Thursday, 31 July 2014

A sizzling summer!

The music in the video above sums up wonderfully not just our fabulous event at Barbury at the beginning of July, but my summer in general – which I seem to have spent in a ‘Benny Hill’ type fashion chasing around the country – but having a lot of fun along the way!

As soon as I touched down from a sizzling few days in Ibiza (just love the place – makes me feel young again!) we were off to the St James’ Place Barbury International Horse Trials for the JCB Champions Challenge on the Saturday and Laura Collett and Ed Chanin dressage display on the Sunday, both as part of Barbury’s celebration of the IJF, their charity of the year.

To see the top riders in the world racing each other over rustic jumps – and having so much fun in the process – was a real highlight of my working year and then a dressage display from injured jockey, Ed Chanin (who is paralysed down one side of his body) made us all feel pretty emotional – and proud.  We had a few issues with the sound system just a few minutes before Ed was due to go on, so he had to change his routine at the last minute.  A top rider may have thrown their toys out of the pram at this point, so for Ed with his disability not even to bat an eyelid but to go and perform a routine he hadn’t practised for a few years just demonstrates what an amazing guy he is and what an inspiration to us all.
Laura Collett on Kauto Star with Ed Chanin on My Rubicon
Francome (in his 1970's breeches!) and Zara go head to head in the water
It was fantastic that Andrew Nicholson won Barbury for the third consecutive year in a row on his amazing horse, Avebury – and we used the event to announce that his book, Focused, will be out at the end of the summer.

We have used such incredible pictures, many of them never seen before, to tell the story of Andrew’s life and whilst the book is definitely not a ‘sex and secrets’ type autobiography, we hope that people will appreciate what we have tried to do.  This is to tell Andrew’s story in his own understated way, through his horses and through the pictures from his life, and to deliver his take on how to make it to the top when you come from humble beginnings and how to make it pay having had no early privileges that set you on your way.  As Captain Mark Phillips says in the intro to the book “If Andrew Nicholson says something today, you are a fool if you don’t listen” – and we hope that this sets the tone for what the book is, and why people will enjoy reading it.  For more info, see 
A young Andrew shows us how to jump!
A few weeks ago, I showed this pic to John Francome (once himself a top young show jumper – before he became a jockey) and he said that in spite of all the years that have passed and his four decades at the top, Andrew’s style over a fence has changed little since these early days in NZ and that the natural talent he has is something you can’t ever really learn…

Former Horse & Hound journalist Catherine Austen has co-written the book with Andrew, she has done a great job, and we look forward to launching it officially at Burghley at the beginning of September, where we will have daily interview and signing sessions with Andrew in the ‘Celebrity talk’ area.

As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, we will also have lots of activity around the Gary Witheford book, If Horses Could Talk, co-written with Brough Scott.  I’ve just finished reading it, and it’s truly excellent – shocking, sad, inspirational, but most of all, it makes you want to understand horses better.  Anyone who owns a horse, or is interested in them in any way, should read this book. 

Do come and see one of Gary’s demos (Malton Open Day 31st August, Newmarket Open Day 21st September, Cheltenham Countryside Day 14th November).  Plus if you didn’t see them, have a look at the two pieces Channel 4 did on Gary during July Cup week (links below)

I paid a flying visit to the Isle of Wight a few weeks ago, where we unveiled a statue of our old friend ‘Warrior’ at Carisbrooke Castle – almost 100 years to the day that he stepped on to one of the first boats to France in 1914 and within a stone’s throw of the place in which he was born and which he died and spent most of his 33 years of life (with just that little interlude on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918!).

Brough and I toast Warrior!
This incredible Philip Blacker bronze has been paid for by proceeds of the book, Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse – and there will be more very exciting news to follow about Warrior in a few weeks time!

This week I was back at Goodwood for our annual pilgrimage as a guest of sponsor, Markel, and to see the ‘duel on the downs’ which started with Frankel vs Canford Cliffs four years ago, and has not disappointed since. This year’s renewal was a tactical affair with Hughsie on Toronado striking first blow but the sublime Kingman (loaded by Gary Witheford!) displaying his scintillating turn of foot as he tracked him down in the dying strides of the race.

We also had a bit of fun taking some pictures with jockeys William Buick and Sam Thomas to publicise our event at Olympia on 19th December where the IJF will be the benefitting charity.  The Markel Champions Challenge for the Injured Jockeys Fund will be the first class on the Friday evening and feature a team of flat jockeys take on a team of jump jockeys with a celebrity show jumper on each team….

Sam Thomas and William Buick get into the spirit of Olympia!
Once again the autumn looks set to be a busy one at equestrian events all over the country, but I shan’t be complaining.  It may be hard work organising it all, but it’s also incredible fun and a real privilege to spend time with so many extraordinary people.

One of my own ex-racehorses is also set to go eventing in the autumn (although not at Burghley!) and now capable of doing dressage to a basic but consistent level, we have gone back to basics with his jumping to encourage him to jump out of his stride rather than to lock on and hurdle everything as fast as he can! It is also really interesting to put into practice some of the techniques I have been witnessing first-hand with my work with Gary Witheford and to start asking questions as to the accepted way of doing things, and then modifying them to try ‘Gary’s way’!

Sarah Mitchell-Sheppard has been such an incredible help to me in so many ways in the last six months, and I have been delighted to re-pay the favour as she embarks on her own business venture with SMS equestrian, her own riding school and no mean feat to achieve at the age of 26.  I know she will be a huge success in this area and can’t recommend her enough for anyone living in the Wiltshire area.  She has a FB page  - – with a website set to launch in the next few weeks (