It’s (finally) cross country day at Badminton! The riders have walked the course and made their plans — everyone’s doing no-rain dances, we suspect — and now it’s time to see how it all pans out.
The consensus is that it’s big — no surprises there! — there’s a lot to jump out there, and the ground is going to be VERY influential. Oh, and the pin into the lake is being talked about, a lot. One or two riders have very strong opinions about having a log with a frangible device down a drop into the water — and they’re not afraid to voice them.
The course this year is designed by Eric Winter, who has held the course designer role here since 2017 It’s 6600 meters with an optimum time of 11 minutes and 35 seconds and there are 45 jumping efforts — though we’ve seen two fences removed ahead of the start of competition. You can check out the course in full in our comprehensive course walk with Eric, available here.
The veteran Badminton watchers amongst us will notice a fair few changes to the course this year. First up, we’re going the opposite direction to last year, so riders will be heading out clockwise around the track, coming to the Lake, the Quarry, and Huntsman’s Close late in the course and tackling the majority of the terrain early on.
Eric says that this year’s cross country is “all about holding a line and adjustability”, so the riders will be hoping their horses have got their accuracy heads on as they set off out of the start box. They’ll need to be quick-thinking and make adjustments as they go if they’re going to really take on the course this year — so plan A is fine, but they need to be prepared to veer off those carefully laid tracks as necessary. There’s new terrain, a new loop, and lots of safety technology to come.
Will anyone get lost and end up in the Beaufort’s back garden? Will we need a Mario Kart-esque pop-up shouting ‘Wrong Way’? Just how muddy will it be? We’ll have to wait and see!
Who will claw their way up the leaderboard? Who will drop down? And who will be right up there at the end of the day? It’s all to play for at Badminton 2023 — and this could be a great year for horses to make serious leaps up to the business end of the standings with a good clear round.
How will today’s events fit with the form? Follow along with EN’s Form Guide here.
And watch out for EN’s live updates of all the action from the cross country course — coming soon!
Rosalind Canter and Lordships Graffalo (1st) / Pencos Crown Jewel (17th) / (GBR)
“I’ll hold my hands up and say I’ve never ridden in conditions like this above two or three-star level. I’ve actually only been at this level for four or five years and we’ve been blessed with sun and hard conditions most of the time. So it will be a new experience for me, definitely.
I think it’s a serious question. Tomorrow it’s going to be a case of reacting, looking after the horses but being attacking so that they have the best ride possible.”
Oliver Townend and Swallow Springs (3rd) / Ballaghmor Class (6th) (GBR)
“I love it. It’s just special to be here at Badminton — I wore out VHS videotapes watching this place … it’s just a huge privilege to be here. It’s obviously going to be very, very tricky, and we’re going to have to be sensible and it’s just going to one of those Badmintons — it doesn’t happen very often. We’re going to have to go out and ride the horse, ride the course, look after them and see where we get to.”
Gemma Stevens and Jalapeno (4th) (GBR)
[On the rain and the fact that it’ll likely make the cross country more of a stamina test] “[Jalapeno’s] really blood and, I can’t tell you, no stone has been left unturned with this horse’s prep — she’s been swimming once a week and galloping once a week since the middle of January, because I wanted a long, slow process. I didn’t want to pummel her with too much at once because she gets a bit sore in her back and her body. So we’ve gone for the long, slow thing and I’ve been so careful with her prep and I hope I’ve got her ready. She’s fit. She’s actually something like 85% Thoroughbred blood, so she is really blood and hopefully that’ll carry us through those last two minutes. It’s always a little bit of an unknown thing, isn’t it?
“I think one of the most difficult fences on the course is actually the one after Huntsman’s Close — [The Jubilee Clump Brush at 26], the one on its own, and it’s off a really tight turn, and it’s got a big ditch on an angle, right at the end. They’re going to be a bit tired, you’re going to go to turn just going to want to go in a straight line, so I think that is a tricky fence. As always, down the bottom [in the Vicarage ditch field] is intense — there’s lots of big jumps, but it is all in front of you. It’s there to be jumped, it’s fair, the distances are great. [Eric] is really good about building fair distances, so you know you can get in there and just attack. I think it’s Badminton. Clearly the ground is a little bit soft, so it’s going to be a stamina test.”
