London International Horse Show (LIHS): a Volunteer’s View

Photo © London International Horse Show


You might be thinking “London International Horse Show? I’ve never heard of that before,” but my guess is that you probably have. It used to be called Olympia, and it’s been running in some form in London at Christmas for over 100 years. This year, because of renovations to the Olympia buildings, the show moved to the ExCel Centre at Victoria Docks, just out of central London.

Towards the middle of 2021, a call for volunteers was put out to the UK horse world. I was one of hundreds who applied, happy to give time and travel to help this amazing show run again after Covid forced its cancellation last year. After being chosen, the volunteers attended a briefing day prior to the start of the show. We were given  logo polo shirts and gilets as our uniform. There was also a bit of reading to do, and completion of an online “counter terrorism” training course to help us recognize any potential threat at the event—how the world has changed!

The volunteers cover all areas from ticket checking, jump assembly, gate opening and poop picking. Pretty much anything that’s done at a show is done by volunteers. Yes, we are the folks running into an arena to fix things after your horse says “Um, no, not today. I’m not feeling it,” and proceeds to demolish a triple combination.  It’s a great way to give back to your sport, make some new friends, and learn how these incredibly complex events are put together.

Because of the Covid situation, which was out of control at over 100,000 cases a day during the show period, every volunteer and attendee had to show their covid pass along with their ticket for entry. Everyone remained masked at all times inside the venue, except when eating.

The competition at LIHS ran over five days just before Christmas. It covered a packed programme of events from FEI World Cup Dressage, FEI World Cup Extreme Driving (that fast four in hand carriage driving sport so beloved by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh), FEI Jumping rounds, and even Kennel Club dog agility competitions.  

The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, a regiment of the British Army tasked primarily with ceremonial duties, performed each day, wowing the crowds with their fast manoeuvres, historic uniforms, spotless mounts. They included the glorious heavy drum horse, steered by reins attached to the stirrups of the rider. There was an incredibly stirring hand gallop out of the arena at the end to the tune of “Land of Hope and Glory,” bearing the flags of all four nations of the United Kingdom. It brought a tear to the eye of the crowd each time.

Photo courtesy of Kristy Ward

We also had the fabulous Shetland Pony Grand National each day, featuring those feisty and fluffy Shetlands piloted by fearless children, the jockeys of tomorrow, going flat out around a “race track” over fences, raising huge amounts for charity. Jockeys taking part have to be aged between 8 and 14 and must be less than 5ft in height; all the ponies have be registered with Shetland Pony Stud Book. The cheering was at the same decibel for the winner and the one who came last. It’s always a huge amount of fun.

On Thursday morning, it was lovely to see Charlotte du Jardin on her recently sold mount, Gio, win the FEI Dressage World Cup Grand Prix, with Frederic Wandres on Duke Of Britain Frh for Germany, and Nanna Skodborg Merrald on Atterupgaards Orthilia for Denmark coming in second and third.  Charlotte and Gio also won the FEI Dressage World Cup Freestyle on the Friday night with a score of 89.040%.

Photo courtesy of Kristy Ward

Well known World Champion Australian Boyd Exell and his team won the FEI Driving World Cup on the Friday and Saturday.  It was great to see Jérôme Voutaz from Switzerland, who won the first round on the Thursday, hand his reins to his navigator as his team crossed the line, leap to the ground and run to each of his horses, giving them a pat. He then pointed to both his navigator and back stepper, calling for the crowd to give them a cheer of thanks. It was wonderful to see a whole team recognised by their driver.

The Champagne Tattinger Ivy Stakes over 155cm fences on the Friday was a brilliant competition, with the crowd on the edge of their seats. Harry Charles, the incredibly talented son of the lovely Olympic Gold medal winning show jumper Peter Charles, riding for Great Britain on Borsato won the tightly fought jump off. His good friend, Jack Whitaker, from famous Whitaker dynasty, took fifth on Elucar VE.  It’s fantastic to see the younger riders coming up the ranks and doing so very well – especially when it’s names you recognise. Harry on Stardust also won the 160cm Longines FEI Jumping World Cup on the Sunday.

If you want more thrills and spills, the LeMieux Puissance delivered, with Guy Williams on the brave Mr Blue Sky UK riding for Great Britain clearing 2.10m (approximately 6 foot 8) to win the event. It’s always a wonderful event to watch, with the crowd leaning forward in silence as though they were riding each obstacle, and cheering madly after each clear attempt.

LIHS (formerly Olympia) is such a beloved event on the British equestrian calendar, where friends and families come together each year for some top notch competition and seriously good shopping. It’s where you can see the likes of Charlotte du Jardin having a coffee at the next table, and Carl Hester walking past on his way to the warm up arena. It’s big and international, but it feels friendly. 

I’m sure there is a show similar near to where you are that needs volunteers. How about you contact them?  Get involved, give back to your sport, and have some fun.

Kristy has lived and ridden in five countries over the past 50 years, and now resides in England. One of her favourite equine memories is galloping alongside a herd of zebra in Botswana on a lovely Boerperd.