What the eventing overlords taketh away, the eventing overlords giveth back… or something like that, anyway. After a couple of years of cancellation announcements (however bored you got of reading those, know that we were doubly bored of writing them) and innovative ‘pop-up’ fixtures, 2022 so far has been stuffed to the gills with long-anticipated returns to the calendar including, in the UK alone, Badminton, Chatsworth, and now, Bramham International Horse Trials. Set in sultry Yorkshire parkland, this most venerated of four-stars is one of the world’s greatest showcases of eventing – and if you’re not already bouncing off the walls with joy about its return this week, allow us to give you a few jolly good reasons to tune in.
1. It’s as big and bold as four-star gets
Where four-star competitions are concerned, there’s a not inconsiderable spectrum of difficulty – and Bramham, with its dimensionally massive fences, tough, undulating terrain, and technical demands, is at the topmost end. Sometimes dubbed a ‘four-and-a-half star’, Ian Stark’s track is the kind of course you might use to prepare a horse for a Burghley bid later in the year — but winning a class here is as much of a career goal in itself. As a result, the competition is always action-packed from start to finish, and the horses and riders you see triumph ordinarily go on to great things. Case in point? Look at the last couple of winners: in 2019, Kitty King topped the CCI4*-L with Vendredi Biats, while 2018 saw the feature class go the way of Germany’s Julia Krajewski and Chipmunk, who won this spring’s Kentucky CCI5* with Michael Jung aboard.
This year’s course looks every inch the Bramham we fondly remember, and we’re also seeing the return of Ian Stark’s seriously influential undulating coffin fence, which caught plenty of riders out in 2019 when they came in at too high a velocity.“At all ages, they have to learn to ride a coffin,” he says. “Some of the riding was great, but others kept winging into it – and actually, I’m surprised there’s not more accidents as a result. There’s not enough of an education in riding these types of fences; many of the riders, if they were intimidated by it, just galloped at it. I think a coffin is a great fence, if the horses are ridden and trained correctly, and I’m not going to back off using them, but people need to train more often over them. They don’t need to train them at four-star height, but they do need to train the concept.” Let’s hope they’ve been working on itnduring Bramham’s absence!
2. It’s your chance to talent-spot the stars of the future
The under-25 CCI4*-L is pretty much identical to the feature CCI4*-L — it has the same test, the same ground jury, and the same courses. The only difference, of course, is that age restriction and the national title on the line – and the convenience of a leaderboard stuffed with the next generation of superstars. You’ll see big names from the Pony, Junior, and Young Rider teams step up to the big leagues, including the likes of Phoebe Locke and Heidi Coy, alongside exciting talent from further afield. Watch closely, take notes, and trust your gut on whose style you most admire — there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to boast that you’ve supported the next Laura Collett since the start of their senior career.
3. It’s a shopaholic’s wet dream
While the trade village doesn’t have quite the scope of Badminton’s extensive shopping quarters, it’s certainly among the best that Britain’s eventing scene has to offer — and it’s also easier to navigate than the aforementioned, because it’s not quite as extraordinarily busy. The avenue of shopping — which features upscale and more affordable equestrian and country brands alike — buffers one side of the main arena, and the natural amphitheatre creates a super viewing area to sit with your bulging bags and watch a few tests. You can see both the CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S running side by side, so no agonising decisions about which horse and rider you’ll prioritise, and then it’s just a step or two back into the thrum of the stands, plenty of complementary glasses of Prosecco, and the obligatory duck wrap. Describe a better day to us if you can.
4. It always attracts a seriously good US and French contingent
Particularly post-Brexit, we’re always grateful to see new faces at our UK events, and though CCI4*-S classes might not offer sufficient financial incentive to get people to cross a body of water anymore, the prestige of the CCI4*-L classes here certainly does. We always see some solid French entries here — such as Thibault Fournier and Siniani de Lathus, who finished second in the under-25 class here in 2018 before going on to win their five-star debut at Pau that season. This year’s no different, with Tom Carlile and Gireg le Coz each riding exciting up-and-coming horses amid a number of other talented French entries.
The US, too, always fields a good line-up, particularly because Bramham — like Houghton’s Nations Cup CCIO4*-S a couple of weeks before it — is one of the events that’s part of some of USEF’s grant pathways. This week, we’ll see Allie Knowles and Ms Poppins benefit from the funding to tackle the CCI4*-L, joined by UK-based Brits Tiana Coudray, riding Cancaras Girl, and Grace Taylor, riding Game Changer. In the under-25 CCI4*-L, Emerging 25 athlete Isabelle Bosley will fight for top honours with Night Quality, while the CCI4*-S has entries from Kimberley Cecere and Landmarks Monaco, who are enjoying a stint basing with Team GB coach Chris Bartle, Katherine Coleman and Monbeg Senna, and Grace Taylor and Hiarado. You go, girls.
5. It’s the most fun you can possibly have while logging 48,000 steps and 84 flights in your Health app
Look, we won’t beat around the bush: Bramham isn’t just a serious stamina test for competitors, it’s a real trek for spectators, too, with endless rolling hills and long galloping stretches to wander along. But we can promise you this — it won’t feel like hard work, because the estate is so beautiful, and the horsepower so excellent, that you’ll be bouncing along on adrenaline and won’t even notice the achy legs until you slip into a well-earned bubble bath.
6. It’s a little bit rock and roll
Okay, okay, bear with us a little bit on this one — but Bramham Park is also the site of Leeds Festival, that iconic mainstay of post-school summer escapades, muddy dance-offs to the Arctic Monkeys, endless overpriced plastic cups of slightly warm beer, and overt indecency while camping. Bramham Horse Trials is kind of the same, except it swaps the face glitter for hoof oil and the guitarists for actual rockstars — that is, folks who are willing to fling themselves at colossal solid obstacles at 500mpm. The party spirit is also strong here: if you’ve ever fancied finding yourself in a conga line with Mary King, it’s not a shabby idea to find your way into the competitors’ party by the main arena on Thursday night. Bring your most robust liver.