I don’t have the heart for Badders.

Every year when Badminton rolls around, Bobby and I follow along online and dream about how fun it would be to fly over to jolly old England and attend in person. It is, after all, the ultimate 4*. The paramount event.

Last year, watching the carnage (and there’s no other word for it, that’s exactly what it was) at the Vicarage Vee took some of the wind out of my sails. That fence was really hard to watch, and it punished anyone and everyone who didn’t meet it exactly right.

Image result for vicarage vee boyd martin

This year saw a new course designer and no more Vicarage Vee. I was hopeful we’d see an event just as big and gnarly as Badminton is known for, except hopefully without the carnage. Alas, that last part was not to be.

Hung legs were everywhere. I stopped counting after 14. Some of them resulted in horse falls, a few rotational or awfully damn close to it, but miraculously a lot of these horses were able to pull out their “fifth leg” and save themselves (with the assistance of many a broken clip). Still… it was hard to watch. Horses don’t get to this level if they have a tendency to hang a leg (no one wants to die), so something was contributing to them either getting to the questions wrong or misreading them.

Two spots in particular that made me cringe were the The Lake and the PHEV Corral. At The Lake, the distance from the bank up to the brushed jump did not work out well for most people. I don’t think the horses jumped the bank the way the designer thought they would, and as a result the distance was off. There were a lot of runouts here, but also some scary falls. At the Corral, I hated having very upright fences, the rails of which were quite square and the second of which was on a hard angle, toward the end of a course like this. There were many horses that just got in a bit off-stride and couldn’t get out of their own way, resulting in a hung leg.

BadmintonTheLake
The Lake
BadmintonTheCorral
The Corrals

I love eventing because it’s hard, and it’s gritty, but I don’t love seeing genuine horses make mistakes and get punished with a fall. For me it takes all the horsemanship out of it. That’s not to say that I want XC to be easy – heck no. It shouldn’t be a dressage competition. But the Rolex course seemed to do a bit better job of turning mistakes into glance-offs or refusals, whereas Badminton sent a lot of horses and riders into the turf. Granted, it’s always done that. This is nothing new.

Bobby and I both didn’t make it that far into the coverage before we lost heart and closed it. It doesn’t leave me with a warm happy “omg eventing is so awesome” feeling. Instead it made me feel… uncomfortable. I lost all desire to go watch in person.

Did anyone else watch? What were your thoughts?

52 thoughts on “I don’t have the heart for Badders.

  1. I watched it and my non-horsey family sat and watched it with me. While I cringed, they thought the falls, stops, and hangups were the most “thrilling” parts. It makes me think of nascar and how most people (outwardly or secretly) just like to watch the crashes. Then I started wondering if maybe the course is designed as such to be more entertaining for people who aren’t horse inclined in an attempt to bring more viewers? I don’t know.

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  2. I watched the coverage for about 10-15 minutes but after seeing nobody finish I gave up. Way too scary and disenheartening, as you said. Badders really turned me off last year with the Vee, though, so I wasn’t too interested in this year anyway. That fence was just STUPID. It was actively, ridiculously, dangerous and I thought it incredibly irresponsible that they kept it in. This year I didn’t know quite what was wrong but you’ve explained it nicely, especially that problem at the Lake.

    There’s 4*, there’s hard, there’s challenging and then there’s unnecessary, unfair and reckless. Courses here in the US seem to be improving but Badminton needs to make some changes!! 😑

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  3. 2 rotational falls, almost 4 that I saw…at that point, I have to question the courses purpose. Sure, things at that level should not be a cake walk but it was just darn right scary and grueling. Our local 4* eventer is the one who fell at the last fence, and damn near had a rotational due to an exhausted horse. Shes owned up to her mistake and publicly apologized and accepted her yellow card. This will haunt her for years to come no doubt, and I totally agree she should have pulled up waaay before then.

