Sun, rain, excitement, nerves, drama and beer; this years Badminton featured all in copious amounts. Despite the mixed weather, hordes of eventing fans again journeyed to the heart of Gloucestershire for what will surely go down as one of the most memorable events of recent times.
For the first time in years this was not a competition dominated by the dressage action of the first two days, and as the drama unfolded on cross country day, more and more crowds descended towards the course and big screens, seemingly oblivious to the mud and cold.
There was a noticeable buzz in the air, and as the day drew on and people had satisfied their shopping needs and in many cases filled themselves with booze, the drama began to reach a crescendo and gasps came a-plenty as one by one several of the dressage leaders fell by the wayside.
Within an hour 4 of the first 5 after dressage set out onto course only for none to come home clear. First dressage leader Kai Ruder refused at the outlander bank when going well. Then came, probably, the hard luck story of the week as Francis Whittington, just weeks after being hospital bound through Meningitis fell as Sir Percival tripped up the Beaufort Steps. Until that point he had produced the most fluent display of cross country riding seen all day, and looked set to cruise around inside the time.
Then, within minutes the crowd got their wish to see someone drenched in Badminton’s famous lake. Ironically, it was probably the person they least wanted to see come a cropper, as Tina Cook, leading Brit, European Champion and pre- event favourite got a ducking.
In the midst of all the action, Paul Tapner set off on Inonothing, and despite all the surrounding chaos, there was an air of inevitability that he would pilot his mount to the top of the leaderboard as he set off, focused and steely eyed in determination.
After the Cross Country, the competitive action was by no means finished for the day, as debate raged as to where the best party would be taking place. The two main contenders seemed to be “The Mane Event” held in the outside chance marquee on site, and the Badminton Blowout, held at the Vine Tree, a stone’s throw from the event. After much contemplation I chose the former, which certainly didn’t disappoint. I turned up, still splattered in mud, but feeling rather pleased with myself for bringing some clean shoes, only to find everyone immaculately turned out looking ready for the catwalk. The fillies and mares on show definitely a match for anything the event could provide and the party lasted long into the early hours.
The next morning there was no time for a hangover, as the show jumping once again provided a nerve-jangling finale. However as soon as Tapner was over the first couple of fences, the result was never in doubt as Inonothing never looked like having a pole down, let alone the two that would have cost him victory.
The result was fitting end to a week where Tapner, known as one of the hardest workers on the circuit, proved a class apart, and has surely now marked himself down as one of the world’s elite.