Badminton is one of the undisputed highlights of the year for anyone who loves horses. Kate Green, who has been visiting and writing about Badminton for years, offers her tips for those wanting to make the most out of a visit to this wonderful event.
Each year the eyes of the equestrian world turn to the grounds of Badminton House, the seat of the Duke of Beaufort in South Gloucestershire, for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
But who are the riders likely to set the event on fire? Which are the best fences for spectators? And what should you look out for in the enormous shopping village on site? Here are our suggestions.
Six riders to watch
The immaculate Australian, who is known in the sport as the fastest man on the planet, can win short-format competitions like falling off a log and has triumphed at Burghley, but he’s has never had the best of luck at Badminton. That is surely due to change. Cooley Lands was Burto’s choice of ride for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) last year and should go well on his Badminton debut.
A win for a British woman is well overdue (Pippa Funnell was the last, back in 2005) and the sport’s stats man, Diarmid McCullogh of EquiRatings, had tipped Laura for second place behind Ingrid Klimke, but the German rider has now withdrawn. The always neat Laura hasn’t had the best of results at five-star level either, but she’s riding with confidence and flair and has some super horses, including Badminton ride Mr Bass, who looks the genuine article.
Vet’s son Tom used to come to Badminton, his local event, as a schoolboy. He was seventh last year on Toledo de Kerser and produced the cross-country round on the day when a member of the gold medal British team at the WEG. The horse is one of the best jumpers in the business and the pair have the credentials to win.
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The Irishman, one of very few eventers to hold a PhD, is a late convert to eventing – he was a showjumper and also worked in academia – but his rise to prominence in this sport has been meteoric, culminating in world team and individual silver medals last year. He was eighth on his Badminton debut in 2018 on Mr Chunky, a horse previously ridden (and got very fit) by his wife Lucy (nee Wiegersma) and could easily go all the way this time.
Andrew’s victory in 2017 on Nereo was one of the great moments in the history of the sport, coming after 33 years of trying and more completions (37) than any other rider. The 57-year-old New Zealander suffered a broken neck in 2015, which would have finished the career of a lesser man, but he rides as beautifully as ever. His grey horse, Swallow Springs, has a characterful streak, but is as good a galloper and jumper as any you’ll see all weekend. They were third at Burghley last year.
Nicola, a proper hunting horsewoman from Bedale, Yorkshire, seems to specialise in black horses that are brilliant jumpers. The feisty mare Bulana, who can be strong, is no exception, but she can at least do dressage as well. The pair won individual bronze and led the British team to victory in the 2017 Europeans and, after a spell on the sidelines, could, if they’ve had enough match practice, lift the big one.
Six fences to watch
The Savills Staircase (fences 4 and 5)
This combination is bound to cause a few early mistakes as fresh horses try to duck out of the spread fence at the bottom of the steps.
The Shogun Sport Hollow (fence 10)
A new question posed by course-designer Eric Winter and could well cause head-scratching. Riders approach it by riding under a pergoda and over a ditch before choosing to turn left or right over an acutely offset log.
The KBIS Bridge (10-11)
A substantial footbridge over the old Vicarage Ditch will require accuracy as well as guts and is one for the photographers.
The Hildon Water Pond (15)
The fence that offers the most striking view back to the house. Prettily situated in a little glade, there’s a big sploshy drop into water and a spooky waterfall to negotiate.
The Lake (25)
Arguably easier than usual, not least because horses jump in onto dry land, but the annual spectacular centrepiece usually claims the odd snorkeller.
The Shogun Sport Saddle (33)
It isn’t difficult (it’s the last) but it’s in the main arena where you can put your feet up and watch the big screen, plus all the atmosphere of the start and finish.
Six shops to visit
Beatrice von Tresckow
The most colourful shop you’ll see all day, with its ravishing silk jackets in every shade of the rainbow.
Collier & Dobson’s gallery
Has a fantastic variety of animal and rural art, from the sculptures of Hamish Mackie and Simon Gudgeon to Domique Salm’s comical zebra, Sam Macdonald’s fish and Louise O’Hara’s tranquil landscapes.
Has irresistible – and well-made and solid – blue-and-white Polish pottery.
Luxurious beds and coats and fun toys for eventers’ best friends.
Perfect picnic food or hostess presents.
Ride World Wide
Will have you galloping among giraffes, gliding past glaciers or exploring the Sierra Nevada.
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