Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz making those fences look small... Badminton 2008, taken by Katharine Begley

Badminton promises to be an absolutely fantastic competition in this key Olympic year. Some of the main Team U.K. hopefuls intend to run there, usual team pathfinders Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz being a notable example.

The early glimpses we’ve had of the new fences have been tantalising – there’s an Owl Hole at what looks like a bounce distance on top of the bank, which sounds like a first, the bottom of the Quarry has a new huge skinny log, and the Sunken Road has been getting a major facelift over the winter.

Who might lead the dressage? The smart money is always on any of the real dressage specialists: Ruth Edge, Laura Collett and Bettina Hoy, or any other visiting Germans – Michael Jung in particular. But everyone will have been taking their dressage very seriously through the winter (I know of at least one 4* horse who stayed in work all winter to absolutely nail the dressage) so there could be some really nice surprises between the white boards. Let’s hope the atmosphere doesn’t get to any of the Olympic hopefuls, although the atmosphere at the Olympics will probably be even more exciting, so it’ll be a great dress rehearsal.

Combinations I’m really looking forward to watching, especially on the cross-country:

Oliver Townend on new ride Armada, generously sent his way by usual rider Andrew Nicholson, who has a plethora of 4* horses at his disposal and therefore could not guarantee Armada a run at a Spring 4*. Since Armada is one of those very rare horses who views even 4* fences with total distain, they should be very interesting to watch!

Francis Whittington with both Sir Percival and Easy Target. He gave the younger horse a lovely ride around Burghley last year after a silly early drive-past at the Leaf Pit skinny, and is always poetry in motion with Percy. A great dressage would put them right in contention for big prizes and a possible team place.

William Fox-Pitt on whichever 2 horses he takes, and Mary King, probably the other definite for the British Team, who has an exciting new ride in the stallion Chilli Morning.

Pippa Funnell. She has some very exciting horses coming up through the levels, but I’m not sure any are quite ready yet to place near the top of a 4* and earn her a team place. However I’d love to be proven wrong, especially since I’m a huge fan of her lovely big chestnut Redesigned.

Tina Cook on her fabulous Miners Frolic, back after such a worrying illness last year, having shown great form already at Ballindenisk CCI*** early this spring. He’s rock solid in all 3 phases and Tina does a fabulous job on him. I’d love to see them back on the team.

Laura Collett on Rayef needs to show that last year’s great Badminton result wasn’t a fluke, after their difficult time at the Europeans last year. She always presents her horses beautifully for the dressage so I’d expect a top-5 placing there, let’s hope the rest holds together again.

Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz. They’ve established themselves as Team pathfinders, and although his jump-jet style is a little strange his scope is genuinely breathtaking. (see pic!) He, like Armada, often looks as if he really needs a 5* course to give him something to do out there, he just plays with the 4* fences. See what I mean?!

Other Brits: exciting up and coming riders like Tom McEwen, Lauren Shannon, and Emily Llewelyn.
Some of the (very slightly!) older guard who could spring a surprise and secure a team place if they have the horsepower: Piggy French, Polly Stockton, Zara Phillips.

Of our ‘resident aliens’: I can’t wait to watch Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, and Bettina Hoy with her talented but über-sensitive Lanfranco GF. Vittoria Pannizon has Rock Model back after a lengthly lay-off due to injury, this pair are always stylish and speedy on the xc, I hope he’s tough enough to stay in the ‘big time’ again for her.

From overseas, Peter Atkins, the U.S. based Australian, and the wonderful Henny (Henry Jota Hampton), back on top form after a major colic op. He takes demanding lines to most fences to shave off seconds everywhere, but Henny responds and this tactic really works – they were the only combination to go inside the time at Red Hills CIC*** recently. The Run Henny Run fanclub over here is in its infancy, but if he has a great run round Badminton, he’ll win legions more fans.

Of course, if watching the horses gets tiresome, even as a Fully Certified Eventing Nut, there’s only so many dressage tests I can take, although XC is a different matter of course, once the course is walked (and it is always hugely impressive and makes me incredibly envious of those lucky enough to get to ride round there), there’s the shopping…

I’ll be going this year with a big list. I’m fussy and very specific in my requirements, so shopping online can be very expensive (buying specific items from lots of different websites, because I can’t find one which stocks all the makes I want) plus I like to feel fabrics of horse equipment, and try things on. So, trying to get there early is a must, because repeated trips back to the car might be necessary.  Unfortunately I drive a mini, a fairly small car, so my shopping will have to be slightly limited!