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Andrew Nicholson: ‘Riders must use their gears when riding cross-country’

Andrew Nicholson shares his thoughts on Badminton’s cross-country action, and judges’ responsibilities...

Alice Casburn Topspin Badminton Horse Trials
Alice Casburn and Topspin jump through The Lake at the 2022 Badminton Horse Trials.

THE way that some of the younger and less experienced riders dealt with Badminton’s cross-country course impressed me; they rolled up their sleeves and made it happen.

In particular, 20-year-old Alice Casburn did a superb job. She can ride, she knows her horse and they are quite a team. She was very cool, very positive and yet still connected in her riding, which was mature – she was doing everything at the right speed for each different fence.

The winner, Laura Collett, sat on her bottom and made it happen through the hard parts of the course; perhaps she benefited from her hold on course, but she kept going at the correct pace.

But I was quite surprised at the speed with which some riders approached the jumps which needed you to throttle back and come down through the gears. They just didn’t do that – and Tom McEwen, who fell with Toledo De Kerser, wasn’t the only one, although others got away with it.

Take responsibility

A FEW years ago, when ground juries made it clear to us that they were going to pull up riders on course on welfare grounds, I was handed the task of giving riders confidence that they’d make the right decisions – and I was all for it.

There are things that riders won’t see, such as a drip of blood coming out of a horse’s nose, but they are the ones who look bad if they come through the finish like that. The ground jury will see more and can pull a rider up, and that’s how it should be.

However, I cannot understand how Oliver Townend could be held for 25 minutes or so a few fences after surviving a sticky moment at fence four, be restarted, go all the way round the rest of a long track, finish and be given a time, and then eliminated. He was eventually reinstated, but whatever the finer points of the flag rules, the moment you have been held for that long and restarted, any earlier incident is history as far as I am concerned on welfare grounds – the horse shouldn’t have been allowed to continue if he was going to be eliminated.

And Maxime Livio, whose horse fell heavily at the last, should have been stopped before he came back into the main arena. If we can’t trust ground juries to make the right decisions in cases like these, perhaps it is time to revisit the idea of having separate judges for dressage, cross-country and showjumping.

On a roll

THE Swiss team, for whom I am the cross-country coach, did very well to win the competitive Nations Cup in Pratoni, which was also the test event for September’s eventing World Championships. Robin Godel was also first individually, with a lot of top riders behind him.

Watching the Swiss all week, I really noticed that they are becoming more secure and more confident; they trust their coaches, and believe in us and
in themselves.

The island fences on the cross-country were quite small, but that made the combinations, which were proper CCI4* questions, more difficult. There were quite a few frangible fences situated in good places so that the riders had to slow down and ride them properly, which is possibly why many of them struggled to make the time.

The Swiss did an impressive job; three out of four of them were a couple of seconds inside the time and the fourth finished exactly on it. None of them looked as though they were hurrying, and it was pleasing to watch.

Germany’s Ingrid Klimke was lying in second place going into the showjumping and had jumped clear out of order earlier in the class, so there was plenty of pressure on Robin. He’s a very good rider and demonstrated that this weekend.

The Swiss results have been good for a while now – don’t forget they were less than a penalty off the bronze medal at the Europeans last autumn. The Nations Cup series is a priority for us this year, increasing their experience in the environment of proper team competitions, and for them to do the best they can at the World Championships, we need to keep the momentum going.

● Who’s riding impressed you at Badminton? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com to let us know including your name, nearest town and county.

  • This exclusive column can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 19 May

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