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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander Bragg and Quindiva. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Rowland and Dreamliner. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubby Upton and Cola. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Eventing.

The top ten of the 2024 MARS Badminton Horse Trials.

MARS Badminton Horse Trials [Website] [Entries] [Timetable] [Tickets] [Radio Badminton] [Timing & Scoring] [Livestream] [Cross Country Course] [EN’s Coverage]

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

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments