Let's face it, there’s so much to love about the London International Horse Show — inspirational dressage, pulsating jump-offs, high-speed Shetlands and everyone’s in the festive spirit. But just to give you a flavour of what’s happening at this year’s show (13-19 December), we bring you our top eight reasons not to miss a second of the seven-day extravaganza…
1. It’s going to be emotional
The nation’s favourite dressage horse will have his official retirement ceremony on Wednesday evening. Although his final competitive outing was at the Rio Olympics, this will be his formal departure from the competition spotlight. The 14-year-old gelding has nothing left to prove and no more records to break. His team have decided that he will retire at the top of his game, though he will continue to be exercised and appear in demos. Watch out for his emotive freestyle, which Charlotte will ride through on Wednesday.
2. Jockeys showjumping? Brace yourselves…
The biggest clash of the week could come at 6.45pm on Friday, 16 December, when the Flat jockeys take on their National Hunt counterparts in the Markel Champions Challenge in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) — a team relay over the coloured poles that is sure to be fast, furiously competitive and a lot of fun. H&H joined representatives Frankie Dettori and Victoria Pendleton at Nick Skelton’s yard last month where they were put through their paces ahead of this new challenge for them both.
“We went to Olympia last year with the kids to watch and I loved it all, it was such a great atmosphere — so I volunteered myself for the challenge this year saying, ‘I want to do it!’” says Frankie, who has borrowed Tim and Polly Gredley’s showjumper Unex Barrichello for the competition. “We have a great team and obviously the jump jockeys will have some advantage, but we all ride horses day in day out and have been competitive throughout our lives, so when we get there and feel the crowd and adrenalin takes over I know what’s going to happen. I’m taking on the challenge!”
A double Olympic gold medallist in cycling, Victoria added: “I’ve only seen TV clips, but everyone’s told me how fabulous the show is — from the Shetland Pony Grand National to the incredible showjumping, they’ve all said I’ll have a blast. So I can’t wait to go, for my own selfish cause but also to do some good for the IJF too.”
Victoria’s team will be led by champion jockey Richard Johnson, with Harry Skelton, Tom Scudamore and Sam Twiston-Davies.
Joining Frankie on the Flat team will be Hayley Turner, Jamie Spencer, Adam Kirby and champion Jim Crowley. Will we see a flying dismount from Frankie if he wins? One very good reason not to miss it.
3. A brick in the wall — how high will they go?
The puissance is a sell-out year after year — and with good reason, as some of the world’s best riders and horses show the utmost courage to clear the vertiginous heights of 7ft-plus in this challenge. Take your seats on the evening of Thursday, 16 December, for some thrills, and possibly spills.
4. More Olympic and Paralympic euphoria
We thought it couldn’t get any better than London 2012, then Rio rocked our summer. The 11-medal equestrian haul was simply spectacular and on Friday, 16 December, the Team GB and Paralympics GB heroes will take part in a celebratory parade.
Prepare to cheer very loudly as triple gold medallist Charlotte Dujardin, double Olympic champion Nick Skelton, Carl Hester, Spencer Wilton, Fiona Bigwood, Lee Pearson, SPOTY nominee Sophie Christiansen, Sophie Wells, Anne Dunham and Natasha Baker, plus their horses’ owners, enter the Grand Hall.
“It has been a great year for equestrian sport and what better way to celebrate than to share the moment with some of our fantastic supporters,” says BEF chief executive Clare Salmon.
5. It’s great to be British right now
It’s been a hugely successful year for British riders, and at Olympia we can also celebrate the best of British ponies. Four Fell ponies are due to bid for the Blue Chip Native BSPS Heritage title on Monday, 19 December, but the defending champion — Rebecca Penny’s Townend Schubert — will be absent.
Several more native pony breeds will compete against them, including one Exmoor, Shetland and New Forest pony. They will be joined in the arena by some of the best Connemaras, Highlands, Dartmoors and Welsh ponies in the business.
6. From Shetlands to shopping — entertainment for all
As well as the big competitions, Olympia is famed for its fabulous entertainment. Headliners this year include Santi Serra and the Portuguese Lusitanos, the Shetland Pony Grand National, the Kennel Club dog agility and the famous Finale, which always has the crowd on their feet. Plus, the shopping village has had a makeover so if you’re struggling for that perfect gift, make sure you visit the mind-blowing array of shops.
7. Taking driving to the extreme
Occasionally they like to ramp things right up in carriage driving and at 3.30pm on Thursday, 15 December, extreme driving hits the Grand Hall with a very loud bang. It’s a fantastic spectacle not to be missed. Then on 16 and 17 December there are points to play for in the FEI World Cup driving leg.
Britain’s representative will once again be stuntman Dan Naprous, who has got the wildcard to compete at Olympia for the third year running. Lining up will be five-time winner Boyd Exell, surely the one to beat, while Koos De Ronde is always competitive and won the series in 2013. This year’s youngest competitor will be 24-year-old József Dobrovitz Jr.
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8. The world’s best riders all under one roof
The FEI World Cup dressage (13-14 December) sees an illustrious field lining up, including Brits Carl Hester, Laura Tomlinson and Emile Faurie, as well as the Dutch darlings Edward Gal and Hans Peter Minderhoud.
The feature jumping classes, the Longines FEI World Cup on Sunday (2.35pm, 18 December) and the grand prix on Monday night (19 December), should produce some epic battles between top British riders, including Scott Brash, William Funnell, Ben Maher, Laura Renwick and John and Michael Whitaker. They go up against a high-class field of international raiders, such as Marcus Ehning (GER), Harrie Smolders (NED), Steve Guerdat (SUI), Peder Fredricson (SWE) and Daniel Deusser (GER).
Ref: Horse & Hound; 8 December