On day one of the Badminton Horse Trials 2023 presented by Mars Equestrian, we see two British stalwarts battling it out for the top spot, closely followed by the current World Number 1 after the first 44 competitors have completed their dressage. Amy Powell reports on the day’s action.
Olympic Team Gold medallist, Oliver Townend, produced a fluid and accurate test with 15-year-old Swallow Springs to score 23.2 penalties, leading by the narrowest possible margin over fellow Brit, Gemma Stevens (née Tattersall), riding Jalapeno who sits just 0.1 penalties behind on a score of 23.3. “I was very happy with him and the way he felt”, Oliver said of the grey Irish Sports Horse (ISH) who he took over the ride from Andrew Nicholson on in 2021 after the New Zealand veteran retired from the sport, “he’s not really built for that phase, he’s more of a galloping horse, but he put his best foot forward for me today.”
Gemma’s 15-year-old mare out of previous Badminton winner, Chilli Morning, showed incredible aptitude between the white boards for the mare’s first foray into the highest level of eventing, with just one small mistake in the final halt, “She gave me a fantastic feeling today, I went in and really enjoyed myself, and I think she did too – she felt lovely and soft and with me the whole time.”
Sitting behind Gemma in third place on an overnight score of 27.1 is New Zealander Tim Price on his Tokyo Olympic mount and Badminton first-timer, Vitali. The 13-year-old Holsteiner paints an impressive picture in the dressage but fell short of his impressive Burghely 2022 test (where the combination scored 21.3) due to an uncharacteristic mistake in the canter work, “I was hoping for better, he can go very low [scoring] in the dressage but I made a little mistake which just set us down the order a little bit,” Tim analysed. “Dressage you’ve got to get everything right, but this is going to be a cross country competition – the course is big and we don’t know what the ground is going to do”, he said of the weekend ahead and the forecasted rain on Sunday’s cross country day. Overnight leader, Oliver, was of the same opinion, “I don’t think the dressage is going to be the main issue this week, but it’s nice to start off as close to the front as possible!”
Close behind Tim, just 0.3 penalties behind him on the leader board, in fourth place is fellow Kiwi and Badminton Veteran (aiming for her 15th completion this weekend), Caroline Powell riding the 10 years young mare Greenacres Special Cavalier. “She’s been an absolute joy to produce, I’ve had her as a 4 year old and she’s really enjoying her work,” Caroline said of the ISH mare who she piloted around Pau for the horse’s first CCI-L 5* last year. “We’re here to see what she’s got and she did a really nice test so that’s one box ticked, but who knows what’s going to happen on Sunday, it’s a really big course and there’s a lot to jump out there. I’ve just got to remember she’s a young horse and can be a bit headstrong, but if we can come back clear, that would be incredible.”
The Eric Winter designed cross country course is certainly going to shake up the standings after dressage with his customary bold fences which will see only the true cross country combinations come home clear. But for now, after the first day of competition, we see an indomitable top three who will take a lot of beating in tomorrow’s second day of dressage here at Badminton.