The cross country course at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is ready to test probably one of the highest class entries for many years. With multiple Olympic medallists in the field, the course that director and designer Hugh Thomas had in mind for a pre Games work out takes on a different aspect one year on.
Since the cancellation of Badminton in 2012, Hugh has made one or two subtle changes to the track that he designed last year. What would have been an Olympic selection trial for several nations will now be a chance for riders such as Olympic, World and European champion Michael Jung, a Badminton debutant, to show their skills at the world’s premier Event.
As part of the Olympic Legacy programme some of the Greenwich jumps have made guest appearances at other Events and Badminton 2013 has one at the Swindon Designer Outlet Sunken Lane. This used to be the Ancient Market Place at the London Event.
The course this year goes the left handed way with clusters of action and long gallops between, where riders will have to carefully judge their pace. There are serious questions all the way round until the riders have the elation of jumping the final obstacle in the main arena.
Click here for a preview of the 2013 course and see description below.
The 2013 Cross Country Course
2012 was undoubtedly the highlight for a whole generation of people involved in Eventing, with the Olympics at home in London for the first time in the 64 years since Badminton was founded in the aftermath of the 1948 Games. London – and Greenwich – was a huge success on virtually every front – a fantastic spectacle, public participation and enjoyment, brilliant organisation, volunteer enthusiasm and medals won.
In 2013 we revert to normal, but basking in the glow of the Olympics, with heightened interest in both elite sport and participation in sport, which includes supporting and watching. For Badminton a post Olympic year often brings the highest class field of horses and riders of all, with no thought of ‘saving’ horses for the autumn, and riders from every nation can focus on this event & the fabulous Mitsubishi Motors Trophy as their major target for the year. This year we of course have the added excitement of a realistic attempt to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing by winning here and the points gained in the HSBC FEI Classics Series will hugely influence the outcome of that competition
After the very sad cancellation in 2012, there seemed little point in designing and building an entirely new course for 2013, when the previous version had not been jumped and indeed had not been seen by the riders (officially at least!). However, a few minor changes have been made, partly because some jumps have aged unacceptably and partly because when any course is finished the designer nearly always wishes he had done a few things a little differently! Our objectives for the course remain as ever – to test the best, to give a great experience to all, to ensure that any combination that wins a prize will go away certain in the knowledge that they can tackle anything the future may bring. In the process, we hope that all our visitors will enjoy a thrilling few days in these glorious surroundings.
As usual nowadays, the course starts in the Main Arena over the ASX Crossover (1), a simple enough task to settle the nerves. The early competitors will experience the roar of the crowd, hardly settled down after the Shetland Pony Grand National!
This year the course goes in a broadly anti clockwise direction, so it leaves the Park for riders to tackle the Deer Feeder (2), a really big fence but with a soft profile that encourages attacking riding before the horses go up one of the very few inclines on the track.
A new look has been given to the Horsequest Quarry (3,4,5). Tree trunks have been here for some years, but this time the middle fence is on the narrow side, which calls for reliable steering on landing on the steep ramp – a very few horses historically have jumped right to the bottom! The uphill trunk will pose no problem as all horses seem to cope very well with fences at the top of slopes.
It is quite a long gallop to the Irish Sport Horse Studbook Huntsman’s Close (6,7) but here the 4 star test really starts. The first question is a big, open parallel spread (incidentally on frangible pins), followed by a sweeping turn to a 3 part combination, two brushes without a stride in between and a narrow, angled log, which will require both agility and accuracy. When fences are called ‘technical’, this is what is meant! Properly presented, the horses should find this a simple straight line exercise. There is a much longer alternative.
After passing the stables and the southern end of the tradestand village, the next straightforward question is the Wadworth Barrels (8) on the lakeside. The old fence was falling apart so a new portable version has been created to hold the barrels and remind us of the qualities of the famous 6X brew.
And so to The Lake (9). Big fir poles have not been used here for many years, but while pretty large the fence has been built with a substantial solid ground line and a slightly sloping profile, to make it easier for horses to judge. Nevertheless, it may intimidate some riders, which is why there is an alternative. After a big fence into water, the test will be whether riders can stay in balance on the horse in order to be accurate over the combination of hedges in the Lake itself. The longer route involves a drop into water, with a step out and a bounce to the willow wave.
This year the L200s(10) supplied of course by Mitsubishi Motors are on an easy track from the direct route at the Lake, but have a more convoluted approach for those who have gone slow. There has been the occasional fall at this fence in recent years, but always for those approaching very fast, when it has preceded the Lake fences; this year the approach will be more measured.
After the adrenalin rush of The Lake, there is time to relax a little on the gallop past the House, taking in the Countryside Brushtop (11) on the way. This is one of the biggest fences on the course but will be treated as a ‘let up’.
