Defender Burghley Horse Trials 2024

Defender Burghley Horse Trials 2024

One of the most prestigious and exciting events in the UK sporting calendar, the Defender Burghley Horse Trials will be returning this September, complete with its lavish shopping village – this time with even more to surprise and delight. We spoke to Event Director, Martyn Johnson, to find out more...

The Burghley Horse Trials are as well known for the niche and high-end shopping as they are for the equestrian displays. How do you go about balancing the two events – between the casual attendees and serious sports fans?
It’s something that we discuss a lot. Fundamentally, for me, our event is one of the world’s leading horse trials, in fact probably one of the world’s leading sporting occasions overall – in the same league as Wimbledon. But obviously, the horse trials mean different things to different people – many will come to the event who don’t actually have an interest in horses: we have our 600 exhibition stands that cater to shopping, for example, which is always done to a high level, and we’re very careful about how we curate that experience. So, all of the lifestyle element of the event is something we do focus on, and we fit around that with the food walk – featuring niche, local businesses – and we’re also investing in new breakout areas. For example, we introduced a garden last year on Avenue H, which is down towards the bottom end of the Showground and has a champagne bar. Other parts of the show have to be relevant as well – we have big screens showing the action for people to watch, for example. It’s all about developing the event in the right way for all those people who love to come.

Defender Burghley Horse Trials 2024Although it’s only a few days, the Trials must take a lot of work that stretches well beyond that. Tell us a bit about the lead-up to the event
The event takes a month to build, yet it’s something that takes place over just four days. The central part of the park at Burghley – which is open all year – has a regulated, fenced space called the CDM (Construction, Design and Management) area, and this allows us to build the event site and the cross-country course. In turn, work on the course itself starts back in December of the previous year; by the time we reach the 2024 event, the course designer – who visits four times a year from America – will already be planning for the track in 2025!

How do you balance providing a new, interesting and exciting course each year with a heritage landscape that presumably needs protecting?
Our sport at Burghley is widely renowned as one of the more challenging courses across the country, largely due to its terrain and topography. Of course we also have the very beautiful and historic, Capability Brown-designed parkland – which sets the scene and provides us with a real canvas to work from – but it also presents some challenges. We have to be very aware of protecting certain areas of the park, for example the many historic oak trees, and this is always fundamental to planning across the site, not just the course, but also the central hub where the exhibitors are located. And it’s what sets Burghley apart as an event – the setting. Without it, we would just be like any other event in a field.

Defender Burghley Horse Trials 2024What, for you, are the stand-out elements besides the equestrian eventing?
If you have never been before, then when you turn up for the first time – you’ve probably never seen anything like it! It really is a very special setting. And of course the horse trials are primary to that, but there’s so much more to it – whether you want to go up and look at the house [closed for the event] as a backdrop or just spend time in the grounds, it really is a very special place. And whether you want to explore the trade spaces, sit and drink champagne, watch on the big screen, or catch up with friends, it’s also a very social occasion. For me, the retail and food offer has always been a highlight – we’re not and never have been about having a mass of stuff you could find easily elsewhere.

Is there anything new visitors can look forward to this year?
We have introduced a youth ticket for the first time, for 12- to 16-year- olds and older – they will receive a reduction in the cost of entry. We’ve also introduced a new restaurant, where people can book ahead of the event for seated, waiter-service dining.

WIN – two tickets to the Defender Burghley Horse Trials!

Simply answer the following question: who designed the parkland at Burghley (the clue is in the article!). Answers should be emailed to by 12pm, 3 June 2024. You can find our competition T&Cs here.

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