The breeches will barely have had time to dry before packing commences for yet another horse trial at yet another stately home beginning with B. This week the eventing fraternity have another quick turnaround after consecutive weeks at Burghley and Blair and are now heading to Oxfordshire for the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials (September 17-20).
The beautiful eponymous palace and its equally magnificent park provide the backdrop for the event which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. It also hosts the final British three-star three-day (CCI) of the year and, since 2009, the popular CIC three-star (one-day format but confusingly held over three days) for eight and nine-year-old horses.
There are 110 CCI3* entries; a mix of seasoned four-star horses, more experienced three-star campaigners and those new to the level.
Cool Mountain and former three-time Blenheim winner, William Fox-Pitt, have to be the most experienced combination on the start list; it is, extraordinarily, a first Blenheim for former team horse Cool Mountain, winner of individual silver and team gold medal at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, and will also be his biggest challenge this year after a light competition season.
Pippa Funnell, who has previously won here four-times, brings her more experienced ride Mirage D’Elle, as well as the exciting homebred prospect Billy the Biz, competing in his first CCI3*.
Other British riders to follow will be Piggy French, the winner in 2011, who has two on-form rides, OBOS Cooley and Seapatrick Dark Cruise, and young rider Dani Evans aboard Raphael, a combination with good three-star form, and Franky Reid-Warrilow, this year’s individual gold medallist at the European Rural Riders Championships, who has entered her gold-medal partner Dolley Whisper.
Gemma Tattersall could well be competitive with the mare Quickstar V while no start list is complete without Oliver Townend, who has two rides Dunbeau and Sandiman II.
There is a competitive overseas entry, including American Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen, third in 2013, who return for another crack, while fellow American Lauren Kieffer and her mare Veronica, second at Lexington and seventh at Bramham this year, will be hoping for another good result to attract the eyes of the selectors for next year’s Rio Olympic Games.
Ispo, the ride of the late Benjamin Winter, could well be competitive under German World Champion and recent European silver medallist Sandra Auffarth. The pair has accrued good CIC3* form since Auffarth took the ride in memory of her friend, who suffered a fatal fall at Luhmühlen last year.
Irish rider Aoife Clark the winner in 2013 with Fenyas Elegance, this year has the equally talented Fernhill Adventure while young Frenchman Astier Nicolas brings Molakai.
My money however has to be on Australian Christopher Burton and Nobilis; while it might be a first CCI3* for the well-bred Nobilis 18, the 10-year-old has not been lower than second in his last five outings, including a CIC3* win, while Burton, always a tidy rider in all three phases, comes here on the back of an inspirational performance at Burghley.
The popular class CIC3*, initiated in 2009, has proved a reliable indicator of horses that go on to compete at four-star; incredibly, three of the as yet six winners — Oslo (William Fox-Pitt), Quimbo (Andrew Nicholson) and NZB Land Vision (Mark Todd) — have all won four-star events, while two others, Fernhill Pimms and Faerie Dianimo, have been highly placed at the level.
Exciting young horse entries this year include Xavier Faer (Tim Price) a half-brother to 2015 winner Faerie Dianimo, Hartpury Sky is the Limit (Ian Wills), winner of the 8/9-year-old class at Aston le Walls, young stallions Philanderer II (Tim Cheffings), a son of Jumbo, and Tresor Mail (Sidney Dufresne), a son of Jaguar Mail, plus Mo Cuiske (Kitty King), Away Cruising (Harry Meade) and KBIS Starburst (Izzy Taylor), winner of the 8/9 year old class at Wellington recently.
On Thursday and Friday, Blenheim hosts the popular Riding Clubs and Pony Clubs Team Eventers Challenge, The British Eventing Arena Eventing Championship and this year, for the first time, Amateur Eventer Dressage Championships and for more experienced riders the High Jump challenge. On Friday, at the end of dressage and for the second year, Brightwells will be holding their Elite Event Horse auction, a catalogue of 22 horses selected as having eventing potential.
As always there will be a huge selection of trade stands to browse and buy from — a great opportunity to get prepared for winter — as well as a plethora of displays and master classes to watch and learn from including: side-saddle, racehorses to riding horses, Parelli, dressage to music, dogs, bare-back, Shetland ponies and cooking! You name it, Blenheim Horse Trials has it.
Read the DHP interview with the Duchess of Marlborough on what’s like to host a horse trials.