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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubby Upton and Cola. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The top ten after cross-country at Badminton.

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

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