Tag Archives: Eric winter

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BADMINTON CROSS COUNTRY… REVISITING THE PAST

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Welcome to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials 

Wed 1st- Sun 5th May 2019

 

This week Horse Scout got a sneak peek at the cross-country course for the 70thedition of Badminton Horse Trials. “It feels like something we might have seen 25 years ago” was how Hugh Thomas described it. Big open ditches, making full use of the lips, dips, mounds, general topography and natural features of this beautiful park. This is a course that retains that “ride on your wits” cross-country feel which it has once again become famed for in recent years.

 

Eric Winter is now in his third year as course designer of Badminton and his philosophy in course design has remained the same throughout. “My aim is to put to the test, the relationship between horse and rider and the training of the horse.”

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The course runs clockwise around the park this year. As always, riders will start in the main arena before heading out to the Staircase fence- a sizeable log parallel down the two stone steps and a tight left turn to another log parallel. “It is an open start to the course to allow riders to get into a rhythm. Unlike last year where there were some early challenges, I didn’t want to break the rhythm early.”

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Things start to get pretty serious by fence 10- The Shogun Sport Hollow. After a long gallop which could be influential before a particularly technical fence, there is a funneling pagoda to direct riders to a narrow coffin ditch which is eerily, even the shape of a coffin, and a left or right choice of chunky, narrow tree trunks out. This is where the new FEI red flag rule could come into play. Where riders will be penalized 15 penalties if the whole horse does not pass between red and white flags- so that is shoulders as well as hindquarters. A rule which has not been well received by leading riders, course designers and officials… who shall remain nameless!

 

Fence 11 and 12 is the massive KBIS Bridge over the infamous Vicarage Ditch. The double numbering allows for a two jump escape route. The next fence has been used in some form at Badminton since 1949 and this year involves the notorious bank followed by a narrow brush roll top.

 

The Rolex Grand Slam Trakehner follows. Whilst impressive to the spectator, it’s big log over gaping ditch should not cause too many problems at this level. Then on to the Hildon Water Pond at 15ab which is perhaps a little softer than previous years with a big drop in before turning to a log trough in the water. Eric describes this as a run and jump fence and a bit of a let up before another tricky part of the course. Possibly an opportunity to make up time, although Eric pointed out that in the last two years of running, not one combination of horse and rider had finished on their dressage score.

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The Vicarage Ditch to the Mirage Water at 17abc and 18 is possibly one of the greatest challenges on course. An enormous right-angled corner is proceeded by an open ditch situated on a dip in the bank which will definitely unsettle some horses. Then a level four strides to another fearsome corner fence. “This is the sort of fence you would see 40 years ago- we could see all sorts of jumps over the ditch which adds to the unpredictability of the course,” Eric says.

 

There is no let up just yet and 19ab, the Nyetimber Heights involves a steep slope to an airy brush on top of a mound. Before plummeting down into the dip and up for a choice of four narrow scrubbing brush skinnies.

 

Finally, there is a course let-up fence at 20 before rider head on to three asymmetric corners in a row at the YoungMinds Brushes. YoungMinds- who help young people with mental illness and struggles is the chosen charity at this year’s event.

 

Fence 24 is an impressive affair to give riders their first taste of the infamous Badminton Lake. The jump is basically a large parallel but the design, with a pump station extending over the Lake to create a waterfall effect, which might unsettle some horses. Especially when added to the considerable crowd that always flock to the Lake. The brush fence in has been pulled back so riders land on grass before entering the Lake, then a step up and the iconic Mitsubishi pick-ups which this year have a trailer attached with dome-shaped spruce which is the part jumped by riders and horses.

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The Lakeside spectators get value for money as riders double back to the Wadworth Lower Lake at 26, a triple bar approached through the water.  After an inviting hedge comes the Voltaire Design Huntsmans Close which involves a birch parallel to a birch spread corner on a right turn.

 

To avoid a flat out gallop Eric has the Eclipse Cross Chicane (29 ab), two open ditch brushes on a U bend out and in of the deer park before the HorseQuest Quarry (30 ab) looms. This is less complicated than in recent years. In over the stone wall to a drop then up and out over a second wall.

 

Even though we are nearly home, Badminton is no place for complacency and we have seen many a rider tip up in the final few fences. The Hayracks at 31ab a roll top spread to a roll top skinny, then fence 32 the Rolex Trunk which is a sculpted log.

 

Back into the arena is the Mitsubishi Final Mount at 33, a fence designed by a member of the public for a competition a few years ago, where riders jump a pair of sculpted wooden saddles.

 

As ever a good completion will be an exhilarating experience for both the old pros and especially for those whose first experience of Badminton this will be.

