Monday, May 23, 2022

Badminton Farriers Prize 2022: In Search of the Best Shod Horse

Badminton Horse Trials Farriers Prize

Badminton Farriers Prize 2022: Jim Blurton breaks records

The Badminton Horse Trials, presented by Mars Equestrian, is one of only seven five-star three-day events in the world, and the only one that awards a coveted "Farriers Prize". After two consecutive years of cancellation for coronavirus, the world was coming close to banging on the gates by early May, demanding to enjoy one of the most iconic and unrivaled horse competitions of any kind, anywhere in the world. 
And in 2022, just like all the years before, we wanted to know who won the Farriers Prize. As usual that assignment was just a jumping off point to a bigger story. There may be just one winner, but the story is bigger and better, although most people at the event never even knew it was going on.
Congratulations to Welsh farrier Jim Blurton.

Badminton 2022’s Farrier Prize was presented to British Gold-Medal Olympian Oliver Townend, riding a new horse (for him): Swallow Springs, owned by Paul & Diana Ridgeon. Until recently, the veteran New Zealand rider, Andrew Nicholson, rode the horse.

The Farriers Prize is shared by the owner, rider, and farrier. As new as the horse was to Townend, he was shod in preparation for Badminton by Townend's regular farrier, James Blurton of Wales. Jim has now won the prize four times in the last 25 years, more than any other farrier. He also served as the farrier judge for the competition for several years.

Badminton Horse Trials
Among Blurton’s accomplishments are winning the title of World Champion farrier in competition, and being lead farrier and head-of-forge at the London (2012) and Rio (2016) Olympics.

Sharing honors with Jim Blurton in the farrier prizes at Badminton were runners up Andrew Nickalls, eventing team farrier for New Zealand, and Greig Elliott, eventing team farrier for Great Britain.
Those are the facts, now let’s get to the story.
Oliver Townend's first best-shod prize

Oliver Townend is a powerhouse in the eventing world; he has won events like Badminton and Burghley and Kentucky, and excelled last year as part of Great Britain’s gold medal team in the recent Tokyo Olympics. In spite of his impressive record of podium finishes, no horse ridden by Townend had ever won the Farriers Prize at Badminton, nor the “best shod horse” prize at the late-summer British five-star event at Burghley.

eventer hind concave horseshoe
The judge’s choice: Irish Sport Horse Swallow Springs, ridden by Oliver Townend, is shod with concave 7/8 x 3/8” handmade shoes with quarter clips made by his farrier, Jim Blurton of Wales. The shoes were drilled and tapped for studs and have one road stud on the outside heel. (Note: Swallow Springs was shod two weeks before Badminton to eliminate any problem with new shoes; these photos were taken by Jim Blurton after the event.) (Photo provided by Jim Blurton)

Blurton's record 4th win

Jim Blurton, however, has now won the Badminton Farriers Prize a record four times. Until this year, he had been tied with longtime Badminton resident farrier Bernie Tidmarsh for the most wins at Badminton.

Although Jim may have passed Bernie, the event had a stunning surprise consolation: Bernie received the David Beaufort Memorial Trophy, presented “ to the person who has contributed to the running of the Horse Trials over many years”. Bernie has been farrier at the event for more than 30 years.

And, there’s always next year for him to catch up with Jim Blurton.

Swallow Springs front foot Farriers Prize

Left front foot of Swallow Springs, taken after competing at Badminton. The horse was shod two weeks before the event to eliminate any problems with new shoes; this photo was taken after the horse returned from the event. (Photo provided by Jim Blurton) 

Swallow Springs: Feet First

Jim Blurton kindly provided photos of the hind shoeing for winner Swallow Springs, a 14-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. While the horse is a new ride for Oliver Townend in 2022, it had been through two shoeings by Jim, who remarked, “The horse hasn’t reached full potential.” 

Jim’s work on the new horse was a classic job guaranteed to please the judge, with handmade concave shoes (⅞ x ⅜”), with side clips in front and quarter clips behind, and Liberty copper nails.

Swallow Springs was in second place at the time his feet were judged on Sunday but dropped to third place when a rail came down in the jumping. Townend also finished fifth with another Irish horse, Ballaghmor Class, also shod by Jim Blurton.

