Imogen Mercer, Sam Griffiths' former Head Groom joined the HorseQuest team at Badminton this year to capture the inside scoop.
Imo needs little introduction amongst those in the eventing circuit. She was Head Girl for Sam Griffiths for five years - during which time Sam took the 2014 title at Badminton and competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics, with Paulank Brockagh. Here we share a round-up of her views and perspective of the event. Enjoy!
It's that week.....Badminton really is an event like no other. I know that I may have written this a few times already, but it really is something to write home about. Having lived within 5 miles of Badminton all my life the moment the sign goes up on the Bath motorway junction you can't wait to feel the excitement, and see the site building!
I feel very fortunate to have been reporting for HorseQuest at this year's event; having groomed at 7 Badmintons its a very special place for me - especially after winning in 2014. People always try to predict who could be this years winner?! But the reality is that you can never predict what is going to happen - that's what makes it such an exciting event!
This year was the first year of changing the dressage scoring system. Over the years the improvement in the first phase amongst all riders has been phenomenal and the jumping had in some ways become less influential. Day one saw a very exciting combination who impressed at Badminton last year- Ros Canter leading after day 1 of dressage. That'll be a memory of a life time for Ros, to have pipped the King of eventing, la Biosthetique- Sam FBW, to the top of the leader board!!
Quite often you would find that in day 1 the judges aren't being as rewarding with the marks that they give but this was far from the case on this first day, with the top ten being separated by 3.5 penalties, with the lowest on a score of 23.9!
One of my favourite things to do at Badminton is to take a walk in the park in the evening, it's like dog heaven!! It's the perfect time to walk the course when its very quiet, and it's also so special to see so many people out enjoying the beautiful surroundings that we have been welcomed into! Of course you don't walk right up to the fences to keep the grass as fresh as possible for the riders, but it’s great to see the track when there aren't hundreds of people every where!
After our first day of dressage, day two was only going to bring some more impressive results; in general it seemed that there were a lot more spectators than normal. If you go into the main arena on a Friday lunch time to watch you can hear a pin drop - what an atmosphere there is in there! Most of the grandstand seats are taken up, and you can see a slightly nervous look in some of the horse’s eyes as they trot into the ring and see the full crowd! Friday brought another day of impressive riding, and the pinnacle of the day was when the last rider in - Tom McEwen - who was awarded 3 x 10's! 3.1 penalties separated the top three, Oliver Townend, Mark Todd and Ros Canter. With only 4.2 penalties separating the top 10!! What a day of cross country it was going to be!! Knowing that the time was going to be hard to get, and with all the wet weather we have had and now the glorious sunshine, some slightly tacky, energy sapping ground...who was going to be our leader at the end of it all?!
From a grooming perspective, once your horse has done their dressage test, they need to eat, drink and mooch about as much as they can. Rest is crucial and quite often very over looked. The enormity of where you are can sometimes take over and you can fiddle and faff far too much with the horses, especially if day to day at home you have 20+ horses on the yard, and then for a week you only have one!! Continuity and routine is key when you stay away and you should try and keep things as similar as you can to when the horses are at home!
Cross country day morning still puts a strange feeling into the pit of my stomach! 5.30am...I’m wide awake even though I’m 5 miles away and not even looking after a horse at Badminton! I would never give a hard feed any less then 4 hour before they run in a three day event and then from two hours I would minimise their hay intake. Just like humans I don’t think it would be very comfortable to make a horse gallop on a completely empty stomach - but then you most definitely don't want them to have just been grazing for an hour, or to have munched through their entire hay net!!
When it comes to going to the start, the equipment that you can take with you is extensive! I joked to Charlotte (Sam's current Head Girl) that she was taking the tack room with her to the start, but then as a groom you have to develop this knack for always having the right thing on you for when it all goes wrong...or you end up doing a lot of running and stressing!!
What a day of sport we had on Saturday, glorious sunshine and some 190,000 people came to watch the action!! Every second really did count with the scores as close as they were at the end of the Dressage on Friday. You would say on the whole that the course brought fewer 'thrills & spills' than in previous years, more tired horses at the end of the course as riders nurtured them home, but it was nice to see fewer injuries to the horses and the riders...and once they had been checked by the vets at the finish, happy horses heading back to their stables. There is always an element of risk in sport, but it's good to see that this is being minimised by the development of technology in course building. As we all knew the time was very influential and this bought much excitement to the scoreboard.
Post cross country there is a lot of work to be done to ensure the horses are able to recover as quickly as possible and feel as well as they can on Sunday morning to present to the jury. Ice and walking is key, so that you can remove all the toxins that have built up in their muscles from running for 12 minutes; just as you would for a marathon runner really.
Grazing is also vital to get their gut going again after, you should be wary when the horses are very dehydrated when they return to the stables that they don’t inhale a lot of dry hay when they have a dry pallet as that can cause some upset for them. Make sure to really monitor how much water they have drunk on return to the stables so they are hydrating as they should!
On Sunday you saw that some horses were struggling to bounce back from the maximum effort that they had put into their cross country rounds, with the glorious sunshine and blazing heat through out the day and their 12 minute run around the Park. It's amazing what these horses do for their riders, but it's all very well within their capabilities. They may have to work hard, but these top event horses are always rewarded with a nice holiday after their efforts!!
I am a huge fan of 'Team Price' not only because one of my closest friends is their head girl, but also because of the way in which they are cared for at home and prepared for competition. Both Tim and Jonelle are real horse people and they show this by always allowing their horses to be horses, which I think is so important when we demand what we do of the horses at International Level. Jonelle thoroughly deserved her win from her performances in all three phases!
Ros Canter must have secured herself a place at the World Games this year really holding it all together and coming through with a stonker of a performance!! I was over the moon for Sam, Brocks and her owners 'The Posfords.' Her sixth Badminton in amongst all her other achievements over the years, a few uncharacteristic poles for her on the final day, but still a very credible 15th place and a happy sound horse on the lorry home for her well deserved break!! Roll on Badminton 2019!