I spoke to Julian Seaman, the Media Director at Badminton Horse Trials about what goes on behind the scenes at such a prestigious event. Julian is very experienced in his field and also had the same role at the 2012 Olympics! Julian has been involved with Badminton Horse Trials for a large number of years and every year is just as exciting as the last.
What’s new in 2015 from an event perspective? What can supporters expect to see as they wander round?
The way the sport has changed in recent years means it has become very spectator friendly, losing the roads and tracks made no difference to spectators. The biggest change the XC jumps tend to be more clustered so when spectating you can go to a zone and see a lot of action, rather than having it spread out like it used to be, the course used to be about a mile longer meaning jumps were spread a bit more far and wide.
The event is a marathon for all concerned; riders, horses, organisers and spectators so you need to pace yourself. If you decide to do the entire event like a lot of people, there are over 1000 pegs in the public caravan park, then the dressage days are a wash of networking, shopping, walking the course and spectating the beauty of eventing dressage. With over 500 shopping outlets there is plenty of retail therapy for even those that don’t enjoy shopping! By walking the XC course on the days before, you can choose your best spots for to view the XC providing you get there early enough, as you may know the water jump gets packed out quickly.
The shops open about 8am, so if you do arrive early not only will you avoid the traffic on the country lanes, you can get your shopping done and leave it with our drop off service, then start at fence 1 and work your way to the end of the course before the final riders at the final fences.
Do you like to see steady progression for the event? There is an expectation on the XC course from a supporter’s point of view, do you try to better the atmosphere each year? (A hard task, as it’s always electric!)
Unlike the Grand National the one thing about a big 3 day event is it is always changing, Giuseppe Della Chiesa is now in his second year as course designer at Badminton Horse Trials but as we swap which way round the course is ridden each year it means its Giuseppe’s first year again as it’s a new route. Last year sparked up a lot of excitement on the XC course for both spectators and riders, this has affected the entries as we had a shorter wait list in 2015 which we are hoping now each entry will get a ride. There are no statistics that show if it’s easier going left or right but it’s tough enough for riders to want to come back. Giuseppe has reintroduced very natural materials for fences on the course so it looks more like XC fences, this has created a general feel of a journey across country.
What about your grassroots event, it’s what amateur riders tend to aim for (I know it’s my aim), is it good fun to create an event that caters for both 4* and amateur riders? Are there any challenges?
It’s a different type of competition for all riders, as it started the younger of the Willis brothers, James, was given the task to design the course for grassroots, James now effectively builds the big course after his father’s semi-retirement so there are some similarities on the courses. Each course has a different course designed but the same course builder.
Grassroots qualification is very different to Badminton qualification but it is still hugely popular and a great brand for riders to be involved with. The idea behind the name change to the Mitsubishi Motors Cup from Grassroots was to try to involve more people into the Grassroots competition not only from riders but also sponsor and supporters.
I imagine there is a huge team behind the organisation of the event which we don’t see, is it planned like a military operation?
During the event there are hundreds of volunteers and stewards, the core team at Badminton is only about 10 people, so there is huge reliance on volunteers to make the event a success. Badminton tries to keep very local and tries to keep volunteers year on year to try ensuring that expertise, professionalism and organisation remain a priority. As a spectator it’s nice to have a local feel to the event, and by having local volunteers this can continue.
What happens over the weekend, I am assuming it’s all hands on deck at the event and not much sleep is had!
It does get very busy, because it is such a people orientated event, there is a lot of press and publicity surrounding the event itself. I have a day plan for each day of the event so I know where I have to be and at what time. Everything is planned and planned again, as it’s been going over 60 years’ experience tends to take over! We are all very lucky that Hugh is a very good boss and lets us all get on with it, if people fit they tend to stick around for a few years!
Do you feel a little more excited when a Brit wins? J
In the old days the event was invented to get the Brits up for the Olympics, then slowly other countries come in starting with Ireland, since it has turned to a short format event it has attracted a lot of other nationalities. It’s great to have a real international competition, personally it’s irrelevant to me who wins as long as everyone enjoys the weekend. One thing that’s fairly unique to eventing is everyone wants to do well but not at the expense of others, you can finish your round and root for your friends who are competing against you.
What can we look forward to in the future?
Every year, we adopt the attitude ‘just because something has worked doesn’t mean we won’t tweak it’ and we are already thinking about ways to improve for 2016. We are hoping to smarten up the trade stand. An idea in the pot is to have street names for easy navigation and maybe one day in the future a map on your smartphone? New media is coming for Badminton and old school PR is changing and we have to change with it.