Thursday, 12 April 2012

Badminton 2012 Cross Country - 11 Minutes You'll Want to Re-Live

Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials Press Preview Day
In a little over 3 weeks 80 or so horses & riders are going to descend on Badminton with dreams of galloping round the hallowed grounds of Badminton House, where eventing as we know it really began. Some will be coming to prove to selectors their horse is back on it's game after a long lay off, whilst others will be looking for the last minute slots on a team for the London Olympics, and the rest will no doubt be looking to pick up qualifications, from what might at first appear to be a less than competitive field, and perhaps pick up some prizemoney. For many I think this will include 11 minutes of cross country they will want to relive time and time again.

Hugh Thomas unveiled his cross country course today in the ritual that is Badminton Press Preview Day, a day that runs to tried and test format year after year. If any sponsor knows how to make the most of an eventing sponsorship it's Mitsubishi Motors - Press Day is just a small part of their plans, and this year for the first time will include a live internet broadcast of the end of day press conferences. The entry list this year is very interesting, one of the more interesting years I've see for some time. I have another post in mind for that later, but for the facts and figures fanatics, here's a couple of interesting facts:

1. There are more entries from foreign riders than Brits for the first time anyone can remember.
2. There are 3 World Champions in the field (Zara Phillips, Michael Young & Jean Teulère) - none of them have won Badminton before.
3. Andrew Nicholson has completed 31 times, and yet to win.
4. Two veterans are aiming for a record 8 completions (Comanche & Lenamore) Testament to the value of the short format in giving longevity to event horses.
5. There's one previous winning horse in the field - Inonothing (Paul Tapner, 2010)


Start & Finish in The Main Arena
Starting in the arena, the first two fences are the usual 'settle in fly-overs' and by the time you get to the HorseQuest Quarry for fences 4, 5 and 6 riders will be over a minute into the course facing the first challenge, 3 logs on a related distance left hand bend, the first of which involves a steep slope on the landing side running down to a narrow, but not skinny log. This is a test of brakes more than anything else, and you do occasionally see the odd inexperienced rider, or runaway horse over jump entering the quarry and land in a messy heap in the floor of the complex. Get the first bit right and the rest just flows!

A short gallop through the sheep fields and you arrive at Huntsman's Close, and this is where it really gets tough. A misleadingly easy oxer brings you under the trees before you're hit by two offset brush fences with a bounce between them, and a stride to a short log that I recon will see it's fair share of drive by's. If you're in with a chance after the dressage, this is where to pay particular attention! The numbering is very interesting here with theoretical opportunity to circle between the brush fences but that is near impossible, and certainly impractical to do. There is an extruciatingly long route, but this early on course do you really want to waste vital seconds?

A chance to make use of the adrenaline flowing now with good gallop up to the foot of the lake, making up some time, and popping over the Wadworth Barrels before entering the lake, where the fast route means taking a decent leap over 3 rails into the lake from a sloping take off, followed swiftly by two smallish brush fences, then it's round to the right for a quick leap over the Mitsubishi L200 pickup trucks before pushing on down to a simple roll top brush in front of the house and on to vicarage fields. A softer option, involving a step and willow wave, at the lake is perhaps not that soft but a time waster nevertheless. If you're jumping the L200s by the time your watch ticks over 4 minutes you're doing well.

Vicarage fields might be softer and less intense (and that's intentional), but the number of efforts is still the same. The sunken road has had another earthworks facelift, having had the step removed so it has a slope in and out now. The four oval flower boxes return from the shogun hollow, providing three jumping efforts in a marginally snaking line. An alternative 'A' element provides a softer entry to the complex set back from the edge of the slope.

The HS1 Farmyard
The HS1 Farmyard is a variation on a theme. Here the long route involves two corners, whilst the fast route means jumping the haycart followed in a swift two strides by an open corner. This is the half way point and bound to test a few. The fast route here was the only related distance where I thought everyone really had no option but to use the same ground between the fences.

The Colt Pond involves a hop over a deer feeder, similar to fence two, followed by a leap into the pond over a 'helsinki' brush fence giving riders some options with regards to height and landing, then it's onto one of my favourite fences, the Footbridge.

Team GBR Footbridge (from Landing Side)
It's probably not as difficult or scary as some of the fence designs we've seen at the vicarage vee (take a look at this pic), but the Team GBR Footbridge is a big 'open' fence, the landing side of the fence can give a false sense of difficulty, but in reality this just makes the fence a big spread. This is one of my favourites that we've not seen for a few years. There is a 'trot across the bridge' option that I think will make a great photo.

