H&H interview Show organiser Nina Barbour on making Liverpool International a spectacle despite last year’s fire
Nina Barbour talks to Catherine Austen about her determination to make this year’s Liverpool International spectacular, despite last year’s devastating fire
NEW YEAR’S EVE 2017 isn’t one Nina Barbour will forget. It was when all her relentless hard work in delivering the Liverpool International Horse Show went up in smoke. That’s not a euphemism; the final session of the four-day show, its pinnacle New Year’s Eve performance, had to be cancelled in dramatic circumstances after a serious fire broke out in a multi-storey car park near to the show’s venue, the Echo Arena.
Thankfully no one was hurt and all horses and spectators were evacuated successfully, but all the vehicles in the car park were destroyed, leaving many people stranded.
“It was shattering for everyone involved,” says Nina, the show’s president and instigator. “People had put their faith in us for a special night on New Year’s Eve, and a year’s work and passion had gone into it. For it to finish like that was absolutely devastating.”
Last year’s events have made Nina and her team even more determined that this year will be a success. It will be the fourth running of the CSI4* show, which takes place in the heart of Liverpool at the Albert Dock.
“The biggest excitement about this year is doing New Year’s Eve properly,” she says.
“It’s quite unusual that, at the end of a show, riders and connections aren’t immediately packing up and going to the next competition. But due to the time of year, they are with us all night and get to have a party.
“We have top-notch jumping with the grand prix and a brilliant line-up of acts. We see in midnight with a very special production of music and fireworks in the main arena.”
TURNING a new show into a major hit in Britain is a challenge on the scale of William Tell firing his arrow into the apple on top of his son’s head — having first been blindfolded and spun round a couple of times.
Nina says: “I love the show and the concept. It’s a battle to keep it — I don’t think people realise how hard it is to get a venue like that to a point where it is sustainable, and we are
a long way away from that. But I had a vision for this show, I’m passionate about our product and I desperately want it to work.
“It has so much potential. It has great support from riders; the biggest challenge is getting the crowd in and there is so much competition out there for family entertainment. Times are tough and more than ever people are considering what they spend their cash on.”
Nina is delighted that Liverpool has a new title sponsor, Theraplate UK: “They are a really enthusiastic bunch of people who get what we are trying to do and have lots of ideas.”
Of course, Nina’s experience in running a show comes from Bolesworth, the CSI4* and CDI4* she runs at her family home, Bolesworth Castle in Cheshire.
“Bolesworth is building and growing all the time,” she says. “It remains a challenge — in some ways Liverpool is easier, because the arena and the infrastructure are already there.
“I always say I wish I had done a business degree, rather than a geography degree [from Cambridge], but at the same time I think learning by your mistakes is the most valuable way. We have fantastic people at home and we are undergoing a complete ‘brand refresh’ of everything that happens at Bolesworth to bring it under one umbrella.
“If you had asked me what I wanted for Bolesworth 10 years ago, I would have said I wanted it to be the biggest and best show in the world from the sport point of view. But Jan Tops has done unbelievable things with the Global Champions Tour — he has achieved the same model that Formula One has with motorsport — and that has slightly changed my outlook, because you have to be realistic.
“It would be commercially foolish to put on a CSI5* event because it would mean an increase in costs to the tune of half a million pounds. And what would it do for us? We’re not part of a CSI5* series, we’d be competing against the present series, and Nations Cups.
“What I’d like to achieve with Bolesworth is something like what Dublin achieves; I’d like it to be the heart of the sport in the UK, taken really seriously in terms of the sport, making it a place where people come to do business and attracting the key people from round the world. We are quietly working towards that.”
There will be a new, second show at Bolesworth in August next year — the British Young Horse Showjumping Championships are moving there from Addington.
“I’ve had to fight quite hard to change the format slightly. Historically the classes have been split so you watch the non-British horses jump and then the British-bred horses jump,” she explains. “The British-breds have almost been cotton-wool wrapped in their own section. It’s partly because of the qualifications for the world young horse championships in Lanaken — only the British-bred horses are eligible for those. The qualification criteria for that will stay the same, but we are going to put them all in one class.
“If horses imported from Holland, Belgium and Germany are doing better, it’s important that hits people in the face, they look inwards and do it better, so that people start taking the British industry seriously.”
NINA evented up to CIC3* before switching to showjumping, and admits that she still has ambitions in the sport herself — if not a lot of time to fulfill them.
Her smile widens as she says: “I have a really good horse at the moment [AK’s Culcha Candela, known as Candy] and I want to make the most of her. We’ve jumped in the CSI2* classes at a couple of Global Champions Tour shows this year and in a few ranking classes, which is challenging for me and a step up for her.
“I get on really well with her and if I can find the time at certain times of the year to put the effort in, my big ambition is to get a result in a ranking class.”
Nina’s determination to get the shows she runs “right” extends to riding at them to ensure she knows exactly what the riders are experiencing.
“I had my heart set on being the first person to ride in my main arena at Bolesworth, and I’m really glad I did,” she says. “I haven’t ridden at Liverpool, but this year, if I can, I want to get a horse in the ring — only in an amateur or novelty class, but I really want to go through that experience. Apart from anything else, people are really kind; they see what you are doing and are very supportive, so they don’t want to criticise. Sometimes the only way is to do it yourself.”
Focusing on Liverpool and Bolesworth has meant scaling back the Harthill Stud she set up with Oliver Townend to breed young event horses, but star stallion Ramiro B remains firmly in situ. He was sent around 100 mares last season and, with Kentucky CCI4* winner Cooley Master Class and Badminton runnerup Cooley SRS among his progeny, he has become one of the most sought-after sires of event horses in the world.
“To have a successful breeding and production operation you’ve got to be immersed in it. Although we still have
Ramiro — who is a real shining light — and I am still very passionate about that industry, I haven’t quite got the ‘bandwith’ to give it enough time,” she says.
Right now, her head is full of Liverpool and she is totally focused on lighting up New Year’s Eve in only a positive way this year.
“It has so much scope to be amazing, with an atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else,” she says. “So many people have been really kind and have asked what they can do to help after last year. All I want from anyone is for them to come to the show — and bring a friend!”
‘I wish I’d done a business degree, but
learning by your mistakes is the most
‘I have a vision for this show, and I desperately want it to work’: Nina Barbour is all set for the fourth edition of the CSI4* Liverpool International
Nina still has her own showjumping ambitions, and even competes at her own shows to ensure they work for the riders: ‘Sometimes the only way is to do it yourself’ NEXT WEEK Eventer Jonty Evans on his ongoing recovery from serious injury
‘I love the show and the concept, but it’s a battle to keep it’: Nina is steadfast in her ambition for Liverpool International to bounce back