Tweed, Tipples, and Townend: A First-Timers’ Guide to a Jolly Good Badders

Welcome to your home for the week. Sort of.

So you’ve done it – you’ve finally bought tickets for Badminton, after many years of watching it through a relentlessly buffering livestream or with the accompaniment of Clare Balding, who rather seems like she ought to be your favourite aunt, but alas, is not. Perhaps you’re a nearby newbie, and will be skipping down the M-roads to Gloucestershire. Or maybe you’re a hardcore newbie, who has crossed the seven seas (or, I don’t know, probably just one sea) to give the best of British eventing a go. Well, either way, let us assure you: you are in for the most splendid of treats.

That said, it can be overwhelming trying to prepare for your big day out, particularly as most websites would have you believe you’ll be fed to the Duke of Beaufort’s hounds if you don’t look like you’re fresh from the pages of Tatler magazine. Fear not, dear readers. Just follow our advice – from one eventing nerd to another – on how to get the most out of your trip to Badminton, and you’ll be sorted. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for Chinch – he’ll be hard at work manning our social media accounts, and he LOVES a selfie.

Laura Collett looks very glam, yes. She also has the 4* equivalent of a glam squad to ensure she stays this pristine. You don’t need to follow suit. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Dress appropriately. Plenty of fashion blogs will try to tell you how to dress for the Big B, and they’ll all tell you exactly the same thing: white jeans, heeled suede boots, a tweed cape, a fedora, lashings of fur, blah blah blah. Look, wear whatever you want, because honestly? Unless you’re trotting a horse up in front of the house (or preening for your many thousands of Instagram followers, I guess) nobody – not a single person – cares what you look like. You won’t be judged if you’re not wearing the (ludicrously expensive) uniform of the country darlings, but you might well be judged if, like a certain Swedish event rider at Gatcombe last year, you slip in the mud while wearing said white trou and find yourself walking through the crowds looking like you’ve had a rather tragic accident.

A better plan? Dress for comfort. You’ll be on your feet for a long time, and, if you walk the course, you’ll be traversing four miles of very changeable terrain, too. Stick to sensible shoes – there are plenty of country darling approved options – and, hey, go nuts and invest in some decent insoles, too. Warm socks are always wise, as are comfortable, mud- and ketchup-proof jeans. Up top, the key is to layer – Badminton likes to throw all the seasons at us in the space of a few hours. To that effect, sunglasses, a pack-a-mac, and a hat are all wise choices. Bring a decent-sized handbag or rucksack to shove your suncream and your thermal gloves in. Anything could happen, and you’ll have a hell of a lot more fun if you’re warm and dry.

For the love of all that is holy, though, please don’t wear breeches to spectate. You’ll become the victim of Chinch’s favourite game: #jodhpurwatch.

The dogs of Badminton: sometimes happy, often squashed. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Leave your dog at home. If you’re a seasoned attendee of the event, lower your pitchfork – you’ve likely honed your plan for keeping your four-legged pal happy, hydrated, and – most importantly – well-attached to a human. If you’re a first-timer, though, bringing your dog will add an unnecessary amount of stress to your day. Badminton is busy – over 150,000 people will attend the event – and your dog will be jostled, tripped over, crowded, and bumped. Water bowls are plentiful, thanks to forward-thinking tradestand owners, but often, these stands won’t actually allow dogs inside, which curtails any guilt-free binge-shopping. You won’t be able to bring your dog into the grandstand, either, and, if you think the open expanse of the course is safe, think again – many dogs react negatively to the crackling atmosphere, and you don’t want to be the person whose dog barks at – or worse, chases – a competitor. Find a friend who’ll look after your pooch for the day in exchange for a bottle of something special, picked up in the World of Food pavilion, and enjoy your day out without the hassle.

If you must bring your dog, but you need to leave him in a safe place while you shop, the Dog Creche, manned by the Langford Trust, will be available to help for a maximum of two hours at a time. 

