“It’s Like Going Back in Time”: Riders React to Eric Winter’s 2022 Badminton Track

We’re just half an hour away from the start of cross-country here at Badminton Horse Trials, and what feels like the first serious top-end cross-country challenge we’ve seen since before the pandemic. At eleven minutes, forty-four seconds, it’s a serious stamina track, and course designer Eric Winter has delivered a course filled with vintage inspiration and bold, galloping lines that’ll exert a serious bit of influence over our leaderboard as it stands. You can preview the track in its entirety with our in-depth guide – now, get to grips with how some of the competitors are feeling ahead of today’s enormous test.

Ros Canter (GBR) – 10th on 26 with Lordships Graffalo; 12th on 26.4 with Allstar B

“I didn’t know what I would think, bringing a first-timer — I’ve actually only ever jumped around Badminton and Burghley on Allstar B, so it’s a new experience for me. But I think if the horses enjoy jumping big jumps on nice distances, then hopefully they’ll have a great experience. If they suddenly start thinking it’s a bit big, though, there’s nowhere to get their confidence back. Hopefully if they’re up for the job, then it’s a lovely course to ride.”

“I have a fairly similar plan for both — it’s just that the younger horse goes through his right shoulder, so I’ve just got to always be aware of that. But they’re fairly similar; Lordships Graffalo would be a little bit faster away from a fence and comes back a bit better. The power steering and the braking is a little bit more fine-tuned than Allstar B’s has ever been, but then again, a course like this is where Allstar B comes into his own. Hopefully I can have a good ride on him and it’ll give me some experience for the next horse.”

“I think it’s looking tougher every time I walk it. The more I walk it, the more clever I think Eric has been, and the more complicated I think it is. When you start to think about meeting the markers and the knock-on effects of all those twists and turns at the bottom… I don’t think it’ll be easy.”

Nicola Wilson (GBR) – 13th on 26.5 with JL Dublin; =24th on 30.4 with Erano M

“I think he’s done an amazing job. It’s a massive course with so many questions from start to finish, and a beautiful, beautiful course. Yes, it’s going to take an awful lot of riding from the very first fence to the last fence, and I just hope that my two boys are ready for Saturday’s excitement, and that I ride well and do them justice.”

William Fox-Pitt (GBR) – 15th on 27.3 with Little Fire; =27th on 31.4 with Oratorio 

“It looks jumpable. I think it’s there to be attacked; there’s lots to jump, and it looks quite big. Eric loves his brush on the top of everything — every single solid fence seems to have a foot of brush on the top, which does make it quite big. But my horses have got jump and scope, and hopefully they’ll know by now that they can go through the brush a little bit. He’s even got brush going into the lake!”

Jonelle Price (NZL) – =27th on 31.4 with Classic Moet

“Obviously it’s big enough, but it’s all fairly straight in front of you, and it doesn’t leave you guessing in too many places. I was hoping for a bit more rain, to be honest, so if they could get out there with the watering tanks, that’d be great! To play to our strengths we could do with a bit of torrential rain.”

Joseph Murphy (IRL) – 29th on 31.5 with Cesar V

“It seems a little bit different than the last few times I was here. It gets the horses into it at the start, and it really seems like Eric wants to get the horses home as well, because the way he’s done the middle bit is a bit more intense. To me, the questions all look very clear for the horses, and that’s a nice sight for the riders when you go and walk for the first impressions. It definitely is big, and it’s a test of stamina, for sure. How many people are prepared for that is another question.”

Padraig McCarthy (IRL) – =30th on 31.7 with Fallulah; =80th on 41.4 with HHS Noble Call

“The start is a little bit friendlier, albeit a bit twistier, than usual up until the lake, which is also very obvious. They’re big jumps every one of them, but once you get down to the Broken Bridge (13), it really smacks you in the face that’s it’s a five-star, and then it stays like that until you get over the Lightsource BP combination (24ABCD) at the end of that section.”

Libby Seed (GBR) – 42nd on 33.4 with Heartbreaker Star Quality

“I’m actually really excited, which most Badminton first-timers probably don’t say, but I’m really excited to go have a crack with her. She’s an amazing jumper. It’s not really in my nature to go and not try to be competitive, but she’s a first-timer at this level and she’s eleven, so she’s hopefully got a long career ahead of her, so early on there might be a couple of places where I just take a bit of respect and take a moment to just think about it. But as soon as she gets into her stride and we start to enjoy ourselves, hopefully we can have a bit of fun.”

Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Alex Bragg (GBR) – =43rd on 33.5 with King of the Mill

“It’s a long track and Eric has used all the indulations – I think he’s been chatting to [Pau course designer] Pierre Michelet, because it looks like he’s got some ideas from the tracks you see at Pau, so I’m glad that I’ve got some experience at that event. [Miller] is a galloper and I think he’ll enjoy this ground and the length of this track, and hopefully he’ll come into his element.”

