Girl Power To The Fore At Badminton Horse Trials

At last, we were all able to enjoy the Badminton Horse Trials once again after three long years of waiting, now presented by Mars Equestrian and official partners Lightsource BP. No doubt, history will state that “it was a Badminton run and won by the girls.” Many changes have happened since 2019 with a new director of show – Jane Tuckwell who had previously been assistant director for some years, far more probably than she would like to admit to. The second big change is of course, it is the first time for over 25 years that Mitsubishi have not sponsored or been any part of the event. Now there is a ‘presented by’ and several companies have become involved in some form of sponsorship, but the main one is Mars Equestrian.

Reach for the Moon will now Not run for The Queen

However, before we talk about Badminton, we at have been banging on for months now about Reach For The Moon, a three year old colt belonging to The Queen was reasonably fancied for the Epsom Derby and would give The Queen the final British classic she has never won, and in her platinum jubilee year; that would have been fantastic. Unfortunately, Reach For The Moon’s trainer John Gosden reported this week that the horse would not run in the classic due to an earlier injury which has set the horse back too much to have him perfectly tuned and ready for the big race at Epsom. Although it is expected that the horse will return to the racecourse for the Royal meeting in mid-June at Ascot, it is still very sad that this year at least – Her Majesty will be denied that fairy tale Derby win.

The Badminton Horse Trials – presented by Mars Equestrian.

Crowds watching the trot up in front of Badminton House 

There were several other changes of note for this year’s Badminton apart from the ones already described. The first, was that the new team decided that as there were always problems with traffic getting into the show ground, all tickets would be sold on line before the event and no tickets would be on sale at the gate. This decision hopefully will ease the traffic trying to get into the ground. The second big change was that this year for the first time, Badminton would be shown only on their own TV internet station. Everything from the first trot up to the final show jumping would be shown live. The final change was directly to do with us and Goldeneye Photography, the sister company to It was the first time in twelve years that we were not the official licensed photographers for the whole event. We decided for a variety of reasons to resign from continuing to do the photographs last autumn.

At 4.30 sharp on Wednesday, the first of the 83 horses turned in front of the famous Badminton House for inspection by the FEI vet and the jury for the event. While all the riders and horses were accepted, as they continued with their trot, they would not have known the problems facing Badminton behind the scenes. The ‘Badminton TV’ wasn’t working. The sound was all broken up and the pictures were all pixelated, meaning that for the thousands watching, they saw little or nothing, particularly on the three occasions the whole thing stopped working altogether.

Day One Dressage
Tom McEwen led in the dressage after day one

Forty one of the starters competed today, starting with Kirsty Chabert as the path finder. She rode Classic VI in her first Badminton and left with a score of 32.8. In the first session of ten horses, there were several top names to start things off. Tom McEwen riding Toledo De Kerser coming in fourth rode a decent test as is normal for this pair, leaving with a leader board topping score of just 23.4 penalties. Others of note on day one were Kitty King riding Vendredi Biats ended second on the leader board with 24.8 and fellow Brit – Mollie Summerland riding Charly Van Ter Heiden stood third with 24.9. The first of the foreign raiders was next – Tamra Smith riding Mai Baum for the United States was fourth on the leader board with 25.3 penalties. There was less than one fence between the top 9 riders in the day including Piggy March defending her 2019 championship with Vanir Kamira on 25.7. Oliver Townend on his first ride of the competition scored 25.7, the same score as Piggy. There were three others in the top nine. The first was Amanad Pottinger riding Just Kidding for Australia on 25.9 and Rosalind Canter riding Alistar B and Nicola Wilson, both from GB finishing their dressage with scores of 26.4 and 26.5 respectively.   

Day Two Dressage
Laura Collett leads field after score of just 21.0 penalties

The second day started much as the first day finished; but when Laura Collett from GB rode in with London 52, it looked we were in for a treat. Laura rode a lovely test hardly putting a foot wrong and therefore it was no surprise that the jury put her in the top position with a final score of 21.0 penalties. The rest of the morning went much as expected with no high dressage percentages and in fact by the end of the day and by the time all the horses had been presented, the leader board had changed little from the first day.

