One minute you're sitting pretty at the top of your game and the next, it's all turned ugly! That about sums up the last week of Oliver Townend's eventing career, from Kentucky to Badders. It's tough to get to the top and it can be even tougher to stay there. As the Billy Ocean song goes, " When the Going Get's Tough, the Tough Get Going.' We know that it takes grit and determination to rise to the top of any sport but when animals are involved the less attractive side of ambition can be amplified.
The reactions of most spectators to Oliver Townend's use of the whip on Badminton's Cross Country day ranged from 'uncomfortable' to 'appalled'. The sudden onset of hot weather married with 'holding' ground meant that a lot of horses were really tiring near the end of the course and had to be coaxed home. A lot of riders did this sympathetically but Townend was seen giving Ballaghmor Class in particular, quite a few smacks plus waving of his whip to drive him home. When we watched the cross country action live on the BBC it certainly wasn't a pretty picture. In his interview with Clare Balding afterwards Townend said that he'd had to work hard on his young horse who was prone to being nappy and was playing up a bit on the way home. Re-watching the footage, Ballaghmor Class actually didn't look as fatigued as many of the other horses and so maybe he did just have his mind on other things. Cooley SRS who he rode at the beginning of the day, didn't look too tired as he finished and both horses certainly looked good in the jumping phase so certain claims that he was beating unfit exhausted horses home is probably an overwrought response.
Oliver Townend on the XC course riding Cooley SRS at Badminton Horse Trials, 2018
You know your horse is talented, you've got your eye on the grand slam and a huge cash prize, new scoring changes have meant that your cross country time is even more crucial than before so it's easy to see that if your steed then decides he'd rather be back in his box munching hay, you might feel impelled to dissuade him! …..and under pressure, in full view of the equestrian world, Oliver Townend did just that with rather too many thwacks and waves of his whip.
Now, we're not condoning what he's done but let's face it, many of us riders have made errors of judgement especially in the heat of the moment that we regret. There are probably plenty of his critics who definitely shouldn't be throwing stones! On the other hand it's quite right that we demand better of our equestrian heroes; they are supposed to inspire us and when they are flawed, we are disappointed. This has meant that Oliver Townend has received on top of the official warning from the Badminton ground jury, a social media whipping which can create it's own version of ugly.
"I fully accept the warning I received. My competitive instincts got the better of me and I will work hard to improve in this area.
"I try hard to give my horse the best ride possible. I try to be as fit as possible, to be as light as I can be, to sit as still as I can, to get them on the best strides and take-off points to minimise the energy they have to waste."
In a nail-biting finish filled with gasps and thrills, Oliver Townend of Great Britain did the seemingly impossible: he beat Germany’s three-time defending champion Michael Jung at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.
Standing in third overnight, Townend jumped a gorgeous fault-free show jumping round aboard Cooley Master Class, finishing on his dressage score of 28.7 penalties and setting up the showdown with overnight leader Jung on Fischerrocana FST. When the German pair dropped a rail at fence 5, the victory was Townend’s. Jung would finish second (31.5).
“Obviously it’s a fantastic feeling, I had to do a bit of arm-twisting to get the horses here as there was no funding from Britain to come here this year. The owners gambled on me to win their money back, and I’m pleased the horses have come through with great results and that I’ve repaid the owners’ gamble on me.”
The morning started with a dramatic turn when Fischerrocana was sent to the holding box during the final horse inspection, as was second-placed Christopher Burton of Australia with Nobilis 18. As the crowd held their breath, the ground jury accepted both horses upon re-presentation.
Early on in the show jumping, rails fell, but it was also clear course designer Richard Jeffrey had measured the course tightly, and even horses who were jumping clean were having multiple time penalties.
The first to post a double-clear round was Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Boarder (21st/55.9) and the crowd roared their approval. As the top horses came in one by one, the tension ratcheted up. In the end, only seven would complete the show jumping with no jumping or time penalties, and those that could climbed up the order.
Townend had come into the show jumping with Cooley Master Class in third and MHS King Joules tied for fourth. He went early on King Joules and lowered a rail, so he cantered in aboard Master Class, all business. The bay gelding jumped his heart out, putting pressure on Burton and Jung.
