Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Badminton Entries - Dropping like flies

After such a strong and bumper entry list for Badminton this year it seems they are all dropping like flies. 

From a wait list that topped 40 this has swiftly been whittled down to less than ten and we've lost many of the stalwarts as well as some big names like the comeback king himself Mark Todd as I hear Gandalf has a neck problem that would have had a negative impact on any dressage score, so I presume one of the other 4 stars will get the pleasure of Toddy's return at this level.   

With the number of double entries still in the drawn order it looks possible that there will be no one left on the wait list, I'm sure Dan Jocelyn will be pleased!

See 2009 Badminton Drawn Order for more info.

Badminton have also just released their latest Interactive Course Map (v. cool)

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Are Brush fences just another way to increase the height of fences

With Badminton '09 incorporating so much brush on the cross country, it's reminded me why I think the rules regarding these fences are a complete nonsense.

 The FEI Rule book says:

Brush on top of fences must be measurable and be made of flexible and deformable material. 

It also states:

The fence must be constructed so that a horse clearing the fixed and solid part is unlikely to be injured by the brush or hedge. 

In a 4 star event these fences can be up to 1.45 metres. (that's 0.25m higher that a solid fence).

So the idea here is that the horse could brush through the fence because it is 'deformable'. I would challenge anyone to brush through any of these fences on a 3 star or 4 star course. On the whole they are so tightly packed this creates two potential problems:

  • There is much greater risk of incident due to a false sense of security
  • Horses are more likely to get cuts and bruises 
This rule allows a course designer to effectively raise the height of the whole course.

 Is this rule being ignored by Course Designers and Technical Delegates or simply overlooked? 

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Kentucky is just round the corner....

...well at least it is if you live just round the corner. I'd love to say I was "reporting live from Lexington", unfortunately I'm across the pond, but hey, the sun is shinning so it's not all bad.

Being only a week or so before Badminton makes it very tough to get as decent a field as some of the European 4 Stars but looking at the entries for this year there is quite a good smattering of international riders, and it's nice to see Nicolas Touzaint entered, you so rarely see the french venture outside of mainland Europe.

Noticably absent from either event is Andrew Hoy! The cross country master seems to have hit a bit of a grey patch. His two 4 Star horses of recent years (Master Monarch & Moonfleet) are both retired and he seems to have had to move to Germany, not a country exactly overflowing with eventing opportunity. I can't help but feel a little sympathy. His wife Bettina could shortly be following in his foot steps with only one serious 4 star horse to her name, Ringwood Cockatoo, who is now 16 but as they say, make hay....., and the grey is at least entered for Kentucky.

Badminton certainly spoils us for information, making just about every piece of information you could possibly want available online compared to the other events. I had hoped we would at least have some pictures of the Kentucky cross country course on line by now but sadly not. Hopefully it's just a matter of time. 

Bring on the competition..........

Saturday, 18 April 2009

25 points for a Pin

The FEI has changed its tact on the frangible fence penalty rule at last!

Instead of being eliminated you now pick up 25 penalties. Now that is an improvement, but this rule is a load of rubbish. We now have an element of showjumping in the cross country phase.

I can't see how this does anyone any good, and just needs scrapping.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Showjumping on a Monday!

Now this is a turn up for books.....

Badminton has signed a new 3 year deal with the BBC - how fantastic I hear you cry! But here's the sting in the tail. To avoid any potential clashes with other major sporting event coverage on a Bank holiday Saturday the event will be run Friday -> Monday! That means cross country on the sabbath. 

Now I can see the benefits of this to sponsors (hopefully larger TV audiences), but on balance I'm a little skeptical.  One of the great things about Badminton on a Bank Holiday weekend is you get the Monday to recover, especially if you've been camping.

I'm sure there are plenty of pro's and con's for this move, and I haven't made up my own mind on this yet, but I can't help but feel a little sad about it. Saturday just always seemed to fit cross country and Sunday the Showjumping. I wonder if in 2010 it will have quite the same feel?

This is of course no different to the Derby being moved from a Wednesday to a Saturday, so perhaps it's just a case of getting used to it.

The PR machine will need cranking up to make sure this change is firmly in the front of everyone's minds come next year, it would be preety disappointing to turn up on the saturday to find dressage when you expected cross country......



Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Badminton - The new Ryder Cup Venue?

I managed to get a sneak preview of the Badminton course today, generally reserved for the good and great of our glorious press, and the condition of the course is far cry from the drought ridden course we saw in 2007. There is a distinct difference between the the track and the surrounding grass. It looks like a top flight golf course fairway! Superb. I had become quite proud of my lawn until I went round Badminton

The whole course looks fantastic, and as expected its big, flowing and bound to present a few problems in more than one spot.  This picture shows the 3 fences that make up the shogun hollow, the first three fences of the 
"intense" vicarage fields sections, and this first one (foreground) is massive.

The next really interesting fence is fence 11 (the countryside turn), which is basically a ditch and brush fence. Sounds simple until you take into account the lie of the land and the shape and position of the fence, all cleverly crafted to give the uncommitted  horse plenty of options to duck out if not held steady on their line with plenty of impulsion.

The infamous vicarage vee is just a short canter away and probably as tough as its ever been. In order to get through quickly you have 2 narrow brush fences on an angle in the ditch (they almost hang in mid air above the ditch, there'll definitely be a few duck outs here. A softer but much slower option is also provided here.

The lake again shows how the course designer (and possibly his advisors) have carefully thought out how to provide a tough task rewarded by speed, and provide a softer option penalised by slowing up the riders. Whichever route you end up taking you can't avoid the toughest part of this complex which is once you have entered the water, there is no time to gather yourself together before tackling a brush fence in the water swiftly followed by a step and a  skinny.  I predict a few duckings!

My only minor criticism would be there is a little too much brush fence used on the course this year. 

I can't wait.........
ps. If you hear someone shout "FOUR" duck quickly.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

April: Green Grass & Badminton countdown

So April has arrived and with it good weather and greener grass. My poor horse seems to suffer more than most from swollen glands as the new grass growth comes through to signal the real start of spring. 

There are however two very good reasons to celebrate the arrival of April, the clocks have gone forward (more opportunity to ride in the evenings) and just as importantly the countdown to Badminton Horse Trials starts in earnest. 

The line up for this year is as good as any, in spite of slightly fewer entries. Go take a look: 2009 Entries . From looking at the Badminton Website the grass is coming through there too and the course looks in great shape. The usual rustic look to the course will no doubt disappoint many, but one of the aspects I really enjoy about Badminton is it's respect for eventing's true roots and it really is the best galloping track on the circuit, something that lifts the spirits of horse, rider and spectator.

Last year was an excellent example of how clever the course is at deceiving the riders and lulling them into a false sense of security. Not much is made public yet about this year's course but I predict the number of fences requiring a frangible pin will be kept to a minimum, and the fence most likely to give rise to penalties under this ridiculous new FEI rule is the gate at Huntsman's Close. 

The Event is also a week later this year which, given recent history, should mean better weather and good conditions under foot - a canny move!

I'm really looking forward to seeing Mark Todd ride Badminton again!

Put the Date in your diary (7th -10th May) and book your tickets online if you haven't already.   

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Break A Pin and leave the competition

Who came up with that bright idea? From today the FEI has introduced a rule that states those who break a frangible pin on the Cross Country will be eliminated. As many others have already commented this really isn't going to work from a practical prospective and has no real benefit or positive affect on the competition. 

Thankfully, I understand, this is going to be reviewed this month with the possibility of this being changed to a 25 point penalty for breaking a fence pin.

Now I can see some point in doing this, but it still seems crazy to penalise riders for triggering a safety feature, especially when someone on course before you could easily weaken the pin putting you at great dis-advantage. 

For me the big question is "Do we really need this rule?" It's not like the one fall rule which could arguably be introduced on safety grounds (albeit without solid evidence). After all, if you fall off, you haven't got any chance of winning have you?

For more info on frangible pins see: Frangible Pins

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Pushing String into Greenwich Park

I have a lot of Respect for Tim Hadaway, and he's currently holding what must be one of the most coveted jobs in eventing at the moment, but I wouldn't want his job right now! It's like pushing string....

I've found this video on uTube and I'm sticking by my views in my last post on this subject: Holding the Olympic 3-day-event in Greenwich Park is a mistake.

At the end of the video, check out the related videos (especially the Legacy the XC course is going to leave behind - or rather lack of it!)