“The far side of the course, the middle bit [from 13 to 24ABCD] is very intensive, both mentally and physically, so I think both horse and rider have to be on point. If you come out of there feeling good after jumping the sequence of enormous ditches and you’re still dry, you’ll be dead happy. Then you should be able to gallop on home.”

Hector Payne (GBR) – =45th on 33.8 with Dynasty

“Someone made a good comment that if you split it into two halves, you wouldn’t worry about anything, but when you add it all together… but there’s not one jump that you’d think, ‘oh God, I’d never jump that if it appeared on another track’. It’s definitely a long way around, though, and I think the most noticeable thing is the way he’s used the terrain. Every single jump seems to be on an up slope, and it will be interesting to see how that actually affects their fitness, because it’s not something we do a lot of, really. It starts from fence three right to the second-last fence.”

Michael Winter (CAN) – 51st on 34.6 with El Mundo

“It’s probably what I was hoping for, but that doesn’t make it any less calming on the nerves! It probably suits him — it’s quite big and bold, and maybe I can take advantage of his big stride and his scope and use that to my advantage. That’s plan A, and if that goes to plan and I have the ability to manoeuvre him at pace, I think it’ll be a lot of fun. If I can keep him down the rein looking for his fences, he’s scopy when he gets there.”

Harry Meade (GBR) – =59th on 36.5 with Away Cruising

“There’s a lot of big fences, but I don’t think it’s as technically difficult as it sometimes has been. Often when it’s very big like this, everyone says ‘wow, it’s huge; it’s really difficult, it’s impossible.’ But horses tend to jump big, bold fences well. I think the hardest thing is having the mandatory yellow clips, because it would be a tragedy if the person who should have won Badminton loses because of that.”

“I think there’s a few fences at the end where you could have a good horse that’s travelling well but just leaves a knee. I don’t mean the last two fences, but there’s a few at the end where you’ve just got to make sure you have enough in the tank and you respect them enough. You don’t try to chase the clock; you ride sensibly. [The Joules Keepers Ditch at 30] is where you go under a pagoda, across what was a keepers’ ditch, which has been filled in, and then jump a little chicken coop, and on a tired horse, it’s not obvious where they’re going until they turn into it. It’s uphill, which will help them to jump better, but it’s a poxy little fence which doesn’t look like much but is quite tall and quite upright, and it’s got quite a sharp lip at the top. I don’t mean sharp in that it would cut the horses, but sharp in that it’s unforgiving. It’s not like a rolltop where they can roll over it and get their feet back down, so you could just get someone tipping up there. It’s not that fun jumping fences like that when you feel your horse has stopped reacting and the jump is disappearing because they’re fatiguing, but if you’ve got a fresh horse, it’s easy.”

“[In the Vicarage ditch area] it’s a bit like putting someone on a static bike and getting them to cycle at constantly changing speeds — sprint, slow, sprint, slow. That’s hard work for the horses, and at the same time, they’re having to do algebra the whole way through because there’s a lot for them to think about, so that will be draining. It’s important that you don’t use up any lives unnecessarily; you need to give your horse a good, confident, but quite conservative ride so you’re not accumulating credit losses unnecessarily.”

“I like the theme of it. I like the fact that it’s ditchy – ‘old-fashioned’ is sort of a disrespectful word to use, but it’s proper cross-country. It’s not an all-weather surface and portable fences; it’s proper crossing the country and jumping whatever’s in front of you. I think that instils the right ethos in horses and riders to ride forwards and attack. The biggest safety risk in cross-country is when people don’t commit and ride forwards, because horses read fences much more easily when they’re in front of them and they’re travelling in a forward line. Often, people think ‘I’m going to take an easier option here and add strides on a bending line’, but that makes it more difficult for horses as they tend not to travel as well. So I think this will be great for horses, great for riders, and it’ll set a good theme for the next patch of cross-country courses this season.”

Dom Schramm (AUS) – 75th on 39 with Bolytair B

“I’m really looking forward to it. That’s what we came for, right? He’s a big, powerful, strong horse and a good cross-country horse, and I’m actually really happy with the course for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that all the big jumps I wanted to be on the course are there — I didn’t want to come to Badminton and not jump the Vicarage Vee! The other think I like about it is that Eric has made it really straightforward what he wants. It’s hard lines, they’re big jumps, but there’s no tricky business; there’s no wondering what number of strides you’re going to get and half distances. So I think if you’ve got a big, brave horse and you execute well, it’s there to be jumped. I think it’s going to be awesome.”

Maxime Livio (FRA) – 79th on 40.5 with Vitorio du Montet

“It’s a really nice course and the ground is really good and quite fast, so I think we will have competitors inside the time. The beginning is quite fair for the horses, and we have time to make them confident for the hard part in the middle where there is a fence every 200 meters, and quite big fences. So this part will be quite tough, but it’s more par for the brave horses, and mine is so brave. So I’m quite happy with that!”

 

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