Riders at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials said this year wouldn’t be a dressage competition, but few could predict just how big an impact the tough course would have on the final results.

Best of the best

Out of 80 starters, 32 went clear, 32 were retired or eliminated and seven horses fell on the course.

“We had 40% clear, ideally I would have wanted 50%, but 40 is quite good,” said Eric. “I would obviously like to get rid of the horse falls, but a few riders came too open to certain fences where you needed to be in a poppy canter.”

Only Tim Price and Michael Jung managed to make it home inside the time, which Eric said was exactly what he wanted.

“The time showed the best of the best,” he said. “We measured it quite tight and the riders had to move up and jump, but those that did proffered. That’s what I want the competition to be about – it’s not about going for the lowest common denominator.”

Rhythm and balance

Eric believes that many of the younger riders could learn a thing or two from watching Michael and Tim’s round, who made the time look easy.

“It’s interesting that the two guys who went the fastest looked the slowest,” he commented. “They never really kicked, but were always in rhythm and balance with the horse. They don’t scrub and move their arms, they sit in the middle of the horse and stay travelling and allow the horse to jump the fences.”

It wasn’t just the time that was influential – those that jumped clear over the imposing course also made massive leaps up the leaderboard.

New FEI ruling

Tim climbed 30 places after his impressive round with Xavier Faer to finish third overall, while a double clear from Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul saw them go from 67th after the dressage to seventh.

Chris Burton, who was in the lead after the first phase, blew his chances of the title when Graf Liberty had a surprising stop at Hildon Water Pond, dropping them down to 19th. It was also unlucky day for former Badminton winners Sam Griffiths and Paulanks Brockagh who were given 50 penalties for jumping outside the flag at the Shogun Hollow (10).

This is a new FEI ruling, which the Australian rider said he fully supports, however he appealed the decision as he believed he was inside the flag. Sam’s appeal was refused, which meant he dropped from 11th after the dressage to 34th overall.

Challenging water

So which fences caused the most problems? The penalties were fairly evenly spread out this year, but while there weren’t any real bogey fences a few of them took more riding.

Savills Staircase (5) caused problems early in the competition for five riders, including Tom Crisp, who retired when Cooly’s Luxury had a further refusal at the next fence.

All three water complex proved challenging. The massive hanging log at The Lake (8) was less problematic than expected, and most problems came with the striding before the final element.

Hit the ground

“The house on the step up at the lip of lake was to make them jump up properly,” explained Eric. “But I hadn’t anticipated that when the horse jumped up they landed very close to the house, which made your stride a bit off for the other fence.”

There were nine refusals here in total, one of which was Nicola Wilson and Annie Clover, who then retired. Two riders fell, including first timer Danielle Dunn. Her mare put in a big jump on the way in, which meant she was wrong for the step up and when she tried to take a stride out, ended up on her belly and Danielle hit the ground.

Paul Tapner’s ride Bonza King of Rouges had a terrifying rotational fall after getting the stride wrong – although both escaped unscathed.

Tricky striding

A number of riders wracked up the penalties at the Hildon Water Pond (15), including the overnight leader Chris Burton. Not only was there a very big log on the way in – which tipped up two horses – the tricky striding on the way out caused six run-outs.

“You had to come in a very short canter to the log at top of slope into the water,” said Eric. “ It was a four stride distance in the middle, but some came in too open and they paid the price for that.”

Mirage Pond (17) also saw six refusals, including Kristina Cook and Calvino II, while Blyth Tait and Nicky Roncoroni were eliminated.

Thrilling day

The PHEV Corral (19) rode better than it walked as there were just two run-outs. However, three riders fell when they tackled the second element too fast and their horse left a leg.

“Cross-country is a learning curve for riders and designers,” said Eric. “If I had to do it again tomorrow there are two or three things I would change to make it more comfortable, but it’s my first year on the site.

“I’m the first person to admit I have some learning to do, but the guts of the day was very exciting. If riders want to come to Badminton they have to be able jump an upright set of rails and handle the terrain – they have to be able to ride cross country.”

You can watch highlights of Badminton on 17 May at 9pm on Sky 253, or online by subscribing to H&C Play.