AFTER a record 2013, following the blow of the cancellation of the event the year before, top-class competitors are back at Badminton this year to compete for record prize money and the coveted eventing trophy.

This year marks something of a watershed moment in the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials history, with a new course designer at the Duke of Beaufort’s estate for the first time in 25 years.

Confirmed riders include former trophy winners Mark Todd and Andrew Hoy, as well as Brits Mary King, Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt, who join competitors from 15 nations focusing on selection for this summer’s World Equestrian Games in Normandie.

Backing the British bid, the 2014 Badminton cause is the Equestrian Team GBR in the build up to the games.

Badminton director Hugh Thomas said he was looking forward to another top class competition with a course designed by fresh eyes.

Taking up the reins is former international rider and leading designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa, who has been involved with the four-star cross-country course in previous years and describes his involvement as an “evolution, not revolution.”

Hugh said it had been liberating working alongside him in a lesser role.

“It has been great being involved and I think Giuseppe’s done a fantastic job on the course,” he said. “He knows the park well and has experience building courses in many places.

“I think he’s done a terrific job and I know he’s enjoyed it.”

As well as ensuring fences look sympathetic to their surroundings, with an increased use of natural materials from silver birch to giant tree trunks, Giuseppe has used new areas of the park, most notably by developing a new pond complex by Luckington Lane.

He’s kept the fences relatively straightforward this year, but it will be interesting to see how the area is used in competitions to come. Riders will also have to navigate the main Lake complex much earlier than they are used to, complete with a huge drop into the water, before breaking up what used to be a long gallop with a selection of fences in a ‘garden feature’ located picturesquely in front of the great house.

The famous four-star cross-country course has been designed to truly test the skills of the world-class competitors who come to Badminton and there are some daunting fences on this course.

Few jumps are placed in straight lines and there is an emphasis on curved lines and approaches – hiding upcoming fences from the horses and thereby testing the riders, not their horses.

The tight turns required over fence 18, the Swindon Designer Outlet Mound are a case in point. A newly sculpted mound has a daunting log and drop at the top, after which riders will have to take several tight turns over further tree trunks.

The course also offers fewer long routes – and those that are there will take a considerably longer time to navigate than usual.

The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials takes place Thursday, May 8 to Sunday, May 11.

The 2014 event returns to the familiar Thursday to Sunday time frame with Dressage on Thursday and Friday, Cross Country on the Saturday and Show Jumping and prizegiving rounding up the event on Sunday.

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