SATURDAY was full of surprises for both the competitors and the organisers at this year’s Badminton Horse Trials, as the cross country course proved even more challenging than had been anticipated.

The Wiltshire-born and based competitors were among those who experienced mixed fortunes: when the top three places going into the final show-jumping phase were revealed just before 6pm, two of them were claimed by foreign riders based in the county, but much of the homegrown takent was either out of the competition or right down the order.
Australian rider Paul Tapner, who is based near Highworth and was lying second after dressage on Kilronan, topped the leaderboard on Saturday night, collecting 20.4 time penalties to finish on 56.4.L

ying second on Ringwood Sky Boy, with 61.6, having moved up from his Friday night equal 41st place, was New Zealander Tim Price, who with wife Jonelle is based in Mildenhall.

It was not the placing Price can have been expecting: his second ride, and more experienced horse Wesko was eliminated at the lake, after he did all he could to avoid collecting 20 penalties for a runout at the last element only to fall off over the horse’s shoulder seconds later, getting a ducking – and automatic elimination – in the process.

Tapner said afterwards: “That definitely did not go according to plan! It was an amazing course, but I preferred walking it to riding it. Still, we’re cross country riders and that’s what we do.

“It was very challenging for the horses – coming up the long pull after the second Lake fence I could feel he was tiring, and I knew Huntsmans Close had caused problems for riders with exhausted horses, so I decided to take the long route there and was very glad I did. It was about getting the job done and getting clear and getting home.”

Price was full of praise for his horse, saying: “He did the job and did it really well: he is improving all the time and I was really pleased with him.”

His wife Jonelle had retired her horse, The Deputy, earlier in the day.

Top Wiltshire rider after the cross country was Harry Meade, from Chippenham, who having come back from a major injury last year must have been delighted with his success in piloting Wild Lone round clear to finish the cross country phase in eighth place on 67.4 penalties.

With some riders looking at the ground after overnight rain and Thursday’s torrential downpour and deciding to withdraw their horses before the cross country, top competitors found themselves failing to complete and suffering elimination on the course, newly re-designed by Italian Giuseppi della Chiesa.

Only 35 riders completed the course, with 5 withdrawing before the start, 25 suffering elimination on the way round and 18 retiring their horses en route, mainly after suffering refusals or runouts on the course.

Among those disappointed to have to retire was Australian rider Lucinda Fredericks, based at Little Cheverell, who pulled Flying Finish up between fences 5 and 6 – the pair had been lying fourth after the dressage.

It was also not the 23rd birthday Tom McEwen, from Badgerstown near Marlborough, had hoped for.

His first ride, Dry Old Party, was retired while his second horse, Diesel, who had been in 20th after dressage, finished Saturday bottom of the leaderboard after incurring 40 jumping and 68.4 time penalties.

Perhaps the most disappointed of the foreign riders based in Wiltshire was Andrew Nicholson, from Marlborough, who amazingly fell from Nereo, the last horse to go on the course, at the Gatehouse pond.

This new fence had jumped well all day, causing few problems until Nicholson’s horse left a leg on the last element, catapulting him out of the saddle.

Nicholson is usually extremely impressive on the cross country phase and is famed for his ability to stick in the saddle. The fall came as a complete shock, especially as he had been going strongly up until then and, being placed seventh after dressage, was poised to gallop into the lead.

Only minutes before the overnight leader, American Clark Montgomery, who is based near Tetbury when in the UK, had retired Loughan Glen at Huntsmans Close after the horse visibly faltered when tackling one of the impressive fences. His first horse, Universe, was retired during his earlier round.

Nicholson’s error on first ride Quimbo was equally uncharacteristic – the horse had a runout at the keyhole hedge on top of the Outlander Bank, and was then retired.

Nicholson made sure to ride much harder at the fence with Nereo, who flew through it, only for disaster to strike at the next fence on the course.

Course designer Giuseppi della Chiesa later admitted the ‘owl hole’ fence had been one of the decisive ones of the day, saying: “It jumped nicely last year but this year caused many more problems than we had expected, so I would say that was one of the most important fences.”

Sweden’s Ludvig Svennerstal and Alexander, also based in Swindon, finished cross country in ninth place, pulling up from 55th after dressage, though his second ride King Bob was among the many eliminations,

It was not Mark Todd’s day either: the expert New Zealander, another rider based at Badgerstown, was eliminated early on after a fall at the Shogun Hollow with NZB Campino having been fifth after dressage, while his second ride Leonidas II finished 16th with 81 penalties, having been equal ninth after dressage.

Nick Gauntlett, from near Malmesbury, ended Saturday 19th, with 89.5 penalties, on Grand Manoeuvre, and will be pleased to have made the top 20 and so go on to tomorrow’s afternoon show-jumping round, which ends the competition.