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Badminton Cross Country
William Fox-Pit on the last course walk first thing in the morning, looking at the line to take for the Vicarage Vee. (Photo by Cary Hart)
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, 110,000 people, at least 2,500 dogs on leashes, children, grandparents, and 75 competitors from eleven different countries gathered on May 7, 2022 at the Duke of Beaufort’s Badminton Estate to watch the world’s top Eventing horse and rider combinations take on the cross country course. A long-time wish of mine was fulfilled, as my daughter Cary and I arrived early that sunny morning to walk the course and get a good look at the huge jumps before all the excitement started. Some of the toughest were jumps like the Vicarage Vee, a narrow-angled jump over a ditch; the Huntsman's Close: three brush jumps in the woods that had to be taken at a tight approach because of a tree and angled all the way through; and the Broken Bridge that was half a bridge then a big ditch.
The early competitors, such as William Fox Pitt, were already warming up their first rides of the day including fast, short gallops, to ready them for the 570 meter per minute speed (21 mph) for 6,700 meters or 4.16 miles. Grooms for horses to be ridden later in the day were hand grazing their charges amidst the crowd of onlookers and their dogs, as early competitors walked through headed to the warm up area.
The first rider was off at 10:00 a.m. and we waited at jump 18, the LaMieux Leap, a combination of three elements, all downhill. The jump required a half halt at the top of the hill to the stone wall, land and push the horse forward to a huge ditch, with the rider sitting back so that when they landed on the down side he could queue the horse to take off halfway down a rise to the last element, a skinny wall with brush. It wasn't just the size and width of the jumps, but also the terrain that makes this a jump you cannot slow down for.
To stand next to the track as a 1200-pound horse gallops by is a heart stopping moment, the sound growing and then bursting past you and fading in the distance.
Cheers rise from the onlookers as the horse and rider clear a jump, or the sickening crack of timber, groan of anguish from the crowd, and silence if there is a fall. Nicola Wilson was an early casualty when her horse, J L Dublin hung a knee on jump #27 (a wicker basket jump following a combination, The Mars M)and rolled over the rider, injuring her back. Riders were held for 27 minutes while she was taken to the hospital and the jump was eventually removed from the course as it was deemed too damaged to repair. Nicola is recovering and the horse was not seriously injured.
Even the eventual winner of Badminton, Olympic Gold Medalist Laura Collett, had a moment at the Horse Quest Quarry. She told a commentator about her horse, “He started to question my sanity, but never stopped even after the hold, and gave me all I needed.”
Emily King’s horse, Vailmy Biats, hung a knee at the Savills Hay Feeders, fell and rolled over her. Her horse jumped up with Emily's foot still caught in the stirrup and then stood quietly as jump officials ran to help. Horse and rider walked off of the course uninjured, likely thanks to the safety equipment that riders wear.
Fifty nine horses finished the course out of 75 riders. Many were retired by their riders and 13 were eliminated on course for refusals or falls. The water element saw many refusals and, interestingly, the last jump of the cross country course saw quite a few refusals, which reinforces that old saying to the rider: “always ride to the last jump” applies even at this level. William Fox-Pitt on Little Fire, his second ride of the day, remarked to the TV commentator, “The last jump looks like it is into the crowd and Little Fire asked, ‘Did I really want him to do that?’ But we had a go.”
American Tamara Smith, who finished in the top ten, when asked by a TV reporter about how she felt said, “Relief! I finally have finished this after a long time, as I'm not so young for this.”
American Phillip Dutton finished on Z in 26th place; Will Faudee on Mama's Magic Way finished 31st; Matthew Flynn on Wizard retired; Lillian Heard on LCB Barnaby was Eliminated on course; and Emily Hamel on Corvett finished 52nd.
Laura Collett on London 52 nearly finished on her dressage score of 21, with only .4 time faults on the stadium, finishing with a final score of 21.4 – the lowest score ever at Badminton. She went clear on cross country even after a scary moment when she came into the Quarry too fast, the horse hung a knee, and she nearly went out the side door.
Sunburned, tired, and wishing we could ride a horse like that just once we made our way back to the car park and home, first enjoying a “99” from the Ice Cream Truck. Check one off of the bucket list!
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