    It was tough to watch and like many, I stopped because I was afraid I was going to witness what I did at Rolex with Laney had a rotational at the flower basket.

    It should be fun and challenging, not do or die.

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  4. I agree. I think DdG did a great job shaking up the Rolex standings with an xc course that was challenging, but didn’t destroy the horse’s confidence. Even if they had to take different options, the horses were overall rewarded for a good forward ride. There were still some yuck places with horses slithering around over fences, but for whatever reason the horses did better with those questions.

    Badders was just a disaster. I understand the cd thought that the bank at the Lake was going to make the horses jump it neater, and the one was going to be there to the brush, but what an ugly question it ended up being. The corral as well, too many tired horses with people trying to make time angling them and risking those hung legs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many parts of jump go flying, thank god for pins! This is really the type of course I had been hoping the sport had been moving away from. You can shake up the leader board without causing permanent damage to horses and riders.

    And don’t even get me started on EW. Poor Johnny.

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  5. I don’t have the guts for eventing, even at the lowest levels. However, I appreciate the upper levels of all disciplines and really enjoy watching great horses and their riders accomplish amazing feats of athleticism. Watching more than half fail at that task is not good or fun for ANYONE involved IMO

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  6. I really don’t like watching Badminton. Every year there are really horrible falls, and often a serious injury to either a horse, a rider, or a death of a horse or rider. To me that isn’t fun, and I feel like something is just wrong about this particular event. I don’t pay a bunch of attention to the big events, but I feel like Badminton has the worst track record of all of the events for injuries and deaths. It’s just not right, and something needs to be changed.

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  7. I’ll just kinda repeat what I said on Hillary’s “Reflecting on Eventing” post…

    I’m not an eventer, but I’ve watched enough eventing to form some kind of opinion. Horse/rider falls are often part of the sport; sometimes shit just happens and a fall is inevitable (see Philippa Humphreys at Jersey Fresh last year…her fall was a freak accident, NOT a fault of the course design). But the number of falls at Badminton vs those at Rolex is staggering. Clearly there is a way to test the horse and rider fairly without putting lives at risk, and Rolex proved that ten-fold. I think it’s sad when staying alive is a ‘win’ for cross country, because I don’t think the discipline of cross country was created as a ‘just stay alive but also put you and your horse in danger’ kind of thing. I’ll be at Jersey Fresh this weekend, and my hope is obviously no serious injuries for any horse/competitor, and if there are any falls, I hope they are minor and not life-threatening. Because when the course and jump questions are fair and relatively safe, cross country is really quite amazing to watch in person.

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  8. I was following along on Eventing Nations live update, but gave up after so many falls. When you have that many falls, the course just isn’t fair to the horses.

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  9. What bits I did watch made me sick to my stomach – those horses have huge hearts and so much try on top of their obvious athleticism. To see them fail again and again broke me a bit.

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  10. I didn’t watch live but I watched a compilation of footage later and had to turn it off because the number of near misses and falls was making me nauseous. I’m obviously not an eventer, but it definitely made me uncomfortable. I can respect a challenging cross country course — but this seemed excessive.

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  11. I was watching on my tablet for a few minutes and after the 3rd or 4th gasp, hubby asked me “is it really that bad?”. I had to turn it off.

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  12. Far too many times a horse wrote a check with its heart that its body couldn’t cash. There was an article about the “10 photos that showed the spirit of cross country at badminton 2017” and a couple of them were horses barely escaping serious injury. That summed it up for me. Badminton seems to be designed for people who want to see disasters happen, and I’m simply not ok with that.

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  13. I feel pretty much the same. It doesn’t seem like a fair test when true athletes and horses are coming close to flipping every other run. I hope there will be a change but if not I’ll continue to be very put off badminton and anxious/dreading watching next years carnage.

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  14. The thing I didn’t like about it is that the horses seemed to lose confidence as they went along, not gain confidence. Even the experienced ones.

