Everything you could ever want to know about Badminton, ‘the most important and most typically English’ eventing competition in the world

In the latest edition of The Legacy, we look at the 10th Duke of Beaufort who, so disgusted at Britain's eventing performance at the 1948 Olympics, decided to set up his own competition at his home at Badminton.

British spectators’ first exposure to horse trials — or three-day eventing — was at Aldershot in Hampshire during the 1948 Olympics. The sport, comprising dressage, cross-country and showjumping phases, had previously been dismissed as a niche occupation for Continental cavalry officers who were keener on prancing around an arena than flinging themselves bravely across country after hounds, but hopes were high for a decent home-team showing from a nation of natural horsemen.

The result, however, was famously underwhelming and the 10th Duke of Beaufort, a fanatical foxhunter known as ‘Master’, immediately offered to stage on his Gloucestershire estate a competition that would provide a training ground for future teams.

Posters billed it as ‘The Most Important Horse Event in Great Britain’; 22 riders competed for a first prize of £150 and 6,000 spectators came. They sat on straw bales to watch the dressage and wandered at will all over the cross-country course, causing one rider to have a crashing fall.

Queen Elizabeth II walks with Henry Somerset, the 10th Duke of Beaufort, at the Badminton Horse Trials on April 26, 1957. Credit: Evening Standard/Stringer via Getty Images

Country Life reporter Lady Viola Apsley concluded: ‘The Badminton test has established itself as the most important (as it is the most typically English) of all equestrian events of the year.’ She was right: that 1949 running spawned a date in the sporting calendar that draws riders from all over the world; it celebrates its 75th anniversary on May 8–12.

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These days, the competition carries a first prize of £117,600, the largest in the sport and, on the Saturday, more than 100,000 spectators will come to watch, making it the most well-attended sporting event in Europe and one of the largest in the world.

After a period of success from Australian and New Zealand riders in the 90s and 00s, Britain is once again back on top, with GB riders the current Olympic and European team champions and occupying seven of the top 10 places in the FEI World Rankings.

Deputy Digital Editor James Fisher recently sat down with Kate Green, Country Life’s Deputy Editor and author of Badminton Horse Trials at 75, for an episode of the Country Life Podcast. Want to know more about all things Badminton? Click here

The Badminton Horse trials at 75

Country Life's Kate Green joins the podcast to talk about the tale of how the world's best three-day eventing competition