Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir on the box: It's V-E Day at Badminton trials

By Billy Weir

Sunday is known as a day of rest but not if you're a horse or indeed every equine's favourite presenter, Clare Balding.

"In these beautiful old stables the horses are living a life of luxury," she began but I didn't believe a word of it. They didn't look to be enjoying it one iota, the first four-legged companion we clapped eyes on having a very long face, but then again it was probably fretting about the upcoming court appearance.

Yes, it was the Badminton Horse Trials once again with BBC2 keeping the spirit of V-E Day alive and well by rolling back the clock, albeit just two days, to reprise the action from the dressage (none) and the cross-country (toffs falling into water).

It is a very English occasion and naturally given all the pomp and ceremony of the week, there was a fair bit of flag waving, people being terrorised by middle-aged women suddenly bursting into a few bars of Jerusalem and a general looking down upon Johnny Foreigner. All we need now is a Tory government…

It was natural then that Balding began proceedings by talking to a German, a lady called Ingrid Klimke, who I'm sure was in 'Allo Allo and was heralded as one of the favourites but let's face it she was never going to win, and I'm sure I spotted Prince Philip hiding with a shotgun beside the water jump.

Onto the action and we began with dressage, or not a sport as I like to call it. If that's a sport they may as well put Ker-Plunk in the Olympics, at least you don't have to don a top hat and tails.

From there, Balding gave us a guide to horses, which, like no other beast, appear to come in different shapes and sizes and some are different colours, before a quick quiz when standing beside one the size of a house where she asked, "do you know what the biggest part of him is?"

My mind immediately flashed back to Blankety Blank and wondered just what three answers Lennie Bennett, Una Stubbs and the lovely Liza Goddard would have written down, but for the record my suggested answer drew a blank which was in fact 'feet'.

"They're off the scale, the farrier has to make shoes especially for him, they are size 15," she said far too excitedly and then when another horse arrived, shoe size unknown, she revealed it was known as Missy Moo as it looked a bit like a cow. It seemed cold too, Friesian in fact.

Of course given the week we've just had, the Scottish were never far from view and once the dressage was neatly avoided we were on to the cross-country and our expert guide was Galashiels' finest, Ian Stark.

"You can see a white strip on the horse's nose, in case you're wondering what that is it's to help the horse with breathing. It opens up the nostrils, what some of us old men put on to stop us snoring at night," said the former Olympian. A Stark warning for us all.

I'm glad he was there as I thought the white stripe signified that the horses were fans of Adam and the Ants, not so much Goody Two Shoes as oh no, four shoes and sizes 15s to boot.

The action continued and to the water jump where a rider called Julie Tew on board Lord of the Owls quickly became Lady of the Howls as they parted company unceremoniously and a muffled whoomph was audible.

Had Prince Philip's ailing eyesight got the wrong lady as a waft of smoke emanated from behind a Silver Birch? No, Stark had the answer.

"And you can just hear the airbag going off when she parted company from the horse," he explained. Who knew horses had such things?

"It's sounding like someone has been shot out there," he added as suddenly all eyes were back on the smoking trees.

And so it continued, the leading riders' excellence interspersed with posh people going posterior over sternum before Mulry's Error, the horse with the biggest feet in the paddock, returned.

"He's already got a fan base and I believe on social media he has his own site," revealed Stark as we all wondered how he typed with hooves that size, and the less said about the horse called Willy Do the better really.

The upshot of the cross-country was that it was up for grabs in Sunday's showjumping, the worst fears of everyone confirmed when Klimke had a clear round.

It was an emergency so time to send for an Armada, and one arrived with Oliver Townend on board but he would have knocked fewer fences over had he been going round the course in a galleon, and although he was posh, he wasn't posh enough.

What we needed wasn't the SNP, but WFP, as William Fox-Pitt saddled up to save Blighty's blushes with a clear round.

"You really would be hard pushed to write a script more exciting than this," gasped commentator Mike Tucker, who sounds very different from his days on Grange Hill.

"He has given himself a chance and it won't be a Germany victory," he remembered in the nick of time.

It could still have been a New Zealand one though via Andrew Nicholson, a veteran of this sort of thing and as Balding, in hushed tones, warned us all, "he is steely-eyed".

He must have had them closed as he clattered the first fence down to very un-British muffled cheers and then proceeded to go round more like Mavis Nicholson and in sympathetic fashion, Tucker joyously exclaimed, "it is William Fox-Pitt's title for 2015" before WFP was pounced on by Balding outside.

"Here he is, the champion, William Fox-Pitt has won Wimbledon, eh, won Wimbledon? Sorry, won Badminton," and across the land it felt right and proper that Britannia ruled once again and Germany didn't and in years to come Victory on Equine Day would be fondly remembered and probably presented by Chris Evans.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph