59 Years Young and Going Strong
The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials took place May 1 to 4, 2008. Eighty-one horses from Great Britain, New Zealand, France, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and Germany were presented to the ground jury at the first horse inspection. All passed, although a handful were trotted up twice in front of the majestic Badminton House, home of the Duke of Beaufort, before receiving the official thumbs-up.
For me, watching that vet inspection was a dream come true. Since a very young age, I have dreamed of going to Badminton. Never as a competitor (my dreams weren’t that fantastical!) but as a photographer. In 2008, I made it, following the competition from start to finish through the lens of my camera.
In April of 1949, the first Badminton Horse Trials took place in Badminton Great Park, Avon, England. Members of the Beaufort Hunt acted as stewards, judges and helpers on all levels. Forty-seven horse and rider combinations entered but only twenty-two (men, military & civilian, and women) actually competed.
Straw bales provided the spectator seating around the dressage ring, which was situated on the lawn. Dressage was fairly foreign to the Brits at that time and one rider in particular, W. Stokes, was “awarded” an incredible 233 on his scorecard. One thousand people, mostly farmers and hunt followers, came out for cross country day. Approxi-mately 6 stands made up the “trade fair”.
Fast forward to 2008. The trials still take place in Badminton Great Park and members of the hunt are still enthusiastically volunteering. The entries have doubled, the dressage takes place in the main arena and over 250,000 people come out annually for cross country day. As for the “trade fair”, it is now a huge, multi-aisled tent city where one can buy everything from smoked salmon to Wellie boots and horseboxes. Terrific deals abound and some spectators admit with only slight guilt to coming to Badminton mostly to shop!
But back to the horses. Dressage ran over two days, with forty tests per day held under a mixture of sun and cloud. Sixteenth rider in on day one, Australia’s Clayton Fredericks, had hardly begun his test when the clouds opened with a mixture of pouring rain and hail. Fredericks, whose wife won Badminton 2007, and Nullabor would not be deterred and put in a brilliant performance for a score of 38.0, moving them into 1st. He held this place until mid morning on day two of dressage when his countryman, Andrew Hoy, and Moon Fleet score 35.4. This score would not be bested and Hoy went into cross country day as the man to beat.
As it has proved countless times in the past, the cross country course at Badminton is a great leveller and treats everyone, new faces and old, the same. Overnight leader Hoy and second placed Brit Ruth Edge were eliminated after horse falls, while Clayton Fredericks, three-time Badminton winner Pippa Funnell and veteran rider and former Badminton champion Mary King all ended the day with falls.
Only two riders made it across the finish line jump and time-penalty free: Polly Stockton, former British team member, with Tom Quigley and 18-year old Georgie Davies with Fachoudette, attempting their first Badminton. However it was Frenchman Nicolas Touzaint and Hildago de L’Ile, riding late in the day, who would, with very few time penalties, move into the lead heading into the stadium jumping on Sunday.
On the final day, just one show jumping pole down separated the top four of Touzaint, Lucy Wiegersma (GBR), Stockton and veteran British competitor William Fox-Pitt. Under very heavy skies, and before a packed house, the competitors returned in reverse order, with the top riders jumping last. Although they took a rail, reigning European Champion Touzaint and Hildago de L’Ile crossed the finish triumphantly, becoming the first competitors from France ever to win the Badminton Horse Trials.
If your holiday is for Badminton alone, I recommend avoiding London’s Gatwick and Heathrow Airports entirely. Direct flights will take travellers to Cardiff International Airport in Wales. From there, cars may be rented or, if you’re not ready to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, National Express Coaches and trains will take you to towns near Badminton.
Visit the Badminton Horse Trials website at http://www.badminton-horse.co.uk/ . Under Visitor Information there is a list of hotels and B & B’s. Due to the huge number of visitors each year, it is advised to book very early.
Recommended Reading for Eventing Fans
Badminton: a celebration by Angela Rippon; c1987; Pavilion Books Ltd.
Badminton Horse Trials: the triumphs and the tears by Hugh Thomas; c1999; David & Charles
So Far, So Good: the autobiography by Mark Todd; c1999; Gollancz Books
Pippa Funnell: the autobiography by Pippa Funnell; c2004; Orion
What Will Be: the autobiography by William Fox-Pitt; c2008; Orion
Mary Thomson’s Eventing Year by Debbie Sly with Mary Thomson; c1993; David & Charles
Zara Phillips: a revealing portrait of a royal world champion by Brian Hoey; c2007; Virgin Books
Up, Up and Away and Four Square by Lucinda Prior-Palmer; c1978 and 1980; Pelham Books