The three in the lead – Laura Collet in middle with Tom McEwen on right and Rosalind Canter on left

The final results before the cross country were: in the lead – Laura Collett with London 52 with 21.0 penalties and Tom McEwen in second on Toledo De Kerser with 23.4. Third heading the leader board before cross country was Kitty King riding her only horse in this year’s event – Vendredi Biat. The first day saw nine within a fence of each other but after the test produced by Laura, there were now only four within a fence of each other.

Day Three. Cross Country Day

There were eighteen combinations within two fences after the dressage, and as the top of the leader board was so tight, only a small mistake by any one of the riders would produce a very different looking leader board after the cross country.

Rider frightener – half built bridge

The cross country had 32 fences with a time allowed of 11 minutes 44 seconds to complete. The course designer Eric Winter wanted a testing but fair course with perhaps a couple of ‘rider frighteners’ to add some spice to the proceedings.

This by consensus is exactly what he achieved. As usual, the course started in the main arena and the first three jumps were simple enough. The first small question was asked at the Quarry, fence 4 which provided little discomfort for the riders. This was soon followed by the ‘Huntsman’s Close’, fences which were three brushes set off line – not that difficult, but as always, with riders going from bright sunshine into the darkness of trees made adjusting for the light conditions for horse and rider another small challenge. Fences 9 and 10 were the lake fences, and frankly this year the jumps were very simple. Traditionally, the lake always provided many questions, but this year a jump towards the lake and then running into it with a fence in the middle and a jump out to end the sequence was far too simple.  Fence 13 was the ‘rider frightener’. This was a half built bridge over a huge and deep ditch where the riders had to jump off the end and land on the other side without falling into the ditch below. Actually, the fence looked very dramatic, but so long as the rider gave the horse plenty of impulsion, the fence provided few problems.

Big tricky corners on the serpentine

The very next fence, the KBIS corners were very technical and big. The riders jumped the first then had to conduct a serpentine through the next two. Some had difficulties here. Fences 23, 24 and 25 were all big rails over another ravine – including the famous ‘Vicarage V’ which again needed a horse to be going forwards in order negotiate. Again, this was a fence which appeared to provide few difficulties. The final fences, although big were not that difficult, but they all came at a time many of the horses were getting tired having run 6,600  meters, and inevitably there were run outs and mistakes made, and the final fences were really the ones which caught out many of the riders who either retired or were eliminated.

The first drama of the day was with Nicola Wilson riding J.L. Dublin, At fence 27, her horse clipped the top of the fence which resulted in a nasty half rotational fall. It was enough sadly to send Nicola to hospital, but we later learned that she was OK and the horse too was fine. As the day went on, the competition continued much as expected – the likes of Oliver Townend rode clear rounds on both of his horses, along with Rosalind Canter, Austin O’Connor and Jonelle Price and leader after the dressage – Laura Collett with London 52.


Laura Collet with London 52
and another

These were the only riders to get completely clear rounds without any jumping or time penalties. Apart from Laura Collett, who was very lucky to survive her jump over the Vicarage V, there was a dramatic change in the leader board by the end of the day. Laura remained at the top with 21 penalties only – her dressage score, followed by Oliver Townend occupying both second and third (25.7 and 25.9). Rosalind Canter riding Lordship’s Graffalo was next (26.0) followed by the reigned champion – Piggy March riding Vanir Kamara (26.1). So Laura had a fence to spare in the final show jumping phase and go onto win but that was all, the next few behind were very close together. Rosalind Canter had a good day at the office as she also had the sixth horse on the leader board, her second ride – Alistar B on 27.6 penalties. These were the only riders to finish the dressage and cross country on a score less than 30 penalties.

The remarkable story of this Badminton was the number of foreign raiders chancing their arm to take glory. However, none really came to the fore. There were several riders from France, none of which really fired, the same being true for the American and Irish teams. Surprisingly, there was only one rider from Germany. In general, possibly as expected, the older horses fared much better than their younger counter parts.

The Final Day – Showjumping.