Wednesday morning at Badminton. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Make a shopping battle plan – and stick to it. Your plan should be two-fold: what you’re after, and how you’re going to get it back to your car. Look, here’s the thing about Badminton – unless you’re jammy enough (or early enough!) to get into one of the central car parks, your car is going to be a long way from the shopping village. You aren’t going to want to rush back to drop off bags throughout the day, nor are you going to want to lug bags of rugs, boots, and an endless supply of horse treats around all day. Instead, find and make use of the dedicated Shop & Drop – located near the Red Cross, it’ll be open from 10:00am until 5:00pm each day, and will allow you to drop off your bags while you continue your tradestand rampage.

There’s a LOT of shopping to be done at Badminton, and plenty of amazing deals to score, too, so make yourself a list if you want to make the most of it. In need of something specific, and would love to find a discount on a particular brand? Jot it down. Have a Holy Grail product that you’d love to find, admire, or try on? Make note. Always wondered what a £900 tailcoat would look like on you? Go on then, add it to your plan of action – but buyer beware at Badminton; something about the atmosphere makes you miles more likely to actually buy the things you’re just casually admiring. 

Do yourself a big favour and take note of stand numbers, too – it’s easy to miss out on a shop you’ve been dying to visit. Print this bad boy out for an easy reference guide.

“Eric ME, snitchez.” Photo by Kit Houghton/Badminton.

Do your research. The competition becomes instantly more compelling if you know a little something about the course, the competitors, and the Grand Slam attempt in front of you. Luckily, we’ve made it easy AND fun to get the lowdown on the whole lot – prepare to be THAT person who has all the facts. Here’s a guide to all the competitors and a preview of this year’s course, as well as a link to ALL our coverage this year. 

There’s no shame in knowledge, peeps, but it’s pretty embarrassing if you tell your friends you’re a bit of an eventing junkie and then follow it up with “Eric who?”

Mary King walks the 2015 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials cross country course. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Walk the course backwards. If you’re attending on Saturday, it can be pretty overwhelming to try to see as much of the course, and as many of the riders, as you can. Mitigate some of the stress by starting at the end and working your way back – at least then, you won’t find yourself in the frustrating position of missing your favourite as they gallop up behind you and swiftly disappear into the distance. By walking this way, you’re sure to catch each and every rider, giving you plenty of time to practice a rope-side selfie just as Oliver Townend gallops past.

Aussie eventer Sam Griffiths with Head Girl Imogen Mercer, pictured after winning Badminton 2014. Credit Imogen Mercer.

Scope out where to find free drinks. Let’s not beat around the bush – one of the great joys of a CCI4* is that it’s an exceptionally good excuse to day drink. That said, it can get expensive fast if you rely solely on the on-site bars. Plenty of tradestands offer free glasses of prosecco to potential clients, so pay attention to social media (or head straight to the luxury brands!) to quench your thirst on the cheap. You may just have to sit in a very expensive saddle to earn your drink – a real hardship, we’re sure.

Tim Price and Paul Tapner celebrate at the press conference. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lurk near the media centre. Desperate for a selfie with the Jungmeister? Targeting the press conference is your best bet, and much less likely to earn you a telling-off than interrupting him in the collecting ring would. You won’t get into the media centre – that’s reserved, of course, for the wild-eyed and caffeine-fuelled journos and photographers who need to rugby tackle the riders after each day of competition to get their final thoughts – but anyone who goes in has to come out eventually.

This year, the press conferences will be outside the media centre and open for the public to watch, which adds to the fun and makes it even more likely that, with enough tactical lurking, you’ll get a chance to meet your faves. Press conferences usually start 20-30 minutes after the end of each day’s competition, and will take place near the main scoreboard.

Arrive early. Hell hath no fury like a rural one-way lane suddenly besieged by 150,000 eventing nerds. You’re going to hit queues. They are going to be long, and they are going to be painful. Aim to arrive by 8am to beat the worst of them, and treat yourself to a bacon bap to make up for the early alarm. 

Learn the lay of the land. Badminton is sprawling, and it’s easy to lose your way if you’ve never been before – particularly when the grandstands empty and you find yourself shunted along a neverending sea of people, heading to god-knows-where. Make the most of having arrived early to get familiar with where everything is, taking particular note of coffee, decent loos, the main arena, your favourite shop, and the way to the cross-country course. There are site maps dotted around, too – snap a photo on your phone (and note where you’re parked, too) to give yourself a helping hand. Oh, and a pro tip for avoiding those seas of people? Plan to leave your seat in the grandstand before the end of the final ride, if it’s a dressage day – you’ll skip the crowds and get to where you’re going before the queues form.

