I gave up a trip to Kentucky this year so I could check off a big bucket list item; going to the Badminton Horse Trials!
I’ve watched my VHS tapes and DVDs of the event from as far back as the mid-90s and never dreamed I’d ever go, but I decided this was the year.
A photographer friend who’d always wanted to go met me in London, and we started with a quick adventure in the city. It’s strange since I was just there in November, but I had a pretty good feel for how to get around.
We dropped our stuff at the airport hotel and grabbed an Uber into the city. We went into Westminster Abbey, had lunch by the London Eye and made our way to the Tower Of London for the afternoon, all through driving rain. It finally cleared when we got to the Tower, and the sun came out, if only for a bit!
We found a lovely pub on the other side of Tower Bridge that had the classic fish and chips and chicken curry, which is what I was craving!
We were pretty far down the river at that point, so we hopped on the Tube and rode it for about an hour all the way back to Heathrow and crashed in our tiny hotel room.
We were both a bit nervous about driving on the other side of the road, and my friend tried it first. Once we were on the M4 out to the Cotswolds she got the hang of it pretty quickly. The only difficulty was when big trucks came barreling at us on the tiny backroads. That was a bit disconcerting!
After being stuck behind a tractor for 10 miles, we made our way through the adorable village of Tetbury and made a mental note to come back through that way on Sunday for dinner.
Our first view of Badminton was bright yellow fields of rape seed, which was just stunning.
We made our way to the media center, checked in, and went to get our bearings.
There was a media luncheon by the lake, so we went off to take advantage and get our first view of Badminton House.
It was quite crowded for Thursday dressage around the main arena, but the stands weren’t super full. Unfortunately there were only two photographer pens in the main arena, both facing directly into the sun.
It’s hard to complain about the sun in England, but it made for difficult shooting conditions!
We shot a few horses we wanted to see, including the leader, Oliver Townend on Ballghmor Class. The scores just kept getting lower all day, with more and more riders earning personal bests. It was pretty crazy, but I think the quality of dressage is just much higher over there anyway.
Our AirBnB was in the Georgian city of Bath. I’d been there once in 2007 on my first trip to England and again last fall. Our basement apartment was super cute and modern inside, and would have been really useful had we spent much time there! It was a 10-minute walk to the city center, so we had a nice stroll on Thursday evening and found an Italian restaurant by the river for dinner.
Here’s a few shots from Thursday:
We spent part of Friday shooting some dressage, then got a private ride around the course in a Mitsubishi hybrid SUV. It was pretty incredible to see all the famous spots on course like Huntsman’s Close, the Quarry and the Vicarage Vee. I don’t think I truly got a sense of how long the course was until Saturday when I had to actually walk it.
We spent some time shopping as well, which was pretty overwhelming to be honest. The quintessential Badminton outfit for women seems to be white jeans, Dubarrys and a tweed coat, or something from Joules. I really fell in love with a lot of the stuff in the Joules tent, and bought an official Badminton jacket and shirt from their Badminton booth, but I still have a wish list a mile long! I love anything with stripes, so they definitely get me.
I found a wax coated jacket, which is also very English, and a nice stretchy belt in my cross-country colors. I also loaded up on flavored English fudge! It was super tempting to buy some new products for my horse, but I knew getting stuff like that to fit in my suitcase was just not going to happen.
Here’s a photo gallery of some of the more interesting things we found in the shopping village:
Saturday we were up bright and early to get to the venue before the crowds. We planned it well and were all settled in the media center by around 8:30. It was super cool to listen to Radio Badminton in the car on the way in. They had interviews with riders, recaps from dressage and predictions for cross-country, just like real sports talk radio.
The media center folks were pretty amazing all weekend, and we were pleasantly surprised to be given lunch passes for the weekend. We got to pick out a variety of food to pack a lunch for cross-country day, and food and booze was free. Our events at home definitely don’t compare. If we get free water that’s a good day for most of them!
It was quite warm and sunny all day, and silly me didn’t think to bring my sun hat because I assumed there would be no sun and that it would be cold.
We started off at fence 4, the Quarry, for a few riders and worked our way backwards against the crowds. There were some tight squeezes in places that slowed us down, but we moved on to the Elevator, which was at the end, then towards the main field in front of the house by the lake. The light was tough again, and it felt like I was shooting into the sun the whole time.
The course is so massively long that there were some parts we didn’t get to, which was unfortunate since we wanted to see everything, but I think we got a pretty good feel for it. There were food stands and bathrooms all around the course, which was super convenient. Most non-horsey people hung out at the bar by the lake, and there were video screens in the shopping village too, so you never really had to see a horse in person if you didn’t want to.
I felt not super stylish, but I was just trying to be comfortable when it was so warm! It was a weird twist of fate that cross-country day was the one-year anniversary of my accident when I broke my ankles. I walked nearly 6 miles and didn’t feel very lame at all. It’s amazing what a year can do.
I don’t think any of us were expecting the person in 22nd place to move into the lead, but that’s just what Jonelle Price did. The going was holding due to all the rain England has had this spring, but she was just a second over the time.
I felt a bit out of it with not being able to watch the event on the live stream and have a “bigger picture” of where the problem areas were, so we had no idea that a horse had to be euthanized or that Oliver Townend had been given a warning for excessive use of the whip. I need to go back and watch it all now.
Here’s a few of my favorite shots from Saturday:
We were absolutely exhausted after cross-country day, so we found a nice pub on the way back to Bath and crashed back at the apartment.
We were up pretty early Sunday though to watch the final horse inspection. It was packed, with temporary stands set up for spectators. People laughed when horses were excitable, and whispered when they thought one looked off, and clapped when the ground jury was introduced.
We spent a bit more time shopping afterwards and then got ready to shoot the top 20 in show jumping. Photographers sign up for a pen, and there are only two inside the ring, and you can’t choose. I got lucky and got in the ring, but the worst spot, so again I was shooting directly into the sun. It was still a cool spot to be though because we were right near the second fence, so riders came in, saluted near us, made a circle, and headed to the first fence. It was really neat to see them up close and concentrated.
It was a nail-biter to the end, with Jonelle’s horse rattling every fence, and Oliver Townend’s Grand Slam on the line, but in the end Classic Moet kept everything up. Jonelle became the first woman in 11 years to win Badminton. Being in the center of it all was really a thrill.
We drove back through Tetbury on Sunday night and had dinner at a historic pub, then made our way back to an airport hotel for the night. Whew! What a whirlwind.
Have you ever felt like you truly belong somewhere? That’s the way I feel about England. I feel it in my bones. From the weather to the horses to the history and culture, this trip really reminded me of my love for the country and my longing to live there.
It would be a dream to try and live there for a summer and go to the big events and have easier access to Europe. I’ve been brainstorming and daydreaming a lot since I’ve been back, and I think I could find a way, but it would have to be after Oh So is settled into retirement because I couldn’t bear to leave him when he’s been going so well. It would be the perfect time between him and my next horse to really explore. Hopefully I could find something to ride while I was there.
Until then, I’m left with a lot of fun memories and one more thing crossed off my bucket list.