Tom McEwen and Toledo De Kerser (5th) (GBR)
[On the fence he’s particularly concerned about] “The fourth last [the Jubilee Clump Brush at 26] — I think it’s just a crap fence. It’s a brush with an open ditch, and I just think it’s fairly antisocial on a horse that’s ten, possibly eleven minutes in.
“The course is new, it’s different, [Eric] hasn’t linked up things from last year — that they spent a lot of money building — so as a spectator, which is what the sport is about, it’s quite interesting. There’s new places and new areas to go in, so in many ways, it’s very, very positive. But, probably like everyone, a little bit at the Lake, it’s in the hands of the gods to a degree — you can ride it as well as you can but it doesn’t always work [with the pins]. I think we’re very lucky with the draw [going 48th, he’ll be able to watch a fair few competitors before him to see how it rides]. To be honest, I think [Eric’s] built a really good course.”
Laura Collett and Decapo (7th) (GBR)
“It’s going to be muddy. It’s a great track, a proper 5-star course in all the dimensions and everything, but to be honest, now, it’s just going to be about feeling what you’ve got underneath you. I don’t think we’ll be really riding to the minute markers, it’ll just be a case of looking after the horses, and especially with [Decapo], just keep him thinking that it’s easy. But it’s not going to be easy!”
William Fox-Pitt and Grafennacht (8th) (GBR)
“He’s built a good course — there’s lots of variety. I like the differences, I like the ups and downs and the bending lines. It can be threes, or fours, or fives — or god knows what — nothing is black and white.
[On the controversial lake fence, which features a MIM-clipped rail into the water] “Sadly, I think we should all probably cut the lake and go the long way. The lake is a horrendous fence this year. What’s the matter with a log? Why couldn’t we have a log and brush like the first water? I think that’s very, very sad, and I think Eric has got that wrong for the sport. Yes, he wants more penalties. Yes, he wants to level us. Yes, he wanted a cross country competition. But, to me, that fence is a 50/50, and it’s not on how you ride it. Some will fly over it, some will knock it, and my horse — I hope she will rub her back legs over it dropping into the water, that’s what good horses do. So to me, it’s a bad fence and I’m going the long way — so a few time faults, too bad. It’s a trickier line to the corner [when you go long] — the corner on the water’s deep enough, the corner’s quite big in the water — so I’m more nervous about that. But, we’ve had a warm up at the first corner, so hopefully she’ll be on that and she’ll turn in the water well. I’m sad about that fence. I think if we all had enough balls as riders, we should all boycott it and go the long way as a whole field. We all know our sport’s changing. We all know it’s getting shorter and easier and trickier, and everyone wants penalties for knocking flags, but if we don’t fight this, what is it next? It’ll be show jumping poles before we know it. I’ve always said it’ll end up in the arena. We’ve really got to try and preserve it and as a group of riders — I’m being quite opinionated! — but I think we’ve really got to stand up and have a voice of unison, which generally we’re not good at.”
Tim Price and Coup de Coeur Dudevin (9th) / Vitali (=11th) (NZL)
“I think it’s the biggest five-star I’ve seen for probably a year. It’s decent, it’s got some lovely profiles about it, and it looks very jumpable. I think we’ll see lots of fun pictures and things. It’s a cool course. The ground is obviously the question mark, and the stamina requirement, but that’s hopefully what we’ve prepared for and I’m excited to have a go.
“I remember Andrew Nicholson saying to me once, ‘When the ground’s like that, go and put them in it’. It’s part of your training and preparation.”
Harry Meade and Tenareze (10th) / Away Cruising (16th) (GBR)
“I think it’s interesting. I think quite a lot has changed. It’s nice to have some of the footwork exercises back like jumping down the staircase, and I think it’s interesting jumping that rail down a step. The section around the lake — it’ll be very interesting to see how horses jump that huge rail into the lake, as it’s a long way down into the water. I think it’s a good Badminton course with some new things.
