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Badminton at 75 Kate Green

ISBN-13 978-1910016480
Publisher Kenilworth Press Ltd
Publication Date 14 April 2024
Author Kate Green

Badminton at 75 coverOn this Badminton weekend surely there could be nothing more appropriate than a review of Kate Green’s new work Badminton at 75?
The book provides the reader with a very readable journey supplemented with super images throughout those years including notable competitors, both horses and riders and events on the way.
History tells us that the sport of horse trials as we know it today originated at Badminton when the 10th Duke of Beaufort decided to run an event at home so British riders had somewhere to train for future international competitions. However, as Kate Green shows in her year by year analysis, the events, places, politics, people and a fair amount of prejudice involved in the establishment of what we know today as ‘Badminton’ make it a much more complex and interesting tale.
An eventing competition that resembles the current sport was first held in France in 1902. It then became an Olympic sport in at the Stockholm Games 1912 when Count Clarence von Rosen, Master of the Horse to the King of Sweden, devised the first event. The blueprint for the modern 3 day test of skill and endurance was established at the Paris Olympics in 1924 and was originally open only to male military officers on active duty, it was designed to test the cavalry on their fitness and suitability. One of the first things noted during my initial read through of the book was the huge debt owed by eventing to hunting with hounds. The two are inextricably linked. It is a link which has provided a number of successful riders with a good grounding in the fitness and courage levels required to face challenging obstacles at pace. Hunting has also been a proving ground for a number of great horses before they specialised in eventing and which had provided them with a similar if not quite as taxing environment for their athleticism on their retirement from competition. It is to be hoped that organisers and commentators continue to acknowledge this link to spectators even though the media interest in eventing and indeed it has to be said, in most equestrian sports is nothing like it once was.
Women were not allowed to ride in Olympic equestrian events until 1952. This fact did not seem to deter Sheila Wilcox, who, Kate Green records is still the only person so far to win a hat-trick of Badmintons in 1957, 1958 and 1959. Furthermore in those days eventing consisted of the so called ‘long format’ over four phases. Phase A was roads and tracks, required for warming up, B was steeplechasing at a gallop over brush type fences, C was back to roads and tracks, before horse and rider were then vet checked in a 10-minute holding box. All of this was designed to test stamina and the ability of the horse to recover and carry on, as well as the focus of the rider. This format, was not to last and Badminton followed the trend introduced at the 2004 Athens Olympics by removing the endurance phase, leaving Dressage, Jumping and Cross Country. The author records that the move to a shorter format excluding the endurance phase was not universally welcomed by competitors but statistics show that it has led to horses enjoying longer competitive careers, however, as a direct result, course designers have had to work hard to re-think their planning producing more technically demanding courses to ensure the result is not predictable after the Dressage phase whilst also ensuring that it is now usually the fences that are the first to ‘break’ in the event of an incident, and not the horse or rider.
For the die hard eventing enthusiast the book is a must have, perhaps to be read between practices for inspiration, or just to bring back memories of days when we were all younger fitter and a good deal braver! The narrative could best be described as a thoroughly enjoyable canter through the history of eventing at Badminton supported by a combination of interesting historical snippets. For example we learn that the film International Velvet actually featured Jane Holderness-Roddam and Warrior in scenes thought too taxing for star Tatum O’Neal, and that another film ‘Dead Cert’ featuring Cornishman V usually partnered by World and European title holder Mary Gordon Watson, featured Lord Oaksey jumping over a taxi, such facts have to be a gift for quiz writers and any quiz would repay the investment in purchase price and time.

Throughout  its year by year examination of the evolution and development of Badminton the narrative is supported by first-hand accounts of those who were there at the time particularly in the latter years. As a result, the reader is given a useful and readable insight into how those at the top of the game deal with set-backs and adversity not all of which related to equine fitness. In addition the author does not hold back on the negative impact of occasional outbreaks of pomposity or sexism had on competitors, their mounts and the pairs potential in competitions, and the narrative is all the better for that.
One of the unexpected treats of the work, and there are many, are to be found at the end of the book where the author has provided a ‘Roll of Honour’ through the years 1949 to 2023. This list presents the readers with a chance to test their knowledge regarding the name of the winning horse and rider combination and which country they represented. In addition, such a list would surely be a welcome sight for any aspiring or hard pressed ‘quiz meister’. This is followed by ’Badminton in Numbers’ a section which though ’hidden’ at the end of the volume should not be overlooked. The list of facts counting down from 75 to1 is full of information that you either thought you knew, or, more likely, were not even aware of. The collation of such a list must have involved both author and editorial team in considerable effort with fact checking and they must be congratulated for taking the time to produce it, we can see it being used as part of informal ‘pop quizzes’ or perhaps once again providing quiz writers with a lot of potential questions.

All in all this beautifully produced book with a highly readable text and supported by over 150 images would be a great present for any horse enthusiasts whether they be primarily a rider or reader, it also shows that Great Britain’s competitive prowess in eventing covering one, two or three days owes a great debt to hunting with hounds and that is something that the governance of the sport should be prepared to embrace at every opportunity, to do otherwise may result in a reduction in both the size and quality of the home grown talent pool that go on to become future winners at Badminton.

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