 

 

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BADMINTON- The year of the legends

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BADMINTON- the year of the legends

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The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials never fails to make a big splash in terms of gripping action and great moments. There’s a good reason it is one of the top five most attended sporting events in the UK and it is one of just a handful of equestrian events which is broadcast on national television these days. But what played out this year was nothing short of epic. It is fair to say that the tales thrown up at the 69th edition of Badminton, should probably go down in the history books.

 

It was a great year for the girls. Jonelle Price became the first female winner in 11 years with the evergreen mare Classic Moet, a talented and long-term coupling who have been knocking on the four star door for several years. The last female winner was in 2007 and another much loved female partnership of Lucinda Frederick and Headley Britannia had their day.

 

Jonelle’s win really emphasised the significance of a strong relationship between horse and rider. Speaking after her cross-country round she said: “I felt the pressure on the cross-country that she could go near the time but you just have to get out there and do your job and I know her so well. It’s a real partnership,” she explained. After scoring one of the few clear show-jumping rounds to secure her win, Jonelle summed up her emotions: “Being a CCI4* winner is an elite club to join and it’s been something that has eluded me for a while now, so to now join it – especially here at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials – is very, very special.”

 

The fact that Jonelle won one of the most hard-fought Badminton’s we have seen, just eight months after giving birth to her son, was not only an incredible feat but particularly inspiring for all women, girls and working mums, whether their biological ticks or not. When she was asked whether motherhood had made any difference to her mentality or the way she rode, Jonelle responded: “No, the only difference is that when I went to get on for cross-country, I had “Incey Wincey Spider” stuck in my head, so that was certainly a first.”

 

Classic Moet- a pure thoroughbred also became a mum last year (theoretically), in the shape of two embryo transfer fillies by the stallion, Upsilon.

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In addition, there were four female riders in the top ten this year and a female dominance we haven’t witnessed at the British four-stars for some time. Britain’s Ros Canter and Gemma Tattersall took 3rd and 4th spot respectively, two ladies who should surely be heading to Tryon for the FEI World Equestrian Games in September this year.

 

With an all-star cast on the entries list, there was inevitably going to be drama, masterful riding and great action. Eric Winter made his stamp on Badminton last year, with a big bold course, which caught more than half the field out that time. This year, the general consensus from riders was that the jumps were marginally kinder but still imposing and a true four star but with the added challenge of seriously holding ground conditions and the fact that many British based riders were lacking match practice after so many early season events were cancelled.

The wet winter and further rainfall on the preceding days had taken it’s toll. When the sun shone on the first two days, it worsened conditions further making the ground tacky and together with a warmer climate it was even more energy-sapping. The result was that no rider made it around the 4.2 mile course inside the time. Yet the 74 % completions and only one serious horse injury to report, made for a fairly happy Course Designer.

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We had three Horse Scout advocates competing: Giovanni Ugolotti, Joseph Murphy and Oliver Townend. All finished in the top 27 with a clear cross-country. Oliver was still on a high from his win at Kentucky and was hungry for the Rolex Grand Slam. He was named the new World Number One for the first time in his life. Despite some impressive performances with his two horses, he had to settle for runner up to Jonelle with Cooley SRS and fifth with Ballaghmor Class.

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Last year’s winner, Andrew Nicholson was never going to rest on his laurels and had saved Armada for the big occasion. Certainly fitting that he chose to retire his legendary and most noble steed at Badminton, in front of a teary eyed crowd. It was a poignant moment when he was led out of the arena, after a formidable 13 year career which included finishing in the top 12 at 10 four star events. As well as winning Pau four-star in 2012 and Badminton in 2017, with Andrew, Nereo was a mainstay of the New Zealand team for some time, winning team bronze and individual fourth at the London Olympics and individual and team bronze at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

 

Emotions were raw by the time it came to Ben Hobday’s announcement that he was retiring crowd favourite Mulrys Error. The unorthodox eventer, who jumped a number of clears at four-star level and became affectionately known as “super cob” will now have a less demanding job of educating Ben’s stable jockeys. He may also be seen at some Eventing Grand Prix in the future.

 

Another “end to an era” looked like it was going to take place at Badminton, as Michael Jung was muttering something about retiring La Biothetique- Sam FBW (aka Sam) this year. The 18 year old has been quite simply the most successful eventer of all time, having won the World Championships, the European Championships, two Olympic gold medals and four out of his seven four star events, mostly finishing on his dressage score.

