DIRE weather conditions have meant a grim start to the event season so there was a collective sigh of relief this weekend as the local eventers were out in force, making hay while the sun shone, writes NICKI STRONG.

Final preparations are under way for many Badminton combinations with just under a month to go, including 2010 winner Paul Tapner and his gelding Kilronan.

The pair came second in their Advanced class at Weston Park with no jumping penalties and a strong dressage.

Tapner said: “Weston Park was a perfect prep run for Badminton. Kilronan will run again this weekend at Belton, as we need to have a little practice in the higher profile atmosphere that Belton can offer which is somewhat more similar to what we will experience at Badminton.

“Kilronan stands a very good chance of an exceptional result at Badminton.”

Membury-based Laura Collett was competing in the Advanced at Weston, too, with Rayef and Noble Bestman, who were first and second respectively at Lincolnshire just weeks before.

Noble Bestman finished ninth with a double clear, and Collett’s top horse Rayef looked on course for a win after a dressage of 22.9 and just four faults showjumping, until two from home across country when they became unstuck.

Thankfully, horse and rider were unharmed, and both Rayef and Noble Bestman will have a final pre-Badminton run next week at Belton.

Collett’s other highlights included second for Obos Cooley at Intermediate, and her two BE100 debutantes both came sixth in their sections at Aston-Le-Walls.

Elsewhere, Sir Mark Todd suffered disappointment with Olympic horse NZB Campino, who has been withdrawn from Badminton after sustaining a minor injury at Fontainebleau. His 2013 campaign for a fifth title will now rely upon Ravenstar and Major Milestone.

Todd was placed at Weston in the Intermediate, before returning to Wiltshire for a couple of Novice runs at Larkhill – two from three gaining a top-10 finish.

Young talent Tom McEwen and ex-racehorse Dry Old Party recorded a respectable dressage and clear showjumping at South of England, but elected to withdraw before cross country, saving his Badminton-bound horse for Belton instead.

Back in Wiltshire, the newly Barbury based Lissa Green (daughter of eventing royalty David and Lucinda) and Georgie Spence both had placings at Larkhill BE100, and Lissa’s CTS So What had a great first run of the season at Novice (HC) before heading to Belton CIC**.