Britain’s premier horse trials event is under way, with the four-star Badminton Horse Trials drawing the superstars of the sport.
French Olympic team gold medalist Thibaut Vallette leads on Qing Du Briot after the first day of dressage, with half of the field still to run. Vallette’s score of 38.7 is just ahead of German pair Bettina Hoy and Designer 10 (39.2) and Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam (40.0).
Vallette’s Olympic team mate and one of the favourites, Astier Nicolas, is in close contention in fourth place with his 2015 Pau winner Piaf de Bneville on 41.5.
Four-time Badminton winner Mark Todd was thrilled with the performance of the 13-year-old Leonidas II, currently in fifth on 42.9 after a mistake in the final halt.
Todd going for Number 5
Todd, who is aiming for his fifth Badminton title, has just been named a Land Rover Ambassador, joining the company’s illustrious stable of equestrian ambassadors which includes Zara Tindall MBE, Nick Skelton CBE, Ben Maher MBE, Sir Lee Pearson, Harry Meade and England polo player Max Charlton.
“A fifth title at Badminton would be great. I’ve already got five Burghley’s so if I can match that and win Badminton for a fifth time, that would be amazing. At this stage I am not really thinking about how much longer I am going to keep going. I still really enjoy it, I feel fit and well and I have a team of nice horses, so at the moment I don’t have any plans to stop.”
Todd, 61, has one of the most celebrated careers in the history of equestrian sport. He burst onto the international scene in the 1980s by winning back-to-back gold medals aboard Charisma in 1984 and 1988. Since then, he has competed at five more Olympic games and won a further individual bronze, a team silver and two team bronze medals.
Dressage day 1 wrap up
Taking the lead in the early stages was a surprise for French rider Thibaut Vallette, 43, an instructor at the legendary Cadre Noir in Saumur. It is his first ride at four-star level and he leads the day one scoreboard on Qing du Briot ENE HN, on 38.7.
“I didn’t expect to do this well, so I am very happy. Coming here is a dream for any eventer. This is the best dressage test the horse has done this year, as we had some difficulties after Rio – the experience made him very tense. But it’s not going to be a dressage competition!”
The next four placed riders have years of experience and four-star wins under their belt. Veteran German team member Bettina Hoy, who is now the Dutch team trainer, was thrilled to be just 0.5 of a penalty behind in second place on her only top horse, Designer 10.
Defending champion Michael Jung, fresh from victory in Kentucky last weekend and currently second on the FEI Classics series leaderboard, admitted that he was feeling some pressure, and his test with the 17-year-old La Biosthetique Sam FBW did contain some tension, but they scored 40.0 penalties and are in third place.
All riders who have observed the handiwork of new course-designer Eric Winter agree that it will not be a dressage competition. There are only five combinations on the track, but there are plenty of old-fashioned big fences and some difficult lines designed to slow riders and test the strength of their partnerships with their horses.
Images below © Mike Bain
Dramatics at first horse inspection
All 80 horses passed the first horse inspection to go through to the dressage phase, although Laura Collett’s Grand Manoeuvre, who was re-inspected after being held, was withdrawn before the dressage. Astier Nicolas’s Rio silver medal winner Piaf de B’Neville was also held and passed his re-inspection.
The fashion show trot-up was as colourful as ever – some of the men more so than many of the women. Andrew Hoy’s bright green tie and matching suede boots certainly stood out, as did the flash of pink lining inside Oliver Townend’s navy suit.
Standing out among the men were Alex Bragg in a blue tweed jacket and waistcoat, red tie and pale trousers, and Badminton first timer, Italy’s Pietro Sandei in military uniform. Looking particularly stylish amongst the women was fellow first timer Willa Newton who sported a dark blue velvet double breasted jacket, dark blue trousers and boots, while Canada’s Kathryn Robinson (pictured) was as glamorous as she was last year in a brown jacket, hat and boots with white trousers.
Several horses were bursting out of their skins. Andrew Nicholson had his hands full with Qwanza, as did the almost 5 foot 2 Ros Canter with Caroline Moore’s 17.2hh Allstar B. Two were sent to the hold box, Astier Nicolas’s Rio silver medal winner Piaf de B’Neville and Laura Collett’s Grand Manoeuvre. Both passed on re-inspection.
As usual there was one wardrobe malfunction; Emily Gilruth lost one shoe as she trotted up the ‘runway’ and the other shoe on her return.
The HiHo Silver best dressed awards went to Paul Tapner, whose dress sense gets more extravagant every year, and Danielle Dunn.