competitive result came despite a mistake in the second change that she happily claims as rider error — and, of course, the tricky going underfoot. But Piggy was delighted with how her inexperienced new partner coped with the challenge.

“He coped really, really well, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more from him, so I’m really pleased.  You’ve got to just get going [in conditions like this, because] it’s not always perfect — and it’s quite hard sometimes, mentally, to just keep going through those horrid patches when we’ve been training all winter on a nice surface, and try to get things going as well as you can do. But we’re all in the same boat here, so we’ve just got to get on with it!”

Edie Campbell and Fireball F. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Flora Harris sits second overnight on a 29.7 with Monbeg Alcatraz, while eventing supermodel Edie Campbell rounds out the podium on a 30.2 with stalwart partner Fireball F.

The top ten in section P.

Tomorrow takes us into another packed day of dressage, with both sections on the go throughout the day. Keep it locked onto EN for all the updates to come — and send some dry thoughts our way, if you can spare a few. Then, maybe, we might Go Eventing. Perhaps.

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