Gatcombe Horse Trials: The Unofficial Guide
Gatcombe Horse Trials is held in the grounds of Gatcombe House, home to HRH, The Princess Royal and her family. Gatcombe is in Gloucestershire, the same county as its bigger neighbour, the Badminton Horse Trials, both located in the heart of the Cotswolds. However, unlike the Badminton Horse Trials, Gatcombe brings quite a different offering to the sporting calendar.
Home for 34 years to the Festival of British Eventing, Gatcombe is a smaller, more intimate event than its famous neighbour but nevertheless, a real smorgasbord of top-class riding in a beautiful location. The estate was offered by The Princess Royal and Captain Mark Phillips as a way of putting something back into the sport they had both derived so much enjoyment from.
Located near Minchinhampton in a part of Gloucestershire designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the naturally hilly terrain has a huge influence on the cross country course at Gatcombe as well as offering spectacular viewing opportunities for the spectators.
The Festival of Eventing offers the chance to see top riders and some lesser known names at the three main levels of the sport of eventing, novice, intermediate and advanced. Gatcombe offers prestigious championships for all three sections and runs for three days over a weekend in early August. All disciplines run on all the days apart from the cross country which does not start until Saturday, but does carry on all weekend. This is a chance to see some top names with their up and coming horses and also some lesser known faces experiencing the big time.
What Can You Expect at Gatcombe Horse Trials?
Well, the usual beautiful backdrop which British Eventing courses seem to excel at and the tempting shopping village without which no large horse trials would be complete. There is an eclectic mix of exhibitors in the shopping village catering for every equine whim, plus other themes such as gardening and crafts are well represented. The Rural Crafts Association always has a selection of stands at Gatcombe.
Apart from the main competitions, there is also plenty going in the smaller rings including Pony Club team show jumping and Burghley Young Event Horse classes.
What Should You Wear?
Gatcombe does not have a dress code, so most visitors opt for the smart/casual country look. Tweed is always a staple favourite, smart enough for the rural vibe, but easy to wear and ultimately breathable and practical for whatever the weather may do. A tweed coat is ideal, smart, functional, full of useful pockets, comfortable and practical. Both men and women favour tweed coats and waistcoats, they are simply stylish, long lasting and very comfortable.
It is possible to buy tickets on the day at the gate but the park can only take a certain number of visitors – the usual footfall is around 40,000. So there is always a risk that the ticket allocation will be full and you may not be able to gain entry on the day. Always better, therefore, to buy in advance and it is usually cheaper as well.
Accommodation and Travel
There are lots to choose from in this beautiful part of the Cotswolds – Gatcombe is located near Minchinhampton – so plenty of pretty self-catering cottages and farmhouse B&B in abundance. But Gatcombe supporters book from year to year so you need to plan well ahead and because Gatcombe runs in early August, you are also competing with the school summer holidays, so nice accommodation may be hard to find if you leave it too late. Gatcombe is also well located for the Cotswold towns of Stroud, Tetbury and Cirencester which offer plenty of hotels and coaching inns if you are looking for accommodation that is more town-based. The Festival does not offer any overnight camping or facilities for caravans.
Road links are excellent as Gatcombe is within striking distance of the M5 and the M4 motorways.
Gatcombe is a smaller, cosier event perhaps than some of its famous neighbours. It has a feel much more redolent of a normal BE event that many of the spectators might actually compete at with a liberal dash of local country fair thrown in for good measure. The topography of the estate makes for some challenging riding but strangely seems to create quite a low key, serene and peaceful atmosphere, well for the spectators anyway. Gatcombe is well worth a visit for those that want to perhaps see a different dimension to the sport; it is accessible and welcoming with the key ingredients of top-class sport, quality retail and the most stunning location.