Badminton Farriers Prize 2022 right hind horseshoe
Swallow Springs, an Irish Sport Horse, was shod two weeks before Badminton to eliminate any problem with new shoes; these photos were taken by Jim Blurton after the event. The right hind shoe of Badminton Farriers Prize winner Swallow Springs mirrors the left (shown above), even though the feet have slightly different characteristics. (Photo provided by Jim Blurton)

Greig Elliott fills the stables

The eventual Badminton 2022 winner was England’s Laura Collett, who was Townend’s Olympic gold medal teammate in Tokyo, and a previous winner of the Farriers Prize in 2013. This year, Team GB eventing farrier, Greig Elliott, who is a past winner of Burghley’s “Best Shod Horse” prize, shod her horse, London 52. 

Greig shod an impressive eight horses for Badminton 2022 – roughly 10% of the horses entered –  and received the third prize for his work on Australian rider Sammi Birch’s Finduss PFB. “That’s a hatrick of thirds now!” Greig said, referring to past placings. “(I) finished with five in the top 25 and, of course, the winner, the amazing London 52! It was a brilliant weekend for Laura!”

Kiwi care for veteran eventers

A farrier with a unique task won second place. Team New Zealand farrier Andrew Nickalls was rewarded for his shoeing of 20th place finisher Ringwood Sky Boy, the long-running and successful international horse ridden by Tim Price. Ringwood Sky Boy, along with Classic Moet (11th), ridden by Price’s wife Jonelle, is 19 years old; they were the oldest horses competing this year, and both completed the challenging event. 

Andrew won the Best Shod Horse prize at Burghley for his work on Ringwood Sky Boy way back in 2015. Andrew also won the Badminton Farriers Price in 2009 for Vortex, ridden by Tim Price.

New Zealand is competitive in international eventing on all levels; their horses have won the Farriers Prize at Badminton four times.

Oliver Townend with Swallow Springs 2022
Oliver Townend trotted up Swallow Springs for the horse inspection at the 2022 Badminton Horse Trials. It was their first five-star outing together. The 14-year-old, 16.2 hand Irish Sport Horse was formerly ridden by New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson, who has opted not to compete at the highest levels anymore. Townend rode the new horse to finish third and also won the Farriers Prize. (Photo: Badminton Horse Trials by Kit Houghton)

Judge’s interview

One of the most interesting parts about Badminton’s Farrier Prize is the ability to collect the observations of the judge on the quality and trends seen on all the event’s entries, not just the winner. The 2022 judge was Phillip Martin, FWCF, Grad Dip ELR, himself a farrier deeply involved in eventing. Two of his customers’ horses were competing at the event, which meant they were excluded from his judging list. He received the second prize at Badminton’s Farriers Prize in the past.

“It was a huge honor to be asked to judge,” Phillip said. “I am grateful to Badminton Horse Trials for inviting me.”

Phillip Martin, farrier judge 2022 Badminton Horse Trials
Phillip Martin FWCF, Grad Dip ELR, was the judge of the Farriers Prize awarded at the 2022 Badminton Horse Trials. As a farrier who shoes event horses himself, Phillip had  a deep interest in seeing not only how his British colleagues were shoeing 5* horses, but also farriers from other countries. Phillip was one of the first farriers in the UK to complete the Royal Veterinary College's equine locomotion research degree; he continued his research to gain his Fellowship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers. This photo was taken with his son Fred toasting him at the RVC graduation. (Phillip Martin photo)

Based in Wiltshire, not far from Badminton, Phillip is a qualified judge on the list of the Worshipful Company of Farriers; this was his first time judging Badminton. He thinks the prize is a great aspect of the role of farriers in this unique and demanding sport. “You’re part of a team, and this (recognition) raises the profile of the farrier,” he said late on Sunday, after returning home from judging.

“If you are conscientious about your work, you’re quite well invested in the sport,” Phillip said, “It is a huge achievement for a horse to get to Badminton, and (the prize) is the icing on the cake.” Phillip made special mention of farriers who were in attendance for support during the event, and that he noticed that one farrier had driven a long distance on Saturday night just to be on hand to help Sunday morning, if he was needed.

3D Hoofcare pad on shod foot
Judge Phillip Martin confirmed that one horse made it through cross-country wearing a pad from 3D Hoofcare, which would have been a first, since the pads weren't marketed the last time Badminton was held, back in 2019. This is not the horse that competed; this is a sample photo from inventor Derek Poupard. 

Philip reported that his task was to pick up, judge, and score all four feet of the horses who passed the second horse inspection on Sunday, before they competed in the final phase of showjumping. This gives the judge the perspective of seeing how the farrier’s work held up under Saturday’s demanding cross-country phase. 

