Of course I knew that the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton CCI**** cross-country was going to be a tough course in terms of the questions—there were so many combinations that the horse and rider would be taxed both mentally and physically before the course was over, but then you added in the footing, and that added an exponential element to the complexity of the course.
When I walked the course for the last time I thought the ground looked good and felt solid, but it was packed on top, but soft underneath, because of the weather. So when the horses got going they basically punched through the top layer and got stuck in the going underneath. This meant that all around the course the horses essentially got stuck, and couldn’t take off properly in front of the fences.
Before we left the stabling area to head up to the start box, I saw that Andrew Nicolson had retired and Mark Todd was eliminated on course—so the two best in the world hadn’t gotten around. This confirmed for me that there was really no room for error on this course.
We warmed up and headed for the start box. Hen went in well and the first jump felt fine; we set a rhythm and got going down to the second fence, the Tree Trunk, but with the slippery footing already, we were sliding down the hill. Tthe fence was a log down the hill.
I half-halted and Henry slid, and he slid into the base of it. Because he is so honest, he jumped it. You have to understand that this is a horse that has never before hit an cross-country fence, and he doesn’t want to touch them. He has always jumped way up and over—even the brush jumps that are designed to jump through.
We continued on to the third fence, the John Whitaker Keepers Brush, which he jumped really well. The fourth fence was the Little Badminton Double rails, which is a funny name because they were huge! It was a tight turn to a big oxer and leading up to it, the track was undulating and the footing messy, but he jumped it well.
Fence 5 was the downhill Savills Escalator—a fence that gave a lot of trouble—but Hen jumped this fine. At fences 6 & 7, the Team GBR Silver Birches, were huge oxers on a bending line and they made many pairs come to grief—Hen came down hard behind and took down the back rail on the second element. Thank goodness for frangible pins!
The next question was the first water at The Lake and Hen jumped in well, but I could feel that from the start on the straightaway gallops he felt increasingly heavy. Despite the fact that he is as fit as he’s ever been, the footing was so thick that it was taking it’s toll on him.
He jumped the next few fences great, but then we got to the Outlander Bank, fence 13A BC‑a bank up thorough a keyhole and down another bank, out over a skinny. Hen jumped great through the keyhole but on the downward landing he was sliding and couldn’t get himself organized to the skinny properly, so we glanced off it. I re-presented him but it was not going to happen, so I chose to retire.
Given the conditions, I had said to myself before leaving the start box that if one thing happened out there to compromise my horse or myself that I was retiring and coming home, but when that time came it was still a hard decision.
However, I do not regret it. As I watched my fellow competitors struggle throughout the afternoon and saw the toll that the course took, I know that I did the right thing. I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish the competition, but at the end of the day, I have a happy, sound horse in the barn. In the next few days and weeks we will regroup and make game plan for going forward.
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!”