Saturday, 10 May 2008

Olympic Selections

There's bound to be a few sore heads in eventing circles this weekend as those selected for for the Olympic team celebrate.

Mr. Fox-Pitt will look to have a choice from his usual Dorset Battalion with 3 horse's nominated (Ballincoola, Tamarillo & Parkmore Ed), personally I hope Parkmore Ed makes the grade and the flight. William himself is such an obvious choice I'm sure he'll prove his weight in gold and perform well under championship pressure.

Similarly Zara would have been conspicuous by her absence! Zara & Toytown are an incredibly rare phenomenon in any equestrian sporting field. It's hard to believe this young lady has achieved so much for someone so young, a European & World Title is something many others spend an entire career to attain, and watching her complete on two less than straightforward horses at Badminton this year you can see why - a truly exceptional young rider. I just wish selected members of the press and other spokes persons would stop trying to divert attention away from her family history in an attempt to justify her personal success - it's too obvious.

Let's face it, you don't achieve
all this by just being the Queen's Grand-daughter, but similarly it doesn't hurt
when looking for sponsorship or a little PR....

(BE certainly enjoy the sunshine that brings) and if you're gonna have your parents train you, Mark Phillips isn't what you might call typical
Pony Club parent material is he (I'd be happy enough for him to train me). My advice is don't rage against the machine, roll with it.

The Olympics is all about amateur sport and for Sharon Hunt and Tanker's town to be selected is great news for team GB and the Olympic ethos. From the little we do get to see of Sharon on the international circuit both have been steadily improving.

Mary King's credentials say all that needs to be said on her selection, however I can't help but feel sorry for a few of those on the reserve list worth taking a bet on, like Daisy Dick or Rodney Powell. Mary's opening round at Badminton on Apache Sauce was a joy to watch and left you thinking "this course ain't that tough"....until you saw a few others attempt it!

Lucy's horse has improving form so probably has as much right to be in the line as any other contenders. I just wonder whether she has a championship win in her, probably as much as any of the others.

The next two Olympics are going to be the most exciting yet, and the most contrasting. Let's hope they nice big flowing, fluid cross country courses, so that we get a fantastic spectator experience. I hope I get along to both of them.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Badminton '08 - One of the best

A shorter course, influential going and a mixed field - all the ingredients for a fabulous competition. The fence analysis sheet looks like a bingo card with penalties racked up at every combination on the course.

There's no doubt the going which was on the sticker side of good meant in places the course was like riding on a mattress. Not much that can be done about that except make you have a very fit horse and choose your ground carefully.

There were some astonishing displays of "ambitious riding". 4 or 5 riders choose to attack the quarry resulting in a number of horses being catapulted into the floor of the quarry what must be a 3 metre drop at least, and at speed.

I'm sure the fact a wait list was implemented this year also contributed to the number of horses coming home tired - it's quite tempting not to get a horse super fit if you're halfway down the reverses list.

When the first horse (Apache Sauce) came back unscathed I thought this might be a relatively straightforward, but it wasn't long for errors to start appearing. The toughest fence to ride foot perfect seemed to be the shogun hollow. most of the horses I saw through this fence had very uncomfortable experiences through here many of them catching their stifles on the first element.

It was a great year to be be at Badminton and there was certainly a large crowd there to enjoy it.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Badminton - Day 2 - The Usual Suspects

The leader board during day of dressage was as usual an every changing beast. Not surprisingly though nearly all the usual suspects appeared in the top 10 or so. Possibly the biggest upset of the day was the demise of Zara Phillips on her fancied ride ARDFIELD MAGIC STAR who took exception to something during the test and shyed dropping them right down the final list.

He is by all accounts a tricky character at the best of times, and no doubt for the second year running we'll see Zara withdraw before cross country. She still has reasonable chance with the less experienced GLENBUCK so I'm sure she'll start one horse tomorrow.

Generally the place was pretty busy, and Friday is always a good day for shopping and celebrating spotting, and not just the usual equestrian stars of yester year. (there's always plenty of them!)

With less that 5 penalty points separating the top ten the pressure is really on all of these competitors and the perfect time for a "Mark Phillips cross country pep talk" on maintaining focus and not letting the heat get the better of them.

