Thursday, 05 May 2022
After what has felt like an eternal wait, Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, was back with an almighty bang today with a glorious, sun-drenched day one of dressage. Several of the big hitters featured in this morning’s first session, but it was British Equestrian World Class Podium rider Tom McEwen who took the early advantage. Partnering his Tokyo team gold and individual silver medallist Toledo De Kerser, owned by Ali McEwen, Fred and Penny Barker and Jane Inns, he scored a new CCI5* personal best of 23.4.
That score couldn’t be bettered as the day wore on, but 2021 European team gold medallists Kitty King and Vendredi Biats came closest with a fantastic 24.8 from the ground jury of Christian Landolt (President – SUI), Seppo Laine (FIN) and Anne-Marie Taylor (GBR). Riding for owners Diana Bown, Sally Eyre and Samantha Wilson, Kitty was over the moon with ‘Frog’ today. “I was delighted with him. He’s becoming Mr. Reliable – he used to be very tricky, but he’s getting more on-side as he gets older and stronger. He just felt superb today in the test. It’s the first time where I felt I had so much time for each movement and to prepare for the next, it all flowed nicely and I could ride for every mark. I couldn’t be more thrilled with him.”
Going into the hallowed turf arena just before Kitty and Frog were Badminton debutantes Mollie Summerland and Charly Van Ter Heiden and, for a brief moment, their score of 24.9 held second spot, only to be pipped into third by 0.1. While they're Badminton newbies, Mollie and Charly are no strangers to five-star level, having finished tenth at Pau in 2020, followed by a stunning victory a year later at Luhmühlen in 2021. Mollie and the German-bred Charly came together in 2015 and Mollie has produced the gelding almost from scratch, but their partnership nearly came to an end last year when the 24-year-old was offered a life-changing sum of money for her partner. Fortunately, financial support from Airwalk Reply saved the day.
“This is the most surreal feeling, being here and to go into that arena," commented Mollie. "I’ve never ridden in front of a crowd like that. I’m so relieved he got the result he deserved. I came out of the arena in complete disbelief and asked my trainer a few times, ‘are you sure I didn’t miss a change’. It’s a big stage and I did feel the pressure going in there – probably pressure I put on myself. He’s very capable in this first phase and to go in there and show him off to everyone was amazing. I did feel really nervous, I rang my sport psychologist in the morning and had a really good chat about how to get myself in the right mindset. Actually, when I went in there, I felt it was just me and him together and then I was relieved it all went to plan. My trainer said before I went in, ‘control the controllables’, don’t worry what everyone else is doing. There’s a lot of pressure, but I’m just enjoying today. He’ll have a nice hack out tomorrow with lots of hand-grazing, but it’s a different day on Saturday.”
At the end of day press conference, a delighted Tom said: “He was amazing today. I couldn’t have asked for anymore, really. I thought he was wonderful throughout, lovely lift in his trotwork, great presence and his canterwork was impeccable with lovely, beautiful changes. It was mistake-free, so I’m so, so pleased with him. I wish I could have pulled that test out at the Olympics, it would have made life a bit easier!
“Eventing is a complex sport, there are many different aspects where we’re ever improving and, as the horses get older, they get nearer to where they need to be. They can be good at certain aspects, like showjumping for him, but others have to come on – dressage for him is one of those aspects. He’s ever improving over time. With the help of Ferdi Eilberg, he’s getting softer, loads more flow, and his lateral work was beautiful today. Over time, he’s just getting stronger and stronger, he’s a proper stamp of a horse.”
In his interview, Tom was asked how much he’s enjoying walking around Badminton as an Olympic gold medallist?
“Sadly, it means absolutely nothing here!” he quipped. “We’re at the beginning of the competition and we’re all on a level playing field. Today, I’ve got one part out of the way, with a second ride tomorrow. I walked the course today, it looks brilliant. The footing is amazing considering how dry it is and it’s a mix of old-fashioned and new with a bit of everything. I’m really looking forward to getting out there.”
Kitty also offered her early thoughts on the course: “It’s a fabulous track and there to be jumped – I just need to get my **** into gear and leg on. I know he’s good enough as long as I ride him well enough, and that’s the plan. I think it [the course] is a little less trappy than the last time we ran, there’s some brilliant questions and big, bold jumping."
"You’ve got to be on your game from when you set out the start box and get in the right rhythm and hopefully have a fabulous ride… as long as it goes to plan,” she added.
Tamra Smith, who cut quite the dash with her ride Mai Baum at yesterday’s first horse inspection, lies fourth on 25.3, while tied in fifth on a score of 25.7 are Oliver Townend with the first of his grey rides, Swallow Springs, owned by Paul and Diana Ridgeon, and reigning Badminton champions Piggy March and Trevor Dickens’ Vanir Kamira,
Dressage continues tomorrow at 9:30 with plenty of combinations who could shake up the leaderboard to come.
Full times and results are available here.