If you really want to see the damage that will be done to Greenwich, visit Badminton a week after the event. Remember Badminton is held in Parkland that will recover far quicker than a formal city park like Greenwich. Also bear in mind the Duke of Beaufort has had various site changes made at Badminton in recent years because of the permanent damage that the temporary buildings have inflicted on the Deer Park (the huge media centre was moved for 2008 because it almost killed off the grass completely).

Let's put on a really great show somewhere more suitable - and save Greenwich Park.

Controversy & Compromise never leads to a successful outcome.

It really is time to look at realistic alternatives.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Spring is in the Air..........

...and a bunch of mad march hares are out cross country schooling.

After all that snow its so nice to finally see a little sunshine and warmth.

My horse having just had a brand spanking new haircut is fresh and ready to start work, so this last weekend I finally got stuck into the "get fit" campaign in preparation for the 2009 season. This started as a somewhat sedate flat session on Saturday. Given he has spent 4 months in relative hibernation working only one or two days a week, he's pretty fit and engaged. Sunday we spent with a little gentle jumping over a few simple fences in the school, just to see how settled and engaged he was, nothing stressful just a simple cross pole or two.

I did spend some time (on 2 feet) at the local cross country schooling ground on Sunday as well and I have to say it still astounds me how many people come cross country schooling:

without a plan or strategy
without any regard for safety
without any proper knowledge, supervision or instruction.

this can only lead to being ill prepared for the season ahead.

Like any form of schooling exercise, and especially when XC schooling, it is vitally important that everything you do has a realistic goal and purpose. Anything less is potentially dangerous, and will nearly always lead to disappointment somewhere along the line.

(see my blog post from April 22nd 08 if you're struggling to find enough good advice)

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Q: Can Greenwich be the greatest show on Earth?

A: I'm a little skeptical....

As the snow melts and we're all busy getting horses fit and laying down plans for the 2009 season, the 2012 PR machine is warming up.

Don't get me wrong I'm not saying running the Olympic 3-Day at Greenwich isn't feasible, I'm just not convinced it's the best one we could run.

Hong Kong I don't think could be classed as a resounding success, it was more like a half way house between express eventing and a decent 3 star.

Squeezing these 3 & 4 star events into small venues looses much of what makes these events the greatest - wide open spaces and big galloping tracks. What we're left with is little more than a showjumping speed class over solid fences. 

The Greenwich Park site sits on 180 or so acres (less than 1 square km), a tight space even without the 25 odd acres of shopping you usually find at other events. Now deduct a 23,000 seater stadium (that's nearly twice as many seats as Badminton), and 200 stables, then parking for ancillary vehicles, temp buildings, etc, etc. 

One word springs to mind: compromise.

Now for the IOC. The modern games have evolved constantly over the last 80 years with more "sports" being added every olympiad. This inevitably leads to other issues, like staging such a circus becomes more problematic in a modern city with the pressures on space that in itself creates. 

My point: As the games stand today it is mission impossible to host such a diverse range of events within the city walls (of any major city), so it's inevitable that events will need to creep into the countryside. So I don't get this whole "keep everything together" strategy. 

Now back to Greenwich. On the surface it does have good public transport links with a number of railway stations and major roads in the immediate vicinity.  But I can't help but think the audience for this event would prefer to drive. 

I sympathise with the local pressure group, particularly as this is a world heritage site, something I don't think should ever be sacrificed for such an event, remember this not parkland like Blenheim, it's a formal city park). Again this will lead to compromise. 

Top 5 Reason why it will be good but not great at Greenwich:

  1. 65% of Fences will be portable
  2. 80% of the audience will spend more than twice as much getting to the event than on admission
  3. It won't be a large galloping track (more an oversized pre-novice)
  4. There are better alternatives
  5. It requires too many compromises due to size & UNESCO status
The H&H came up with 5 reasons why they made a 180 degree turn and now support Greenwich as "the" venue, but these are woefully idealistic reasons. But then its hardly fleet street journalism is it?

For what's it's worth Windsor Great Park would be my choice of venue.

This won't stop me from going to the event at Greenwich, after all this is the only chance any of us will have of seeing the Olympics on home turf. That in itself is good enough for me. 


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