Badminton gruelling lead-up to Rio

Badminton gruelling lead-up to Rio

It has been a brutal, bruising day at Badminton, with the competition living up to its reputation as the toughest eventing course in the world.

Three Kiwis are holding strong in the top six, including veteran champ Sir Mark Todd.

But the gruelling day has thrown up major upsets in the lead-up to Rio.

When they fall at Badminton, they fall hard, and in cross-country they fall often. It's sometimes terrifying to watch, savage to experience and it can be touch-and-go.

Everyone -- horse and rider -- came out okay in the end, and Sir Mark was one of the really lucky ones. Defying gravity and logic with off-saddle acrobatics, somehow he stayed tethered to his horse.

"I end up hanging out the sideband -- hung on and got back in," he says.

He was the third Kiwi in a row to finish in third place, each knocking out the last. Eventually he ended the day in fourth. His teammates, Jock Paget and Badminton first-timer Clarke Johnston, were just behind in fifth and sixth.

"We're all there on our own bat, and all obviously wanting to do well, but we're all also rooting for each other, so it's great to see everyone doing well," says Sir Mark.

But it's not well enough to oust arch-rivals Germany from first and second place, and the Germans have us in their sights at Rio.

"We have a few months more to prepare everything, but I think that's a strong team, yes," says German world No. 1 equestrian Michael Jung.

It's a challenge our guys are ready to fight.

"We want to be there...getting rid of those pesky Germans," says Kiwi equestrian Jonelle Price. "But they've looked pretty bloody good today."

Price is a favourite to make the Olympic team. So too is her husband, Tim Price, but he's had a run of bad luck, losing his top horse to injury, and today he was eliminated after a fall.

The Olympic selectors at Badminton are watching every Kiwi step and stumble, and there are just four coveted spots.

Badminton is about as big as it gets in eventing, and the riders are well and truly focused on clearing this competition before thinking about the next.

But the spectre of Rio is looming, and looming large, and performance now will be make or break the Olympic prospects in the tightknit Kiwi squad.