The first day of dressage here at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** dawned with less than ideal conditions—dark skies, driving rain and wind that seemed to gain strength by the hour throughout the day.
The wind was rattling the windows in the stabling area and making some of the horses uneasy this morning, but not Hen. He was very calm. Truthfully I wasn’t particularly worried about the weather for Henny and me; I knew it would provide a challenge, but I was more focused on encouraging him to come forward, in front of my leg and gather that impulsion that we’ve been working on in our training sessions.
The stabling area had a new energy today as it was the first day of competition and things were really bustling. There was excitement in the air as riders were gathering in the cantina to watch the early tests and then leaving to get ready while grooms were bathing, braiding and covering horses with layers of warm and waterproof clothing for the long trek to the dressage arena.
While Henny was being groomed and braided, I sat down to have breakfast and watch the dressage test ride on the big screen in the cantina. The test seemed to ride well, although I could tell that the footing was likely to become slippery with the deteriorating weather. I went to get dressed while Hen was being tacked up and then off we went on the long hack up to the dressage warm-up.
Despite the surging wind and sheets of rain, Henny warmed up beautifully—he was responsive, obedient and forward. Hen is very businesslike when it comes to competition—he is serious about his work and likes to get down to it with the minimum of distraction. He dealt so well with the big gusts of wind that were flapping the tents and snapping the flags. They did not seem to make him anxious as we warmed up.
At 11:58 we went into the arena to perform our test and I can say that Henny tried his very best. Unfortunately, when we entered the ring we lost some of the impulsion we had gained in our warm-up, and that free-flowing forward movement is imperative to earning higher scores.
In the end, we scored a 62.2, putting us in 36th place for on the first day of dressage. Yes, there was tension in our movements and Hen had some mistakes in his canter work, but overall he tried hard to do what was asked of him and I am proud of him.
While Amanda took Hen on the long walk back to the stabling area to untack him (and load him up with carrots for his good work), Amy and I caught a ride back as I had to exchange my soaking wet shadbelly and top hat for jeans and waterproof boots so that we could take a first look at the cross-country course.
I walked only a handful of fences of the course tonight, as we had to finish up with Hen and attend the competitor’s cocktail party at Badminton house, but what I saw gave me a lot to think about. As you would expect in a four-star, each fence is like a very difficult riddle that needs to be solved by the horse and rider, and some of the materials, like the stiff twigs used in the brush jumps, are very unforgiving.
I think as Saturday approaches there will be a lot more talk among the riders about the difficulty of the course, especially if the weather deteriorates.
Tomorrow I will walk the course at least twice, then I will take Hen for a hack and possibly a short gallop. I’ll check our equipment while Amy and Amanda give Hen a bath and graze him. We’ll check back in tomorrow with more thoughts on cross-country.
U.S.-based Australian rider Peter Atkins is contending the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** with his popular partner, the Argentinean-bred Selle Francais Henry Jota Hampton, a.k.a. Henny. The duo are well-known for their exciting cross-country helmet cams seen between Henny's intelligent ears. Their fans rally around the familiar chant, "Run Henny Run!"