Behind the scenes at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials
We go behind the scenes of Oxfordshire’s biggest sporting event
Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials has been running since 1990 and is one of the leading and largest three-star horse trials in the world. It’s also the largest sporting event in Oxfordshire, attracting around 60,000 visitors each year to watch the world’s leading event riders and some of their best horses.
This year the event takes place between September 13 and 17 and welcomes a new title sponsor in Ssangyong Motors, the Korean 4x4 manufacturer who are set to take the market by storm with their affordable and stylish new Rexton model, which is to be unveiled at the horse trials.
Ssangyong’s investment in the event has allowed the organisers to upgrade the facilities that visitors and participants enjoy, and there is much excitement from everyone involved – but who makes it all happen?
On event there are over 600 officials, most of whom are unpaid volunteers who give up their time to undertake a multitude of roles to make sure the whole event, from the initial horse inspection on Wednesday to the final of the show jumping on Sunday afternoon, goes as smoothly as possible.
Behind this ‘army’ of stewards, secretaries, judges, commentators, buggy drivers, grooms and scorers, there is a key team who make sure that, with everything from the initial contractors’ quotes through to the final tickets being sent, every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed.
The core office team, fittingly, live in the servants’ quarters of Blenheim Palace for most of the year. They are responsible for the planning, administration and implementation of the event and are supported by a steering group made up of representatives of event owners British Eventing, and some passionate non executives who bring a raft of skills and contacts. The core team are joined on site in the last few weeks before the event by the course and site team, who prepare and build the site and course before the FEI officials, heads of department and their staff of volunteers arrive, and the event goes live.
Event director Mandy Hervieu originally worked as commercial manager for a previous title sponsor (Petplan Equine) and enjoyed working with the, then, Blenheim team so much she joined the committee and later the office team. “My background is in sponsorship, commercial and marketing,” she explains. So as well as having overall accountability for the budgets and strategy for the event, she is also particularly keen on how the event is promoted and attracts sponsorship and spectators as well as the ‘look and feel’.
Event secretary Shelley Bacon joined in 2011, after having worked at Blair Horse Trials as a summer student. An excellent administrator, she is in charge of the plans and paperwork for the event’s many contractors who build the facilities, as well as making sure the needs of the volunteer army and on-event competitors are met.
Emily Bradford, event administrator, is a relatively new recruit, having just joined the team this year from the Horse Trust. As well
as doing much of the in-house design work, she looks after the 225+ trade stands and the on-event attractions and displays, as well as organises the Sunday ‘fun ride’ for local riders.
Abbie Roobottom is this year’s intern. Helping the team with general administration, paperwork and ticket enquiries, she has a mixed and varied role including taking over the administration for the eventer challenge classes leading up to the event, and says she is learning fast!
Catherine Austen is the final member of the office team. A freelance PR consultant, she manages the media office on site and liaises with the press during the year on behalf of the event.
The course team, led by Olympic and European course builder David Evans, pops in throughout the year to check the site and the ground conditions, but mainly appear in the summer between their many jobs throughout the UK and Europe. They arrive ‘en masse’ a few weeks before the event and put all of the ‘mobile’ (if you have a handy forklift) fences in place, securing, painting, sanding and decorating them and bringing in some of the new ones that they have made in their workshops over the winter.
Supplementing the course team are the site team who make sure that the contractors observe health and safety requirements, and the rules and regulations that events have to comply with. During the event they make sure operationally everything runs smoothly and on-event there is a team of heads of department who each have responsibility for an aspect of the event manage during the event.
Everyone involved with the event is very passionate and all wear #Teamblenheim on their shirts with pride.
But for the core office team it’s a year-round job – from October when the previous year has been ‘wrapped up’ and invoices are paid, reports written and performances analysed, there is always something to do! Each year’s event starts with getting quotes for facilities and services, setting up systems to book tickets and trade stands or register volunteers, meeting and putting together ideas for business partners and all of the administration which goes with an event of this size. The exciting bit, however, according to the team is in the last few weeks when all the plans come to fruition and the empty parkland becomes a sea of marquees and structures. They love seeing hundreds of horses arrive in their trailers and lorries and the public descend in thousands through the gates.
Each year #Teamblenheim strives to make the event just that little bit better with the motto ‘1% improvement on 100 things’. Find out more about all the exciting things which are happening at this year’s Ssangyong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials and book your tickets at www.blenheimhorse.co.uk