The Outlander Bank With Partially Finished Owl Hole
Next it's straight onto the bank. I know the Outlander Bank doesn't produce a large number of faults on course, but it has ended the chances of a few notable horses in recent years - LePrince De Bois when leading the dressage & Mandiba for Karen O'Connor last year.  This is is the most daunting single fence I've ever seen, and can't help thinking Orff's O Fortuna from Carmina Burana should be played as you approach it. This year the owl hole has replaced the log on top of the bank. Just hop up the bank and bounce through the hole - sounds easy, but this fence will block out a lot of sunlight, and fill your field of vision. It'll be interesting to see whether the shadow it casts will make a difference to how well it rides. (when it's fully dressed it will look even more substantial)

A run back across the ditch and pop over the straightforward beam brings you heading to the Shogun Hollow where a an upright rail drops you into the coffin, and you ride out over one two brush top fences that were used at the sunken road last year. Not massively complicated, but it's amazing how many mis ride the upright approach dragging stifles over the fence, which can affect your stride & approach to the next fence, plus part wind the horse by knocking it out of a rhythm.

A nice long gallop now, past the house and over two nice big fences, the Shooting Butt and the Table, before bringing the pace right down again to jump an upright gate and two tall open corners in the HSBC Market Place. By this point you're about 80% done (just under 9 mins), so I don't expect you'll see too many rushing this complex on tiring horses.

On to a gentle down hill run before climbing up the Savills' Starcase, that one or two have tripped up at before. It's a lot steeper that you think rising about 3.5 metres in less than 3. Hop over the skinny log pile a stride from the top and head on to the iMiEV Village. This is three simple spread fences in the form of houses on rough ground.

From here there are just four more fences to jump. The first two are, the big steeple chase fence - the keeper's brush, and a skinny branch against a tree in the shade. Then comes two upright box brush fences. set on an acute angle, that can either be jumped together, or individually by circling.

It's then into the arena over the Mitsubishi Motors Finale, and your home.

I'm sure there'll be plenty who criticise the course for being soft, but I think there's plenty to catch riders out with run outs rather than stops or falls, and who needs a super tough track in an Olympic year, when the very best are being saved for Greenwich or just here to prove fitness after time off, and the rest are hoping to benefit from the Olympic distraction and pick up some Badminton prizemoney and qualifications. Once every four years, the end game isn't Badminton it's the Olympics, just as it is with Burghley and the World Equestrian Games.

There's a lot more to jump in the back end of the course this year, and running the course this way round the park includes climbing the staircase followed by three jumps through rough ground, so it could be deceptive. I really like the potential for a run out early on at Huntsman's close, the two good opportunities to gallop in the middle of the course, and a 'have you left enough in the tank' finish to the course, plus vicarage fields is pretty flowing.

If Belton last month, and the entry list here is anything to go by, it's going to another very tense and interesting Badminton.

Bring it on!

ps. The ground itself is in perfect condition. I walked into the main arena and it was like walking on a smooth soft carpet - it really couldn't have been any better, and I know why - there were groundsmen everywhere working on the going, and I bumped into Harry Verney paying special attention to the irrigation system watering the course up by the staircase. A little rain over the next few weeks wouldn't be unwelcome, but I recon we'd need Florida weather to make any significant change to the going, which is "Perfect"!

The Fence List:

1 ASX Crossover

2 The Deer Feeder

3/4/5 HorseQuest Quarry

6/7/8AB ISH Studbook Huntsmans Close

9 Wadworth Barrels

10ABC The Lake

11 Mitsubishi L200 Pick-ups

12 Countryside Brush Top

13ABC Swindon Designer Outlet Sunken Road

14AB HS1 Farmyard

15AB Colt Pond

16 Team GBR Footbridge

17AB Outlander Bank

18 HSBC FEI Classics Beam

19ABC  Shogun Hollow

20 Rolex Grand Slam Shooting Butt

21 The KBIS Table

22ABC HSBC Market Place

23 ABC Savills' Staircase

24ABC iMiEV Village

25 John Whitaker Keepers Brush

26 World Horse Welfare Branch

27/28 The Rolex Crossing

29 The Mitsubishi Motors Finale



Note: The fences in these photos were not finished or dressed. I'll have more opportunity for better photos over the coming weeks.


  1. Thanks for sharing Monty; great report. Should be a thrilling competition with several out to prove their worth to the selectors. Glad Michael Jung is running one but surprised at lack of the German contingent otherwise and also the Canadians. I'm really surprised Miners Frolic isn't running. And I sincerely hope WFP at least gets on Chilli Morning's for a quick test of the brakes before he takes him round a la Mark Todd! Wendyfreckles

  2. That is so interesting. Might I admit I have never seen a race IN PERSON?! After reading this, I'm thinking it is an event I have to arrange to see!