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Some of you may have seen that I was extremely lucky to win a cross country course walk with Sam Griffiths today. This was a fantastic opportunity to not only get a good look the fences before watching the professionals tackle them, but also to get an inside look of how these rider’s walk the course and what they are looking at.
Who is Sam Griffiths?
For those of you unfamiliar with Sam Griffiths, he is an Australian born rider now based in the UK. He has competing in 4 star events since 2004 and won Badminton for the first time in 2014 with Paulank Brockagh. He represented Australia in the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics. In Rio he finished 4th individually and took home team bronze.
This year he is competing once again at Badminton on Paulank Brockagh. This 15 year old mare has been competing at 4 star with Sam since 2013 and has completed Badminton for the past 5 years.
His general opinions on the course/competition as a whole
Before we got to the first jump (and throughout the walk) Sam made lots of comments and answered questions about the course and eventing in general. These were very interesting and I think they need to be highlighted before we look at the individual fences.
Ever now and then, they change the direction you ride the cross country course at Badminton. This year they are going anticlockwise. Sam said he prefers when the course is clockwise because he feels that the final stretch anticlockwise rides uphill and can take a lot out of a tired horse. Especially when most of the course up until then has felt relatively down hill.
He also feels that the theme of the course has changed over time. In recent years it has used a lot of skinny fences to test your accuracy. However, this year the course designer has used tricky angles and obstacles (such as trees and rocks) in your ideal line so that you have to angle a fence or take a wider line.
Throughout the course it was also really interesting to hear which fences suit different types of horse and how to be successful you need a horse which can be brave, powerful, honest and quick thinking.
Throughout the course there are plenty of options for the rider. Plus plenty “escape routes” so riders can avoid collecting penalties if something goes a bit wrong. However, if you want to be within the time, you can’t really afford to be taking any long alternatives.
Sam’s insight on the fences
There is so much I could say about each and every fence on the cross country course after today. But instead of a huge amount of detail on things you can read on the virtual course walk, I thought I would just tell you the interesting insights I picked up today which are hopefully a bit different to things you have seen already.
2: Rolex Feeders
A really kind fence to help the horse and rider get their eye in for what will be coming up in the course. It’s not very tall, but it is very wide, so still needs to be jumped on a decent stride for the horse to make it over.
Sam’s plan is to go over the left hand side as this gives you the better line/shortest distance to fence 3. But since he is fairly late in the running order, he said this plan may change if the ground becomes churned up.
3: HorseQuest Hump
This is another fairly straight forward fence and shouldn’t cause a problem. Going up the slope beforehand will make the horses bring their hindquarters underneath them, setting them up for a better jump. However, this jump is still very wide and horses who haven’t jumped at this level before may takeoff and then have to stretch for it, not judging the width before take off.
4: HorseQuest Quarry
An iconic Badminton combination, this walks and appears fairly straightforward. However, the steep slope down from part A makes it deceivingly complicated.
Sam plans to ‘showjump’ part A with long reins to then turn with 5 strides to the B part. If a horse is fresh and travelling a bit fast or jumps too big you can very easily run out of room to jump part B.
5: Rolex Grand Slam Skinny
This is a very clever fence as while the fence itself it fairly straightforward, because of where it is placed and the tree on the approach, it is difficult to get a good line into it. Whichever line a rider decides to take, them will need to slow down and be in balance and control.
6: Huntsmans Close
This is another iconic Badminton fence. It has changed a lot over the years, but this year it seems to be really focusing on difficult angles and is the first real question on the course. Even jumping all three fences on an angle, there is no clear line through these jumps. A horse will have to land, find the jump and jump within a few strides. Will need a quick and honest horse.
Sam plans to jump the first part aiming at the tree directly afterwards. After a stride he is hoping to turn to part B for a stride or two before takeoff.
8: Wadsworth Water
This fence actually jumps better than it looks. But as the horse won’t see the water until the last second you need a brave horse. This is the first chance for the horse to get their feet wet and experience the huge atmosphere of Badminton. Once you have jumped this you are starting to get into the serious part of the course.
Sam personally feels this is the toughest section on the course. It’s the first time the horse will have seen a huge crowd and often a lot of noise on the course but the fences themselves are also very challenging.
There is a good gallop and then a sharp turn into part A, which has a 6ft+ drop down into the water. The ride between parts B and C is also challenging with a steep slope to an angled brush. There are plenty of alternatives here, but they are very long.
This is a combination Sam said he will be watching to see how it rides so that he can alter his approach.