Sam Griffiths and his experienced partner Happy Times at Badminton. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Watch the collecting ring. Again, you won’t be able to enter – the collecting ring is reserved for riders, owners, trainers, and grooms – but you can bag a spot on the railing, on the back side of the main arena, and watch the masters at work. You can learn a huge amount from watching how the pros prepare their horses for the challenge ahead, and, if you’re really, really lucky, you might even get the chance to meet one of your four-legged idols. If La Biosthetique Sam FBW is your idea of #horsegoals, head down there first thing in the morning – Sam doesn’t love to be ridden in a crowded warm-up, so Michi often schools him first thing in the morning to get him ‘concentrated and giving a good feeling’ before the day begins.

The Outside Chance – civilised, until the sun sets over Badminton House.

Get yourself a DD. Because you’re going to be drinking a lot of free prosecco, of course. The best plan of action is to camp onsite – then it’s just a short stumble from The Outside Chance (or the Pig & Whistle, if you’re a real party animal and want to see a different side of the coursebuilders) to your bed. Boozing by the lake is a Badminton must.

Chinch keeps an eye on Badminton’s dressage, on a rather smaller screen.

Make use of the screens. It might seem like a bit of a cop-out to go all the way to Badminton just to take in the cross-country from a screen, but actually, they can be great fun. Bring camp chairs, a couple of blankets, and a couple of bottles of something naughty and set up shop – you’ll be in great company and never far from food, a toilet, and a top-up. You can find big screens by the Pig & Whistle, across the lake from the pavilions, and at the end of Glamorgan Way, where the trade village turns back on itself. Perfect if you prefer not to spend most of your day on your feet, or if you’re nursing a spot of unsoundness (or if you like to take frequent shopping breaks).

Charge up. Powerbanks are essential at Badminton, as your phone will deplete itself rather quickly whilst trying to battle for a slice of the 3G pie. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself with a dead phone just before the winning showjumping round, so pack a couple of powerbanks.

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo at Badminton 2014. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Don’t miss the trot-up. If you’re heading to Badminton on Wednesday for the shopping or Sunday for the showjumping, make sure to head to the house to see the first and final horse inspections. The first one, at 4:30pm on Wednesday, is buzzing with the back-to-school excitement of the start of this prestigious event, and features a best-dressed competition, if that’s your sort of thing. The second, at 8:30am on Sunday, is nail-biting stuff: will the hot favourite make it through to the final phase? Did cross-country take a surprising toll? It gets busy early, so nab your seat on the bleachers or pick a spot on the right-hand side of the crowd, which will allow you to get a glimpse through the archway into the stableyard, as well as give you the chance to see what actually happens in the hold box.

Embrace Pimms weather. With the right sort of attitude, any weather will do. Traditionally the beverage of choice for a scorching hot, cloudless day – the sort we enjoy approximately twice a year – Pimms is the first bastion of summer cometh. Lure it in yourself by buying a jug of it any time the rain breaks. Believe in the power of intent.

Chinch wearing his Radio Badminton headset — ready for cross-country day!

Listen up. Enhance your viewing experience significantly by getting up-to-the-minute expert commentary, as well as feedback from the riders after they’ve dismounted. Radio Badminton runs throughout the competition and features a fantastic array of special guests, so if you want to persist in being THAT person (yes, you do, you know you do, and we encourage it wholeheartedly) then tune into 106.1FM and pick up an earpiece from one of the many programme vendors on-site. Interviews will be conducted throughout the competition to the left of the scoreboard – another great chance to meet your heroes.

Above all? Take everything in, treat yourself to the expensive Badminton polo top, accept that calories don’t count if you eat while walking, and have the best time. You’ve got the rest of your life to recover!

Badminton Links: WebsiteEntriesForm GuideCourse Map, EN’s CoverageLive Stream, Course Preview