[On the weather and, in turn, the ground] “I think the important thing is that we’ve got to ride the horse that’s underneath us. I’d be dead against any mutterings of changing anything — I don’t think they will do — but in terms of changing length and distance of the course, I’d be one for saying you ride the horse that’s underneath you. We set out knowing it’s not going to be a sprint, it’s not going to be going out like the clappers, because the big thing is you’ve got to get home, you’ve got to jump the last fence — you need enough horse underneath you and it’s about judgment of pace. Hopefully when it’s soft you get some good riding because people go out with feel rather than just chasing the clock.”
Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On (=11th) / Majas Hope (39th) (GBR)
“I hate the lake — I think we all do. It’s a horrible fence. I think it could be one of those fences that, with us early ones, if we do go straight and the pin goes a few times, I don’t think people after us will take it on, and I think that will be the penalty of the early draw. It will be sad if the lake is not jumped because the pin goes — it might not go, it might jump well, or a lot might opt to go long. It’ll be interesting. There’s lots of pins out there — so many pins you could make a dress.
“It’s going to be a day tomorrow where we just have to ride with our heads and ride tactically. The hardest thing on the early horses is weighing up how the competition’s going to unfold. Is the going, going to get tougher and take effect? Do you take as many risks on the early ones? I don’t know, and I think that’s where it might be quite tactical. Let’s hope we don’t have any more rain.
“I think we have got to be sensible. It’s going to be a day that, possibly, people are going to walk home if the horses aren’t enjoying it.”
Caroline Powell and Greenacres Special Cavalier (13th) (NZL)
“It’s a big course. There’s a lot to jump out there. Funnily enough, the one I really, really, really don’t like is the one just before the Quarry, [Jump 26, the Jubilee Clump Brush], which is a little bit hard on them because it’s just pulling them round quite unnecessarily — it’s just a bit unkind at that stage in the course. I think each jump is very nice and very jumpable, and beautifully presented, and it’s just putting everything together — that’s going to be the fun bit!”
Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift (14th) (GBR)
“It looks like Badminton — you get to the second fence and think, ‘we’re here!’ I think it’ll be interesting, especially with the ground conditions this year, and I’m hoping that being early on is going to be an advantage for me.”
Izzy Taylor and Happy Days (19th) / Graf Cavalier (32nd) (GBR)
“It’s definitely not going to be a dressage competition! We had a lot of rain last night and I think it’s forecast more rain, so I’m imagining minute markers go out the window and we ride our horses that we’re sat on at that minute the whole way round and give them a good experience.
“I think the stamina is going to be the biggest test. It’s very intense in [the Vicarage ditch field] and it’s going to be very energy sapping, and it’s twisty as well. So after that, they’ve got to take a breath and rejuvenate every part of them to make their way home.
“There’s already been a lot of chat about the lake and I think we’ll all have an answer by, maybe the fourth one round. The biggest challenge, I believe, will be getting the time.”
Gireg Le Coz and Aisprit de La Loge (=20th) (FRA)
“It’s very, very big. Very big. I’m a bit more confident than I was last year because I know that we can do it, and I couldn’t be on a better horse.”
Tom Rowland and Possible Mission (=22nd) (GBR)
“It’s Badminton, isn’t it? There are just so many places, I don’t really know that there’s one horrendous fence — I know everyone’s talking about the lake and the pin there — but, to me, there’s just so many places where you could have a stupid problem, right basically from the first step to the last. I think you’ve just got to be aware. A lot of the jumping towards the end — I think they’re decent enough combinations on tired horses.
[On the ground] “My horse has done quite a few five-stars now but he’s always done them on good ground. I’ve always said I’d like to do one on wet ground because he goes at his own pace, and chugs along, and I’m kind of hoping it might slow everyone else down, and he’ll just keep going. He was literally hunting as a three-year-old so hopefully he’ll just keep on going at the same speed and everyone else will go a bit slower!”