During the final trot up, the jury saw no reason to eliminate any of the 52 horses presented. After the dressage, three withdrew and did not tackle the cross country fences. In the cross country itself there were eight who retired and thirteen eliminated. Former Rolex Grand Slam winner, Pippa Funnell had another very difficult Badminton after her experiences of 2019, the last time the event was run. She was eliminated on one ride MGF Grafton Street and retired with her other horse – Billy Walk On. Other early leaders after the dressage also ran into difficulties; Tom McEwen was eliminated and Molly Summerland retired. Tension in the arena for the final ten combinations is always very high, and this year was certainly no exception.

The show jumping course was set, as it has for many years by Kelvin Bywater, and this year he decided there would be no treble but to large double fences. He also had most of the fences at the maximum allowed height of 1.3 m. The time set on the course was very tight at 80 seconds and very few of the 52 riders managed to get inside the time, irrespective of whether they had any poles down or not.

David Doel and Galileo Nieuwmoed ran so well in his first Badminton

Of the top finishing six, perhaps the best in many ways was the first time Badminton runner David Doel from Great Britain riding Galileo Nieuwmoed. He was one of the very few to go clear and in the time in this show jumping round, and as a young 29 year old, showed great maturity finishing with a score of 32.4, and in sixth place, a score which would have won in years gone by. Oliver Townend had a pole down in each round for his two horses giving him a final place of fifth with Ballaghmor Class on 30.3 and in third for his second ride, a horse he recently took over from Andrew Nicholson – Swallow Springs on 29.7. Piggy March tried in a valiant attempt to retain her crown with Vanir Kamira by keeping within the time allowed but having a pole down – giving her a final score of 30.1.

Rosalind Canter was overall second and is current World Champion

The second last to go was Rosalind Canter riding her young 10 year  old horse Lordships Graffulo. She went completely clear putting that extra pressure on the leader, Laura Collet. Rosalind waited anxiously as to whether her score of 26.0 would be enough? London 52 with Laura came in and rode a near perfect round with no faults save 0.4 time as she was just over the time allowed. However, that didn’t matter as she had taken her first Badminton. A very emotional Laura afterwards praised her horse and her family and hoped that all the hardship they had endured over the years was now worth it? She dreamt of winning Badminton since she was three years old when Pippa Funnell took the prize. Now at 32, she had achieved that ambition after seven attempts previously to win the title. Not only did she win, but in the lowest ever score for any winner at the iconic Badminton Horse Trials.

Finally with both the winner and runner up – are two of the nicest women you could ever meet, both with magnificent bay horses, both who really fill the eye and are both young enough to continue to give Great Britain strong teams to compete in all the top world events. Therefore, “Girl power to the fore” is certainly apt.


Oliver Townend tried to win but came third and fifth
Piggy March came fourth

And so another Badminton Horse Trials end having added further to the history of the sport and the venue. Over 180,000 people attended the event over the four days with 120,000 attending on cross country day itself. The headline of this article – “Girl power to the fore at Badminton” is very apt we think, as for the first time, the show director is a lady of distinction – Jane Tuckwell. Apart from the problems with the Badminton TV which seemed to be never ending, Jane ran a superb event.

The only obvious major problem Jane had to address was the failure of Badminton TV as it failed to function properly right from the off. Badminton TV was only watchable by subscription. Social media pages went berserk as irritated viewers were denied decent viewing. In the trot up, if the technological problems were not enough, what idiot decided that it would be a good idea to put an enormous ‘pot plant’ right in front of the camera, (they were only using one camera) thus removing  any possibility of the viewer being able to see the horse anyway? Despite all this, Jane Tuckwell was soon in control by announcing on face book that the team employed to do the TV work had been replaced. That must be the shortest contract for those commissioned to run Badminton TV there has ever been!! Sacked, presumably after only 1 ½ hours of work!!

Laura Collet with London 52

Finally with both the winner and runner up – are two of the nicest women you could ever meet, both with magnificent bay horses, both who really fill the eye and are both young enough to continue to give Great Britain strong teams to compete in all the top world events. Therefore, “Girl power to the fore” is certainly apt.

Images courtesy Goldeneye Photography



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