Liverpool’s festive horse show rises from the flames
Plucky promoter is bouncing back after fire ruined the climax of last year’s event, writes Marcus Armytage
‘The bonus is that we still have plenty of spare indoor fireworks left over’
As far as I know, Liverpool has never put in a claim to be the beating heart of the equine world but, as host of the Grand National, it is halfway there.
And its four-day International Horse Show at the Echo Arena on Dec 28-31 has, in its short life, established itself in the equestrian diary alongside Olympia and the Horse of the Year Show.
There is a higher concentration of horse owners on the nearby Wirral than in any other part of the country. I became aware of that after visiting in October to look at a horse to potentially buy. For some reason I became confused about the horse’s height and, after a 3½-hour drive, I realised instantly it was too small for me when it could barely see over its stable door.
Having come that far, I reckoned it would be rude not to at least give it a spin, having watched its young rider show it off with an excellent display of spring-heeled jumping.
When I climbed on, the only obstacle it did not smash was the one it refused at – all of which suggested it had even less intention of coming home with me than I had of taking it.
While you can go racing on Dec 31 and Jan 1, there is, as far as I know, only one sporting event in Britain at which you can see in the New Year, and that is one of the Liverpool International Horse Show’s unique selling points; watch grand prix show jumping, then sit back and let the Rick Parfitt Junior Band take you into 2019.
Of course, the third annual show hit the headlines 11 months ago when its New Year’s Eve climax had to be abandoned. Of the million things the show’s founder and organiser, Nina Barbour, thought might interrupt the smooth running of the event, a fire in a neighbouring underground car park was not one of them.
But an old Land Rover caught fire and it spread. Roughly 1,400 cars were destroyed or damaged and horses competing at the show, which were being stabled on the ground floor of the car park, were all led to the safety of the Echo Arena.
Putting on a new four-star indoor horse show in the centre of Liverpool was a ballsy project but Barbour, the only horsey member of her family, had already established her credentials by running an outdoor show at her ancestral home, Bolesworth Castle, in Cheshire. “The success of an outdoor show is all down to the weather,” she said. “I wanted a shot at running a really good indoor show that was a bit different. You can create an atmosphere indoors that you can’t do outside. The fire was a bit of a spanner in the works. The bonus is that we still have plenty of spare indoor fireworks left over for this year!”
Her biggest challenge is filling the arena over six sessions and, as she pointed out, if you choose a sea port to hold an event, it stands to reason that half your potential audience are fish, but Liverpool is as keen to host it as she is to have it there.
“You feel like you lose a bit of blood every time you fill it,” she said. “I’m learning to be a promoter but I’m definitely feeling it after last year.”
One of this year’s main attractions is the world premiere of stunt rider Gilles Fortier’s show, the aptly named Phoenix. “He uses fire,” said Barbour, “but we try not to use that word.”
Running the show: Promoter Nina Barbour is feeling the pressure