Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Badders Cross Country

I'm currently procrastinating on doing a large quantity of reading (how it's not even first week and I already feel in the weeds, I couldn't tell you - the spending four days in Badminton fantasy-land probably didn't help!) by telling myself that I'm still 'settling' from dinner. I ate to celebrate tonight, because I finished my first-ever 14 mile run this evening (!!!! - and in about 10 minute/mile pace to boot - win!!), and so am justifying a little more leisure time before studying begins. Dangerous, I know! I've been pretty quiet recently about my running progress, but all has been going well. I even kept the motivation up to keep running every day at Badminton, including a lovely 6-mile jaunt down Luckington Lane and back on cross-country morning:

(The Luckington Lane crossing used to be one of the more epic fixtures of the old Badminton cross country course, so I felt like I was experiencing my own little bit of Badders history by getting to run down the lane itself on xc morning!)

But obviously, I didn't come to Badminton to go running. I came to watch the best horses and riders conquer the most infamous track in world. And man, through five hours of nonstop action on Sunday afternoon, they didn't disappoint! With my press accreditation I got to suit up in a super sexy blaze-orange vest and take to the course at will, even being allowed to step inside the ropes!


(Andrew Nicholson was the first one out of the day, and was as masterful as ever)

(Aoifie Clarke (which has to be one of the most Irish names I've ever heard) going bold into the Huntsman's Close)

(Caroline Powell looking thrilling with Boston Two Tip - and why not??)

(THE MASTER)

The most unreal example of this was getting to literally sit in the Vicarage Ditch right in the middle of the galloping lane (though obviously not in a place where the horses would be coming) with the imposing Hexagon Hedge (a massive ditch and angled brush) on one side and the Colt Pond on the other, with the spectators outside the ropes separated by probably 40 feet or more. If you had told me this winter that I'd get the opportunity to EVER do that, let alone on my first trip to the event, I'd have laughed out loud. I'm so thankful for the opportunity I was given, and tried to make the most of it!


(My view of the Hexagon Hedge from the middle of the Vicarage Ditch!)

(Vicky Brake and Looks Like Fun look almost casual over this monster of a jump)

(Buck on his way from Hedge to the Colt Pond)

I started at the Huntsman's Close, which was a tricky angled bounce in the woods towards the end of the course, and then systematically worked my way backwards, ending the day at the hillside fence at 6. I opted to skip the lake because it looked like an absolute zoo, and I didn't think the jumping questions at the lake were sufficiently incredible to merit spending such a big chunk of my time wading in and out of the massive crowds. I didn't regret the decision for a moment, because every jump was so interesting!


(Lauren Shannon and Zero Flight zipping down to the Lake as I repositioned myself to the corners)

(Mark Kyle and Step in Time in Pony Express mode!)

(PRICELESS facial expression going into the double of corners at the Farmyard)

I think the most beautiful shots that I got came from the Colt Pond, but my favorite to watch was had to be a tie between the Shogun Hollow, a trio of upright skinnies on a curving line over undulating terrain (which was, unfortunately, where I watched Karen O'Connor come to grief just before her fall at the next fence), and the hillside fence at 6, a MASSIVE logpile-type jump with an extreme downhill landing and then four or five strides to an improbably narrow brush skinny. They were both incredible tests and watching horse after horse make them look easy left me in awe, as ever, of these incredible athletes.


(Fiona Hobby at the Colt Pond with Roma ML, an ADORABLE little grey mare who I think should be Kiki's new role model!!)


(Harry Meade on his way to moving 40 places up the leader board on Wild Lone - swoon)


(Gemma Tattesall going for it on the out of the pond - alas, they came to grief later on)


(Kai Ruder and the mighty little stallion Le Prince Des Bois looking positively FIERCE coming out of the pond - you can almost see Le Prince breathing fire!)


(Louise Skelton looking a little shocked and awed by the BIG drop into the Colt Pond)


(Marina Kohncke and the incredibly likable Calma Schelly, who were briefly in the lead before a scoring protest moved them to second)


(Bold!)


(Hawley and Ginny, whose round was marred by a silly runout early on but was otherwise looveeellly - these ladies are the definition of fierce!)