Burton would lower two rails, and the crowd grow grew silent as Jung, the Land Rover Kentucky winners for the last three years, cantered in. At fence 5, the 13-year-old German-bred mare stood off the triple bar and just tipped the front rail.
“I’m very happy about Rocana, a little more sad about me,” said a circumspect Jung, 35, Horb, Germany. “It was my mistake, I was too far away from this fence. My mare tried hard, and it was a good round, only one down, but it was one down too much. But it was a very nice week here in Kentucky. I really like this event, it’s beautiful and I’m happy to be here.”
When Jung faulted, Townend covered his face with his hands in disbelief before dissolving into tears.
Ultimately, three others besides Townend would finish on their dressage scores: Phillip Dutton/Z (33.7/4th), Sharon White/Cooley On Show (35.6/7th) and Will Coleman/Tight Lines (38.3/12th).
Townend has had Cooley Master Class since he was a 4-year-old and says he has always been a barn favorite.
“He came right at the end of a period where I had sold a lot of my good horses to set my life up and buy a property,” he said. “ He came right at the right time, and when I sat on him, I said ‘one way or another we’re finding a way to keep this one.
“I was lucky to sell to him to someone who let me keep the ride, and he’s never really let us down,” he continued. “He had a couple of niggles injury-wise, at certain stages in his career. At times we thought, ‘Will he ever come through with what he can really do?’ But these last two seasons he toughened up, and we learned more about him and how to manage him. He’s always been cheeky and talented and I’m very pleased for him to come through with it.”
Townend also finished seventh on King Joules. “(With) Joules, I’m just thrilled, really pleased. If you’d wanted me to sign a piece of paper saying I’d have one down before the round, I’d have happily signed for that. He is the most difficult horse I’ve ever ridden and also the most talented. For him to put up the performance this week he did, I’m just as happy as I am with the winner.”
The winner takes home a check for $130,000, and for his seventh-placed finish Townend adds an additional $14,000, making it a profitable weekend for his team. MHS King Joules and Cooley Master Class are both 13-year-old Irish Sport Horses.
For his victory, Townend will also receive a one-year lease on a Land Rover Discovery, and he got to take a victory lap in the car. He zoomed around the ring to the roar of the crowd. When asked how fast he was going, he replied with a dry laugh, “I don’t know, the man in the passenger seat was screaming too loud.”
Townend has a reason to be happier than most with his win, as this victory is his second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. A hefty cash prize of $350,000 goes to the winner of Mitsubishi Motors Badminton, Land Rover Burghley and Land Rover Kentucky. Townend won Burghley last September aboard Ballaghmor Class, who is entered at Badminton next week, along with Cooley SRS. If he wins there, he will only be the third person in history to take the Grand Slam. Previous winners were Jung in 2016 and Pippa Funnel in 2003.
“I’m very fortunate to have two nice horses also belonging to (Cooley Master Class’ owner Angela Hislop), and we’re living in dream world,” Townend said. “She came up to me about six years ago and said if she was going to own horses for me she wanted a four-star winner and a British team horse, and now we’ve had both. So, we’re both living in dream world, and hopefully it will continue for another week–please.”
It was a British 1, 2, 3, 4 at this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, with Oliver Townend taking the coveted title riding Karyn Shuter, Angela Hislop and Val Ryan’s 10-year-old gelding Ballaghmor Class.
1. Oliver Townend (GBR).
“It’s very, very special,” smiled an emotional Oliver, who last won a four star in 2009 – at Burghley. “We’ve had Ballaghmor Class from the word go and he’s a top class horse. I looked around the collecting ring and I honestly wouldn’t swap him for any other horse in there. It’s been a long time since I said that. It’s the biggest and most difficult four star to win and it means the world to me.”
2. Piggy French (GBR).
“She was fabulous,” said Piggy of Trevor Dickens’ 12-year-old mare. “I came here hoping for a top 10 finish – I’ve not managed to achieve that here before, and have more often eaten the Burghley dirt – so it’s great to be back at this level and up the leader board. Burghley is the toughest four star and it’s always been a dream to do well. What a difference a year makes.”