For those who have ever watched Andrew Hoy will know, pressure is just not something he suffers from. Whether leading from the front or playing catch up, he's bound to put in a foot perfect ride.

Bear in mind this year the course is noticeably shorter and there are probably fewer places to make up time even with only 29 fences on the course. Many of the riders have commented on how much there is to do in the middle section of the course down in vicarage fields, but when you stand back and look at this section you can see how a horse going in nice even rhythm will do very well. The biggest accuracy question is actually at the beginning of this section in the shape of the farm yard. From here round to the Shogun Hollow it's generally big spread fences, requiring more commitment than accuracy. By far the trickiest complex on the course is the Blue Cross Round tops that has no doubt had plenty of quizzical looks from this year's competitors and bound to cause a few run outs. I wouldn't be surprised if this fence makes a reappearance in future year's with little alteration.

With good weather forecast it's bound to be a cracking good year to be at Badminton. Take a look at the Badminton Interactive Course - What cool toy for us web savvy folk!

Foot & Mouth

I see Mark Phillips is on a charm offensive again with his fortnightly column. He is of course spot on with his overall message we need more responsible training (and riding). When all is said and done we don't train horses we train people and all too often riders only seek advice after a problem (the old chesnut of prevention rather than cure comes to mind).

We do really need to look at ways of reducing the risks posed by riders who choose to plead ignorance of safety concerns, like going hell for leather round the cross country and crossing the line 45+ seconds under the optimum time on a 9 min. track. Perhaps a month's ban would crystalise the point in riders' minds (as they do in horse racing for things like excessive use of the whip or careless riding). Similarly course designers and organisers require a little humble pie from time to time.

Still I can't help but think the capt. is suffering from a little foot & mouth considering his own eventful week, and a few more carefully chosen words would have been the spoonful of sugar this safety message needs to deliver. Hands up!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Clayton Rains........

The Badminton dressage arena was obviously at the end of Clayton Fredericks' rainbow today, the Aussie supremo was the only rider today to get a dousing from today's only shower at Badminton. I have to admit I didn't see the test live myself but it must have been outstanding as an average of 74.57% is impressive by any standard, let alone when picking your way through a down pour. Video footage of the test is available on the Badminton site though.

Ignoring the sludge residue in the carparks the ground has recovered from this week's earlier rain. If tomorrow & Saturday stays relatively dry the going will be pretty good all round. As any regular at Badminton has probably realised the Badminton ground does take a little time to dry out, too much rain late in the proceedings makes it all very slushy and with a number of accuracy questions out on the course many riders are certain to cover the same ground.

Before I forget, one of the most pleasurable to watch in the Arena today was Dee Kennedy on Big El. This rangy looking horse looked as fit as a greyhound with big long flowing paces, more over watching this horse move gracefully round the arena in pure harmony under his rider with long floppy ears in a totally relaxed manner was sheer poetry. I won't bet against Dee Kennedy getting a lot further in this sport, and for me this is going to be another one to make a point of watching on Saturday.

Generally it would seem to have been a much busier Thursday than most years, which probably means the remaining days will also get busier.

Until tomorrow.......and Andrew Hoy, Zara Phillips et al.

Badminton - Day One

The rain stayed away from the most important part of Gloucestershire today, giving the ground a chance to dry out, so hopefully it will stay dry for a day or too.

The day seem to start off very calm, tradestand holders busied themselves quietly in the shopping village putting the finishing touches in preparation for the retail therapists to arrive on the following day, whilst many competitors could be spotted having a quiet stroll around the ground on horseback except Dan Jocelyn perhaps, who everytime I came across him on Special Attorney was doing involuntary sitting trot, while his horse jogged it's way round the deer park or reared in the First Horse Inspection.

The crowds started gathering from about 3pm to watch the Ground Jury nod and raise their hats as they "passed" competitor after competitor in front of Badminton House to the usual rustic but enthusiastic tones of MC Mike Tucker.

There's was much twittering about how well the riders were turned out as there was about the horses, and no doubt the nationals will carry pictures of Zara all suited and booted, that is if she manages to upstage both father and boyfriend's more pressing press interests.

All in all it's been an excellent, relaxing day at Badminton for those not needing to touch a horse, sign, bog or bin. Roll on tomorrow............