Whilst the direction remains the same, riders tackling this year’s Mitsubishi Motor Badminton Horse Trials can expect something new when they head out on to the cross country course.
In his third year as course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa has bucked tradition. As with last year, once riders have jumped Fence 1 – the ASX Starter – they will turn left out on to the cross country and The Park Place Hedges (Fence 2 and 3). Then the real challenge starts.
The HorseQuest Quarry (Fence 4 and 5) poses a very different questions to the last two years. Giuseppe comments: “We’re coming to The Quarry quite early. The principle is to have a couple of fences to warm up to make it clear to the horses and riders that they are at Badminton. They will approach the first element, the hay cart, and then look left and they have two possibilities. They can come the direct way or there is a more panoramic route where they can go wider and come in via the central wall and eventually go through the two houses which will take more time.” This certainly has the feeling of Quarries of old.
To break a long gallop down towards Hunstmans Close, riders have to steer off the straight and jump an inviting parallel – The Oxer Chicane (Fence 6) before the serious question of subtly altered distances at the brush corners in the Irish Horse Gateway Huntsmans Close (Fence 7).
Then it is the first fence where horses get their feet wet – the Wadworth Lower Lake (Fence 8) – a big log on the flat at the lower end of the Lake, which jumped very well on its introduction in 2015. Giuseppe then reroutes from last year, going to the white spreads at the Jack Wills Garden (Fence 9), his only decorative concession to long distance show jumping.
Past the front of the House it is a right turn to a revamped Swindon Designer Outlet Mound (Fence 10, 11 and 12) with comprises of a gnarled log on the flat, followed by another in the dip, up a steep slope to an airy suspended log and down to a very narrow log on a left handed turn, which has been described by Guiseppe “as an interesting test because there is a lot of terrain and a bit different from jumping on the flat.”
There is then a let up spread at the FEI Classis Stick Pile (Fence 13) before a new look Mirage Pond (Fence 14 and 15). The first element is a narrow kennel with an immediate drop into the pond. There are two choices of kennel exit, with little to choose, but it is the gap between which will keep the horses guessing which one their pilot will opt for. As Giuseppe says “it is not a big test as the next section is quite intense and will use a lot of horse’s energy.”
In keeping with letting the horses have a bit of a mental break after a serious question, the next is another let up, the PHEV Oxer (Fence 16) alongside the Vicarage Ditch then up one of the few inclines in Badminton Park to Giuseppe’s ‘discovered’ location, the Gatehouse New Pond (Fence 17, 18 and 19). Again very different to last time, the direct route involves a birch drop into the water, a spread in the pond and out on a sweeping left curve to a very open birch corner.
Giuseppe comments: “It’s quite straightforward but each individual fence needs to be respected. It’s very unusual (to have a parallel in open water) – I don’t remember it. I thought a lot about it as to why there should be any reason it should not jump well. I didn’t find any reason and I think we’re at the right place in the course. I believe open fences have their place and in many ways horses tend to jump them much better because they are more defined.”
The Rolex Grand Slam Hedge (Fence 20) comes before the classic KBIS Vicarage Vee (Fence 21). The
difference this time is that though the obstacle has to be jumped going left, the course track hangs right thereafter, doubling back to the rebuilt Outlander Bank (Fence 22), which has been completely rebuilt with an upright frontage to a bounce over a narrow roll top feeder.
Then it is a right turn to re-enter the Deer Park over the Shogun Hollow (Fence 23), an angled double of hedges, with a dip between them. Another long gallop ensues before a return to the World Horse Welfare Garden (Fence 24), where riders will need to really steady up before a double of upright white gates.
Down to the crowd favourite, the Lake complex. It is much later on in the course this year, which changes
its significance. The first element, which miraculously finds itself as Fence 25, celebrates the silver anniversary of Mitsubishi Motors sponsorship, with the back to back L200 Pick Ups. It is then a left loop to a quite inviting brush into the Lake (Fence 26), followed by a choice of exit over another brush followed by brush cubes.
Giuseppe says: “I wanted to have a nice combination here but nothing too big – we want to test and see late in the course how horses are performing. The hedge is quite a big jump in and after that they have enough time to recover and they have two options to come out. The optional route doesn’t take too much longer but there is a bit more space to recover out of the water.”
Hugh Thomas, Director of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, added about the fence positioning to mark 25 years of sponsorship from Mitsubishi Motors: “It gave us quite a bit of work for Guiseppe and I when we planned the course. As you know, 25 years is the silver anniversary so the Pick Ups are silver and not red and they are fence 25. It needed a little bit of creative numbering.”
There are now only two rather than three birch fences at the Alexanders Silver Birch (Fence 27 and 28), then the same Countryside Tree (Fence 29) looking down the Avenue towards Worcester Lodge.
Last year Savills Escalator (Fence 30) proved perhaps on the kind side, so more of a slalom effect is
required this time. The Devoucoux Keepers Brush (Fence 31) is the same as ever, but there’s always the penultimate question at the Rolex Crossing (Fence 32). Different logs, different distance this time, then finally back into the arena over the Mitsubishi Finale (Fence 33).
This year’s course has 33 fences with 45 jumping efforts over a distance of about 6,500 metres, which will give an optimum time of around 11 minutes 30 seconds. Last year when the course ran the same direction, only 12 combinations completed the course under the time.
Referring to the direction of the course Giuseppe finishes: “The main feature (this year) is the difference balance of the difference elements of the course. At the end of the day Badminton is very traditional – you have the Quarry, the Lake, Huntsmans Close and Vicarage Vee. But how these elements are linked together this year makes it different from normal. The course is lined up in a slightly different way than is tradition.”
Hugh explains: “The most important impact on the course on the day is the weather and the going. Historically we have always tried to set a course that is of similar standards year by year and the weather makes a lot of difference. Sometimes the course will seem to be a little too easy – if the conditions are perfect and we have the best horses and riders in the world it should seem straightforward. But if conditions are difficult, only the best succeed.”
To watch the 2016 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials course preview with Harry Meade visit http://bit.ly/1WrAIIM
Sarah Carless Reporter at Large