On Sunday 11th May the winner of the 2014 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials will be decided after four days of intense CCI**** competition. Central to the winner’s success in this three phase competition will probably be the cross-country course designed by Giuseppe Della Chiesa, Badminton’s new designer – the first in 25 years.
But who are the prime contenders for the Badminton title? It takes years of training, dedication and great skill to succeed at the world’s most prestigious four star three-day. Sothere will be the “usual suspects”, including William Fox-Pitt on top form as winner of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at Lexington last weekend. This was William’s third Kentucky win, each one on a different horse. His 2012 winning ride, Catherine Witt’s Parklane Hawk is one of his rides at Badminton this year, and won Burghley in 2011. With two rides at Badminton, William will have to be a favourite.
However, the field of 85 rides includes some notable previous winners, including equestrian legend and four times Badminton winner Mark Todd, GB Team stalwart Mary King, and Pippa Funnell – the only winner of the Rolex Grand Slam (for consecutive wins at Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley). There are also others in the field whose build-up may have given them and their rides a chance at the title. Of course injuries could also see some contenders fail to start – that is a risk with horses.
But not all of the riders and horses are likely winners, nor are they just making up the numbers. There are many other reasons for running. Some are aiming for a spot on their country’s team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy from August 23 – September 7, 2014 – the eventing is Thursday 28th-Sunday 31st August. For others this seems like a natural step in a horse’s career and could be the rider’s own Badminton debut. Many pony club riders dream of riding at Badminton and that dream may never die, even when it is fulfilled.
Many of the riders entered I know from my days as an equestrian journalist and photographer. A few I can remember competing at pony club trials, like Sophie Jenman, who is making her Badminton debut having done Burghley CCI**** in 2013. I used to write about her mother for local papers as she was a leading contender in the South East Eventers League, as were over a dozen of the riders.
It’s a long road to Badminton and far from smooth. Portraying that struggle in realistic terms is difficult, and I hope in my novel “Spiral of Hooves” that I succeeded. Writing a Badminton winner was never my intention, but I wanted to set some scenes there. So over to my Badminton runners – why did you compete there?
Carly Tanner: When first asked about Badminton, I told a reporter that my mare Silver Torc is, “…fantastic and owes me nothing. If it wasn’t for her injury, we might have gone. Without a top horse, Badminton’s just a dream.” However, Gilles persuaded me that I was capable of riding there and realising my pony club ambition. I had to relent saying, “Okay. Torc and I have done a few three stars, so we need a challenge.” At that point I was unaware of where it would all lead.
Gilles Boissard: It should have been my dream but instead my competing at Badminton was driven by my father’s ambition of having bred a Canadian team horse. However, Carly told me when we walked the course, “That’s not you talking, that’s Roman’s pride. He doesn’t care about the means or the cost, just the result.” At that stage Carly was unaware of what pride and ambition would unleash.
So when the first horses do their dressage on Thursday 8th May 2014, keep your eyes on both the names like William Fox-Pitt, but also watch out for the outsiders and the hidden agendas. There might be a mystery there.