(Goo Hawley and Ginny!)


(Flying out of the Colt Pond - and look at that smile! Isn't eventing the best??)

(James Robinson and Comanche, who are practically fixtures at Badminton and have been here for something like the past five or six years consecutively)


(Hot German air force man looking a little on the defensive coming out of the Shogun Hollow)


(LOVED the look of this big Irish horse - so genuine! - too bad they crashed later on)


(Duarte Seabra on a Fernhill horse I think looks uncannily like Connaught (who was also from Carol Gee))


(Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch looking good at the hollow, though their weekend would end guttingly in a fall at something like the fourth last fence - d'oh!!)


(mid-40s amateur first-timer Joy Dawes making it look easy - talk about inspiration!!)


(My favorite horse of the competition - 15hh Portersize Just a Jiff!! They crashed and burned hardcore at the Lake, but fortunately the horse was fine and his rider left with nothing worse than a broken collarbone)


(Karen and Mandiba, just a few seconds before tragedy struck when he slammed on the brakes at the third element of the hollow, and then they 'parted company' at the next fence)

(Dressage leaders Ruth Edge and Two Thyme looking a little wild; they too wouldn't have the afternoon they were hoping for)

I was lucky in that there only three problems at the fences I was standing at all day (all stops or run-outs), so I missed the majority of the drama happening elsewhere on course... though I did see the aftermath of Karen's fall when Mandiba came running back up to the Shogun Hollow before being caught. It was very disheartening to watch the airlift chopper fly so low overhead I though it was going to land on me when Elizabeth Power (IRL) took a hard fall at the Sunken Road, but thankfully it seems she'll be fine. I also heard that a lot of horses were finishing quite tired, which again I missed because I moved progressively earlier and earlier in the course as the day went on. From my perspective, it was a pretty fabulous and totally inspirational day of sport.


(Rathmoyle King goes big at the oxer over the ditch)


(Paul Tapner, 2010 champion and total Aussie Fox, turning on the speed on their way to the Hexagon Hedge)


(The Good Witch showing off some mad hops before their weekend ended abruptly at the Lake later on)


(Sam Griffiths makes the ENORMOUS bank look easy)


(French dude silhouetted in the haze)

(Colombo makes a big effort at the Normandy Bank - I got a chance to meet Selena's mom and they sound like the nicest family; I was so sad to hear that they ran into some problems later on)

(Ridiculous hunt colors!!)

(Lucinda looking intense as always on her new mare Prada)

(In England, they call this type of fence a 'shooting butt' - teehee)

(What a dream! To jump with Badminton House as a backdrop...)

I also had a great time chatting with various crossing stewards (the men in the bowler hats!) at the jumps I visited, and had a great time meeting some very interesting folks. I even got invited by a few to come up to their farms to come riding! British hospitality at its greatest =)

(I didn't actually talk to this guy, but I seriously dug the sock choice)

All in all, the day passed far too quickly, and even though I got back to the media center that night exhausted, dehydrated, famished, and burned to a delicate crisp from the unseasonable sunshine and warmth we got over the weekend, I still found myself wishing that there could have been even more wonderful riding and jumping to watch.


(Nice and neat into the corral)


(WFP makes it look easy)


(Talk about intimidating warmup company!)


(Opposition Buzz showing off his trademark hops!)


(Lauren Shannon with her super mare Quixotic)


(Oliver Townend, rolling fast and loose as always - he would pay for it later, with a pile-driver of a fall at the Quarry just a few fences from home)


(Jakata looking neat as a pin through the influential hillside combination)


(Lenamore DEFIES GRAVITY! He's got to be the best event horse out there, hands down)


(MARYY!!!!)


(Mr. Stickability in action)


(The Master at work again, guiding NZB Land Vision into the lead in the horse's first time at the CCI**** level - incredible!!)

(Mark Todd makes jumping the ridiculous skinny look like just another day at the office... I suppose it is for the Horseman of the Century!)

Fortunately, I got my wish the very next day, with an unbelievably exciting show jumping conclusion! But, as I think I probably 'settled' from dinner about an hour ago, I should probably get to that reading... =)
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