Yoshiaki Oiwa will only drive for half-an-hour from his base in Minchinhampton to the Duke of Beaufort’s estate for the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton International Horse Trials, but it will be the journey of a lifetime as Oiwa will be the first Japanese rider ever to compete at the prestigious four-star event.

He will share the dubious honour of being a complete newby with Pepo Puch from Croatia, Carlos Grave from Portugal and Jaroslav Halta from the Czech Republic in an event which looks set to be more international than ever. “It just shows how inclusive the sport of three-day eventing has become,” says Badminton spokesman Julian Seaman.

Competitors from 18 nations as far afield as Bermuda and the Dutch Antilles will flock to the 2005 edition. The British contingent will be especially strong, with some 50 riders competing at Badminton this year. Some plan to ride two horses, like William Fox-Pitt, who will be aboard Tamarillo and Ballincoola, and Pippa Funnell, who will compete two from Supreme Rock, Primmore’s Pride and Cornerman. Jeanette Brakewell will try her sixth completion on Over to You, as well as riding Burley Wood, while Sarah Cutteridge, who narrowly missed the Olympics, will try her luck on The Wexford Lady and Erbium.

The medal for the longest trip will undoubtedly go to Jonelle Richards, who will travel some 12,000 miles from her home in Christchurch, New Zealand, to the Gloucesteshire venue.

Her compatriot, Andrew Nicholson, looks set to break a different sort of record. The seasoned New Zealand rider may well notch the highest number of Badminton completions this year. At the moment, he is on par with Lorna Clarke with 22 each.

Nicholson is a serious contender for the top spot, but he will have stiff competition. Twenty-nine Olympians will grace the field at Badminton, including Athens gold medallist Leslie Law and Matt Ryan, who won in Sydney (team) and Barcelona (team and individual). Like Nicholson, Law and Ryan have never landed the Badminton title — despite having claimed many other accolades.

They will have to prove their mettle against old-hands such as Funnell, who won in 2002 and 2003, Fox-Pitt, who bagged the 2004 edition, and past winners Rodney Powell with Liquid Ice, and Mary King on the late Caroline Pratt’s mount, Call Again Cavalier.

Organisers will unveil the cross-country course on 14 April, three weeks before the start of the event. Tickets for Badminton, which will take place from 5 to 8 May, can be booked online at www.badminton-horse.co.uk.