 

However, this year Badminton was not to be for the dynamic duo. One suspects Michi brought Sam to Badminton to win it and with an uncharacteristic two rails in the showjumping, he is unlikely to bow out with him just yet. Sam still looked like a five year old and was as spring-heeled as ever in difficult conditions, so it would be wonderful to see him at Burghley. Michi gave us an education in cross-country riding and Sam gave us one heart-stopping moment at the first corner jump into The Mound, when he left a leg, otherwise it was poetry in motion to watch.

 

We also said a final farewell to Mike Tucker, he stepped down from his BBC role last year but sadly succumbed to a heart-attack just months into his retirement. The “Voice of Equestrian” will be sorely missed. His communicated our equestrian sport with charm and wit. Mike often said the wrong thing but in this crazy age of political correctness, we loved him for his slight defiance.

 

I was there in my role as Assistant Producer for the BBC, which means I get to help make the Highlights Show, which goes out on the Sunday afternoon. I advise them on what should be covered in first place in our mini-documentary and do a number of off-cam interviews with riders. It means I really am in the thick of it and ensconced in the stables or riders lorry park for much of the week. Most of the BBC crew have never ridden a horse in their lives, which I think helps give another perspective, as we also have to educate and entertain the horse-ignorant as well as the avid enthusiast. This year, we all agreed was the best yet in terms of twists and turns, stories and fairy tale endings. Interviews with William Fox-Pitt, returning to Badminton for the first time since his serious brain injury in 2015 plus Andrew Nicholson, Piggy French and the blacksmith who had been the resident farrier at Badminton since 1953, left us all a bit emotional.

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Written by Ellie Kelly

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“It’s unjumpable!”: Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Course Preview

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“It’s unjumpable!”: Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Course Preview

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“I want to challenge the relationship between horse and rider, it is about knowing your horse and having that trust” says Badminton Course Designer Eric Winter. We happen to be stood on the landing side of the jump into Badminton’s iconic fence “The Lake” which is a drop of well over six foot.

 

Then as soon as riders have plummeted down from the sizable log, praying they don’t take a ducking in front of millions of ringside and TV viewers, they must take a sharp right pull to jump a box brush in the water and several strides later, tug right again to ascend a sharp bank to another box brush, this one on a dirty great angle. “It walks three but will probably ride four strides out of the water” says Eric “So it has the same unpredictability about it as last year.” Many riders and spectators were critical of Eric’s “unpredictability” in terms of uneven stride distance jumping out of The Lake last year, which claimed a significant number of jumping faults. Yet he argues “those who sat still were fine.”


Badminton Horse Trials has reclaimed much of it’s former status as the biggest cross-country in the world and this year’s course exemplifies that. Eric Winter is in his second year of designing. Despite a difficult start to the season in terms of horse preparation with so many events cancelled, Eric has not taken a soft approach to his course design.

 

In our Horse Scout interview, Eric picks out the fences he believes will cause the most challenges on our drive around the course:

 

This year, the course is anti-clockwise so Huntsman’s Close comes early at 6abc. It’s the second combination on course (first being The HorseQuest Quarry at 4ab) and involves jumping a big log which should be approached on a sharp angle, before quickly setting up for two extremely angled narrow logs, which give the word “skinny” a new meaning. The line and point of take off is made more confusing and cluttered by surrounding trees and the roots of the logs. That combined with hundreds of spectators and a few BBC cameras could leave a few of the greener combinations a bit “rabbit in the headlights”.

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“Huntsman’s Close is the first real challenge and a technical one. It’s about control and a real Showjumping question. Rider need an organised canter and to make their horses sit back and stay focused. This will suit the handy, pony type horses and whilst there is a long route, you should be taking the straight routes this early on to prepare your horse for later questions”.

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The Lake comes early at fence 9abc and if you’re going, this will be the best place to watch according to Eric. Not just because it is always full of drama but the viewing is excellent and there is the potential to see six fences from one grandstand. He admits that he last year’s design was a “learning curve” with a rail in as horses launched over the rail and struggled to make the turn out. This year’s log looks just as imposing, it should be more user-friendly as horse’s can “roll over it”.

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“The Lake is a control exercise but a different one to Huntsman’s for example. It is a more open distance, encouraging you to ride forwards to the distance.”

 

The Hildon New Pond is a real test of the senses with waterfalls incorporated into jumps, a big log pile followed by a sharp slope to a hanging log, with water running off it- the noise of the water is certainly audible. Then a sharp left turn up a steep bank to the angled brush oxer.”

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“The Pond is a real hunting question and how it rides depends a bit what you are sat on. Riders need to pop rather than launch in then find the energy through the sharp turn to the jump out. It’s another fence which really gets to the heart of the relationship between horse and rider, where you really have to know your horse and trust each other. It is energy sapping fence at fence 20, you still have a way to go.”

Written by Ellie Kelly