    On a positive note, I absolutely LOVED Charlton Down Riverdance, Becky Woolven’s horse. He was bopping around out there, making it look like a canter in the park. He absolutely saved her @ss a few times, and seemed happy to do it.

    Also impressed with Ros Canter. That is the second time I’ve seen her ride cross-country and I wonder why we don’t hear her name more often.

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      1. I didn’t see them finish. I must have gotten up for another cup of coffee or to switch over the laundry. Well that’s a bummer.

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  15. Every clip, EVERY clip of Badminton I couldn’t get through without closing out of the screen and having just an uneasy disturbed feeling. That course was horse abuse, those are the cream of the crop horses who are skilled smart extremely seasoned and through bad course design (IMO), they were punished SEVERELY if they didn’t jump exactly the way the CD felt they should jump – that’s not fair and is just wrong. Rolex and Burghley are also 4* courses but this didn’t happen – both extremely challenging but your options weren’t 1. jump 2. fall. I cringed squirmed and honestly, the only word I can think of when I describe what I saw was ‘disgusting’. I am officially breaking up with Badminton. I actually felt shame for our sport and certainly gave Halo extra hugs and cookies and appreciated him for always giving me 100%, and honestly, I appreciated myself for knowing I’ve always put his health and safety first.

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  16. I take that back, I was able to watch Cathal Daniels and his little red headed mare rock around w/o closing out my screen.

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  17. I watched, and no offense, but I am going to be honest–the only thought in my head the whole time was why the F*CK would anyone put their horse and themselves in danger like that? After the first rotation fall and the first dozen leg-hangs, I’d have scratched. I don’t understand how people see that happening, on a clearly very poorly designed course, and still go “Eh, we’ll give it a shot.” Also the riding looked very haphazard and scrappy compared to what I saw at Rolex. I was pretty horrified to say the least.

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  18. i’m honestly struggling with this whole conversation right now – for reasons i maybe don’t fully understand and perhaps won’t successfully verbalize here. i’ll try tho.

    i agree that hung legs are bad news. that rotational falls are horrifying. i believe that minimizing the chances for horses to be physically punished for mistakes is critical. that horse AND rider falls are outcomes to be avoided. watching life threatening injuries occur to either rider or horse does not, for me, constitute a “spectator sport.” we are very much in agreement here.

    my thoughts tho kinda fall into two general categories. 1 – safety in fence design and construction; and 2 – safety in course design. (an unsaid 3rd is the broad and problematic category of “plain old bad riding” and “freak accidents” – both of which are… difficult to manage).

    so, for 1: my impression watching badminton was that the recent years of research and development into safer styles of fences (pins, clips, etc) showed their value in a big way at this event. maybe that’s an inadequate silver lining to say “well some of those falls could have been WAY worse!” but i feel like considering how often eventing comes within the crosshairs for lack of safety, that it’s worth acknowledging that many fences did a good job of reducing the likelihood of serious injury in the event of a hung leg or crash. so that’s one thing. (tho i’m in agreement about those upright gates, and the commentators appeared to be as well. one even said that the shape and style of the rails was “not what we need to be seeing in eventing”) (and of course this says nothing for your example images of hung legs at the plain giant log entering the water complex, or the plain log in the water… those are… curious).

    for 2: i honestly don’t know. we have some course designers who seemed to have figured out ways to give horses safe exits to stage left when things go wrong. derek di grazia is an example. and i think that’s the aim and objective modern course designers should aspire to: courses where horses can read both the questions AND the safe escapes when necessary. my question tho, is how can we know that objective is met before actually seeing it in action? how could we know that the horses would jump that bank to brush combination differently than the designer intended, thus making it more challenging and or dangerous than anyone expected? is the answer to just use the select few course designers who seem to “get it” for all the major events? to take a new look at requirements and restrictions on combination design?

    idk. that’s a lot of words above. maybe none of which do justice to the sport or my own understanding of it, or any injuries sustained in this event. but it’s my reasoning for why i’m struggling with conversation right now of pointing the finger at this event as an example of “when enough is enough.”

