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Badminton Horse Trials – arguably the pinnacle of the British Eventing calendar, and one of only 6 CCI**** events in the world. For many spectators, it is the highlight of the equestrian year, and draws in crowds of around 200,000.
Preparation begins months and months ahead of time, course building, organising ticket sales, trade stands, publicity, entries etc, and this year no amount of preparation could cope with the wettest ‘drought’ known to man; prolonged torrential rain has led to waterlogging and flooding, and with yet more rain forecast, the organisers had no choice but to cancel the event.
So what does this mean in the wider context? Yesterday, all eyes were on William Fox-Pitt, after he and Parklane Hawk won at Kentucky, making him 2 out of 3 for the Rolex Grand Slam – a win at Badminton would have been game set and match, securing a cool £220k. So what happens now?
Not only that, but this year in particular BHT would have offered the perfect opportunity to help decide the final places for Olympic hopefuls, all keen to get a run at this level. Each rider will no doubt now be reviewing the situation, and looking for alternatives.
The horses and riders spend months preparing for the event, with carefully planned programmes to ensure peak fitness and readiness for the ultimate test that Badminton poses.
Wymeswold event rider Lauren Shannon is no exception. She says; “I am gutted that Badminton has been cancelled, my team, like everyone else's have been preparing for months for our trip there. This of course pales in comparison to the tireless work the organizing and ground teams have done. It is heartbreaking for everyone involved, and while us riders can re-route to other events, the teams at Badminton can only reflect on what could have been. I really feel for them right now.
“My horse will hopefully compete at Badminton next week, and his longer term goals will probably change now, but we will have a think for a day or two before planning too far ahead. Hopefully we wont get any more rain!”
It’s not only the riders affected though; traders come from far and wide to attend the spectacle, benefitting from a massive captive audience. Julia Andrews, spokesperson for Kate Negus Saddlery says; “It is a great shame for all involved. For me as a trader I would expect to take about 20% of my annual turnover in those 5 days. This money is hard to make up with online sales and other venues. The next biggest venue will probably be Burghley but I cannot get into that event. Unfortunately the lack of sales have the obvious knock on effect in the supply change as I will not be putting my usual big order in after Badminton.
“I really feel for all those people at Badminton who have worked so hard getting the event organised. A bit like running a marathon with the finish line in view and then be told that there was no race after all!!”
Likewise, Jo Self, General Manager for Feedmark is facing a similar situation, having been ordering in extra materials, packaging, signage etc to cope with the demand that Badminton throws up. She explains: “Obviously we are extremely disappointed about the cancellation of BHT, Feedmark have been trading at the event for longer than I can remember! However it is very important to remember that the horses welfare is paramount and the organisers have made the right decision in very difficult circumstances.
“To avoid any further disappointment to our customers we have decided to honour our show offer and we will discount supplement orders by 40% along with free UK delivery between Thursday 3rd – Monday 7th May. I feel for those smaller trade stands who have invested heavily and will not be able to recoup their costs. Of course it is also a blow for William Fox-Pitt our sponsored rider who had an amazing win at Kentucky yesterday with Parklane Hawk and was looking forward to the challenge of completing the Rolex Grand Slam this weekend.
“We have to put things in to perspective, people and horses have travelled from all over the world to this prestigious event, this will affect our sales but you have to be prepared for the Great British weather, let’s just hope things improve….. quickly!”
The overall feeling from those involved is one of disappointment, coupled with admiration and compassion for those who have worked so hard to achieve something which is no longer possible. It is with great sadness that Badminton Horse Trials falls foul of the weather, but the one thing beyond all control is mother nature. Nobody, surely, will berate the organisers for taking such a decision, knowing that it has been made with the welfare and safety of competitors at heart.