3. Gemma Tattersall (GBR).
“So close yet so far. A stupid little touch of an upright cost us, but we’re still third at Burghley and he’s an incredible horse who doesn’t owe me anything,” Gemma concluded.
4. Tom McEwen (GBR).
“What a horse, he was magnificent,” said Tom. “It was his third double clear at four star level and he jumped his socks off. I’m so happy with him and excited for the future.”
5. Tim Price (NZL).
New Zealand’s Tim Price filled fifth place riding Ringwood Sky Boy after a fence and a time fault showjumping added five penalties to his overnight score.
“Although we had one down, that was like a clear round for him,” Tim said. “I reckon he’s got a win in him one day, just not today.”
6. Lynn Symansky (USA).
The USA’s Lynn Symansky and Donner picked up four faults to finish sixth, while a clear round showjumping pushed Tina Cook and her second ride Star Witness up the leaderboard from tenth to seventh. She also finished 17th with Calvino II.
7. Tina Cook (GBR).
8. Andrew Nicholson (NZL).
Andrew Nicholson and Nereo clocked up 10 penalties to drop from sixth overnight to eighth, this result meaning that Nereo has now earnt over 3000 British Eventing points, a record, in his illustrious career.
9. Izzy Taylor (GBR).
Izzy Taylor and Trevidden had three fences down moving them from third overnight to eventual ninth, and the USA’s Boyd Martin and Steady Eddie had two poles to finish tenth.
10. Boyd Martin (USA).
Saturday April 15th. Barefoot Estates Burnham Market International - the sun was shining, it was a good day for taking photos...
Oliver Townend swept the board yet again. He made it ten wins in ten years in the headline class, the CIC***, beating a class field which included fellow Olympians and some of the biggest names in the sport.
1st. Oliver Townend riding COOLEY MASTER CLASS.
2nd. Piggy French riding VANIR KAMIRA.
3rd. Andrew Nicholson (NZL) riding BYRNESGROVE FIRST DIAMOND
4th. Nicola Wilson riding ANNIE CLOVER
5th. Tom Jackson riding DUSTY II
6th. Francis Whittington riding HASTY IMP.
7th. Olivia Craddock riding BILLY LIFFY.
8th. Oliver Townend riding ARCTIC MOOSE.
9th. Caroline Powell riding SINATRA FRANK BABY.
10th. Pippa Funnell riding BILLY THE BIZ.
See Full Results HERE
For the tenth time in 10 years British number one, Oliver Townend, bagged the headline class at Barefoot Estates Burnham Market Horse Trials. He had come to Norfolk meaning business, with four entries in the big class, and having secured the win on his third, Cooley Master Class – the same horse who took the title 12 months ago – was able to withdraw his final runner, Note Worthy, who could have given Oliver a 1-2, instead saving the horse for another day.
In total over the three days Oliver won the Three Star, the Advanced, an Intermediate and a Novice section, making the drive over from Shropshire worthwhile. Oliver now also has his first of a necessary three out of five legs of the Shearwater Insurance Grand Slam in the bag, with its £50,000 bonus.
“Burnham Market is always the first event of the year where I really aim to be competitive. I trust the ground, I trust the course designer, I trust everything about the place. I think running here sets my horses up for what’s to come later in the season,” Oliver explained.
Norfolk-born Piggy French has returned to competition in some style after a year off to have a baby. She finished runner up in the Three Star on Vanir Kamira, a horse that she produced back in 2012 before the ride went elsewhere, only returning to Piggy’s Maidwell base last winter.
“I hadn’t planned to run fast, but we were in a good position so I went for it,” said Piggy, who finished bang on the cross country optimum time. “Vanir Kamira can get quite nervous and it’s taken a while for me to figure her out, but she was much calmer today and jumped fantastically well.”
New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson made amends for an early dunking at the first water with third place on Byrnesgrove First Diamond, with Yorkshire’s Nicola Wilson fourth riding Annie Clover... READ MORE