|Sam Watson | Guest Blogging At Badminton|
So it is that Badminton 2011 is upon us. I’m Sam Watson and, up until last week, this was scheduled to be my third spin around what I unashamedly label The World’s Greatest Event. An uncharacteristic tumble at our last prep run and a subsequent minor injury to my top horse, Horseware Bushman, means that I have come here in an all-together different role, but one that is equally as terrifying….I have crossed over to the dark side and joined the press!! Throughout the week I will bring you Badminton from the riders’ point of view. What it takes to get here, what goes on behind the scenes, the mood and atmosphere in the lorry park and stable block, and the emotions, nerves, preparation and focus involved to be a part of this prestigious event.
The rider briefing is imminent, it’s the first official act of the event for the riders and unlike most international events, everyone will be there. There’s a different tone to Badminton, even for the experienced riders. Firstly, it has been set out as the target for a particular horse or rider for at least a year and possibly a lifetime. Everything over the past three months has been a part of a meticulous timetable and routine revolved around arriving here today in peak condition, ready to produce the performance of our career. Other events will be sacrificed at the drop of a hat if they jeopardise our chances at Badminton, it just is that important. So, when you drive into the secluded rider village on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning, you arrive at a hallowed ground which is treated with every inch of the respect that it deserves. It’s an equal playing field when you step out of the truck an onto the famous Cotswold turf that has graced the presence of every great name in this sport’s history. That is the single most terrifying realisation for a Badminton debutant, the fact that even the big guns such as King, Fox-Pitt, Funnell and Nicholson seem more subdued, serious and focused than usual. No one treats this week as walk in the park…..
Almost every competitor will arrive and get settled in way before they usually would for a ‘normal’ event. Those living within an hours drive might still set up camp the day before the trot-up. Let’s face it, we’ve planned our whole year around this event so why not sacrifice one extra night in order to be completely settled in and at home before it all kicks off. To be honest, it’s the twenty-four hours before the battle that are my favourite here. For a short time it feels that Badminton belongs to us, the riders. Before it becomes the Badminton with all the shops, big fences, smart grandstand and thousands of spectators, it is a quiet, quaint and old fashioned little village and it calls you back year after year. No rider is every ‘going to Badminton’ until they actually ‘get to Badminton’ – I of all people can vouch for that! Too many things go wrong along the way and dozens of combinations always fall by the way-side en route. The final prep run is a vital hurdle, as is the last piece of fitness work a couple of days before travelling. If you come through those in one piece you feel pretty confident. Then the packing is allowed to really begin in earnest. When the horse climbs up the ramp of the lorry, booted, bandaged and rugged from head to toe, then another sigh of relief exhales and the promised land is within our grasp.
Now we’ve arrived….now it all begins again. All that, all that hard work, that planning and preparation, that sweat and those tears, that was all just to get here. Now it’s time to pick ourselves together, take a deep breath and stand and deliver. I’ve got fifteen minutes to get myself to that briefing. Speak soon.