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    1. 100% agree on the clips saving a lot of falls. In the “old days” they would have been way worse. But regardless of that, the falls still don’t sit well with me. IMO they could have been avoided by a different type of fence being used, or a slightly different question being asked. Which brings us to the course design part.

      I understand the challenge these guys have, and I don’t envy them at all. Trying to create a safe but difficult 4* course is an extraordinarily tall order, one I would never even want to try to attempt. But I think a truly good course designer is able to understand, at least 98% of the time, how a question is going to read to a horse or what the possible pitfalls will be if a mistake is made. That’s their job, after all, and we’ve been doing short format long enough by now for them to be taking pages from each other’s books on what works and what doesn’t. Most of the time that happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re going to try out some kind of new fence idea, a 4* is not the place, IMO. There always seems to be this flavor of “one-uppedness” in the Badminton course… like the goal is shock and awe.

      I’m not saying I have any answers, because I don’t. What do I know, really? I’m a low level rider and always will be. But I do know when things make me uncomfortable and when I don’t like what I’m seeing, and this was it. I think we can do better, and I think we HAVE to do better. And ultimately, I think we will. But how many more Badmintons like this can we have before someone gets killed?

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      1. yea i feel ya. and agree that there are certainly some ‘flavors’, attitudes and undercurrents pumping through upper level eventing that are…. undesirable and off-putting (if not worse).

        tho at the risk of sounding like a cold-hearted animal on the internet (i swear i am actually a compassionate person!), i object a little bit to your last statement. it comes a little too close to the flip side of ‘shock and awe’ that is maybe was makes me struggle with this conversation. yes. deaths should be prevented. obviously. zero deaths should absolutely be the most *fundamental* of goals (and arguably the standards should be much much higher than that, as you say). but can we ever eliminate them completely? and, if not, is that acceptable? under what circumstances?

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        1. To me the question of whether or not it’s possible to completely eliminate deaths is moot. We always have to strive to do better and be better, and there are always more ways to do that. Of course there will always be accidents too, but when someone is killed or seriously injured as the result of a rotational that could have been prevented, that’s on us as a sport, IMO. Granted, I do think we’re working on it… it’s just slow progress and I’ll don’t think we’ll ever be well and truly finished. But if the goal of Badminton is always going to be to create something outrageous and get an “awesome” thrills and spills reel, then yikes. I can’t get on board with that. And that was really my actual point here… Badminton is hard for me to watch.

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          1. Yes, course design needs to be better, etc. but at what point is it the rider’s responsibility? To say ‘I’m not taking my horse to that event” or to walk the course and then say “I’m not taking my horse out on that”? I mean, I’ve been to shows where the footing was so awful I was afraid my horse would pull or twist something, and we scratched. Why is our animal’s well-being not put first, always?? Maybe Badminton would change for the better if the riders stopped showing up…

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            1. yea. agreed on all of the above. agreed that “thrills and spills” isn’t my idea of the sport and that our guts are pretty good judges of the cringe factor when something isn’t quite right. and agreed that rider responsibility is a critical piece of the puzzle.

              i might be struggling with this specific conversation about this specific event – but am fully on board that these are the questions to be asking, the conversations to be having.

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            2. One person did that, actually, as did one at Rolex. I have a lot of respect for that, but I can imagine how hard of a decision that would be, especially if you’ve got a syndicated horse and have flown over an ocean to get there. Do agree with you, though!

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    2. I disagree with you 100%. It’s the course designer job to make the course safe and the whole point of being a course designer is being able to properly anticipate how horses will jump a fence and provide clear safe options. If you aren’t able to do that, you have NO business designing a 4* course.

