Badminton Horse Trials is one of the biggest weekends in eventing. Discover what happened at this year’s event
It’s never over until it’s over, and that’s particularly true of Badminton Horse Trials. After leading through the dressage and cross-country phases – although admittedly on different horses – Oliver Townend seemed to be a shoo-in to take the title for a second time. He had 5.3 time penalties in hand after a fast cross-country round the day before and, in Ballaghmor Class, a horse who’s normally reliable over the coloured poles.
That doesn’t mean the other competitors intended to let him walk away with the trophy, though, and none more so than his fellow Brits, Piggy French and Vanir Kamira. They’d been closing in on Oliver all weekend, moving from fourth after dressage to second after cross-country, and needed a clear round inside the time to continue piling on the pressure. In front of a packed stadium, that’s exactly what they delivered – on a day when not many others managed it. Not bad for a horse that, just the day before, Piggy had fondly claimed runs round Intermediate events like a ‘scope-less yak’.
In the end, this wasn’t to be Oliver’s year. His penalty buffer over Piggy shrank when Ballaghmor Class dropped a pole and that, combined with crossing the line four seconds over the optimum time, ultimately added 5.6 penalties to his overnight score. He finished an agonising 0.3 penalties behind Piggy.
“Oliver’s horse is a great jumper and I’d turned away from the screen by the last few fences. But then the clocked went red,” she said. “I can’t believe it.
“She’s such an amazing mare, but she doesn’t find this easy and it’s not her sort of track – when I walked the course, I thought ‘not a chance’. If I built it at home and jumped it 50 times, she wouldn’t go clear. But there’s something about her, about these great little mares, that just do enough when you need it.”
British riders took up six of the top ten highest places. Probably the most emotional of these was William Fox-Pitt, who’s on a come-back after his serious neck injury in 2015. He brought two horses to Badminton and finished ninth on Little Fire.
“I’m lucky to be at Badminton with two such special horses,” he said after his round. “They’re what got me back – and it’s still exciting to be here, which is good to know.”
Another top performer was Australian Chris Burton, who finished third and fourth with Cooley Lands and Graf Liberty respectively. Cooley Lands was also the only horse to finish on his dressage score, after Chris achieve two of only five cross-country rounds that were clear inside the time on Saturday.
Once again, the sun sets on another wonderful weekend at Badminton, full of the usual high-drama, high emotions and high-octane riding from some of the best eventers in the world. According to the statistics geniuses at performance analysist company Equiratings, Piggy’s victory also marks the 100th time a British rider has won at the top level of the sport. In a pleasing nod to history, the first of these victories took place 70 years ago at the first Badminton in 1949.
Final top ten at Badminton 2019
- Piggy French and Vanir Kamira (GBR) – 26.8
- Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class (GBR) – 27.1
- Chris Burton and Cooley Lands (GBR) – 28.1
- Chris Burton and Graf Liberty (AUS) – 33.7
- Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs (NZL) – 35.8
- Oliver Townend and Cillnabraddon Evo (GBR) – 36.1
- Tina Cook and Billy the Red (GBR) – 40.5
- Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden (GBR) – 41.2
- William Fox-Pitt and Little Fire (GBR) – 41.2
- Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy (NZL) – 43.3
Words: Rachel Dyke. Photo: Kit Houghton / Mitsubishi Motors