Hector Payne and Dynasty (25th) (GBR)
“There’s a lot to do — I think there’s a bit of a step up on last year. I’d like it more if it was a little bit more on the firmer side out there, but Eric’s built a fair course — it’s all there in front of you. I think maybe there’s the odd extra place to have a little glance off this year. I think that coffin’s going to catch a few people out. There’s some of the obvious fences as well. It’s good questions all the way round.
[On the ground] “There’s a couple of wetter patches on the cross country, but I think the team are aware of that as well, but generally, considering the rain, it’s quite impressive really. At one point yesterday it looked like it was going to get very soft.”
Kristina Hall-Jackson and CMS Google (26th) (GBR)
“It’s pretty big and technical. Burghley was massive, so at least I have that under my belt. There’s a lot to jump out there, it definitely won’t be a dressage competition.”
Muzi Pottinger and Just Kidding (=29th) (NZL)
[On the weather, and the ground] “It sounds like they’ve shortened the course a little bit — I think originally, there was a rumor it was going to be 12 minutes, down to 11 and a half. Certainly the going is going to be tough — it’s going to be more tiring on horses. It’ll be a nice feeling not running out of puff at the end of the day [Just Kidding is a Thoroughbred]. I am a little bit concerned about the ground for my guy — he’s not a big, scopey jumping horse, so I am a little bit worried about him having to jump such large fences out of an extra couple of inches. It’s pretty tough for him, he busted a gut last year and it was perfectly firm ground. We’ll have to pray for no more rain.”
Emily King and Valmy Biats (=29th) (GBR)
“It’s a proper track; there’s lots to do, as always. It’ll be interesting to see at the riders’ meetings, what the feel is. It’s going to be influential. You’ve got to get stuck in and look after them on the ground. [The horses] might get tired quicker, we’ve got to be mindful of how they’re feeling.”
Bubby Upton and Cola (31st) (GBR)
“It’s obviously absolutely enormous. It’s a real test, but I’m really excited. [Cola’s] an absolute machine so I can just hope I can do him justice. Hopefully with his massive feet he’ll quite like the deep ground!”
Greta Mason and Cooley For Sure (33rd) (GBR)
“I think the course suits my horse. He’s a really big, bold, brave horse and it’s the kind of course that makes you go out and attack it, which I think will suit both of us. There’s a lot to jump out there, especially if we get a lot of rain over the next couple of days, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue (=34th) (IRE)
“I think it’s big — typically Badminton. It’s less galloping — I think it’s quite intense. It’s going to take a bit of jumping.”
Susie Berry and Ringwood LB (=34th) (IRE)
It feels a long way round. There’s questions the whole way. We’ll give it our best crack. I think I’ll jump to the staircase [at 4ABCD] and be like, ‘good boy, you’re fine’, let him take a big breath and then build from there.”
Fiona Kashel and WSF Carthago (=36th) / Creevagh Silver De Haar (46th) (GBR)
“It’s very big and bold. I think it’s all jumpable, but I think it depends on what your riding and what kind of horse you’ve got. I think it’s all in front of you. For me, I think, hitting thirty fences perfectly is not going to happen, so you’ve just got to be reactive to what you’ve got.”
William Levett and Huberthus AC (38th) (AUS)
[On how his eleven-year-old horse at his first 5* will cope with the conditions caused by the weather] “I honestly don’t know how he’s going to go, because he’s never been asked this sort of question, and now the rain’s come. Some horses can cope with it and the older, experienced ones that have got bags of gallop and stamina are going to go to the top, and the ones that are at the top have all that going for them. It’s going to be an interesting class. Down there around the solar panels [at 15AB in the back field] is going to be deep. You’ve certainly got to ride with your head. I’ve already talked to my owner and said, ‘look, if he’s not feeling it, if we have too much going on and he’s losing confidence, I’m just going to pull him up’. I want to look after him, fundamentally, and have a horse to go forward, because he feels like he’ll be a nice horse, I just have to wait for my day. He could go round and gallop really well, I just don’t know.”
