Event director Elizabeth Inman gives a pretty simple response to the question of why people should come to this year’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials: why wouldn’t you come?
The event, taking place from September 3 to 6, is one of the top draws in the international equestrian calendar and will once again feature some of the world’s best riders battling it out in front of huge crowds.
But it’s not all about the horses. There is a huge shopping area, scores of food and drink outlets, activities for all ages and the chance to see part of the beautiful Burghley Park that is normally off limits to the general public.
Speaking at a press day at Burghley on Wednesday, Elizabeth, who has held the role of event director for 10 years, said: “From an equestrian perspective it’s the pinnacle of the autumn season at the level of Olympic sport.
“There is great excitement this year because we have reversed the cross country route. Some of the riders who are used to Burghley might not have that advantage any more. We’ve also got some first-timers and some local riders taking part.
“Anything can happen, but it’s likely that one of the top Olympic riders will take the honours.
A lot of people don’t realise it’s the equivalent of Wimbledon in this area.Event director Elizabeth Inman
“But there is something for everyone at Burghley. We have face painting for the children on all four days. You can shop until you drop. The trade stands offer all sorts of things. It’s just a lovely atmosphere. It’s very relaxed. You don’t have to understand horses to love the event.”
One hundred horses from nine countries across the globe will compete this year, with top riders from Australia, New Zealand and the US, along with the UK’s best taking part.
A special treat will be the first appearance of double Olympic gold medallist Michael Jung, from Germany, who will bring two of his top horses La Biosthetique and Fischerrocana.
Sadly New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson, who won the last three cross country titles on his horse Avebury, looks unlikely to compete after suffering a serious injury in a fall at the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park on Sunday.
But there will be plenty of British riders trying to impress selectors ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Burghley’s global appeal means it is one of the top sporting events in the UK. Elizabeth said: “A lot of people don’t realise it’s the equivalent of Wimbledon in this area. It’s a mammoth exercise. We have a six week build time and three weeks taking it down.
“It’s one of the largest televised sporting events in the UK. Last year it was audited as the eighth biggest by attendance.”
Burghley may be a top international contest but it also has plenty of local connections.
Riding for the fourth year will be Ryhall’s Kerry Varley on Bluestone Luke. The pair completed the course for the first time last year, having been forced to withdraw in 2013 when the horse fractured his stifle - a joint in a horse’s hind leg equivalent to a human knee.
Kerry, based at Newstead Farm Stables, on the outskirts of Stamford, knows not to get too worked up before the event. She said: “We’re just keeping it calm. There’s no point in getting too excited. But everything is going to plan and he (Bluestone Luke) feels better than ever.”
Having finished the cross country course last year, Kerry is feeling slightly more relaxed ahead of this year’s event.
“My dream was to have a 4* completion (the highest level of difficulty in eventing). I had never actually got that result. So having done that last year, I’m going to enjoy it this year and try to lock in a better time.”
And Kerry will have plenty of support.
“It’s lovely because I’ve got local friends that have been joining me on the gallops. They are all really supportive and they will all be there watching.”
Also competing is Katie Barber, from Queniborough, who will be riding at Burghley for the first time. She said: “I’m really enjoying the build up. It’s really exciting. For me it’s the best 4* in the world.
“I have always been fairly local so for me it’s always been the most amazing event.”
Another highlight this year will be the appearance of the Rugby World Cup trophy ahead of this year’s tournament in England and Wales. Visitors will get the chance to see the Webb Ellis Cup and children will have the opportunity to audition to become a Rugby World Cup 2015 mascot. Auditions will take place on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the trials. One of the final jumps has even been designed to look like a rugby pitch, with mini grandstands at each end and a giant ball in the middle.
The trials are screened all over the world. But organisers are keen to acknowledge the support of the neighbouring community. Many people will lend a hand by temporarily turning their homes into “pop-up” bed and breakfasts to house visiting members of the media.
The idea launched successfully at last year’s trials and will happen again this year.
Sarah Wicks, from Ramsey, is offering a bedroom. She said: “We have horses at home so I thought it would be lovely to have someone who is horse-savvy to stay with us.”