Top international riders have picked Blenheim Horse Trials as their favourite event in 2003 and 2004.

The International Equestrian Federation’s annual review, L’Année Hippique, asked the world’s leading eventers to vote for their favourite show and Blenheim topped the list with 28 points, ahead of CCI**** Lexington, in the USA, which had 17 points, and Badminton with 10.

“Riders just had to nominate events they like and put them in order. Events get points depending on their ranking and the [one] which is most consistently highly placed is the best,” explains Blenheim spokeswoman Kate Green. “I don’t think a three-star event has ever won this before.

“Of course we are extremely pleased. It is hard work to put on an event and it’s great to see our effort recognised.”

And for event director Mike Etherington-Smith, “it’s always particularly rewarding when one’s efforts are recognised by the riders, who are often the most critical. It’s great for everybody involved [and we] feel pretty good about coming ahead of four-stars. It’s a good boost ahead of the Europeans.”

Blenheim Palace’s grandiose setting may have helped tip the scales but there is more to the event than a mesmerising background. “Although they are not asked specifically for any criteria [in the Année Hippique survey], riders would judge the cross-country course, the going, the friendliness of the organisers, the facilities for their horses and the prize money,” says Green.

“What we try and do is run an event which is popular but not stiff or starchy,” says Etherington-Smith. “It’s a fairly relaxed event, where people can enjoy themselves but also compete seriously.”

The FEI also recognised Blenheim’s worth when it allowed the Oxfordshire venue to stage the 2005 European Championships. The Europeans will take place on 8-11 September this year with the support of animal insurers Petplan — which have been sponsoring Blenheim for the last seven years — and UK Sport, which granted £275,000 to help fund the Championships.

“The support we have received to run the Europeans means we are able to continue with ongoing improvements to Blenheim which, we hope, will keep it at the very top in the world for years to come,” says Etherington-Smith.

Discounted advance ticket to the FEI Blenheim Petplan European Eventing Championships are available for sale on the event’s website at www.blenheim-horse.co.uk or by phone (tel: 0870 609 8012).