Laura Collett (GBR) made a dream start to her debut at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (GBR), the first leg of the HSBC FEI Classics™, when heading several more experienced riders at the end of the first day of Dressage.
Collett, 21, is renowned for having a cool head and a tidy style – she was a successful rider of show ponies as a child – and she presented a neat and pleasing picture on the 12-year-old Dutch-bred Rayef, the horse on which she won Junior and Young Rider European titles in 2007 and 2009.
“That’s his best test ever,” said a delighted Collett on learning of her score of 36.5 penalties, which gives her a 3.3 lead over Germany’s Marina Köhncke. “Yogi Briesner (trainer) told me to ride as if I was at home. Rayef didn’t make any mistakes and he was soft and attentive. It was nice to sit on.
“My whole life has been about getting to Badminton, so to be here for the first time on such a good horse feels amazing.”
Collett bought the 12-year-old gelding, of unknown breeding, with the proceeds from selling her Pony team gold medallist, Noble Springbok, and he is now owned by Jason Houghton. Rayef spent 2010 on the sidelines due to a minor tendon injury, and Collett made her CCI4* debut at Burghley on Ginger May Killinghurst, finishing 30th.
German riders had a good day and are lying second, fourth and fifth. Marina Köhncke (nee Loheit) led the Dressage at Badminton way back in 1994 on Sundancer, and was ecstatic at being back in the limelight, with a good score of 39.8 on the attractive mare Calma Schelly, a 12-year-old by Chambertin.
“I’m still shaking,” exclaimed Köhncke. “It’s unbelievable to be back riding here again. I never thought I could do another 4-star after having two children. I took Calma Schelly to Burghley and she seemed a little shocked by it, but she’s trained so well over the winter and is such a wonderful horse that I decided to come to Badminton.”
Susanna Bordone (ITA) is in third place on the Australian-bred Carrera despite the judges, Anne-Mette Binder (DEN), Sue Stewart (GBR) and Christian Landolt (SUI) having to award her two penalties for an error of course after she added an extra loop to the serpentine movement.
Bordone commented: “For Carrera, the Dressage is the easiest part, so we’ll have to see what happens. She is only half-bred so isn’t the fastest across country and I have to take tight lines on her which can lead to mistakes. My husband is a racehorse trainer, so we have done some work on her speed and fitness, but she is 15 now and we’ll have to see.”
The 38 riders who have completed their Dressage tests all know that results could change, with riders of the calibre of Britons Mary King, Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt, and New Zealanders Mark Todd, Caroline Powell and Andrew Nicholson on their second horses, plus such noted Dressage experts as Ruth Edge (GBR) and Lucinda Fredericks (AUS), still to come.
Riders have been assessing Hugh Thomas’s Cross-Country course, where it will be interesting to see how some of last year’s most testing accuracy fences, such as the HSBC FEI Classics™ Corral (fences 7-8), the Colt Pond (14ab) and the open corners at the HS1 Farmyard (15), work when jumped in a clockwise direction.
Dressage marks may prove influential. Andrew Nicholson, who says he is unworried at being first to go across country, on Avebury, predicts that the fast going will result in a large number of rounds inside the optimum time.
Work is ongoing on the footing, as Badminton continues to be bathed in unseasonably hot sunshine, with watering and vertical spiking to loosen the earth.
1 Laura Collett/Rayef (GBR) 36.5
2 Marina Köhncke/Calma Schelly (GER) 39.8
3 Susanna Bordone/Carrera (ITA) 43.0
4 Ingrid Klimke/Butts Abraxxas (GER) 43.3
5 Kai Rüder/Le Prince des Bois (GER) 44.8
6 Laurence Hunt/Pheobus (GBR) 45.5
7 Niklas Lindback/Mister Pooh (SWE) 46.7
8 Andrew Nicholson/Avebury (NZL) 47.2
9 William Fox-Pitt/Navigator (GBR) 47.5
10 Elizabeth Power/Kilpatrick River (IRL) 47.7