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      1. i think that’s a fair and reasonable perspective of the job. and agree. that’s the way our modern course designers *must* be thinking.

        i guess… i’m seeing this from the lens of someone who can get a little mired in overly scientific details that are decidedly less black and white. i question the “Hows” of anticipating the way a horse will jump, or, if it does not jump, what it will do instead. can we truly and accurately predict with certainty and within acceptable margins how a horse will understand and react to a question?

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        1. I think this conversation is more specifically targeting Badminton than anything else. There will never be no element of risk. You can die doing all sorts of things but the course shouldn’t repeatedly be designed in a way that increases the likelihood of bad outcomes. It is possible to design courses that are challenging without being absolutely off the wall difficult and dangerous just for the sake of it – which is honestly how Badminton feels to me. For me this isn’t so much a “eventing has to change” discussion but rather this event should because its honestly difficult to enjoy following top competitors when the whole time you’re holding your breathe hoping that they will not be the next one to go @$$ over teakettle year after year.

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          1. yea i hear your frustration with this event. and you’re certainly not alone! given that badminton did make meaningful changes from last year (nixing the extremely problematic vicarage vee; seeing last year’s CD bow out and bringing in a new one for this year), where do you see the necessity for change, especially if you identify the problems as being exclusive to badminton? is it a management issue? a culture problem within the venue’s leadership?

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  19. It was hard to watch this year for sure. I really didn’t like seeing those gates at the end of the course. Good, honest horses hanging legs just from fatigue. I agree with the lake as well. Seems like Eric thought the log face would encourage big jumps up the bank, but it didn’t really play out that way. Not having ridden upper levels and not knowing to terribly much about course design, I don’t have any solutions, but there have been 4* courses where faulting riding results in a run out instead of a horse-punishing fall/hanging a leg/etc., so I think CD’s should be focusing on recreating those kinds of outcomes.

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  20. I think the most interesting thing is that things like this keep popping up in the eventing community. (Obviously all of our disciplines have issues, but that’s not the point here) So many people are disappointed with where eventing is, but nothing really seems to be changing up top where it matters. I see so many of these types of conversations from the eventers who compete on the local/regional levels–the eventers who really care about the sport and their horses. What is it actually going to take? Upper level riders not competing?

    This is all coming from a dressage rider who appreciates eventing a lot, but is still on the ‘outside’. I definitely don’t appreciate what I saw this year at Badminton and I don’t think most others did either.

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  21. I watched the course walk with the designer and got so furious I had to stop. I love challenging questions and fences that make you think. I do NOT like when a course designer goes out of his way to beat down a horse. At this level, these horses are fully capable of figuring out a question on their own – it says SO much when they can’t. I couldn’t watch the xc after watching what part of the course walk I saw. It was just….cruel. I get that Brits are cut from a different cloth (I mean, hello, those hunts!) but horses are horses are horses no matter the continent they were trained on and even the baddest and boldest couldn’t finish. Isn’t this supposed to be rewarding? Sure it’s based on the cavalry but that was truly life or death – there’s no purpose or reason to pretend it’s life or death in eventing – make it challenging, yes, but to make it life or death/serious injury for the SAKE of sport is something I’ll leave to those who have that luxury.

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  22. I don’t participate in this discipline so I guess my thoughts are not as appreciated but as a horsewoman who competes, I find it disturbing. An industry needs to regulate and police itself or will lose its public support and adds fuel to the other end of it, the animal welfare supporters. I cannot think of another discipline that has such a terrible tally. Their own industry should be getting in front of this and putting a stop to it. The public sees all levels ok with this because it continues. At this level – or this type of competition I guess I should say, the horses are just a means to an end, and that hurts most of us who chose an equine sport because…horse. I agree with so much of what you said. Thanks for speaking up for compassion in the sport.

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  23. Another dressage rider, who finds the athleticism and teamwork of eventing horses and riders thrilling, but watch through my hands sometimes.

