Horse & Country was invited to preview Eric Winter’s debut cross-country course for the 2017 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.
The theme of the course this year is back to basics, as it harks back to the big tracks of the 1970s, with an emphasis on chunky, rustic design and more ‘run and jump’ fences, rather than a series of testing combinations.
According to Eric, the course is all about the rider knowing their horse, and planning their route accordingly. A number of fences have alternative routes, which won’t take much longer, so it’s up to the rider to pick the path that best suits their partner.
“It’s all about the relationship between horse and rider and knowing what he can do best,” said Eric. “For me that’s what eventing is all about. It’s a sport that builds the relationship between horse and rider.”
Here are some of the exciting changes to the course, which Eric has introduced.
The course runs clockwise, which is the opposite direction to last year.
There is a big new fence early on in the course. Keepers Brush is now called Keepers Question (3) and the brush has been replaced by a very large table. We’ve been told it’s inviting, but to us mere mortals it looks terrifying!
The first real question is Savills Staircase (5, below). It consists of a rail, two steps down and an angled brush away. They then gallop towards Badminton House and over a large table at Countryside Birch (6), which brave riders can jump on an acute angle to save time.
The Lake complex (8, pictured at the top of the page) comes earlier in the course this year, to allow Eric to make it more challenging. There is a MASSIVE drop down into the water over a hanging log, followed by a right turn to a wooden cottage, and a step up to a choice of sharply angled brushes. There are alternatives, but they will take valuable extra seconds.
There are two more water complexes on the course: The Hildon Water Pond (15, below) has two narrow tree stumps, while the Mirage Pond (17) has two angled hedges either side of the pond, on quite a tight distance.
We are sure many rides will breathe a large sigh of relief that there is no Viarage Vee this year (it will be back next year, we are told). But this is Badminton, so there is no shortage of scary fences to tackle. The Rolex Grand Slam Trakehner (14) is set over a serious ditch, which we are told involved removing a lot of earth. Don’t expect the riders to thank you for it!
Another big one is the Devoucoux Oxer (18, below), which is described as ‘as big as the rules allow’ (that’ll be very big, then) – although it is a straightforward fence, so shouldn’t cause any problems.
The trickiest looking fence on the course is PHEV Corral (19, below). At first glance it looks like a bounce, but riders have to pick one of the rails to jump on a severe angle. This will require good steering and at the end of the course both horse and rider will be very tired, so we could see a few run-outs.
By the end of the course, most of the serious questions are out of the way, but this is one of the toughest four-star events in the world, so riders shouldn’t expect an easy ride home. Horses will have to pick up over the two upright World Horse Welfare Gates (24), while their pilots need to stay focused at the Rolex Trunk (29), as the approach through the trees is deliberately awkward.
Last, but definitely not least is the Mitsubishi Final Mount (below), which was designed by Victoria Hanson who won Eric’s Design the Final Fence Competition. Out of 13,000 votes received by the public, nearly 4,000 went to Victoria’s carved saddles.
The 2017 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials takes place from Wednesday 3 May to Sunday 7 May. If you plan on attending cross-country day, don’t forget to download the new CrossCountry App, which features a virtual guided course walk with Harry Meade, commentary with Eric Winter, drone flyovers and more.
You can catch highlights of Badminton, which is part of the FEI Classics series, here on H&C TV. FEI Classics: Badminton premieres on 17 May at 9pm on Sky 253 or you can watch online by subscribing to H&C Play.