12: Formulate! White Oxers
You jump one or the other and again are fairly straightforward fences. Sam plans on taking the left one as he thinks it seems a little bit smaller than the other. He also made a comment of how riders will want to try and look pretty as there is always a photographer taking photos here with the house as a backdrop.
14, 15, 16: Outlander PHEV Mound
There are lots of options throughout these fences with riders opting to go left or right at both of the first parts. For 15, the left is on a slightly shallower hill, so is easier to jump. But you have less time down to the corner on the other side.
Sam hasn’t decided which route he will take. But at the moment he is thinking right at 14 and then left at 15. He also said that those corners are really wide and open so you will need a really honest horse.
17: Devoucoux Quad Bar
This old fashioned fence has a soft profile and should jump nicely. However, with the sloping drop on the other side it will ride big. There are some wood pile decorations on the other side of the fence which some riders may try to cut inside as they ride away from the jump. But the amount you would probably need to slow down in order to make this very tight turn may not save you much time in the long run.
18: Eclipse Cross Pond
This combination has two clear routes, one being marginally quicker than the other, but Sam didn’t think there was a huge amount in it. The landing area from part A of the quick route is on the edge of the water. This means you need a brave horse as some horses will jump a little shorter to land on the dry and could risk knocking a pin down. Part B of the quick route is an oxer up a slope which should jump well. Sam is planning to go straight.
20: Hildon Water Pond
There is also plenty of choice at this water combination. However, the long route is quite a bit longer, so most riders will be aiming for the quick route. Part B of the combination is down a slope and features a waterfall. This can make it tricky to jump and the added decoration could lead to a few refusals. You will need an honest horse who wants to do it to get through the quick route.
21: National Star Trakehner
This impressive rider frightener was here for the first time last year and didn’t cause too many problems when ridden from the other direction. However, approaching from this direction means you are running slightly downhill towards it which could leave the horse looking in the ditch.
Sam plans to angle this slightly to save a little bit of time. On the approach he will be sitting back slightly and keeping the horses head up.
22/23: KBIS Vicarage V
This is possibly the most iconic fence at Badminton and has caused many problems over the years. Over recent years it has become a bit kinder. The rails stretch out a bit further and they have pulled the bank on landing forward to allow to a better landing.
But even with these changes you still need a really brave horse to jump this. You want to keep their head up on the approach and get their feet as close to the fence before take off as possible. With this kind of fence they tend to back off and take off further away. There is an alternative but this is much longer.
24: Shogun Hollow
This combination walks fairly rideable with the quick route not seeming to include anything too tricky. However, the ditch is hidden by a steep slope on either side so you could get a silly run out here as the horse won’t have much time to see it before having to jump it.
25: Countryside Haywain
This fence is fairly straightforward and shouldn’t cause any problems. However, this comes after a really long gallop and will be where rider’s with a lot of thoroughbred in their horse will be making up a lot of time. This is also where a lot of horses will be starting to get a bit tired. There is a slight bend on the approach so you will need to slow down and most horses will probably give this a bit of a tap.
26: Joules Corner
This fence is very similar to last year, although there is a longer distance between the oxer and the first corner, giving you some more time to set up. This combination suits a longer stride, but the corners are very wide so a rider will need plenty of control. This later in the course this will probably cause a few problems. But there are several options to hopefully stop you getting into trouble.
28: Crooked S Bullfinch
The run up to this fence is up quite a steep hill which will take it out of a lot of these horses, especially at this stage in the course. But this old fashioned fence shouldn’t cause too many problems. By now you have asked all the big questions of the horse and if they jumped them they should jump anything.
29: Savills Escalator
This is the last combination on the course and with a tired horse you really need to ride your best to make up for your horses dulled reactions. This does ride quite big, so riders need to be strong in their position as this is one “you would hate to have a silly mistake at.”
Recovery after Cross Country
At any event, cooling the horse down after the cross country phase is very important. However, after all the cold weather we have been having recently, Saturday’s forecast is currently 20 degrees! This means that the horses will probably be at a higher temperature when they finish the course and cooling them down as quickly as possible will be extremely important.
Once they cross the finish line, the riders will slowly start to pull their horse up and head to where the grooms are waiting. They will then jump off and the grooms will often take over. This isn’t to be confused with the rider not caring for the horse! But it is down to the rider and horse being tired and the grooms being able to care best for the horse at that time.
The tack will be taken off pretty much straight away and they will often throw buckets of cold water over them as they walk them round. It’s good to let them walk calmly while they cool down as this can help stop them from stiffening up.
Once they are back at the stables they will often have their legs iced, to help treat any strains from the cross country phase. Sam said he likes his horses to get back to the stables as soon as possible so they can have plenty of time to recover before the trot up in the morning.