    After hearing about the “highlights” reel at Badminton, I’m reminded of Nascar (had an ex who never missed a race) – where the skill and courage of the drivers doesn’t appear to be entertainment enough anymore, and the scary, sometimes deadly accidents are what draw viewership. I guess what I’m saying is that the high profile events that are broadcast on a world stage are weighing ratings / viewership / advertising $$$ with ethics and safety.

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  24. I watched a bit but found myself holding my breath and worrying so I stopped.

    Do you know if there is a committee or something that looks at this stuff and says ok enough is enough?

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  25. I was appalled by the course designer in his course walk. He basically said he was purposely beating down the horse. The back half of the track being mostly uphill on purpose to further beat the horse down, THEN adding very difficult technical combinations at the end to truly test them? Come on. None of that is fair. That’s asking to get killed.

    I loved Rolex’s course design. If you got tired and biffed it, you paid for it with a runout or refusal, not your life.

    Accidents happen in horses because HORSES. Let’s not add to the chance of something happening 😦

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  26. I love eventing, but I have a love/hate relationship with the upper level stuff. So, so, inspiring to watch when it goes right, but I hate the sport (and myself for supporting it) when it goes wrong and the horses suffer. I’m actually fine with myself or others making crappy decisions regarding our own personal safety and well being, but I really am losing patience for those that are willing to risk their horses well being for ‘sport’. I get that accidents happen anywhere and everywhere, especially with horses, but I’m not personally OK with the risk currently associated with some of these events…potentially killing or permanently injuring your horse as a consequence of getting on the wrong side of a tiny margin for error isn’t cool.

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  27. I feel like 4* eventing has become Hunger Games like – “may the odds be ever in your favor.” IMO it shouldn’t be common for the riders at the top of the sport to have falls or have horses falling. What other equestrian sport (top level or not) would you see that in?! It’s really horrific. And I agree with T above, when people get it right it is awe inspiring but it seems to be going wrong way more than it should be and you have to ask if we are asking too much of people and their equine partners.

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  28. As somebody from England I have to say, very shamefully, that I wholeheartedly agree with every word of this. Eventing is a huge part of our horse world over here, and I have to say every other event I’ve attended has been fantastic to watch with very well built courses producing confident, professional horses, from BE80 right to 3*. It’s something I really love about being over here, the events are so well run and the courses so well built, British Eventing is a fantastic organisation to be a part of. Badminton is unfortunately an exclusion to this and has been for the past few years, however Burghly in September is a really lovely 4* to watch, I think it’s well worth the trip over. Granted it isn’t as popular as Badminton or Kentucky (no idea why) but the cross country claims far fewer falls than we have seen at Badminton, but still has all the guts of a 4* course. Please don’t think all of our international events are as dangerous as Badminton

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  29. i thought this year was a shame. I went in 2015 and most people finished and it was a very good day. unfortunately everyone complained that it was ‘too soft’.

    honestly I could not handle how many horses ended up banking/bellying that big brush corner. like, clearly they were not reading it properly. maybe the 4* course should be tested somehow before we actually chuck people at it.

    we owe it to the horses.

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  30. Speaking from a British eventing background… Badminton sits apart somehow (it shouldn’t, but it does). it’s got so much history and so many amazing stories attached to it, and for many UK riders it is a lifetime ambition to ride at “Badders”. You’ll see combinations there that have worked for 10 years to get there, with ONE horse. Amateurs. I love that aspect of it – that amateurs can ride alongside the pros. And the shock and awe aspect has always been a part of it. You will undoubtedly get people who, if a course is designed so that most people get home, will say that it was “too soft”. And for those who have worked all their lives to get there, and have maybe one shot at it…? Makes it tough to withdraw, as the odds are good they’ll never ride there again.
    Honestly it was a big step, almost “culturally”, to take out the Vee after last year. It’s part of eventing history.
    None of that makes it right, but it probably does go a long way to explaining why it is slow to change in comparison with others.

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