“He’s Put the Capital ‘B’ Back in Badminton” – Riders React to the Badminton Course

Padraig McCarthy and Mr Chunky at Badminton 2018. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Welcome to cross-country day at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials. With just over an hour to go until go time, we’re in that magic moment where everything is still just hopes and possibilities, the air is crackling with a nervous intensity that’s both stomach-clenching and totally intoxicating in equal measure.

But is there anything better? Whether you’re visiting the event in person or tuning into the live-stream, you’ll want to know all about the challenges our intrepid riders will be facing. As usual, we got you, boo – click here to read our jam-packed course preview. Then, keep scrolling to read some of the riders’ thoughts, reactions, and raw emotions about the ‘dynamic, thinking man’s course’ to come…

Course designer Eric Winter: “If you can have one thing in this job, it’s to progress the way we train horses. I like cross country to be about cross country. I just set the test – I hope everyone comes home safely, enjoys it, and learns something. You have to remember that you’re always learning.”

Team GB trainer Dickie Waygood: “Eric has put the capital B back in Badminton. There are seven or eight fences where there’s no longer route, but you have to decide whether to go left or right, which makes the riders think. You have to know your horse – it’s a psychological test.

Mark Todd: “It’s always a big bank up [at the Normandy Bank], but as long as they get their feet up there, they can fiddle over the brush.” On the Mirage Water corner complex at 17ABC and 18: “For God sake, [NZB Campino] is seventeen years old – if he can’t get over a ditch like that then there’s not a lot of hope!”

Andrew Nicholson: “It’s challenging – Eric’s done a good job. I like the way he breaks up the rhythm in a good way, so you have to think. You have to sit there and ride it as it rides.”

Sarah Bullimore: “Eric’s been very clever with his options, and very clever with the stringing, too – he’s playing with the rider’s minds.”

Bill Levett: “It’s a bit less punchy than it has been in previous years, but that suits [Lassban Diamond Lift] – it’s only his first five-star.”

Jenny Caras: “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?! Oliver [Townend] told me to enjoy it while it lasts, try to make it as smooth as possible, and check each fence off as it comes. It’s just a dream come true – I always watched it as a kid and wanted to be here myself. It’ll take a lot of jumping, and it’s big, but it’s getting more doable the more I walk it.”

David Britnell: “I’m really happy with the course – it’s perfectly rideable. I’m nervously confident, because you’ve got to be.”

Kazu Tomoto: “William [Fox-Pitt] gives me a lot of advice. He always says, ‘nice fence, no problem!’ But to me it’s huge! [Tacoma d’Horset] is always trying so hard – she has a really good attitude. I hope she enjoys the cross-country.”

Laura Collett: “Random is the word I’d use – there’s a lot of fences we’ve never seen at this level. It’ll be real seat-of-the-pants stuff. There are some interesting distances where we won’t know how the horses will react as they jump through, like at the bank. But there’s no other feeling in the world like coming into the Badminton arena – you’ve got one last fence to jump, and you’ve just got to try not to miss.”

Emily Philp: “As long as I don’t make a mistake, we should put on a good show!”

Wills Oakden: “I used to build the cross-country course around my house when I was a kid – I had a blue duvet I’d use as a water jump, and I’d pretend to be legends like Andrew Nicholson. Now I’m walking the course with him.”

Kai Rüder: “It’s big, but my horse is a super jumper, so that’s why I brought him here. This is the first time I’m riding one of Eric’s courses, so there’s a lot of new things – but one thing is still the same. They’re still the biggest fences in the world.”

Nick Lucey: “It’s big, and it’s Badminton! I wasn’t expecting anything else. If things are going good we’ll push on. I’ve got my plan As, but in cross-country riding, you don’t always end up on your plan As. There’s lots of angles out there, and lots of thinking to be done.”

Woodge Fulton: “I’m excited I’m riding a Thoroughbred and a true cross-country horse. As wild as he is in dressage, I’ll be glad to put that behind us and use it. Good or bad, he’s always a bit wild. It’s a mentally exhausting course; even the galloping fences have a little angle or a bit of a downhill. The trakehner at 14 is the first breather since fence 2, and it’s a whopping great big trakehner!”

Tom Rowland: “We’re going to give it our best – I’ve been told there’s no disgrace in failing courageously.”

Tim Price: “We’ve got really good going, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a walk in the park. Mine are scopey and brave, so we’ll ride to plan and try to have a good time.

Piggy French: “The bank is the sort of question that, if you were out hunting, you’d just kick and hang on. But in eventing, you need to think about the jumps still to come and try to always build their confidence. The course certainly gets the cogs whirring. I think the rain, to be honest, has just done the ground good –  they’re short, sharp showers and haven’t gone on too long. It’s rained in the evening, so horses haven’t run on it and made it deep. I’m certainly not confident about it, but I’ve got a few more plans in my head! The higher you are, the more pressure you put on yourself.”

Tom Crisp: “The ground is good, and it can cope with the rain – there aren’t many let up fences out there; really, from the start, it’s a dynamic track.”

Tina Cook: “With Star Witness, I kick to go faster and I stop kicking to slow down – he’s fast and he’s Thoroughbred, but he’s actually quite lazy. Billy the Red isn’t as fast and can find things to spook at, but I’m really optimistic. There’s lots of places where, if you’re not paying attention, you can have a run-out, so you have to stay focused and positive.”

William Fox-Pitt: “I’m hoping it’s not going to be a dressage show, because the world and his wife is on a 31 – they might as well just give everyone a 31 and get on with it! There are a few firm bits out there; we could do with a bit of rain.”

Pippa Funnell: “[Billy Walk On] has had a lot of mileage, but it’s his first one at this level – so many people do their first ones at Pau or Luhmühlen now, and he could have gone there, but I’m not getting any younger and his owners weren’t dreaming of Germany. I’m just going to try to give him a good experience – I’m well aware that it can go wrong, and you have to give them another try. He’s a scopey horse, but it’s not just about that – it’s the technicality, combined with the scope required, and the confidence they need.”

Nicky Hill: “I’m not having a heart attack, so that’s got to be a good sign for my first one! It’s amazing to be here – I’ve watch it for so long.”

Oliver Townend: ““The aim will be to get [Cillnabradden Evo] home. I’ve been quite hungry for quite a long time to have him here, so it’d be nice if he put his best foot forward. [Ballaghmor Class] has been here, he’s been to Burghley twice, and so he’s battle-hardened, and he’s a lot stronger both physically, but especially mentally. We’d had no spring season last year [when he finished fifth], and we did a lot on the gallops at home, but nothing does it for them like a good event. This spring, he’s had a good run at Burnham Market, where he ran away with me up the hill [and won the CCI4*-S], and he’s feeling great. We’d have more hope for him this weekend.”

Kitty King: “Last time I was here was nine years ago, and it’s changed so much since then – but I walk it every year, so I maybe don’t see it as much.”

Joseph Murphy: “I don’t come here for the dressage, but he’s such a good horse in the other phases. I’m struggling to come to terms with the course this year – it’s a different feel, but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s a test for the riders more than the horses.”

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