A friend, who is determined to remain nameless and untraceable, since he enjoys this once-a-year job and doesn’t want to lose it, shared this with us. It really is straight from the horse’s mouth…
All that remains is for the 200,000 or so spectators to appear and another Badminton will be under way. 200,000 people. Some of them, like the readership of e-Venting, are a delight to deal with. They know what they’re looking at; they understand the huge effort that went into getting that 4* horse there. But of course there are others for whom the phrase “only here for the beer” might have been invented.
We all like lists. They’re easy to read and strangely satisfying. So, with my apologies in advance, here’s a XC steward’s top 10 for Badminton.
1. Please don’t worry about us blowing the whistles and closing off the crossing in front of the jump. We generally like to have a couple of practice goes before 700kgs and several hundred thousand pounds worth of event horse comes down the course at 30 knots, so it’s bound to be a false alarm. Oh. No. Wait… Still, if you’re really quick on your feet, we don’t mind at all if you ignore us, slip under the tape and ‘just nip across’. You’re probably quicker than Usain Bolt. The riders are pretty relaxed about it too. Anyway, it keeps us all on our toes and prevents boredom. But please try to remember that, however tough you may think you are, you will come off worst in a collision with a fast-moving horse and rider;
2. It’s a good idea to listen and, ideally, react when a steward blows the whistle, or (in extremis) shouts directly at you. If you remain defiantly oblivious to the 3/4 tonne of horseflesh rapidly approaching you it might ruin your day. Worse, it will also put a downer on ours.
3. Bear in mind that that equine athlete is much loved and also worth more than your house, unless you’re a Duke of course, in which case: my apologies your Lordship, but still, please step back;
4. Do please let us know your opinion on how the various international and Olympic riders are tackling each jump. Perhaps some helpful and voluble suggestions about whether they refused or hesitated. That always goes down well. We will often write your comments in and feed them back. Similarly, if there’s an incident, please feel free to tell us loudly what we should do. The various lengthy briefings we had to attend should probably have been optional. The paramedics and the stewards in assorted regimental ties know nothing about managing incidents. But we know that your judgement, even after half a dozen pints, is still razor sharp;
5. The tape around the course is more of a general guideline. If you really must ignore us, pop underneath and sit down closer to the action, feel free. It’s not as if the jumps are even vaguely technical. The riders can pretty much take them at any old angle and don’t generally worry much about their approach. So if you force them into the middle of the run, they won’t mind. Nor will we. We do so enjoy repeatedly asking people to stand back… until we’re hoarse;
6. Dogs. We just love dogs. Especially yours. Feel free to let them roam about. Better yet, let them on the course. The riders love the extra impetus it gives their horse when it’s being chased by a yapping Jack Russell. Besides, it’s well known that these 4* riders train their horse not to pronk sideways when dogs run under the tape. We like writing the reports too and we just know that the Ground Jury members love reading them;
7. If your dog does chase a horse, you might get kicked to death by angry, vengeful spectators if it causes a horse fall, and at that point I might totally forget where I put my whistle and radio and leave them to it;
8. Children? See dogs. We love them and love their random unpredictability. Don’t feel you have to control them in any way. Let them roam free and express themselves;
9. We do so much like to stop and have a chat. Our enjoyment is doubled when it’s clear you have been fully refreshing yourself in the Pig & Whistle all morning. We have been standing out on the course since 9 am in a suit and bowler hat just waiting for you to come and to relieve our boredom. Don’t worry about the radio in my ear, it’s only Hugh Thomas. Some nonsense about stopping the horse on the course while they pick up someone. Apparently the previous rider dismounted and has assaulted a dog owner… some of the spectators joined in… air ambulance required? Who’d have thought? The steward’s radio must have malfunctioned. Fancy that;
And finally: however much you’ve imbibed, taking a refreshing dip in The Lake after the last horse has run xc is not original, nor is it the best idea you’ve ever had.”
All photos by Katie Mortimore.