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Badminton Horse Trials

Badminton Through the Years

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Badminton Horse Trials has been a highlight in most equestrians’ calendars since its original conception in 1949, where it was proclaimed ‘the most important horse event in Great Britain’. Since then it has certainly lived up to expectations. The winners have become legends, the fences are now iconic, and lifting the trophy has been the lifelong dream of those riders that strive to qualify each year. 

Now in what would have been its 71st year, the world’s most famous horse trials have been cancelled for only the sixth time in its entire history due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Equestrians’ dreams of attending this year whether it be to compete or just to watch, eat great food, shop till they drop and soak in the atmosphere, have been shattered. Instead of moping around and sulking that we are unable to go, the team at Horse Scout have instead decided to have a look back at the shows history to bring you a few interesting facts and some of its greatest moments of the past seven decades. After all, it’s only another 365 days until the 2021 trials, so we may as well start looking forward to it! 


Age is just a number

Unlike most other sporting events, the equestrian sport holds no bias over age or sex. The pinnacle of a rider’s career could come at any time whether they are an eventing veteran or a fresh young talent, and victory at Badminton Horse Trials would arguably be a career highlight for any professional rider. The youngest competitor to win Badminton was Richard Walker, aged 18 and 247 days, when he rode Pasha to win in 1969. Whereas the oldest rider to lift the trophy is Mark Todd aged 55 in 2011. With an impressive 37 years between these two champions, there is clearly no winning formula when it comes to youth over experience.

The youngest horse to have ever won at Badminton, believe it or not, was five-year-old, Golden Willow, ridden by John Shedden. The pair rode to victory in the very first trials in 1949. Nowadays, seven is the minimum age for all competing horses. Even that seems like a remarkably short amount of time to produce something as well tuned and fearless to take on the challenge. Most horses that compete nowadays are rarely under ten years of age, which makes this even more of an incredible feat on a horse with half the experience. The horse was very quirky and hot, so much so that Shedden would tie a piece of string from the saddle to his belt in the hope that if he fell off, he might still have some control of the horse!

The oldest horse to win Badminton is ‘Nereo’, who won the event in 2017 with Andrew Nicholson at the age of 17. Previously, the oldest horse was the 16-year-old Horton Point, ridden by Mark Todd 33 years earlier in 1994. 


Size doesn’t matter

The smallest horses to win at Badminton were Our Solo (Bill Roycroft in 1960) and Our Nobby (Jane Bullen in 1968). Both stood at a meagre 15hh.

The biggest horses to take the Badminton title have been Durlas Eile (Major E.A. Boylan in 1965), Columbus (Captain Mark Phillips in 1974), Custom Made (David O’Connor in 1997) and Word Perfect II, (Chris Bartle in 1998). All were 17hh.


The Horses 

There have been countless outstanding horses that have ran in the Badminton Horse Trials over the years, from the small and mighty to the giant powerhouses. Some of which have claimed their own records. Four horses hold the joint record for the most completions of Badminton, Ballycotton with Andrew Harris from 1990-1995 and with Sarah Longshaw in 1997, Comanche with James Robinson, 2003-2006 and 2009-2011, Lenamore with Caroline Powell 2005-2011, and Over To You with Jeanette Brakewell in 1998, 1999 and 2003-2007. 

Chilli Morning took the title in 2015 with his Rider William Fox-Pitt, and he remains the only stallion in the history of Badminton Horse Trials to win the event. 



What is it worth?

The prize money for the first event in 1949 was £150 to the winner and the prize fund came to a total of about £500. Since then, the interest in the sport has grown exponentially. Along with its rise to fame thanks to some outstanding sponsorship, the prize fund for the notorious event had made a dramatic increase. A special mention should go to Mitsubishi Motors for its record breaking 28-year reign, whose final year was 2019. Last year, Piggy French took home an astonishing £100,000 for first place. In doing so, she denied Oliver Townend the win and stalled his hopes of becoming only the third person ever to win eventing’s £270,000 Rolex Grand Slam (a highly coveted prize for winning the 5* at Kentucky, Badminton and Burley within the same year).

But is it really the prize money that draws these riders to tackle the infamous cross-country course? Personally, I’m not sure there is an amount in the world that could convince me to aim any horse at the Vicarage Vee, or take the leap into the lake, but these competitors are cut from a different cloth. Winning Badminton to them is much more than a substantial pay day, it is the accomplishment of being victorious at the pinnacle of the world’s 3-Day-Event calendar. Realising the fame and glory that comes with mastering the ultimate test of stamina, power, obedience, and accuracy, and cementing their names in the history books. 


The Greats

Ian Stark – In 1988, Stark became the first, and to date, the only rider to claim both first and second prize in the same year. He won on Sir Wattie and came second on Glenburnie. Having led on both horses after the cross-country phase, he was so busy giving interviews that he missed the course walk for the show jumping and had to rely on a description given by his trainer, Dick Stillwell. ‘Typical Stark’ proclaimed the commentator, but Ian’s famous one-two remains an event record and has yet to be beaten.

