Gareth Hughes on London International: ‘The team behind the show create the magic’


  • WORLD CUP shows tend to be known by the city they are in, but the London International Horse Show has always been known as Olympia, as that venue is just so iconic. So when it had to move to the ExCeL centre through circumstance, we had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know where the ExCeL was.

    But what we learnt was that it is as much the team that run the show that create the magic it is known for, as the venue. The organisers did an amazing job and deserve all the praise they get. With such a large venue, it could have had a rather sterile feel, or seem just like any other World Cup show, but it didn’t – it had a wonderful London International feel to it, with all the Christmas magic we loved at Olympia.

    A more horse-friendly venue

    WHEN it comes to logistics and the horses’ facilities, being at the ExCeL was great. At Olympia, we had to unload on the road in London and the parking was about an hour-and-a-half away. But this year, we could unload in the building and park at the venue too, which made everything easier. Generally, the venue was more horse friendly than Olympia, in terms of the stables, the space and the working-in area – which was three times the size of the one at Olympia.

    The arena rode very well, too, with a great surface. There was a little more space in there than at Olympia, where there was only just room for a horse between the judges’ tables and the edge, with the spectators very close. It’s amazing what a difference a few metres make – at the ExCeL, there was more space to trot around the outside, but you still felt very connected to the public.

    Welcoming crowds

    WITH everything we have been through in the pandemic, and everything we are going through again right now with Omicron, we were unsure what the show would be like in terms of spectators, but the show had a really electric feel to it. It’s great to ride in front of a home crowd too, and the crowd at London International is always so special in that they are as supportive of the foreign riders as they are of us British competitors.

    It makes me feel proud to be British – it’s not easy for foreign riders to make the trip and cross the Channel to compete here, so it makes me feel very proud when our crowds are so welcoming. They just wanted good sport, and we got that.

    Of course, we all felt very sad for Nanna Skodborg Merrald, who was eliminated from the freestyle under blood rules, and that was so unfortunate, but as a whole it was such a good evening of sport.

    As a rider it is very interesting – at a lot of competitions, you come and you ride and then you walk away from the arena and visit the rest of the show, but at London International, all the riders stick around after riding and watch everyone else. There is just a slightly different feel and a lot of camaraderie.

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 23 December

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