Forget 15 minutes of fame—even the briefest of incidents at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials guarantees immortality. Kate Green asks figures connected with this weekend’s event for their enduring memories.
My first recollection of the world’s most famous horse trials was a trip on the Pony Club bus, with a fearsome aunt, at the age of 10. The day seemed as if it would be memorable mainly for the frustration of not being able to see over the dense, oilskin-clad crowd when, suddenly, a mare called Mary Poppins cleared a bank in one slow, giant leap. She appeared suspended in the air high above people’s
heads and everyone gasped.
Few people at Badminton this weekend will have heard of that horse and her rider, Hazel Booth, but it was the moment that converted a child’s outing from muddy slog to thrill.
Since then, I have witnessed moments of drama and comedy, tragedy and triumph. There was the chivalrous young man who swam across the Lake to retrieve Tanya Cleverly’s horse Watkins (1994), the hysterical disbelief that Mark Todd, the genius New Zealander, could negotiate the scariest fences with a broken stirrup (1995), the orgy of weeping from young Frenchman Nicolas Touzaint on becoming the first rider from his country to win Badminton (2008) and the uplifting occasion on which Harry Meade overcame injury to finish third (2014).
There have been loose dogs, loose horses, dramatic dunkings, Mark Phillips lying on his back to empty water from his boots—arguably as much remembered as his win on The Queen’s horse—and the spectacular occasion in 1988 that Murphy Himself launched off the top of the Ski Jump and deposited Ginny Leng (now Elliot) at the bottom. She broke an ankle, but still came third on her other horse.
Terrible weather can make for an exciting Badminton, as the brave riders seize their chance. In the event’s golden-jubilee year (1999), no one could match the trailblazing performance of Ian Stark on the Duchess of Devonshire’s Jaybee, the youngest horse in the field.
When William Fox-Pitt triumphed on Tamarillo (2004) in a downpour, he’d been thinking about withdrawing until he bumped into Lucinda Green, who urged him to think again. In 2007, when riders complained about hard ground and pulled out in droves, Lucinda Fredericks bounced round on tiny Headley Britannia, the first mare to win for 55 years.
Like most famous institutions, Badminton has evolved and modernised during 67 years, yet the reverence in which competitors hold it is as great as ever because they know their exploits there, the good, the bad and the embarrassing, will not be forgotten.
1. Mike Tucker, BBC commentator
In 1983, I finished second on General Bugle, a horse I’d bred on my farm, near Badminton, and won the owner-rider prize. It was one of the last years that The Queen came and she was accompanied down the line-up by the 10th Duke of Beaufort (‘Master’), who was thrilled to see a horse that had followed his hounds. It was a lovely moment, one of the most treasured of my life. And if I hadn’t gone wrong in the dressage, I’d have won!
2. Mary Low (neé Gordon-Watson), Olympic gold medallist in 1972
The performance that still sticks in my mind is that of Anneli Drummond-Hay and Merely-a-Monarch, winners in 1962. The horse was amazing and Anneli’s professionalism way ahead of her time.
I still remember the exhilaration of riding there, although it’s frustrating that I never won (I was second and third). There was a real aura when you came in from the roads-and-tracks phase, having been alone with your horse in the silence of the woods, and rode up Worcester Avenue into a sea of people. Then, realisation dawned that you really did have to jump those enormous fences.
3. Lucinda Green, record six-time winner
The most emotional moment was win number one (1973). It was ridiculous: I was 19, it was my second attempt and the horse, Be Fair, had been my 15th-birthday present. Winning Badminton happens to other people,doesn’t it, but, as I drove home, in my little converted ice-cream van, with Be Fair’s ears just inches behind my own and my dog, Oliver Plum, beside me, I heard on the six o’clock news: ‘Today, Badminton Horse Trials was won by…’.
Outside my own wins, Mark Todd’s in 2011, at the age of 55, after an eight-year retirement, is easily the most special. As he rode into the prize-giving, he caught my eye. There was no waving or cheering by either of us, just a look of deep understanding.
4. Julian Seaman, press officer
My childhood ambition was to ride at Badminton. I had my name in the programme in 1974, but the horse was lame. In 1975, I did the dressage before the event was rained off. In 1976, I fell on the steeplechase and retired with a lame horse. In 1977, I got to ride the cross-country and fell at fence 7. I got back on, only to be stopped in front of the Lake, which I then had to jump into in cold blood. But I got round. Hooray! Best of all, in 1978, I received my silver replica horse for finishing ninth.
I had so many comedy falls that the BBC would pan away from Lucinda Green and The Princess Royal in the knowledge that I would provide the money shot. My somersault and bow to the crowd in 1980 was the opening sequence to the BBC’s Grandstand for the next six months.
5. Sam Trounson, chief cross-country steward
Any round by my all-time heroine Lucinda Green is memorable: her eye for a stride and lower-leg position were something to behold. Her win on Beagle Bay (1984) stands out: she lost her reins jumping into the Lake, but, thanks to her impeccable balance and determination, jumped out perfectly.
The funniest moment was when, as a Pony Club runner, I got off to have a pee behind a tree and let go of my pony, which promptly disappeared and took half an hour to catch.
6. Jane Tuckwell, Assistant Director
The moment when I went from being a Pony Club runner to actually working in the office, in 1974, at the age of nearly 18, was thrilling—I was so over-awed I don’t think I said a word for two years—and I’ve enjoyed every minute since. Somehow, every year, I feel it’s been the right winner and I have tears in my eyes because I’m so pleased for them and overwhelmed with gratefulness that another event has happened.
7. Mary King, dual winner
I’d been second and third, but winning, on King William (1992), made me feel as if I’d conquered the world. The first time I rode at Badminton (in 1985), I was in a dream. The fences then— the Normandy Bank, Luckington Lane, Vicarage Vee—were iconic; as a child, I’d studied them over and over again in the programme and now here I was, actually jumping them.
I’ll never forget Mark Todd’s win on Horton Point (1994), a horse he’d never ridden before. He was first to go and I watched his round, trying to copy him, as he was the one rider I wanted to emulate.
8. Jane Holderness-Roddam, dual winner
My first inspiration was Bill Roycroft, the Australian farmer and Olympic gold medallist who, in 1965, became the only man to ride three horses there— he rode one of them, Stoney Crossing, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as well.
Bill taught me how to get my horse, Our Nobby, to jump into water by galloping him over a line of cavaletti first. At my first Badminton, in 1967, I was green with fright and my older brother Mike [Bullen] teased ‘You’ll never get that lop-eared creature round’, which made me kick on in determination. I might have failed my nursing exams that month, but at least I’d got round Badminton (we were fifth).
9. Kit Houghton, official photographer
I was pleased when Pippa Funnell, one of the more self-deprecating riders, won it, for the second year, on Supreme Rock (2003). The week before, I’d photographed her winning at Kentucky, USA, and this set her up for the Rolex Grand Slam (at Burghley), a hat-trick no one thought was possible, so the atmosphere was electric. The greatest achievement of all, however, was Mark Todd’s comeback win in 2011.