Riders will leave the Park again over the Swindon Designer Outlet Sunken Lane (12). The step that used to be here has been removed in favour of slopes, enabling there to be a fence in the bottom for the first time – such fences need to be jumped slowly and carefully, which is why there is a clear choice of approaches, the quicker involving a much shorter distance between the elements. The portable fences here were given to us as a legacy of the London Olympics, where they formed the ‘Ancient Market Place’.
The theme of recent years is continued at the Rodney Powell Products Farmyard (13), though with a significant difference, in that the direct combination only involves one of the short armed corners that not everyone likes! Mike Weaver’s Haycart is followed by a very correct distance to the corner, but on a curving line it may pose a problem; but yet again there is an alternative of two individual fences for those unwilling to take any risks.
The Mirage Pond (14) has featured for many years as the second water on the course, though now renamed to reflect our sponsor’s brand of small car. A run out, especially at the second of the two hedges, will be an ever present possibility, especially as the horses will not be quite certain of the question before they jump the first hedge.
The World Horse Welfare Footbridge (15) is a harkback to the early years of Badminton and should give riders an exhilarating feel, big though it is. WHW is the official welfare arm of the International Equestrian Federation and its work world wide is very dear to the heart of all involved with equestrian sport.
The Outlander Bank (16) is the only fence on the course that was here for the first event in 1949, albeit with a very different look. This year the Owl Hole has been moved here, giving an even more massive appearance than usual, though technically the effort required is unchanged. Riders would do well to remember that the step onto the Bank is bigger than most that they will have encountered.
The course circles here in order to avoid an unpleasantly tight turn after the bank and another ‘old fashioned’ fence has been introduced in the shape of the HSBC FEI ClassicsTM Beam (17). It is really unlikely to cause any problems, but it is unusual nowadays to have a fence with little or no ‘filling’ below the main rail. At least the ditch will help horses to judge it.
The course returns to the main Park via the Shogun Hollow (18). The first rail has been here on several occasions and as usual should be jumped from a slow canter, so that the horse can see the landing that falls away and pick up his legs rather than jumping ‘flat’. However, the two brush boxes on the exit are pretty big and will require acceleration and power jumping, as we try to reward the horse that can quicken away from the first element.
The ground on the long gallop to the Rolex Grand Slam Shooting Butt (19) has improved immeasurably with drainage works, but we would still not risk a fence on it. This jump really is a flyer and should be great fun unless the horse is tiring.
Our TV producers, quite rightly, love the pictures from the buggy mounted camera that now tracks the horses, so we have moved the KBIS Table (20) so that a fence is included in this run, with the House in the background. This is not quite so simple as the previous jump, as square tables always require the rider to at least steady the horse and find a decent stride.
A new feature fence is the HSBC Market Place (21) with gates followed by corners. Everything here is frangible to safeguard a tiring horse and the longer alternative involves really quite small corners. The direct route however will really test whether the rider trusts his horse, especially at the final corner where the temptation to run out may be irresistible.
Savills Staircase (22) is one of the very few fences largely unchanged from 2010, when the course last went in this direction. The brush boxes at the top are new but the familiar should not be underestimated and several riders over the years have not recognised the effort needed to jump up two big steps late in the course. Again, there is an alternative at the top for the horse that has little spring left in his step.
The houses at the PHEV Village (23,24,25), named in honour of Mitsubishi’s soon to be launched hybrid Outlander, have been remodelled and repositioned, but the intention of the fence is the same as before – to slow the horses down a little but above all to ask the rider to keep his horse balanced over the only bit of rough ground on the course.
Home is almost in sight as the course takes in the traditional John Whitaker Keeper’s Brush (26) little altered over very many years, but still pretty big and to be respected.
The Alzheimers Research Log (27) replaces the Owl Hole in the copse of chestnut trees below the main arena and is intended to be significant enough to prevent riders shutting their eyes and just galloping for home. Riders will have to take a little care with the angle of approach to this fence named in honour of our Charity of the Year.
All eyes will be on the clock at the Rolex Crossing (28,29), just over 30 seconds from the finish, to see whether that elusive optimum time is achievable. The new watch boxes are not very big but the distance between them on the angle is quite long if a tiring horse is shortening his stride. Hence they have been numbered separately, permitting a circle between them or around the second box if necessary.
Towards the end of cross country day, the cheers that echo round the main arena as each horse comes to the finish bring a great atmosphere to the event and we urge everyone to experience this for at least a few minutes of their day here. As always, the Mitsubishi Finale (30) has been set on the turn, to make riders collect and balance their horse rather than gallop at it on a loose rein, but its main function is to allow all riders, however experienced, to have that feeling of achievement as they finish.