Barbury’s Nigel Bunter prepares a pre-Olympic equestrian extravaganza

Written by Tony Millett on .

The marquees are up, the grass is looking amazing and the forecast is pretty good. Barbury’s eighth annual International Horse Trials are nearly ready for the off.

This year’s trials are going to be unique purely because they are so near in time and place to the London Olympic Games’ equestrian events at Greenwich. Spread out across the green downs, Barbury’s cross country course provides spectators with amazing views of the riders’ progress. Nigel Bunter checks Barbury's cross country courseNigel Bunter checks Barbury's cross country course

Nigel Bunter says the course is “Quite hilly – as is the Greenwich course – and has quite a lot of tight turns – as the Greenwich course has.” And this certainly accounts in part for the spectacular number of Olympic hopefuls who’ve entered for the trials.

They’re expecting eight hundred horses over the four day event (Thursday, June 28 to Sunday, July 1).  But all eyes will be on the Olympic riders and horses taking advantage of Barbury as a last run out before the Games start.

The British team and their horses will be there. There’ll be twelve riders from the United States – all vying for places in the final five-strong team which will be announced shortly after Barbury ends. Also taking part will be Olympic riders from Brazil, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

The British team – Kristina Cook, William Fox-Pitt, Piggy French, Mary King and Zara Phillips – may not take their Olympic mounts over the cross country course, but will certainly take advantage of the dressage and show jumping stages.

Nigel Bunter thinks they’ll wait and see what the weather’s like and how their horses are taking to the events, but one thing he can “almost guarantee” is the state of the ground. Barbury’s chalk sucks down any rain and the grass remains wonderfully springy.

This year the cross country course designer, Captain Mark Phillips, has made some alterations to the course with its inch tight approaches and landings. But no one’s saying much about the twenty-seven obstacles – even if they’ve ridden Barbury before, there needs to be some surprises when the riders first walk the course.

Certainly the Olympic cast list is having an effect on ticket sales. Advance sales for the Saturday and Sunday are up seventy per cent on last year. Nigel Bunter is delighted with the number of equestrian entries and with the ticket sales.

The trials’ ‘village’ is impressive – catering for not only for horses and riders but for the Wiltshire Show which runs in parallel with the trials on the Saturday and Sunday. The ‘village’ includes one hundred and five shops, a huge area of canvas stabling, fifteen electricity generators, three vast marquees - one of which will house the Festival of Food.

New to the Show this year, this marquee holds a hundred seat auditorium where a range of top chefs will show visitors how it’s really done. They’ll be led by Brian Turner of Ready Steady Cook fame. Also there will be a number of local food producers showing their best.

Another of the large marquees will be home to the whole event’s title sponsor: St James’s Place Wealth Management who are based in Cirencester.

Nigel Bunter makes a point of using local firms and employing local people for the trials and the show. The marquees are provided by Covered Occasions of Winterbourne Monkton and one of the hospitality marquees is being catered by Moran’s Catering of Marlborough.

On Saturday the Wiltshire Show features a blast from the 1980s – an It’s a Knock Out contest in aid of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance with teams from fifteen companies – most of them local. Then on Sunday the Show has the more traditional displays of hounds, pedigree livestock and birds of prey. And the Army will be there with an assault course of obstacles to test out some humans rather than horses.

It will certainly be the equestrian events as they reach their climax on the Saturday and Sunday that draw in the crowds. But if you’re there on Friday you can watch Olympic horses and riders going through the test that’ll face them at Greenwich. Add in the thrilling show jumping and cross country eventing stages on the Saturday and Sunday, and who really needs Olympic tickets anyway?