To celebrate St George's Day today (23 April), we've picked six great English equestrian events to look forward to this summer
Few countries do horse sport as well as we do here. Whatever the season, there is always something going on to satisfy your equestrian needs, from the windswept fields of Wiltshire to The Queen’s doorstep at Windsor Castle.
With royalty and equestrianism going hand in hand, there is plenty of pomp and ceremony on offer, while the English countryside is hard to beat.
Every year, the world’s best equine athletes descend on England, with a packed calendar of top-class competition for both riders and spectators.
To celebrate St George’s Day (23 April 2015), we have rounded up some of the best English events on offer, and find out why they are so popular with riders.
Few shows can boast the credentials of Royal Windsor, held in the private grounds of Windsor Castle. In 2014, the 72-year-old show was upgraded, hosting four disciplines at international level — dressage, showjumping, endurance and driving — not to mention maintaining its prestigious place in the showing calendar.
Displays from institutions such as the Household Cavalry, the King’s Troop and the Pony Club, as well as the Shetland Pony Grand National, add to the variety. Full of pomp and ceremony, with an abundance of strawberries and cream on offer, this is a feast of equestrianism at its finest.
“It’s the first big show of the season, the first chance to bring out the big guns,” says show rider and producer Jayne Ross. “It has a unique atmosphere, with a feeling of having been invited to ride there. It’s a great show I feel privileged to compete at — we’re playing in the Queen’s back garden. Being presented with a trophy with Windsor Castle in the background is very special.
“Last year at Royal Windsor, I won the ladies’ hunter [with It’s After Eight], which was sponsored by my husband, Alan. It was great fun, receiving the trophy from my husband; The Queen thought it was very amusing.”
Where: The Royal Mews, Windsor Castle, Berkshire
When: 13-17 May 2015
Tickets: Free on the Wednesday, otherwise from £16
Set on the sweeping Barbury Castle Estate in Wiltshire, and surrounded by the Marlborough Downs, Barbury Horse Trials captures the spirit of eventing in this country.
The natural amphitheatre layout allows spectators a stunning view of the cross-country course. As eventer Kitty King points out: “You can see every fence of the track, which is rare for an event either in the UK or abroad. It’s great for owners — they get to see their horses run all the way round.”
But it’s not just the horses who get their moment in the limelight; Barbury also boasts an entertaining Sheep Show. The Festival of Food is likely to return in 2015, too, giving visitors an extra flavour of the English countryside.
Eventer Emily Llewellyn adds: “It’s how all events should be: up to date, smart and a pleasure to compete at. I particularly remember 2010, my last year in young riders, when I nearly won the CIC3* on Society Spice, but was beaten by 1sec by Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz. I was in awe of riders like her.”
Where: Barbury Castle Estate, Sharpridge Farm, Marlborough, Wiltshire
When: 9-12 July 2015
Tickets: from £10 (2014; 2015 prices tbc)
Forget muddy boots and shooting sticks, the London leg of the Global Champions Tour is all about bringing the sophistication of the capital to traditional horse sport — or rather, the other way round.
Scott Brash brought the nation to their feet in 2014 when he won the grand prix against the iconic London skyline at the Horse Guards Parade Ground at Westminster.
“The London location brings showjumping to the business world,” says William Funnell. “It seems ridiculous working the horses in the middle of London, but the backdrop makes it special. Having the top 30 in the world jumping at a venue like that doesn’t happen often.”
Where: central London, exact location TBC
When: 23-25 July 2015
Tickets: From around £20
4. HPA’s International Day
For a true taste of English tradition, look no further than polo. If you go to one match this year, make it the Hurlingham Polo Association’s (HPA) International Day for the Coronation Cup — first played for in 1911.
Gracing the manicured fields of Guards Polo Club, located again in the Queen’s back garden, Windsor Great Park, International Day provides an unmatched and exhilarating sporting spectacle. While celebrities mingle in the VIP marquees, you can get closer to the action by arranging your picnic on the sidelines of the field. Just don’t forget the Pimms.
England takes on a different international side each year for the Coronation Cup, traditionally presented by The Prince of Wales. The teams are escorted onto the field for the national anthems by Pony Club polo teams and a marching band, providing a rousing sense of patriotism.
Where: Guards Polo Club, Smith’s Lawn, Windsor Great Park, Surrey
When: 25 July 2015
Tickets: from £20 (2014; 2015 prices tbc)
5. Royal International Horse Show
At 108 years old, the Royal International Horse Show can boast the title of the oldest horse show in Britain. It has been on quite a journey over the past century — beginning life at London’s Olympia in 1907, followed by stints at the White City stadium, Wembley and Birmingham NEC, before settling at its current home of the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead, Sussex, in 1992.
It hosts top international showjumping in the form of the FEI Nations Cup series, and the vast array of showing championships are coveted by the elite of that world. Qualification is hard-fought throughout the year and the event gives the season’s best horses and ponies a chance to shine on the huge outdoor stage.
H&H showing columnist Katie Jerram says: “I’ve been to four of its venues and enjoyed every one. It’s always a chance to see the cream of what we’ve got each season.
“My first win there was in the pairs showing class. I was on the 14.2hh four-year-old show pony Shoscumbe Jacobie and my partner was Shirley Palmer riding Heathroad Dignity.
It was a random class and a great win. I remember it well — even after all these years I’m still really proud to have won that.”
Where: All England Jumping Course, Hickstead, West Sussex
When: 28 July – 2 August 2015
Tickets: From £16
6. Burghley Horse Trials
No eventing enthusiast’s calendar is complete without Burghley Horse Trials. As the season begins to wind down in September, Burghley is the highlight on everybody’s agenda. While the world’s top combinations battle it out in the CCI4*, the popular Burghley young event horse competition provides a good opportunity to see what the summer has produced in up-and-coming horses.
At its best, Burghley is hard to beat. The Mark Phillips-designed cross-country course is considered by many to be the toughest track in the world, set against the backdrop of the stunning 16th-century house.
“Burghley is always a great event; very welcoming and friendly,” says eventer Sarah Bullimore. “It has a lovely setting, with good courses, and an end-of-term feel — everyone looks forward to it. We’re so lucky in Britain to have events in so many beautiful places. That’s not to say foreign events aren’t stunning, but they don’t have the same wow factor.”
Where: Burghley Park, Stamford, Lincolnshire
When: 3-6 September 2015
Tickets: box office opens Wednesday, 30 April