This weekend I went down to London with a few friends to attend the London International Horse Show, or as I know it, Olympia! I’ve never been before, I don’t own a horse and I don’t know how to ride, but I really enjoy watching horses and Olympia is famous in the dog agility world for being one of the best arenas and atmospheres to compete in. Each year there are qualifiers held to compete in the semi-finals and finals held at Olympia. I’ve heard some competitors rate the Olympia experience as being better than Crufts.
We got up early and entered the arena just after 9am to watch the Large Senior Agility Semi-Finals. There were the usual big wigs competing, Lee Gibson, Lee Windeatt, Bonnie Quick, Greg Derrett, Lauren Langman etc. It’s always great to get a chance to see how they run their dogs plus watch that even they can make mistakes.
Due to the size of the arena the course was spacious with a long straight line finish. I think some of these G7 dogs hadn’t seen such a straight line in a while as some were pulling off and stopping to turn back to look for their owners who had run out of puff.
After the agility we watched some horse jumping, The Dodson & Horrell and World Class Programme Under 23 Championships to be precise. It was inspiring to see these under 23s taking charge of the horses and tackling the course, although you could see the difference in experience from these guys to the older professionals. One lad took a nasty fall at a jump and the horse spooked around the ring for several minutes before calming down. Luckily the rider and the horse were okay and left the ring in one piece.
It was now time to saunter around the stalls. Shopping! One of my great joys and I do love the equestrian clothing brands. It was quite a modestly sized hall full of stalls, not quite as big as I was expecting. Not tiny but we were done after a couple of hours taking our time. I managed to keep myself form adding another stripy fleece to my collection and only bought a pink Lazy Jacks fleece and a spotty purse. There wasn’t a great variety in stalls but enough to keep you busy I suppose. We especially enjoying sitting on the massage chairs for a little while and trying samples of cheese and sloe gin.
We opted for Pizza Express for lunch and enjoyed having a rest with a nice meal. The atmosphere in the restaurant was really lively with loud house music playing in the open kitchen while the chefs spun and tossed pizza dough around.
After a final wander around the shops and another sit down we went into the main arena for our time slot, the evening entertainment. It started off with the FEI World CupTM Driving Leg, 4 horses pulling a cart. Wow I have never seen anything so nerve-wrecking yet exhilarating in my life! The horses wove in and out of tight obstacles, narrowly fitting through a gap at speeds of 20mph and doing 360 turns around blocks. The front horses were really working, directing the team and they were at right angles to the rear horses as they turned. It was absolutely amazing.
It got a little scary when one of the horses slipped on the bridge but then quickly found its footing again, however the real shocker was as one team crossed the finish line one of the horses fell and couldn’t get up while the cart was still being pulled along by the other horses. The driver jumped from the cart and I think he was trying to stop the horses and the other team mates all jumped out as people from all over the ring ran over to try to stop the horses. It all happened so quickly I’m not quite sure what went on, but thankfully the horse was back up and everyone was okay, although one of the people from the cart looked in a lot of pain.
In sport you push yourself to the limit for competition and in sport involving animals you are making the choice to push the animals to their limit. Their health and safety is paramount but there are always risks.
Everyone was all okay and the team came back out for the awards as they had finished in 3rd place.
Phew, I think we needed a lie down after watching that!
Next came the agility final and it was a fast, flowing course that was a real test of speed for the handlers and dogs. Greg Derrett set down the fastest time and one of his closest competitors, Lee Windeatt and Pip were eliminated. Bonnie Quick gave us another show of her dogs absolutely amazing running dog walk and was on track to win but she ran out of steam on the final stretch and the dog pulled away to find her, then ran past the final jump for a refusal. Noooooooooo! Ah so close. It was an exciting final to watch.
After all that excitement we sat back and enjoyed the magical display by Jean-Fancoise Pignon, working 10 horses all together, they circled around him, walked in a line, lay down and the Shetland pony even put its front hoofs up on one of the other ponies back. Amazing. I love the feeling of watching something impressive and having no idea how they do it. That sense of wonder, amazement and curiosity is very special I think.
After this came the Shetland Pony Grand National, we all picked a number and my horse won! Yeah, champion! It’s so much fun to watch. Next was the Musical Ride of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. Another entertaining display with a drummer on a stunning shire and a small brass band playing for a brilliant team of riders holding lances in one hand. They did that scary manoeuvre where they go in two teams riding diagonal across the arena trying not to hit each other. It’s awesome to watch.
After a short interval it was time for some more show jumping, the Christmas Tree Stakes. The big names were in this one, Scott Brash, Cian O’Connor and of course the Whitaker family, Michael, John & William were all competing in this one. It was impressive to see the professionals making it look so effortless and controlled, despite there being some lively horses. As the jump off started we were cheering for William, hoping he could beat his Dad and Uncle, and he did! Hurrah.
All that was left was the finale, with a funny display involving the knights of the round tables, jousting, sword fights, dancing, Father Christmas and carol singing, it left us feeling very Christmassy!
We walked back outside just after 11pm and strolled back to collapse in our hotel room. What a fantastic day out. I was absolutely buzzing, the events, the displays and the stalls paired with some delightful company all made for a fantastic day. I’m so so glad I went. It’s been really inspiring watching both the agility and the horses, seeing people absolutely dedicated to their discipline with their animals and performing at the top of their game.