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The Independent Online
Badminton Horse Trials - The Triumphs and the Tears

by Debby Sly David and Charles, pounds 22.50, hardback

THE 50TH anniversary of the greatest annual three-day event in the world is celebrated in this book.

The event has enjoyed a half-century of phenomenal success, during which Britain has become the principal home of three-day eventing and Badminton has established itself as a great sporting occasion.

As the author, Debby Sly, records, few competitors knew what to expect when they entered for the inaugural 1949 event (prophetically billed as "The Most Important Horse Event in Britain").

"There was no such thing as an `event horse' - those first competitors were `having a go' on their hunters, show jumpers and point-to-pointers," Sly writes of the first contest, which was won by John Sheddon and the tearaway American thoroughbred, Golden Willow.

Sly has spoken to virtually every living person involved with the event, past and present. Their recollections are neatly interwoven into the accounts of each year's competition.

One of the 1950 competitors, Isobel Touche (now Mrs Reid and a well-known dressage judge) remembers being told "that the only preparation you needed for the cross-country was half a bottle of champagne."

The 1960 victor, Bill Roycroft, recalls his five-week journey by cargo boat from Australia with Our Solo. "The horses were stabled below deck, but we had tons of sand put down on an outer deck so that we had somewhere to work them - and Our Solo was so small that I could ride him round below deck as well!"

All the great names in the sport can be found in the magnificent selection of photographs, among them Sheila Willcox (whose four wins included a hat-trick from 1957 to 1959), Captain Mark Phillips (also with four victories) and Lucinda Green, whose record of six wins between 1973 and 1984 on six different horses is never likely to be equalled.

Current heroes include Mark Todd. The most emotional of his successes was in 1994, when he accepted a last-minute ride on the Bevan family's much-loved 16-year-old Horton Point. "Not only did I have to get the `family pet' home safe and sound... but his family were also expecting him to win!" Todd recalled. You feel pleased to know that he did not let them down.