Bramham International Horse Trial will run the short-format for the first time this year in a move which may herald the end of long format three-star events in Britain.

“Bramham feels that the competition is definitely viable without the steeplechase,” says the event’s spokeswoman Lucinda Hanbury. “Bramham has taken advice and followed ideas from others and think they can offer a very viable competition without it.”

Bramham is the second major event in a year to switch to the short format, after Blenheim dropped the steeplechase last September as a practice ground for the European Championship that it will host in 2005.

The decision has fuelled speculation that the days of the steeplechase are numbered. “I think all events will go that way in the near future. I think the long-format is coming to an end. Sadly, that’s the way it’s going,” says Winnie Murphy of British Eventing.

“With all the championships taking the short format, selectors want to see the short format at individual events to get the true picture. The call for the long format is less and less. If that’s the way the sport is developing, we have to keep up with it. It’s just another stage in the evolution of the sport, with the steeplechase gradually being phased out.”

Bramham’s choice to run the CCI*** under the short format was linked to their decision to seek FEI status for their under-25 competition, which runs concurrently to the senior event. “My understanding is that the FEI required [the under-25 competition] to be in the short format, so [the organisers] decided to make the whole event run in the short format,” says Murphy.

“There was always a feeling at Bramham that the steeplechase wasn’t as good as it should be,” explains Hanbury. “The under-25 championship certainly confirmed the decision to run the senior event without the steeplechase.”

The under-25 competition has been granted FEI CCIO*** status — the first time that an under–25 team event will take place in Britain. Teams and individual competitors from 15 countries will battle it out in the under-25 event. Support by Bishop Burton College ensured that the competition has a “generous” prize fund, details of which will be released in the near future.

“It’s a very exciting event for that age-group,” says Hanbury.

Bramham also has a number of other innovations in the pipeline. Considerable work has gone into improving the ground with the help of the Sport Turf Research Institute. “A lot of work was done the year before last and the riders commented on it last year,” says Hanbury.

The improvements have continued throughout this year and include opening up a new piece of ground, over which a part of the cross-country course will be built. This has allowed organisers to introduce a new water complex, designed by Sue Benson and built by Gary Podmore. An irrigation system for the main arenas has also been installed and work is being carried out on the warm up areas. Even the children’s area has been extended “to allow even more fun”.

Bramham Horse Trials will take place from 9 to 12 June this year, and will also host showing classes — including the qualifiers for the Horse of the Year Show — on Thursday and Friday and show jumping classes on Saturday and Sunday. The box office opens on 28 February and tickets can be booked online at www.bramham-horse.co.uk or by phone (tel: 0870 609 8015).