After going for several years, this year we decided to be wild and go to a daytime performance of The Horse of the Year Show at Olympia, not our normal evening routine. Described as “The World’s Best Equestrian Christmas Party” it’s a brilliant horsey time to get you fully into the festive spirit. Lasting seven days and a differing programme each day, you’re sure to never have the same experience twice.
The London Olympia HOTY is the only show in the UK to feature FEI level Jumping, Driving, and Dressage at one event, and they draw the best of the best in all the sports. There are also numerous exhibitions from other sports and equine novelties.
The afternoon began with the jumping competition, the ‘Santa Stakes’. At the end of the week, Scott Brash claimed victory in the World Cup show jumping event.
Then, of course, the mandatory shetland pony grand national! 11 ponies raced around the track and it was neck to neck. Sadly the rider who should have won (no 4) slipped off her sadle in the final few metres and 1st place went to the rider second over the line (and a fair few seconds behind).
Whilst watching a family member compete, Clare Balding had been dragged into the arena to say a few quick words.
Nick Skelton gave a Q+A in preparation for his sports personality of the year appearance, where he came third. Apparently he once streaked through the Olympia arena back in the day! Amazingly at 58, he’s still going strong and won gold at the Rio Olympics earlier this year.Shopping was full of the usual horsey stalls, but probably not as good as the stalls at actual eventing shows.
It’s looking lovely and empty here, as we sacrificed missing the dog agility to have a quick trot around the shops.
Unfortunately we missed the most of Santi Serra, a sort of horse-whisperer performance where we caught the final few seconds of his dogs happily lounging atop one of his horses, who he describes as ‘actors’. You’ll absolutely believe it when he says he communicates to animals through mind and body. The amazing relationship they share is breaktaking, you can see some of his work here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7dEJuBKG28 Skip to 2.48 to see his dog collabs.
The Dodson & Horrell Extreme Driving was the penultimate performance. I haven’t seen much carriage driving before and it was a close contender for my favourite event of the day! Boyd Excell won the FEI Driving Cup Challenge, and rightfully so! You can watch his twists and turns here.
On top of the obstacles are tennis balls, one small nudge and if just one of those balls slips off, that’s an extra 5 seconds added to your time. The two people at the back of the carriage (the pushers) are used to steer the wheels and extra for balance and accuracy when driving through the cones. The carriages can fly through the bridge at around 30mph.
Another of my favourites was the ‘The Pride of Portugal’ Lusitano display, an dazzling performance of 16 stallions displaying perfect Piaffe’s and Passage one handed to music, it was surprisingly emosh!
From the same origin as the Andalusian, the Lusitano horses was originally developed for war and bull-fighting but nowadays are admired for their extravagant movement, ease of working with riders and the way they carry their heads held high. You can read more about them on The Gaitpost.
Aged 14 and winning 3 Olympic gold medals in his dressage career, Charlotte Dujardin’s Valegro was retired at Olympia this week. Though she said he’ll still continue to do celebrity appearances and demonstrations.
Although we didn’t see it at our afternoon performance, Olympia is well known for their Christmas Puissance, where horse and rider compete to jump the highest bar. The record is held by Patric Caron (France) who jumped 7 feet, 5.5 inches in 1980. In 2006, John Whitaker, Robert Whitaker, and Markus Fuchs had a three-way tie at an incredible height of 7 feet 4 inches.
A few facts, over the week…:
- Over 1,880 bottles of champagne are popped
- 12,000 hot drinks are served
- 290 stables will be put up for around 400 horses, 32 tonnes of bedding will keep those equine stars comfortable, plus 50 bales of hay and 82 bales of haylage for them to munch
- The Christmas finale racks up 26 litres of liquid snow fall from the roof over the week
- 8,000 pizzas will be sold at Pizza Express Olympia
- Laura Kraut was the only American to compete during the week this year.
Sadly the Christmas finale was a little disappointing this year, usually there are horses jumping through flaming hoops and so much action you don’t know where the look. This years had a circus theme, a few dancers mulled around the arena making it look quite empty whilst two knights and one ‘baddie’ knight did a few laps before Father Christmas came out on his horse drawn carriage. The Christmas carols were drastically shortened and the audience weren’t encouraged to join in, also the national anthem was cut.
Overall it’s always a brilliant event, even if you’re not a horsey person it hard not to be amazed at the skill and technique of horse and rider.
Some of the smaller events were live streamed on www.olympiahorseshow.com, and the FEI events available on FEI TV. #OlympiaHorse
We finished the day with Thai at The Churchill, perfect!