Every now and again the stars align and you totally luck out.
This year it was to be able to do a coursewalk round Badminton with Yogi Breisner and several members of team Ireland. I was lucky enough to walk round with Austin O’ Connor, Dominic Furnell, Jim Newsam and Ciaran Glynn.
The first question comes up at fence 3 Keepers Question, which according to Eric Winter who we met part way round the course is only Intermediate dimensions and could have been made bigger. What makes it a 4* question is that the ground falls away down to the fence before levelling around one stride away. This means the riders have to keep coming while balancing their horses.
Fence 4 is Mike Weavers Haywain where Yogi told them to have a relaxed forward hand and to keep riding forwards.
Fence 5 Savills Staircase is the first serious question on the course. Yogi advised the riders to prepare in advance with a pull to make sure the horses are back on their hocks and listening ready for the gear change down.
At this point Austin commented that ‘there is not much to smile about’ at this fence. Austin has completed Badminton a four times and this year comes on a horse doing its first 4*. If he completes Badminton this week then he will be able to add a coveted Armada trophy to his achievements.
Yogi said the riders need to sit up and allow them to have time at this fence. You want them to shuffle, sit back and look.
At fence 6 the Countryside Birch, the ropes mean you are on a tighter line than you might want to be. Its a big feature of this course, how tightly roped it is meaning riders have to make decisions and plans a fair way in order to get the best lines while making sure the horse can understand the question. Yogi’s advice at this fence was to have an open hand over the fence to try and get a quick turn inside the trellising rather than adding seconds and having to weave around the trees. You want to jump it a little to the left.
Coming to the lake Yogi told the riders that they must shake the horse up before the lake. Check they are on the aids because they have such an eyeful coming up. ‘You want to get them a bit agitated so they are feisty on you and get your line. Then you want a short bouncy stride before they run down to the lake. As it starts running down let them have a stride or two to see what is coming and then punch them in on the last stride. You do not want to come too fast.’
The way out was decided that the right option was better because there is more to keep the horse straight. ‘It is going to ride longer than you expect. I do not think you need to worry if you are a little right to left over the jump in.’
At fence 9, the Offset Oxer it was at this point that Ciaran made my favourite comment of the day with ‘Please stride god send me something I can work with.’ How often have we thought that to ourselves while jumping what seems like tiny little fences in comparison.
Yogi commented as we were walking round that Badminton has gone back to being big and when it is big like this you have to work all the way round. ‘You have to keep kicking because the size of the fence makes them back off.’ But he did point out that the questions are very clear.
At fence 10 the Shogun Hollow Yogi’s advice was ‘ Compress them up the bottom of the slope, move them forward with a relaxed hand up the slope, as you come up the slope, pick them up and ride.’
At fence 11, KBIS bridge the riders need to move off the turn and then say go.
I was walking round with the owner of Ciaran’s ride November Night – Peter Cole. They only had confirmation of their place on Friday at Badminton. They had to jump on the phone and start booking ferry’s. They were going to come anyway on the off chance that a space would come up. They have owned this horse since a 4yo and it has gone up the grades with no ambitions having not paid big money. November Night was described as ‘cheap and cheerful’. November Night is owned alongside Susanna Francke. November Night has been to Pau, Boekelo and Millstreet on her journey to Badminton and as Peter commented ‘has hopefully now got her stripes to come here.’ Ciaran was convinced they would get into Badminton.
I asked Dominic whether the courses look more jumpable as you walk them more as this was the first coursewalk ‘ Pretty much, I hope anyway!’ Dominic has been to Pau on Ballycahane Flower Power where they jumped round clear. ‘We qualified for this after Pau and I thought, why not?’
Fence 15 The Hildon Water Pond there was a lot of head scratching going on and it was this fence all the riders were going to walk several times. Yogi highlighted that the riders needed an absolutely perfect jump in over the first log if they were going to jump the quick route because of the angles. if the jump in was anything less than perfect than they needed to automatically switch to thinking about the alternative.
At fence 17, the Mirage Pond; Ciaran commented ‘ I practiced something like this the other day. It did not look like this.’ Yogi advised riding the Mirage Pond like two separate fences. Jump to the left slightly, ride off your eye for the turn and make sure its a good turn so the horse can understand the question. You then need to kick away from this fence and see if the horse takes you. ‘This fence has a bit of an incline and if you have not got an immediate reaction then you need to nurse them up this slope. The area of fences that riders have just completed is slow and riders will need to be making up time.’
At fence 19 the PHEV Corral, there was a bit of head pondering but they decided that the right hand side was the more obvious route because the slope taking you to the rails was smaller as was the incline down. It was thus kinder to the horse to give you time before the angled rail out. It was at this point that Eric Winter popped up along the course. Yogi joked that he had bought a chainsaw along. Eric quipped back ‘There is no intensity, its just a run and jump track!’. Eric also pointed out that if we were at the Badminton stables during hunting season that most of the hunters would be fine with this fence as just some upright rails. But as Yogi pointed out this maybe a hunting fence but its a bit different after 8 minutes and having jumped some of the fences which came before.
Eric finished off by saying ‘at the end of the day on Saturday I will be either the biggest villain or a hero!’.
At fence 21 the Joules Corners, Yogi advised that ‘you need to use your eye as a rider between a and b and not think about strides. You need to ride the line.’ This seems to be a common theme around the course that riders must use judgement and quickly to ride what they have and make quick decisions.
At fence 24 World Horse Welfare Gates the advice from Yogi was ‘wherever you are on the clock forget about it.’ You need to have a show jumping canter and you need to respect this fence.
At the HorseQuest Quarry Yogi pointed out to the Irish riders of whom several had never been to Badminton before that a tired horse will stand off at the quarry rather than pop and shuffle at the wall on the way out. Yogi also told the riders that they must avoid turning because this will just interrupt the rhythm on a tired horse.
This point was also reiterated at the FEI Classic Hedges and the Rolex Trunk. Yogi pointed out that with both fences Eric is daring the rider to turn or to angle because of the way the fence has been situated but they have to avoid this temptation and instead float in and keep it smooth.
We ended up back at the main arena. The whole thing was a great experience and I will certainly be cheering on Team Ireland. All the little snippets of information are such that you can take them into your own cross country riding even if its only 90cm vs the big maximum dimensions we saw today.