One Hold and an Eleventh-Hour Withdrawal, But All Accepted at MARS Badminton First Horse Inspection

2022 winner Laura Collett and debutant ride Hester. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

What a contrast this year’s edition of the MARS Badminton Horse Trials already makes to last year: instead of swimming our way through a swamp to get to and from any of the key points on site, we’re being dazzled by a sea of milky white wintry horse-person legs as we skim over just a teeny bit of mud. A treat! A delight! A holiday! It might not be quite the tropical temperatures of Kentucky a couple of weeks ago, but we’ll take it. And more of it! We’re all happy to gently marinate in our own sweat in the mixed zone all week long.

The sun might be the most obvious shiny new thing at Badminton this year, but it’s not alone in bringing positive change to the place. MARS Equestrian now steps into the title sponsor role, taking the helm from long-standing title sponsors Mitsubishi Motors, who stepped down in 2019 as the company opted to leave the UK market. The welcome appointment of MARS brings with it an increase in prize money – up to £425,000, the biggest purse in eventing – and, more intangibly, a palpable feeling of security and optimism as the event navigates the changing tides of eventing. It is, of course, a birthday for Badminton, too: this year, Britain’s first resident three-day event turns 75. We’d love to know what brand of eye cream it uses, because it doesn’t look a day over thirty.

Boyd Martin, Tsetserleg, and one heck of a tie. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

This year’s birthday edition of Badminton got off to a bright and busy start this afternoon with an extremely well-attended first horse inspection in front of the estate’s house, which is still, we hear, recovering from the presence of Guy Ritchie, who recently filmed Netflix series The Gentlemen there and got in the habit of stubbing out his fag-ends in 18th-century ornamental vases. Allegedly.

President of the ground jury Sandy Phillips oversaw proceedings with her partners-in-crime-and-dressage-judging, Jane Hamlin (USA) and Christian Steiner (AUT). They ultimately saw 70 horses presented to them, down from an intended 71 – partway through the inspection, it was announced that Tom McEwen had withdrawn CHF Cooliser and would not present.

Bill Levitt and Huberthus AC. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Just one horse was sent to the holding box during the course of proceedings: that was British-based Aussie Bill Levett‘s Huberthus AC, who makes his third five-star start after a retirement on course here in last year’s tough conditions and an elimination for accumulated refusals at Luhmühlen a couple of months later. Fortunately, Bill will get the chance to show how much the gelding has learned from the experience – upon representation, he was accepted into the competition.

Hold on tight! Pippa Funnell coaxes an excitable MCS Maverick back to earth. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Elsewhere, the drama was minimal, and came instead in the form of high-energy extracurricular dance moves from a small number of the very fit horses in this field – chief among them, Pippa Funnell‘s Bramham CCI4*-L winner MCS Maverick, who displayed an extraordinary degree of athleticism and balance while balancing on one hind tippy-toe and then gracefully lowering himself back to terra firma.

A pink-trousered Harry Meade and Cavalier Crystal. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

As always, we also saw the awarding of prizes for the best-dressed lady and gent at the first horse inspection, judged and delivered by equestrian jewellers Hi Ho Silver. These prizes were given to Great Britain’s Harry Meade, who is the first rider since Lorna Clarke in 1970 (insofar as anyone can find, anyway!) to ride three horses in the same year at the event, thanks to a loosening of the rules this year. He’ll pilot stalwart Away Cruising, Burghley podium-finisher Cavalier Crystal, and five-star sophomore Red Kite this week, and while we don’t envy him all the extra effort, we’d be willing to be his FitBit stats will be enormously enviable, so there’s that.

Roșie Bradley-Hole and Romantic. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The best-dressed woman was deemed to be Rosie Bradley-Hole, who makes a poignant return to Badminton with debutant Romantic, stepping into the big shoes left by her late True Blue Too II, with whom she competed here in 2022.

Gaspard Maksud, a man who looks very serious considering he’s in a frog beret, and Kan-Do 2. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Our own best-dressed, though? There’s no looking any further than British-based Frenchman Gaspard Maksud, who debuted the latest in his apparently endless collection of ridiculous hats: a frog beret, because, y’know, he’s a… ‘frog’. This does raise some concerning ideas about what British riders might consider wearing in Pau to live up to their moniker there of ‘les rosbifs’.

Dressage will commence tomorrow at 9.00 a.m. BST (4.00 a.m. EST) with Tom Jackson and Farndon as our first official pair in the ring, following on from the guinea pig test ride at 8.40, and will close out at around 16.30 BST/11.30 a.m. EST. Dressage times can be viewed in full here. Several of our North American pairs will be among this first day of competitors, and you can catch them at the following times:

  • Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg – 9.40 a.m. BST/4.40 a.m. EST
  • Meghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent – 12.04 p.m. BST/7.04 a.m. EST
  • Jessica Phoenix and Wabbit (CAN) – 14.39 BST/9.39 a.m. EST
  • Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl – 15.36 BST/10.36 a.m. EST
  • Cosby Green and Copper Beach – 16.00 BST/11.00 a.m. EST

We’ll be bringing you two jam-packed dressage reports tomorrow, but that’s certainly not all from us – keep it locked on EN for plenty more from Badminton to whet your whistle until then, and in the meantime, head to our Ultimate Guide for all the need-to-knows, including the week’s schedule, viewing options, and links to all our coverage, including our packed form guide, our girthy course preview, and much, much more. Go Eventing!

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!

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