Helen Martin and Andreas (=40th) (GBR)
“I know they’ve done everything they possibly can with the ground. We’ve just got to get out there and ride it.”
Alexander Bragg and Quindiva (48th) (GBR)
“The back end of the course is already a little bit deep. They’ve done a fantastic job trying to put some better ground in for us, but I think this rain is going to be against everybody and we’re just going to have to slog through it. I really think that people may have to select their routes through certain combinations, especially around the water jumps, depending on how the ground is holding up. And obviously, the dreaded lake. Nobody wants 11 penalties. You don’t want to be turning, slipping and having that — as well as knocking your confidence, it puts you out of the mix. I think it’s going to be a bit of strategy and tactics, as well as just hoping.
[On the weather] “I don’t like riding in this weather — I’m a bit of a fair weather rider. I feel it’s tough on the horses, but it’s what we’re trained to do. We just want them to dig deep. I know this mare will be more worried about people’s umbrellas. She’s very, very sharp and spooky — so, please, if I’m out on the course, just get wet for five minutes while I jump past!”
Felicity Collins and RSH Contend OR (49th) (GBR)
“It’s very different from last year. There’s loads and loads to do out there.
[On how the conditions, and subsequent stamina test, will affect RSH Contend Or] “I’m trying to think of the last place we ran at a big event on soft ground — we haven’t had that many recently. He’s not a Thoroughbred in his breeding, but he’s a Thoroughbred in his brain, so hopefully that will help us out there.”
Rose Nesbitt and EG Michealangelo (=50th) (GBR)
“It’s obviously a different way round. On first impressions I actually prefer it the way round it is this year. I think all the questions are obvious to the horses, it’s just about keeping your line. If we have more rain, I think it’ll be pretty influential, so we’ll have to see.”
Alice Casburn and Topspin (53rd) (GBR)
“I think the ground’s now getting a little bit wet — it’s going to play a big part in it. Also, if you’re on a running machine, it’s on an incline, and I think that’s what’s going to make it — with him, because he doesn’t pull, last year was quite downhill so I could let him catch his breath, whereas, this year, I think it’s not until you get to fence 27 that they can finally take a bit of a breather, and it’s a bit late then. The intense part [in the Vicarage ditch field], for me, isn’t as bad as it was last year, but the accumulation of everything is definitely going to make it tough. It should suit [Topspin], he never really normally minds the mud, so if the jockey can do her job on the day, he should be good. But there’s two people in this — me and the horse — so it’s all down to me now, isn’t it, really.”
Tom Crisp and Liberty and Glory (54th) (GBR)
“I think if the rain keeps falling it’s going to be a different competition. It’s a whole layer or two of effort when the ground gets a bit soft and wet. For me, I hope it’s not a dressage competition. I’m on a very good jumping horse and I’m looking forward to tomorrow and seeing if we can pick our way up the leaderboard. But it’s going to be tough for any of us out there.”
Andrew James and Celtic Morning Star (55th) (GBR)
[On walking the course as a first-time competitor this year] “It looks a lot bigger when you’re riding! When you watch it on TV, you’re like ‘We’ll be fine’, but this morning, the butterflies are there and the nerves are kicking in. But we’ve got the family here, and parents and owners, and lots of distractions, and it’s just amazing to be here.”
James Rushbrooke and Michem Eclipse (57th)
“Obviously it’s my second time — last year it seemed so massive and so imposing. This year it seems massive and a bit more technical; you’ve got to think. It’s more intense — you jump one fence and then all of a sudden there’s another fence that’s twice as big, only seven or eight strides away. It does feel a little bit more of a challenge.
[On the ground] “My horse is Irish with big feet so hopefully he’ll just go across the top of it, but he’s used to the mud, he’s been hunting and stuff like that, so he should be fun.”
Alexander Whewall and Ellfield Voyager (59th) (GBR)
“There’s lots to jump, but it’s five-star so of course, it’s going to be isn’t it? If it was any less it would be boring.”
