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 Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

‘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

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