Kelvin Bywater on Badminton’s showjumping: ‘The quality has changed dramatically’


  • Top showjumping course-designer Kelvin Bywater on what goes into planning the Badminton course and a rare challenge

    I STARTED doing initial sketches for the showjumping track at Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, in January. In April, I finished the plan and sent it to Badminton, so the fences could be finalised. Once the initial plan was complete, there was still flexibility for it be adjusted depending on the ground and the impact of the cross-country.

    The plan was done to scale so I knew the striding, but I didn’t decide the distances until I arrived on site and could walk around the arena. Once the dressage was concluded, we laid the poles out to see how it would work in the arena, and spray-painted the positions of the fences to make it quicker to set up on Saturday night.

    I watched some of the cross-country – our office is near the finish, so I could see whether they were coming home fresh. Once that was over, my brilliant team of course-builders and the arena party helped build the course. Although it’s a beautifully presented grass arena, it’s very different to building a course on a surface and a lot of work goes into producing it.

    At 8pm when the track was 95% built, I met with the technical delegate Marcin Konarski to collaborate over whether to go up or down a centimetre, but we decided it didn’t need much adjustment. It’s so different building a course for eventers rather than pure showjumping as you are balancing how the horses are progressing through the three tests.

    Many years ago when I first came to Badminton the final jumping challenge was set at 1.20m, but now it’s a full-up 1.30m and this was a strong course. The quality of jumping has also changed dramatically. It was a proper showjumping course with related distances where riders needed to make decisions according to how their horse was going.

    I chose to have three doubles, rather than one double and a triple. I built a double to double on a bending line, which I’ve only done once before – at a five-star jumping show – which gives riders the choice of taking the inside or outside line depending on what suits their horse best.

    Having a bending line to the left to the Liverpool (fence 10), and then to the right to the planks (fence 11) towards the end of the course tested the riders’ ability to keep their horse in balance and rhythm in the later stages.

    It was interesting to see how different riders rode at the required 375mpm, which is very much part of the test. With the position of islands there was nowhere to cut a corner, so they had to travel at the correct speed throughout.

    Overall I was extremely pleased – the winning round was beautiful; what a horse! There were several riders who produced brilliant rounds and the overall standard and quality of the sport just gets better and better. I do get nervous; I love to watch exciting competition and I thought the result worked
    out well.

    • This exclusive column is also included in our 20-page bumper magazine report, which will be on sale Thursday 12 May

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