They come, primarily, to watch intrepid horses and riders jump dauntingly testing fences that most of us would never consider tackling in a month of Sundays. Hugh Thomas, director and course designer, has no compunction about frightening the living daylights out of the riders, but he is ever anxious to avoid hurting the horses.
Badminton's inaugural contest, back in 1949, was prophetically called "The Most Important Horse Event in Great Britain." It was born as a result of the dismal British performance in the Olympic three-day event of 1949, when it was held at Aldershot.
Having watched the annihilation of the home riders, the last Duke of Beaufort decided to host an annual contest in which Britons could gain experience in the all-round test of dressage, speed, endurance, cross- country and show jumping. Ten years later the present Duke (then David Somerset) was runner-up on Countryman III.
Badminton is now the greatest and the oldest three-day event in the world. It attracts all the leading international riders (the winners of the last four Olympic Games are competing here this weekend) and it boasts an enormous outdoor shopping centre.
The 288 trade stands, where you can buy everything from clothes to cookers, will have unloaded a huge quantity of goods over the four days. This morning will be particularly profitable, for regulars know that they have to arrive early on cross-country morning in order to avoid the traffic jams. What better than to breakfast here at one of the food stalls before going on a shopping spree?
Thomas has no worries about this year's traders failing to book for 1999. He already has a long waiting list of those who are eager to fill any vacancy.
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