It took me about five minutes to catch the Badminton bug. Rolling up as a “first-timer” in 2009, I had no real idea what to expect. I had heard of Badminton, obviously, I knew who Mark Todd was and I knew the traffic was usually horrendous on cross-country day, but that was about it.
So to say my first Badminton experience surpassed all expectations would probably be an understatement. It was captivating, enthralling, gripping – even emotional at times – because that is what the world’s premier eventing competition can do for you.
As a competitor, you have to be “in it to win it”, and likewise as a spectator you have to be there on those four magnificent days to enjoy the full Badminton experience. Believe me, you will not be disappointed – even when it rains.
To make the most of your day out at Badminton, get there early.
The first mistake I made was to completely misjudge the scale of the place. You are aware that the main arena and cross-country course is where it all happens, but as you drive in through the picturesque Badminton village – having passed the packed camping site on your left-hand side – Badminton’s enormity immediately becomes apparent.
From the funfair to the shopping village – retail park, more like – the iconic, manually-operated scoreboard to the bars and eateries, from Radio Badminton and the huge media attendance to enormous crowds, this is no run-of-the-mill sporting event.
A programme and Radio Badminton headset, meanwhile, are also essential early purchases.
To make the most of your day out at Badminton, get there early. Not only do you beat the rush, you can also enjoy the calm before the storm by hitting the shops before the tills start making more noise than a bell-ringers’ convention. A programme and Radio Badminton headset, meanwhile, are also essential early purchases. Shop at your leisure, and stay in touch with the competition. Perfect!
The area around the main scoreboard, with its drinks tents and coffee stalls is a great one just to hang out, hear the gossip and chew the fat. It is a real hive of activity, and a place where you can sometimes zone-in on the stories behind the scenes before, during and after the action.
And then there is the main event – dressage Thursday and Friday, cross-country Saturday and showjumping Sunday – with many of the world’s top riders spearheading a maximum 85-strong entry that will include previous winners, veteran Badminton campaigners and relative four-star rookies. The combination of all three is an intoxicating one.
Every single one of them will have a story to tell, whether it’s from the top-three podium on Sunday afternoon, or via the sheer exhilaration of just conquering a Badminton cross-country course, and each one will be worth a listen.
To compete at Badminton is an achievement, to complete the challenge is even better, and to win it must be off the scale.
For me, those final moments in the start box before horse and rider set off on the cross-country adventure rank among the most nerve-shredding in sport. What awaits us? Will we get around? But when the going gets tough, the tough get going: eventers possess courage by the bucket-load.
It is an equine event like no other, a sporting spectacular that can hold its own in any company, and one when those privileged to be there can revel amid its unique atmosphere that soaks into the stunning back-drop of 17th Century Badminton House.
If you have never been, trust me, you will not regret it. People go back again and again, such is the magnetism of four days’ world-class competition, memorable socialising and retail therapy that ticks every box.
Quite simply, Badminton has got the lot, and long may it continue.