F & I Badminton Course Walk 2023 – with David Doel

The F & I association and their guests were very lucky to have 5* rider David Doel – who had just returned from an 8th place finish in the Kentucky 5* – present his opinions on this year’s Badminton course. His first look around the course proved to be very insightful and educational to see things from a rider’s point of view.

Themes in Eric Winter’s 2023 course quickly emerged; the use of the undulating ground being one, with the brush off an incline at the Totworth Hotel Brush at Fence 3 being a prime example. The course seemed to build nicely to what David described as the first real test of accuracy at the Lightsource BP Hollow at Fence 8, where riders had been prepared for skinnies, steps and undulating ground by Fences 3 and 4 (Savills Staircase).

“Rhythm and route” was also a key phrase used by David, who viewed these in the highest regard as two key features of their round that riders needed to consider and look after. It was noted that the terrain would make this tricky, and where fences had several routes, the right route for the right rider and horse combination need to be selected carefully.

In many of these scenarios (for example the Joules Coronation Coral at Fence 6), David suggested that we may be likely to see a mixture of many routes takes: the slowest route, likely to be taken by those at Badminton to tick an item off the bucket list and aim to just get round; the quickest route taken by those who aim to win; and a combination of the two routes may be seen by those in the middle, who are there to have a great time. Showing his true competitive spirit, when asked which line he would take to the Jubilee Clump Brush at Fence 26, David replied, “the inside line, of course”.

Fences 11 and 12AB were fences of discussion. David noted that how Fence 11 (Rolex T Bar) was jumped would dictate the plans at Fence 12 (Holland Cooper Owl Hole). Running down the hill and taking a flyer to Fence 11 would mean a lot of work in a small space of time to prepare for the bank. There was discussion that there were no alternative routes at first attempt, as any rider attempting to jump the step on an angle to purposely avoid the Owl Hole, would be classed as a run out. Therefore, David stressed the importance of clear preparation between Fences 11 & 12.

Although the famous Vicarage V is not featured in the 2023 course, it has been replaced with a large, railed oxer over the ditch at Fence 15. The angle of which the Footbridge has been placed leaves little room for error and highlights the importance of rhythm and route, and the rider’s ability to hold a line. After the huge oxer came what seemed like a rather small combination at the Lightsource BP pond behind, but David noted that it would be important not to be fooled by the relatively small solar panels, as their placement on the ground would cause them to ride much bigger than they initially seem.

Whilst tricky to get close enough to see all the potential options at the famous Badminton Lake (Fences 20-23), on assessment it looked as if it may be an influential fence. David noted the importance of coming in with enough canter to make the corner in the water, as accelerating in water is difficult and definitely not to be recommended.

Eric Smiley’s 3 buckets became a discussion point at the lake, where a discussion was had that a horse/rider combination has 3 buckets: time, energy and confidence. Riding a successful round takes balancing these 3 buckets carefully, as if some of the confidence is taken from the bucket, it needs to be replaced with something else to restore confidence. David suggested this replacement often comes from the time bucket, which has to be managed if the rider still wishes to remain competitive.

Helen Martin riding Andreas for GBR head towards fence 2 Bloomfields Horseboxes Keepers Table

The course walk took one extra-long route to Winter’s map, to sample some delicious fizz, courtesy of Eco-Voltz bikes. Eco-Voltz provides electric-assisted bikes to some members of the F&I association, as well as many high profile riders. They spoke about their alliance with British Eventing and the Horse Trials Support Group, and provide 4 bikes to be used by those riders, event organisers and officials in need at any given time. Nicola Wilson has already been supplied with a bike to assist her moving forward.

On to huntsman’s close where again choosing the right line for the individual combination was discussed and that riders might have to make a decision after the lake based on how much petrol was left in the tank.

Fence 26 the Jubilee Clump Brush offered a direct if risky route to the right of a carefully positioned Christmas tree which David suggested would be the option for those still full of confidence as horses at this stage they would be prepared for this. The longer route appeared to provide horses with a clearer view of what was being asked as they could see the ditch in front much sooner.

The horsequest quarry remains a big question as usual with big upright walls both into and out of the hollow with an easier option for those wanting to nurse their horses home. David was keen to point out that riders needed to look after their horses balance here and also their own! From here, two large oxers on a curving line which still needed respect and then two more to the finish.   

A huge thank you goes to those that organised the walk and David for hosting. Looking forward to 2024 already!

Lisa Morris FBHS & Tinky Morris BHSII