Belfast Telegraph

Andrew's giant jump for mankind

Billy On The Box

By Billy Weir

It was supposed to be the horses on trial at Badminton over the weekend, but it felt more like men under the microscope as things got under way.

Clare Balding was, naturally enough on the most important date on the equestrian calendar, our host, perched on a small pier in a pair of lovely wellies, not looking like a suffragette, more suffering on a jetty.

"When this event first started in 1949, the winner got a cheque for £150, and now they are presented with the Mitsubishi Motors Trophy and a cheque for £100,000. If they can negotiate all three phases, they will have earned it," she said, as suddenly the camera flew into the air and the drone gave us an aerial view of Clare droning on.

"Eventing is one of the only sports that genuinely gives men and women an equal chance and if you look at the results here you can see it, 62 titles, 28 of them won by women, that is 40%," she argued when no one seemed to have been stoking a gender war in the first place.

I wasn't quite sure what point she was trying to make other than it was a convenient way for the Beeb to show us lots of action from ladies of the past with Lucinda Green (nee, or is that neigh, Prior-Palmer), Virginia Leng (now Elliott) and Pippa Funnell (no name changes to report).

They have 12 titles between them and there were high hopes that someone else would strike a blow for womankind, with Germany's Ingrid Klimke the fancied runner on board a horse called Bob. At least he would be good in the water.

And that is the crux of the matter, most folks couldn't give a monkeys, or a horses for that matter, who wins, man, woman, strategically-shaved orang-utan, as long as there is a chance that someone posh will fall off and land in the water.

"So it could be a woman for the first time in a decade, but if you look at the male contenders, they are so strong," said Clare as the crusade waned a little, as it's hard to get too worked up when one third of an event is performed in a top hat.

"All the horses have to be able to do is dance, because the dressage tests their suppleness, their agility, their obedience and their rhythm," she said. Just four of the reasons why I am not into dressage and also the fact that I am not an equine.

It was also time to say goodbye to commentator Mike Tucker, who was tucking away his mic after the event for a well-earned retirement, and he was our guide through the cross-country, the bit we're all interested in if we're being honest.

This throws up fascinating nuggets of information, such as Mike telling us that next up was "a part-time farrier from Somerset", which could be handy if Clare gets a hole in her wellies, while co-commentator Ian Stark had more unpleasant news regarding the water jump.

"There is a very big log in there," he said and before we had time to be disgusted, up popped Willa Newton on Chance Remark to show the boys how things should be done, only to hear her mount remark there was no chance he was jumping that and promptly dumped her overboard.

And talking of going overboard, Lucinda's daughter, Lissa, was in action too, getting round in one piece but I was distracted at this point as James Sommerville was in action, and this boy from a small town in Yorkshire ended right on his communards as his horse, Talent, suddenly ran out of any, and catapulted him off.

The show of showjumping had to go on though and the final five in contention featured two Germans and three riders from New Zealand, with one of them, Andrew Nicholson on board Nereo, a man made of steel having recovered from a broken neck a couple of years ago.

And off he went, clearing fence after fence in absolute silence to the extent that I thought Mike had called it a day a day early, only for Stark to comment at the end of his clear round that "none of us wanted to speak, none of us wanted to breathe while he was out there".

As for Ingrid and Bob, who I'm sure were characters in The Likely Lads, it didn't go well as the silence was broken by the unmistakeable sound of a horse clattering through many fences and thus it came to pass that Nicholson won his first title at only the 36th time of asking.

It was a big jump for him and Nereo but an even bigger one for mankind.

Belfast Telegraph

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