Judging isn’t always straightforward; many of the horses have oiled or otherwise “dressed” hooves for the benefit of the inspection, and some have their nailhead clinches filled in to give a smooth hoof wall appearance and prevent any distraction.

The horses’ managers were able to opt out of the hoof judging, but most of the 52 who qualified came forward. Phillip said that only one horse from the US delegation chose to be judged.

Bernard Tidmarsh with Duchess of Beaufort trophy at Badminton Horse Trials 2022
During the awards ceremony on Sunday, Miranda, Duchess of Beaufort, presented the David Beaufort Memorial Trophy to farrier Bernie Tidmarsh, recognizing his contribution to the running of the horse trials over many years. Smiling in the background: Great Britain’s Princess Anne, who rode to international fame beyond her royal status on horses he shod. His family has been shoeing horses in the vicinity of Badminton for centuries. (Special thanks to Jon Stroud for taking this photo)

Judge's comments

How close was the contest, from the viewpoint of the judging sheets? Phillip said that only .25 points separated first from second, and second from third.

Key comments about the general state of the horses and their hooves:

  • “I saw at least six really nicely shod horse with handmade shoes.”
  • “(The winner) had really nice feet.”
  • “If there had been (an exemplary job using) machinemade shoes, it would have gone to that horse, but I recognize the extra time taken (with the handmades).” and
  • “Some (farriers) put in really good effort to keep horses sound.”

Farrier Bernie Tidmarsh with Jim Blurton
The names of Bernie Tidmarsh (left) and Jim Blurton (right) dominate the Badminton Farriers Prize winners list. Shown here at Stoneleigh in 2018, Jim Blurton said, “Met up with an old friend this weekend, the legendary Bernie Tidmarsh, one of my heroes.” 

Horseshoes worn at Badminton

The quest to win the Farriers Prize has influenced many British farriers to keep it in mind as they prepare horses who may qualify for Badminton; the prize usually goes to horses with classic British-style eventing techniques. But that doesn’t mean that every horse is a textbook case; Phillip saw many variations and exceptions, such as horses who completed the first two phases of Badminton including:

  • One top British rider succeeded with aluminum front shoes;
  • One horse was shod with St Croix shoes in front, which Phillip said are lighter than British farriers would normally choose;
  • One horse wore ACR aluminum shoes;
  • One horse successfully made it through cross-country  with a shoe nailed to hoof casting tape;
  • One horse wore a nice pair of bar shoes with leather pads, however the horse had very poor feet;
  • One horse competed wearing a 3D pad;
  • One horse had an Equipak-type pour-in pad in one foot only;
  • One horse had asymmetric “Denoix-type” shoes

Phillip also said he had seen various types of roller motion shoes, shoes with toe nails, and pads on the feet of different horses.

Worshipful Company of Farriers Master Lt Col (retired) Mark Houghton and Princess Anne
Master of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, Lt Col (retired) Mark Houghton, left, and Princess Anne presented the Farriers Prize to rider Oliver Townend, right. Winning farrier Jim Blurton was not present to receive his award. Photo by Kit Houghton courtesy of Badminton Horse Trials.

A big year for eventing, worldwide

Competition season is in full swing in the UK; a week after Badminton, Jim Blurton was back in the judge’s role, serving as “best shod” farrier judge for the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Eventing is preparing for the FEI World Championship (formerly part of the World Equestrian Games) coming up in Italy in September, just three weeks after the international  Land Rover Burghley 5* Horse Trials in England, and before the USA’s Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill in October.

Event horse farriers enjoy a wider choice of both time-tested traditional and more innovative methods and materials to help their horses than at any previous time in history. Britain’s long–time practice of putting the farriers and their work in the spotlight at the international level is an example of what can be done to increase inclusion of farriers in the management plans for the horses, and guarantee increased commitment to high quality work and skills.

"Horse and rider have priority over winning best shod," Jim Blurton reminded me as this article wrapped up. "I guess I got lucky."

No one's ever been luckier, as the records show. Jim Blurton has also served as the judge for the Farriers Prize many times.

winners of Badminton Horse Trials Farriers Prize 1993-2022

Thank you to Jim Blurton, Phillip Martin, photographers Jon Stroud and Kit Houghton, and the staff of the Badminton Horse Trials for assistance with this article. And thank you for reading.

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To learn more: Badminton's Farriers Prize has been covered on this website since 2007. Read about some of the past winners and judges:

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