This year's Badminton Horse trials are under way and run until Bank Holiday Monday
AFTER last year's wash-out, expectations are high as the world's top riders converge on Gloucestershire to compete in this year's Badminton Horse Trials.
A year on from their Olympic achievements, the cream of the equestrian crop includes Germany's dual gold medalist and world and European champion Michael Jung, and Badminton veteran, New Zealander Andrew Nicholson.
All eyes will be on the royals. A favourite with Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge in previous years, the event sees the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips hoping for success on High Kingdom and the Duchess of Cornwall presenting the prizes following the final phase on Monday.
A patron of the British Equestrian Federation, Camilla has a lifelong enthusiasm for everything horse and is a regular at the May trials.
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Since yesterday, thousands of people have been pouring into the Duke of Beaufort's parkland to watch British eventing's premier competition.
It started with the Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse Class yesterday.
Today and tomorrow sees the dressage phases completed and on Sunday, it's the thrills and spills of the much-anticipated cross-country section – the most demanding test of the lot.
On Monday, riders will compete in the elite showjumping phase for the Badminton crown.
After the event was dramatically cancelled last year because of heavy rains, eventing fans and socialites alike are keener than ever to grab a piece of the equestrian action.
Badminton's huge Shopping Village draws the crowds, with high-end retailers like Dubarry and Tetbury-based Moloh and jolly country sorts Joules on the books. If you're splashing the cash, there's everything from Scandinavian barbecue huts to state-of-the-art horse lorries.
This area includes a Country Living marquee, festival of food, rural crafts and a horse village where you can pick up everything from hoof picks and wellies to the finest saddles.
Badminton's annual designated charity this year will be Alzheimer's Research UK, which will be recognised by one of the cross-country fences.
Ticket prices start at £13, rising to £26 for Sunday's cross-country spectacle. Admission is free for children aged 12 and under and vehicle passes cost £12 each day. Dogs are welcome – preferably chocolate Labs and scruffy terriers.
So dig out your Dubarrys, pack up a Champagne picnic and spend an afternoon in the sunshine on one of Gloucestershire's most glorious estates. Helen Blow