Lucinda Green – The current record holder for the most wins at Badminton. Lucinda has won the horse trials on six separate occasions. She won in 1973 on Be Fair, in 1976 with Wide Awake, 1977 on George, 1979 aboard Kildare, 1983 on Regal Realm, and in 1984 riding Beagle Bay. The two riders who have come closest to her record to date is Captain Mark Phillips and Mark Todd both with four wins. With both riders now retired from sport it is uncertain who will be the rider to challenge her record, could Pippa Funnell be the one to claim the title having three wins to date and a quality string of horses in her yard? Regardless, Lucinda Green’s record is unlikely to be broken any time soon. 

Pippa Funnell – Funnell’s first win at Badminton came in 2002 aboard the legendary gelding Supreme Rock. The combination had previously landed two individual European titles in Luhmuhlen in 1999 and in Pau in 2001 and a team silver medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, so were clearly in great form and a favourite to win at Badminton. The same horse and rider combination claimed victory for a consecutive year (2003), the success of which, along with that of her other ride Primmore’s Pride, paved the way to Pippa becoming the first rider, and one of only two riders to have ever claimed the coveted Rolex Grand Slam for winning at Kentucky, Badminton and Burley in the same year. 

Sir Mark Todd – In 1980, Mark Todd, a then dairy farmer from New Zealand, attempted his first ever Badminton Horse Trials, to claim victory aboard Southern Comfort III. His win came as such a shock that a newspaper cartoon pictured The Duke of Edinburgh saying, ‘Mark who?’ The now seven-time Olympian, proved his worth on countless occasions since. He took his second Badminton victory in 1994 riding Horton Point, a horse that he had never ridden before due to the owner, Lynne Bevan breaking her collar bone at Bicton the weekend before. He is also well remembered for riding two-thirds of the cross-country course in 1995, on Bertie Blunt with only one stirrup. Sadly, the horse was eliminated at the final horse inspection the following day. Un-deterred, the pair came back the following year to win the Badminton title, Mark’s third victory. He retired from eventing in 2000 after taking individual bronze at the Sydney Olympics. In 2008, Todd completed arguably equestrian sport’s greatest career comeback to win the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials for the fourth time aboard NZB Land Vision. Sir Mark is now one of New Zealand’s most celebrated sportsmen and was voted rider of the 20th century by the FEI.

Andrew Nicholson – Another New Zealand rider and prodigy of Sir Mark Todd, Andrew Nicholson holds the event record for most completions at Badminton since his first completion in 1984. However, victory here had always seemed to elude the six-time Olympian until 2017 on his 37th attempt. He was riding the 17-year-old Nereo, a horse that he had since a four-year-old. His victory here came only 18 months after a fall at Gatcombe where he suffered a severe neck injury that had left him nearly paralysed. 

“The feeling of winning here is different to Burghley and I think after waiting so long for it, and a few times to be so near and not make it, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.” 

Andrew Nicholson


References

https://www.countrylife.co.uk/out-and-about/sporting-country-pursuits/70-years-badminton-horse-trials-pig-sticking-champions-miracle-champion-took-four-decades-win-195581

https://www.badminton-horse.co.uk/history/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badminton_Horse_Trials


Trainers in Focus: Eventing Nick Gauntlett

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailNick Gauntlett - Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 2010

In the first part of our “Trainers in Focus” Series, we catch up with popular trainer Nick Gauntlett. Nick is “a fellow of the British Horse Society” which means he holds the highest level of BHS coaching qualification and is also is one of a small and illustrious group to hold the title of “British Eventing Master Coach”. On top of that, he has competed at the highest level for a number of years and was the rider responsible for producing the great stallion, Chilli Morning to four star level.

 

What are the key things you focus on when teaching jumping?

 

Rhythm and energy. The consistency of these two things is far more important than getting to the right spot at the fence. Even over big fences, if you have great rhythm and energy, you can get away with being a bit off the right spot for take-off. Whereas, you can hit the perfect spot but if you don’t have the rest of it, the jump can feel awkward.

 

How do you teach riders to find a rhythm and see a stride?

I have a few methods, one is to get them to count in a regular rhythm whilst they approach fences. I also get riders to approach a show jump with their eyes closed or looking away. It works unbelievably well in proving to riders that they don’t need to look at a fence to find a stride.”

 

How do you know if you have enough energy approaching a fence?

“In terms of energy levels, you have to keep checking that the horse is truly in front of the leg. Imagine if you are driving a Ferrari and you hit the accelerator, you would feel a surge of power. Where as if you are driving an old Land Rover in the wrong gear, it is all going to feel a huge effort. Andrew Nicholson once said “if it feels nice, you’re not going fast enough”. I have changed this to “if it feels nice, you’re not good enough”. So you need to feel you are a bit out of your comfort zone and then there will probably be enough power.”

 

What are common rider faults which you often see?

The position of the leg and upper body position is often at fault and one that is likely to effect the safety and security of the rider. I tell people to imagine their horse has disappeared from underneath them and ask themselves whether their feet would still support them, whether they are jumping a cross-country fence or down a huge drop. When a rider is ahead of the movement, with their full weight resting on the horse on take-off, the horse’s jump will inevitably be compromised and from a safety point of view, this is a big concern.”

