Badminton horse trials: 7 reasons to be excited — and who to watch

Britain's Alexander Bragg and Zagreb in action at Badminton last year

Britain's Alexander Bragg and Zagreb in action at Badminton last year

One of the most exciting weeks of the year is upon us, with the first CCI4* horse at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials trotting down the centre line in the dressage arena at 9am today (Thursday 3 May). To celebrate, we’ve put together this list of reasons to be excited about one of the best weeks in equestrian sport — whether you’re a staunch eventing fan or not.

1 The entry list

Badminton is the crème de la crème for event riders — and the best want to win here as much as first-timers want to make it all the way round the cross-country course.

Visit this Gloucestershire venue and you’ll see the likes of British star William Fox-Pitt (riding Fernhill Pimms), last year’s winners Andrew Nicholson and Nereo, plus Germany’s Michael Jung (on his two-time Olympic champion La Biosthetique-Sam FBW in action.

There are plenty of other top names in the field too, including Pippa Funnell, Tim Price and Sam Griffiths, while Mark Todd and Gemma Tattersall are both double-handed with two horses entered each.

2 The Rolex Grand Slam

Britain’s Oliver Townend has two entries — Cooley SRS and Ballaghmore Class — and, if he pilots one of them into first place, he’ll make history for being the first British male rider to pull off the almighty Rolex Grand Slam.

He’s in the running after winning the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials last year on Ballaghmore Class and comes to Badminton fresh from victory on American soil at the Land Rover-sponsored CCI4* in Kentucky riding Cooley Master Class.

Should he score in all three events in a row, he’ll net a cool US$350,000 prize. It has only ever been achieved twice before: once by British star Pippa Funnell in 2003 and Michael Jung in 2016.

Can he do it? If anyone can, it’s Oliver — and he comes to Badminton in stellar form and full of confidence.

3 The shopping

Yes, the action is exciting but few would disagree that the immense shopping village is a huge draw.

From seeking tack necessities to hunting for the best turnout rug bargain or a new addition to your wardrobe, there really is something for everyone.

The food choices are pretty good too. Prepare to spend!

4 Radio Badminton

Available on your radio on channel 106.1 or via an earpiece for sale on site, it’s the best way to keep on top of exactly what is happening at every moment as you wander at your leisure.

Dressage commentary on Thursday and Friday — usually involving Pammy Hutton and Carl Hester — is always entertaining, informative and a highlight. Plus there are regular interviews with riders all week.

5 Cross-country day

Mammoth fences, seemingly impossible angles and tight turns you can’t quite work out.

Course-designer Eric Winter has provided another spectacular track this year, and you can be certain that some horses will skip through the tough questions easily, while others make it look hard going. Often an unexpected star will pull off a magical round, too.

Essentially, you never quite know what’s going to happen on cross-country day. It’s fast, it’s big and it’s thrilling — we’re in awe of every brilliant rider who gallops out of the startbox. The action kicks off on Saturday at 11.30am.

5 The Lakeside Bar

The now infamous bar at the side of the Lake is perfectly positioned for some social time with friends and family. If the sun shines, too, it’s the perfect accompaniment.

6 Extra demos

It’s not all about the eventing. There will be high-class dressage displays in the main arena during the lunch break on Thursday and Friday. Plus, a stallion display takes place immediately after dressage finishes on Friday afternoon.

7 Shetland Grand National

What’s not to love about the Shetland Grand National? You’ll see it at 10.30am in the main arena, as well as a demonstration by the British Horse Society, Badminton’s charity of the year.

Come back to over the weekend for more news and stories from Badminton