April 25, South Gloucestershire, England
Can you stand the pressure? First there are the tightly packed scores and the knowledge that even one fence down is likely to have a dramatic effect on your final position. Then just going into the arena at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is a test of character and nerve that few riders have ever faced from any discipline.
Surrounded on all sides by a packed audience of 20,000, and with two vast television cranes and cameras topping it off, the riders know they are heading into an equestrian coliseum. Those that respond badly find the arena turning into an alligator pit of critics and inevitably feel their horses less and react slowly.
That great Australian poet and horseman Banjo Paterson wrote about this situation in his poem “The Riders in the Stand.”
“The finest horsemen out, the ones to beat the band,
You’ll find among the crowd that ride their races in the stand!”
But the best will either blank out the audience or make them their friends and supporters and hear nothing but enthusiasm. In this way their confidence will remain high. Confidence and competence are the yin and yang of performance, and if one is weak the performance will suffer. But as triple Olympic gold medalist Andrew Hoy said today, “Until you are in this position you don’t know how you are going to deal with it.”
In the top 10, first Sweden’s Niklas Lindback with Mister Pooh, then Australia’s Sam Griffiths with Happy Times and Britain's Mary King with Imperial Cavalier all dealt with the pressure to produce wonderful clears to allow a rise up the order. But for William Fox-Pitt and Navigator, who hit two fences, and Laura Collet on Rayef, who hit one, it was not to be their day.
So into the top five, and a great clear from Piggy French on Jakata allowed her to rise above New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson, who had two down with Nereo, and Nicola Wilson with one down on Opposition Buzz.
“I just enjoyed it,” said Piggy. “He’s a good show jumper, and it’s a phase I feel most comfortable with. I just try to do my best and hope for the best.”
With Piggy leading on 45.2 only the top two were left to jump and neither had a fence in hand. Germany’s Marina Kohncke struggled to keep her huge mare under control but came to the final fence clear only to hit it and also cruelly have 2 time penalties… suddenly she had gone from second to ninth.
Appropriately today is Anzac Day, a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating all those who died and served in military operations for their countries. So as New Zealand’s Mark Todd rode into the arena he probably had a little extra support. It worked! A wonderful clear round with NZB Land Vision gave him his fourth and sweetest Badminton victory 31 years after the first.
“I’ve always said he is the best horse I have ever had,” said Mark. “Roll on next year! This is even better than my second Olympic gold.” It meant that much to him, and it probably means as much for the sport.
Our lives are measured more by events and journeys rather than time, and, as for many people, for me Badminton has become a big part of that measure. There are thousands who will remember 2011 as the year Mark Todd came back from retirement and captured the biggest three-day in the world. At 55, he is the oldest winner of the event by an impressive eight years.
For the remaining three riders from North America of the six that started it was a case of one fence down in each case plus 3 time penalties for Canada’s Selena O’Hanlon on Colombo. For Selena it is her first Badminton completion, a huge achievement in itself, and her great 17-year-old servant Colombo has given her a taste of things to come. For Canadian Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice it was so close to a top 15 finish, and Hawley is already fired up about high-level possibilities to come on her wonderful Thoroughbred mare and the other relations at home.
For Buck and Ballynoe Castle RM it will form a launch pad for their bid to reestablish themselves on the U.S. team. “Reggie” jumped super today, and he has several good years and potential for improvement left in him.
Certainly by the measure of Mark Todd all the riders have many years left in the competition saddle!
1. Mark Todd/NZB Land Vision (NZL) 36.8 + 6.8 + 0 = 43.6
2. Piggy French/Jakata (GBR) 36.0 + 9.2 + 0 = 45.2
3. Mary King/Imperial Cavalier (GBR) 44.2 + 1.6 + 0 = 45.8
4. Sam Griffiths/Happy Times (AUS) 46.3 + 0 + 0 = 46.3
5. Niklas Lindback/Mister Pooh (SWE) 46.7 + 0 + 0 = 46.7
6. Caroline Powell/Lenamore (NZL) 47.2 + 0 + 0 = 47.2
7. Nicola Wilson/Opposition Buzz (GBR) 44.0 + 0 + 4 = 48.0
8. Laura Collett/Rayef (GBR) 36.5 + 8.8 + 4 = 49.3
9. Marina Köhncke/Calma Schelly (GER) 39.8 + 4 + 6 = 49.8
10. Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 47.2 + 0 + 4 = 51.2