Bill Henson, director of Burghley Horse Trials for nearly 20 years, is to retire after this year’s event (4-7 September).

Bill’s tenure has seen Burghley three-day event grow to become one of only four four-star events in the world.

“I have always said that I did not still want to be running the event when I am 70 – which I will be in 2004! I am very proud of Burghley – it has gained momentum to the point where it needs no real promotional campaign,” he explained.

He attributes the success of the event to making the visitor and competitor a priority – he, his wife and children are all eventing enthusiasts, so he has a natural grasp of the market.

In 2001, Bill and his team defied the FMD crisis to begin preparations for the competition, and controversy reigned last year when new course-builderWolfgang Feld created what many suggested was a challenge too far. Bill refutes this.

“It had got to the point where events were more like dressage competitions. Our objective was to have five or six clear within the time and we achieved that.There was one bad fence, but no one had to jump it – there was an alternative. For 2003, we will aim for the same result, although we will omit that particular fence.”

Other innovations are mooted for this year. The BBC has asked that the competition finishes by 1.45pm due to a clash with other sporting fixtures so Bill has an equestrian extravaganza planned for the afternoon, with fun events such as celebrity tent-pegging combined with one still-to-be-confirmed spectacular competition.

“We are looking at a ticket package that will give visitors access to the grandstand and to the shopping for the afternoon. It makes full use of our facilities, and gives the trade exhibitors a bonus.”

Read the full story in this week’s Horse & Hound (23 January), or click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week.