After a winter in hibernation, event riders up and down the country are dusting off their boots in preparation for the new eventing season, which kicks off next weekend (March 6-7). We round up a selection of must-visit venues.
Belton Park, Lincolnshire (April 17-19)
The National Trust is teaming up with the horse trials for the first time this year to offer visitors the chance to break off from the equestrian action and look around the Grade 1 listed Belton House, with its notable Carolean architecture and historic silver collection.
Classes range from novice up to CIC3* level—the latter providing a challenging warm-up test for advanced horses going on to major spring three-day events like Badminton and Bramham.
Other attractions include dog agility, a meeting the Grantham Classic Car Club and a 10km charity run. The shopping is always first class here, too.
Burgham, Northumberland (March 27-29)
The only event in the area to have international status, you can expect to see a host of big names trucking north east at the end of March for the new CIC3* class. Look out for former Badminton winners Oliver Townend, Paul Tapner and Andrew Hoy, all of whom have several horses entered.
Chatsworth (May 15-17)
Head to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s beautiful Chatsworth House for top class equestrian sport combined with entertainment for all the family. The cross-country course designer is three-times Badminton winner Ian Stark, who will also be in charge at this autumn’s European Championships at Blair Castle in Scotland, where the terrain is similarly hilly. The organisers are bracing themselves for a bumper entry as prospective team members look to make an impression and familiarise themselves with Ian’s trademark big, bold, attacking courses.
Floors Castle, (May 15-17)
This event has been running for 25 years and boasts one of the grandest settings for a horse trial anywhere in the country—a photographer’s dream backdrop. The castle is open to the public and attracts up to 40,000 visitors a year. There’s a hotel on site, a golf course, field sports and a farm shop. The property belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe, a family steeped in eventing—the Duchess heads the organising committee here, while the couple’s daughter, Bella Innes-Ker, is a fast-rising star of the sport. Classes range from grassroots BE90 level to international CIC2*.
Gatcombe (1) (March 11-13)
Affectionately known as ‘Little Gatcombe’, this popular spring fixture uses a different part of Princess Anne’s glorious Gatcombe Estate to the Festival of British Eventing, which takes place later in the year. The view from the top of the cross-country course over the Cotswolds, though, is similarly spectacular. The main class is the advanced intermediate, which takes place on Sunday. Look out for last year’s Badminton winner, Sam Griffiths, and of course resident rider Zara Phillips, who always gives her top horses a spin on home turf.
Hambleden, Oxfordshire (April 24-26)
Located in the Hambleden valley among the gently-rounded, rolling downland scenery that is quintessentially English, this friendly event is just a stone’s throw from Henley and Marlow. It is a favourite among riders looking to educate their young horses and give their more experienced campaigners a confidence-boosting spin. There are good viewing points for the cross-country phase, which weaves in and out of the estate’s beautifully maintained bluebell woods.
The food is worthy of a mention, too, as there are usually stands selling delicious locally-farmed produce such as venison burgers and wild boar sausages.
Houghton International, Norfolk (May 28-31)
Houghton Hall, one of Britain’s finest Palladian houses, was built by Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, in the 1720s. The 18th century parkland surrounding it is home to a herd of about 600 white fallow deer, as well as small groups of other rare deer species from around the world, such as Pere David, Sambar and Chital.
For one week at the end of May, more than 700 horses descend on the estate for four days of competition, which includes the only British leg of the FEI Nations Cup series.
There are plenty of arena attractions for the whole family, including a dog show and a children’s circus workshop, plus over 70 trade stands.
Rockingham Castle, Northamptonshire (May 22-24)
This event was a new addition to the calendar in 2013 and has proved popular with both riders and visitors.
The castle, a former royal residence and hunting lodge, dates back to the 11th century and was built on the instruction of William the Conqueror. It overlooks the stunning Welland Valley and is surrounded by undulating parkland, which makes for excellent cross-country viewing. Captain Mark Phillips is designing this year’s CIC2* track.
Somerley Park, Hampshire (April 1-2)
Set in the beautiful parkland of Lord Normanton’s ancestral home, Somerley House, this event provides a relaxing, pre-Easter day out. You can stroll around the entire cross-country course, which is relatively flat and so provides excellent viewing, and watch top international riders in action. The showjumping arena is adjacent to the trade stands, so the action is never too far away.
Weston Park, Shropshire (April 11-12)
The big guns come out to play at this popular pre-Badminton event, where the cross-country course loops around the property’s stunning parkland landscaped by Capability Brown. Kiwi supremo Andrew Nicholson has traditionally dominated the advanced classes—a few years ago he won all three sections.