It is the third year Eric Winter has designed the cross-country test for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials. As in previous years, he has kept to his philosophy of making the track look as natural cross as possible.
Of his course Eric comments: “I like to change it around as much as we can and there’s still those old-fashioned questions but lots for the riders to do. The course has a different feel to it and there will be some questions that the riders haven’t met before. This direction is much harder work on the horses – it goes back to much more of a cross country-based horse. In the other direction the ground is quite flat on the way out whereas this direction it shifts them off their rhythm early. I think it will be a thrilling year.”
As usual the ASX Starter flower bed (Fence 1) is in the main arena. Once under the grandstand, the course takes a right turn to run in a clockwise direction.
The course flows down his to Keepers Question (Fence 2) – the front of this fence has been lowered slightly to give a kinder profile but it’s still an imposing fence – before heading up to the Little Badminton Gate (Fence 3). Approaching up a steep little bank, riders can choose to jump either left or right handed over one of the very upright gates. Their positioning and profile make this quite a tricky little fence and means competitors will need to be on their game early in this course.
The Savills Staircase (Fence 4 abc & Fence 5) offers up the first combination on the course. The first element is a big log parallel followed by two large steps down – which horses will not see as they drop away on landing from the first element – and a tight left turn to another log parallel which is separately numbered. With fresh horses tending to run on down the slope the fence will test the riders’ control and their ability to have them back in time to jump the second fence at the bottom of the hill. Should riders have a problem there is an alternative longer route but this will waste vital second
The Worcester Avenue Table (Fence 6) is set in the trees, and whilst the fence is simple enough, it challenges riders to select their approach line. Taking it at an angle will help the riders to flow along the course track. Others will choose to go wide around the trees for a more direct approach but again this will waste time against the clock.
The Joules Corners (Fence 7 and 8) can be taken on a straight or curving line before the course heads to the Countryside Log Piles (Fence 9ab), where riders will have a choice of one large fence – the direct route – or a double of smaller ones. After this, the course starts to get serious.
The Shogun Sport Hollow (Fence 10 ab) has a funnelling pagoda from where riders negotiate a ditch into the hollow before choosing their line to an open offset log to the left or right.
The KBIS Bridge (Fence 11 and 12) is a massive parallel over the famous Vicarage Ditch. The question is made more difficult by being on a slightly downhill run, meaning riders will need to hold their line to take the direct route.The double numbering allows for a two-jump escape route.
The next obstacle has been at Badminton in some form since 1949, the Outlander PHEV Bank (Fence 13 ab). Yet it offers a new challenge as it is jumped cross ways for the first time. Combinations step up across the narrow profile of the bank and down to a narrow brush with a drop on landing. Rewarding sympathetic riding, adjustability and clever footwork, there is a slower alternative for those who need a bit more time.
The Rolex Grand Slam Trakehner (Fence 14) is a photographic hot spot as the massive log is slung over a gapping chasm.
This year, the Hildon Water Pond (Fence 15 ab) offers a slightly easier question but it still needs to be taken seriously.The first element might only be 70cm high but with a 1.8m drop into the water the riders will have to be on their game to prepare them for the cascading waterfall of the second element.
James’s Brush (Fence 16) offers a quick let-up before the more serious question posed by the Mirage Water (Fence 17 abc and 18). Despite several options, the direct route of this tricky combination consists of a right-angle corner over an old-fashioned open water ditch to a second big right angle corner.
Heading back to the deer park the next is the Nyetimber Heights (Fence 19 ab). It
will be fascinating to see how riders take this fence. From a blind drop over the birch brush into the hollow, they must find their line out and choose one of four skinny brush fences to jump.
The Feedmark Haywain (Fence 20) – a welcome breather – has featured all over Badminton Park in recent years and takes riders to this year’s charity fence the YoungMinds Brushes (Fence 21, 22 and 23), three asymmetric corners in a row.
Next up are the fences around the world-famous Badminton Lake. First is the World Horse Welfare Lakeside (Fence 24). This is a new fence on the course and is approached from a steep turn which interrupts the horses’ rhythm to jump this fence which has maximum top spread of 1.8m.The actual jump is basically a large parallel, but the design, with a pump station, extends over the lake and creates an attractive waterfall.
Then it is along the lake to The Lake with L200s (Fence 25 abcd). The entry fence – a fallen tree trunk – has been pulled back and had brushing added to the top to make it slightly more inviting and so there is a grass landing before entering the water. Riders can then choose either a quick route out with a sharp right hand turn up the bank and over the L200 brush, or a longer more flowing route with an extra jumping effort.
The course doubles back to the Wadworth Lower Lake (Fence 26), an imposing triple bar approached through the water.This fence should ride well but is not to be disrespected with a sizeable drop on landing.
The Trade Stands Hedge (Fence 27) is a friendly let up before the Voltaire Design Huntsmans Close (Fence 28 ab) which involves a birch parallel to a birch spread corner on a right turn. Here it will be important for riders to navigate their way between the trees and birch rails to choose their line, especially on tiring horses.
To avoid a flat out gallop the Eclipse Cross Chicane (Fence 29 ab) breaks up the approach to the Quarry, with two open ditch brushes on a U bend out and in of the deer park. It is a test of accuracy and control to keep the riders thinking and focused.
Coming towards the end of the course is the HorseQuest Quarry (30 ab). Although this combination is less complicated that recent years it still needs to be respected. Element A is a big drop fence down the bank and the challenge will be to rebalance the horses and have enough in the tank to see them out over element B at the top of the slope.
The Hayracks (Fence 31 ab) is a roll top spread to a roll top skinny, and whilst a straightforward combination, riders must stay respectful of it on the homeward leg.
A run up the bank should put the horses in great shape to jump the Rolex Trunk (Fence 32), a big carved tree trunk before they head ack into the arena for the Mitsubishi Final Mount (Fence 33), the public competition winning pair of sculpted wooden saddles.