British venue revives horse trials after 20-year hiatus

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David Howden with his wife, Fiona, and three daughters in front of Cornbury House.
David Howden with his wife, Fiona, and three daughters in front of Cornbury House. © Rupert Gibson Photography

Starting a new equestrian event this year is a brave move given the uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, but a British man is determined to see a historic equestrian venue spring into life again.

When he moved there 2017, David Howden learned that Cornbury House in Oxfordshire was the site of an eventing competition from 1993 to 2000. Given his family’s love of and deep connection with horses, he was inspired to bring the Cornbury House Horse Trials back to the eventing calendar. The insurance tycoon has a 10-year lease on Cornbury Park, Lord Rotherwick’s Oxfordshire family seat.

With the help of experienced organisers Richard Clapham and Pattie Biden, cross-country course-designer David Evans and course-builder Adrian Ditcham and their teams, Howden has brought his dream to fruition. The inaugural event will take place between September 11 and 13, and will feature substantial prize-money for the senior international classes.

David Howden on the newly levelled and turfed main arena of the horse trials.
David Howden on the newly levelled and turfed main arena of the horse trials. © Rupert Gibson Photography

Cornbury House Horse Trials will stage international classes at CCI3*-S and CCI2*-S level, and national novice and intermediate classes. It will also host two NAF-sponsored Youth Performance sections at CCI3*-S and CCI2*-S, offering opportunities for the country’s best under-21 riders in a year in which many of their principal targets have been lost.

“It has been quite a challenge; first last winter’s weather held up our plans, and then along comes Covid-19,” Howden said. “For me, Cornbury House Horse Trials has always been about three things: The riders, the horses and their owners. I really wanted to focus on the sport, and to do that, we needed to be able to produce exactly the right conditions for them, which has meant considerable investment.

“We are delighted to be able to offer high levels of prize-money — £2500 to the winner of the CCI3*-S and £1250 to the winner of the CCI2*-S — in our first year, and we can’t wait to welcome riders and owners to this spectacular setting in September.”

Cornbury Estate.

The event site has the ancient woodlands of the Wychwood Forest as a backdrop and looks down on Cornbury House and the town of Charlbury. Although this year’s horse trials is likely to be held without spectators, in accordance with government guidelines regarding sporting events, the event will be filmed and broadcast so that fans and those connections to the participants who are unable to be there don’t miss out. Howden plans that in future years, the event will reflect his passion for sustainability and the importance of the local community, with locally produced food and goods available to visitors but with all the technology and innovation of a major sporting occasion.

“We want to offer a lovely day out with thrilling sport in a magnificent setting,” he said. “We are determined to put Cornbury House Horse Trials on in 2020 with the very high standards that we always envisaged.”

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