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Badminton Horse Trials: Cross Country Adventure


By Cary Hart, MSHR London Bureau

Badminton Horse Trials is the world’s premier 4-star event. Held annually at the Duke of Beaufort’s estate in Gloucestershire, England, this year’s event was May 7-11, 2014. 

The dukedom of Beaufort was created in 1682 and, today, the Manor of Badminton is the family home of the 11th Duke of Beaufort. He is President of the Horse Trials and was previously a successful rider, placing second at the Horse Trials in 1959. It was the 10th Duke of Beaufort who started the Badminton Horse Trials in 1949.

The drive to the Badminton site is a wonderful trip through the countryside.  My friend Jenny and I arrived just after 9:00 a.m., with the first horse going onto the cross country course at 12:00. Unlike Kentucky, where the parking is well away, parking is inside the course!  A woman and two dogs came to stand next to me; turns out she was an owner and possibly a rider for the horse “Alfie.” How cool was it to stand in a crowd so near to a competitor who would be riding in less than 3 hours!

Then we hit the course.  We started at jump 28 which was a huge hedge sponsored by the Countryside Alliance.  We got to see the Leadon Vale Basset Hounds and some of the Duke of Beaufort's hounds.  They were very large hounds, like Penn Mary-Dels, just missing the floppy ears!  We proceeded around the course for a bit, with Jenny being shocked at the size of the jumps. We managed to make it around to Jump 18, which had section B removed earlier in the week because of the grounds conditions. 

As we were standing along the ropes, one of the jump judges, named Simon, came over and started chatting. Turns out he started jump judging in 1969 when he used to ride with the Beaufort hounds.  Every year he tells himself this will be his last year of working 10-hour days, then they ask him back and he comes.  He is now retired and spends his time sailing, but oh, the stories he had!  He said this course reminded him of the older style courses.  He wasn’t so sure about today’s riders now having options over the fences; “back in the day” the course was the course and you jumped it! 

We watched three or four riders at jump 18. This was Jenny’s first taste of cross country jumping. What a way to be introduced: a massive log to a drop with a curved line to another hunk of tree!  We then moved down to the Vicarage Vee, a massive Trakehner that had to be taken to the right and at a big angle, or you would end up in the ditch, then followed by another Trakehner heading back over the ditch.  These led to the Mirage Pond, which was a vertical hedge double, with about a stride in the middle to a drop into the creek, then out to another vertical hedge at an angle.  We only saw one person take it neatly; for most it was a “pray and kick on” sort of jump!  There were lots of loose reins and arms flapping in the air. The rider had to trust the horse and just go for it!

The next jump was the Stick Pile – a massive but beautiful flying oxer. The huge logs used in construction of the jump made the jump stunning – both to look at and to imagine taking it.  It was 3 meters wide at the bottom (9 feet 10 inches) and 2 meters wide at the top (6 feet 6 inches). 

We continued our walk around the course.  The Escalator was one of the lovely jumps. The first year that I went to Badminton they were jumping it going up the hill.  This year they were jumping it going downhill.  Just before this was a log to a broken road. We saw two horses take this; one flew it and one tried to set up too much and got in very tight.

Towards the end of the day we worked our way to the Huntsman’s Close to see the corners.  The problem was that not very many riders had made it that far.  Out of the over 80 riders who started the cross country course, only 32 finished it to go on to stadium the next day.  There were many retirements and falls.  Pippa Funnell was even launched out of the saddle on her second horse.  We did manage to see a few come through the Huntsman’s Close.  Oliver Townend was the highlight as he hit it perfectly!  We did see a couple end up on top of the second corner.  The riders were aiming too far to the right and the horse’s front legs weren’t clearing the far side. Then Lara de Liedekerke of Belgium came through and her horse Ducati van den Overdam ended up on his belly.  When he tried to get off, he tipped forward and she came out the side door.  We got to see the inflatable vest work!  I found out later that there were several riders who made it to the end, only to find out that they hadn’t jumped inside the red flag on this jump and were eliminated. 

We walked back to the Countryside Alliance fence and then to the Rolex Presentation Boxes hoping to see Mark Todd come by. That didn’t happen as he never made it around. We did get to see William Fox-Pitt, but only as he fell over the Countryside Alliance hedge.  We then got to see Andrew Nicholson jump the Escalator; he only made it to fence 14.

The day was extremely windy, with the weather being a bit unstable and rainy, but the sun did eventually come out.  Since the wind was very strong, I wonder if the riders felt that it affected their running.  The ground seemed to hold up well and probably wasn’t too much of a consideration, being England! It was a big course and had some proper cross country jumps!

On the way home Jenny remarked, “That was really fun! I think I might try to go back next year.” Her daughter wants to go, too, so we might have to make it a group event next year!

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