 

How do you develop a more secure seat?

If you are relaxed and soft in the knee and thigh, you will have a more secure lower leg. Whereas if your knee and thigh is tight, it will become a pivot, which will send the lower leg backwards and the body forwards.

 

Why is a light seat and soft knee so important?

It is amazing how relaxed you can make a sensitive horse feel by being soft through your knee and thigh and having a light seat. I often see riders, see a stride and then start driving with their seat, three strides out. This frequently ends up with them missing the stride and you send the front of the horses forwards and the back end, backwards. I tell riders to imagine having drawing pins in the seat and knee areas of their saddle, to encourage them to be light

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What’s your advice for shaving seconds off your cross-country time?

Many people think it’s just about riding faster but actually, you can save more time by just kicking away from each fence. So think of it as saving a second per fence by just landing and kicking as it gets you back into your rhythm as quickly as possible.

 

What should I think about when planning the perfect cross-country round?

When deciding your approach to a fence, remember that you have walked the course and understand the problem ahead, whilst it is completely new to the horse.

I put fences into three groups:

  1. Fence with a sloping profile e.g. steeplechase
  2. Fence with an upright profile e.g. five bar gate
  3. Combination fence- rail, ditch rail

 

Jumping a fence with a sloping profile, a rider should feel confident to let the horse jump out of their stride without changing the rhythm.

 

Jumping an upright fence- we call these “new old fashioned fences” as we see an awful lot more these days. Course Designers at top level talk about designing to encourage “rider responsibility” and this will trickle down to designing at lower levels. As a rider we need to learn from the outset, to get into that defensive position. Keep the energy but allow the horse to see and assess the fence when approaching an upright.  

 

For a combination fence, you should be thinking about which gear to be in and this depends not just on the type of fence but also the experience of the horse. For example, if you are approaching a rail-ditch-rail, all the horse sees as they approach, is the rail. You need to convey to the horse that there is something a bit different about this. It’s like dropping from fifth to third gear- the car slows down but the revs go wild. You mustn’t take the energy away but you have controlled the speed, allowing the horse to understand what is ahead.

The more experienced the horse, the quicker they understand and react to the problem and yours and your horse’s experience should dictate what gear you choose. If you’re just moving up a level, you probably need to give your horse more time so will need a lower gear.

 

I always tell riders to be careful watching other riders jump through fences and basing their decision on that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is right for your horse’s level of experience. Intermediate can be the worse for that as you have horses just moving up from Novice level. Then you also come across a four star horse having a spin and they make it look effortless. 

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Written by Ellie Kelly

Carlile and Upsilon are King’s of the Castle whilst Wilson and Bulana are Queen’s

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The St James’s Place Barbury Castle Horse Trials delivered masterful action from six of the top ten event riders in the world. Plus fairy tale results for horses and riders who have come back from injury and a crisis of confidence.

 

It was a win for French rider Tom Carlile and his magical grey stallion Upsilon, in the fourth leg of the Event Rider Master Series at Barbury Castle. “Only a three wins left and we can equal the legend, Andrew Nicholson”, said an enthused Tom, who has been experiencing a bit of an “off-period” with the 10 year old French bred. “He did lose a bit of confidence at the Euros (European Championships, Strzegom 2017) and he showed it again in Arville- I think we just need a couple more nice runs like today before we think about anything else too big.”

 

Upsilon was one of just seven horses to jump clear in the showjumping, which otherwise produced some cricket scores from usually reliable combinations. These included World No1 rider Oliver Townend and Cillnabradden Evo, Mark Todd and NZB Campiono and Badminton winner Jonelle Price. So it happens to the best of us!

 

Tom and Upsilon went into the final phase in the lead and his largely fluent looking cross-country round over Mark Phillips challenging track, suggested the horse was back to form. “The way he jumped the first skinny fence, straight through the flags with no hesitation, showed the mood he was in. It was just what we needed. Upsilon loves Barbury and so do I”, he said.

 

World No 2 Gemma Tattersall took second place with Clive Smith’s Pamero 4. This is another horse who has come good this season, having been plagued by injury in the past. “I’m so proud of the horse”, said Gemma. “The beginning of the season wasn’t easy as we have had a few injuries but that is horses.”

 

Australian Chris Burton was the rider to jump clear inside the time in the ERM section, which left him in third place on Polystar I.

Nicola Wilson Bulana WC

Nicola Wilson and the precociously talented mare Bulana took top prize in the CIC 3*. This was Nicola’s first big win after suffering an ankle injury and the result hopefully securing her place on the British team heading to WEG in September.

 

There was a time when stallions and mares were considered far less likely to win at top level eventing and this was often put down to hormones. Increasingly horses like Upsilon and Bulana are dispelling that myth. We would love to hear your thoughts as to why we are seeing more compete successfully as well as your own stories of owning a talented mare or stallion.

 

Written by Ellie Kelly