Lillian Heard Wood and LCC Barnaby (60th) (USA)
“The two that I think are the hardest are the coffin [at 13ABCD] — that’s set up really, really tough. And then I think the lake — the water there with the big drop in and the corner, so that’s intense. But coming from someone who fell off at Badminton last year at a really silly fence, I am not counting any jump out as one that can get me!”
Francis Whittington and DHI Purple Rain (61st) (GBR)
[On the ground] “I think the ground is going to play such a massive part to the competition as a whole and how the horses take to the course. You can have a really easy, straightforward fence, but when the ground deteriorates around it, you can turn it into one of the biggest and most trickiest fences, so we’ve got that to contend with. Running up from the Vicarage ditch all the way uphill there through Huntsman’s to the end there is a really long way in these conditions.
“I know how I’m going to ride and gallop around it — I’m going to start out steadier and I’m going to make the decisions that I know are going to be right for [DHI Purple Rain], and I’m going to accept my time faults and make that decision right at the beginning to nurture him round the country to the end of it. It’ll come down, on Sunday, to riders making sensible decisions for their horses. We’re not perfect at making the right decision in the heat of the moment, but I think that’s going to be really important this week.”
Lauren Innes and Global Fision M (63rd) (NZL)
“I know he jumps out of the mud and he’s a good jumper and he’ll keep galloping. I’ve just got to think positive and carry on with the week!”
We also caught up with course designer Eric Winter, who we previewed the course with a couple of weeks ago, to hear his take on the course, the controversial lake question, and how he thinks today might play out.
“For sure, it’ll be a very different day’s sport to normal [because of the rain], but we do have fourteen deformable fences out there, and looking after the horses is our main priority,” he says. “We’re very alert for tired horses, and we’ll be doing for the sport we possibly can. Every fence has a trailer with it with plenty of material to fill in holes, and we’ve resurfaced some areas already, so we’re doing our best to maintain the footing.”
One thing that he expects to go out the window is any notion of beating the optimum time: “I don’t think anyone will make it in this weather. Throw away your stopwatches and ride to the best of your ability. You cannot ride around this thinking you need to be up on the minute markers. You need to just canter round and jump to the best of your abilities.”
Though those couple of fences on slopes have been removed, Eric explains that he didn’t want to shorten the course and deviate from the original route, because he didn’t want to run horses on less comprehensively prepared ground: “We felt that the best bit of footing, the bit that had been prepared and drained, is the one we’re running on. If we shortened it, we’d have to move horses onto ground that doesn’t have sand on it, that hasn’t been spiked so it won’t drain as well, and so actually, it would probably end up meaning they ran in wetter ground. If we stay at the same length, we can try to keep them on better ground.”
Of those rails into the lake, he says, “The sport’s changing. We’ve got fourteen deformable fences on the course, and it was a deliberate plan to go in that direction. I think we’re going to have to accept that that’s the way the sport is going to develop. If those rails were secure, we might see horses fall rather than have 11 penalties, but that’s not where we are as a sport. We’re moving forward, and we’re staying up with the times on what is acceptable to us as a sport. We’re trying to portray the sport in the best possible way, and I don’t want to see horses falling across the water. Maybe they have 11 penalties; maybe they don’t — but these rails don’t break easily. It would take six of me to stand on one of those rails to break it. If we look at the whole dynamic of the combination, there’s a lot of things that can happen: they could have the rail, or they could have a run-out at the corner, or they can take different options, and that’s a lot of exciting things in one area. Part of our remit is to be public entertainment, and that has to fit within what the public is prepared to accept — and what we’re prepared to accept as horse lovers. We’re not prepared to see horses on the floor, and if we have the tools to avoid that, we should use them.
“The lake has had a log in for five years, and it was time for a change. Should we say that that’s all we can build into water? If I’m wrong, I’ll hold my hands up and apologise and say I got it wrong. We’re sort of in uncharted territory with the clips, but the rail is now only 97cm high, and so riding properly is the key to it. I want to see them jump it properly, not just roll around the corner — they need to take a second or two to set up and do it properly. We’re looking after the sport and the horses and the riders, whether they like it or not.”
So, there you have it — let’s go eventing!