Undergraduates on our BSc (Hons) Equine Science and Sports Performance programme were privileged to have a behind-the-scenes visit to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials along with their Module Leader Jon Lowe.
This degree course was only launched at the beginning of the academic year and it has been carefully developed to include extensive industry input to help our graduates receive the necessary balance of knowledge, skills and experience so they are ‘industry ready’.
With this in mind, a series of meetings were arranged for the students during our trip to Badminton – although a bit of time was set aside so that the many opportunities for retail therapy could be enjoyed!
These prestigious horse trials are widely considered to be the most famous three-day event in the world. Held against the stunning backdrop of Badminton House in Gloucestershire, 2016 was an especially poignant year for the event as it marked its 25th anniversary.
- Meeting 1: The Media Director
Julian Seaman is the Media Director of Badminton Horse Trials and was also the Media Manager at Greenwich during the 2012 London Olympic Games. He manages to combine being a lecturer in fashion design at St Martins College with his other work.
As an author, Julian has penned several texts on equestrianism with his anecdotal history of Badminton Horse Trials – ‘Badminton Revisited’ – being published in 2009.
The students were privileged to be given an ‘access-all-areas’ tour of the Media Centre at Badminton – an area which is exclusively reserved for accredited members of the press.
Julian explained that the ‘in-house’ coverage of this famous sporting fixture is delivered to the public by his close-knit team of staff who work in conjunction with media personnel from title sponsors Mitsubishi Motors.
“The team at Badminton are like one big family and many of us have a long-standing connection with this wonderful event,” explained Julian, who realised a personal ambition by competing at Badminton on several occasions during the 1970s and early 1980s.
“It is due to the generosity of our sponsors that we have such a good Media Centre and, somewhat uniquely, their media team and mine work behind the same desk.”
Julian, who was recently invited to lecture at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, was happy to share his expert knowledge with the Reaseheath students and to answer their questions.
“I never thought that we would be lucky enough to be allowed into the media centre to experience what goes on behind the scenes. I also enjoyed meeting Francis Whittington and it was interesting to learn what he looks for when employing somebody.”
Hannah Baker, Reaseheath Undergraduate
- Meeting 2: The Event Rider
International event rider Francis Whittington agreed to meet the Reaseheath students to offer his advice about working in the industry.
Francis, who is based in Rotherfield, East Sussex, began by speaking about his own journey to becoming one of the country’s most respected event riders.
As a keen member of the Eridge Pony Club, Francis enjoyed competitive success from a young age. In 1993, he was chosen for the squad at the Pony European Championships in Hasselt, Belgium, where he went on to win Individual Gold and Team Silver.
“For me, I think that the Pony Club provides young people who wish to work in this industry with a real head start. I believe that it’s an important avenue to go down and if I am looking to employ somebody then this a big plus,” explained Francis.
Upon leaving school, Francis felt that it was important to have another career option to run alongside his love of eventing. He decided to train in horse dentistry and went on to practice this for about 10 years. Then came the point in his career where both areas were building momentum and he had to make a decision about which avenue to pursue.
“Rather than choosing the safer option that makes money, I went for the dangerous one that costs money but it was a decision that had to be made,” Francis joked.
“I believe that to be successful in life we must learn to be adaptable and avoid being rigid in our thinking; there are often many routes which will lead us to the same result and the recognition of this gets easier with experience.”
Francis explained that he applies this philosophy in his approach to training the horses he works with.
“You can have a yard full of horses but, in reality, not all of them will become top-class eventers. The key is to accept this and to tailor your approach to each individual. We must learn to make sound decisions based on the best interests of the horse concerned. Try to create a system that works for you and then have belief in it.”
“ The trip was definitely an eye opening experience. We met some really good industry contacts and I have definitely found a path in which I want to follow. Going to Badminton has given me the urge to keep working hard to achieve success in the eventing world”.
Tyler Simpson, Reaseheath Undergraduate
Francis, who was a reserve for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, went on to ask the students about their studies and their future career plans.
“College courses are great for outlining the possibilities that are out there in the industry today but students must be willing to build industry links outside of the classroom. You never know when you may meet someone who will define the rest of your life – never turn down an opportunity if it is offered!” said Francis.
“I believe that it is really important to absorb information from as many different sources as possible. Be under no illusion, working in the horse industry is hard graft, and the drop out rate is great. Therefore, it is crucial that students experience ‘real life’ out in the workplace so that they are prepared and can be realistic about the demands of the industry that they wish to enter. You all seem to be straight in your thinking and I wish you all the best in your future careers”.
As we left Francis, he wandered off (with son Max in tow) to study the most famous cross country course on the planet with the same calm and friendly demeanor he had shown towards us.
It was an honour to meet him and we wished him the very best of luck!
*** UPDATE ***
Congratulations to Francis and Hasty Imp for finishing in a very respectable 22nd place, this is their best 4* result to date.
- Meeting 3: The Course
Our visit concluded with a course walk to check out some of the fences featured on Guiseppe Della Chiesa’s magnificent cross country track which stretches over some 4 miles in length.
The students were asked to identify three fences that they felt would be particularly influential during the cross country phase – with the value of hindsight, they were pretty accurate !
The Mirage Pond (Fences 14 & 15)
This water complex had been given a makeover for 2016, the usual curved hedges had been replaced by an upright house at Fence 14 and a choice of two similar houses on the way out of the water at Fence 15.
This proved to be a question that some may have underestimated and it caught out its fair share of riders.
The KBIS Vicarage Vee (Fence 21)
This iconic fence has always commanded the respect of those who face it! It took a sabbatical in 2015 but it was back with a vengeance this year and certainly lived up to its notorious reputation.
The fence demanded absolute courage and conviction on behalf of horse and rider – but precision could not be compromised – there was little room for error and accuracy was paramount to success.
The Lake (Fence 26)
The beautiful setting of the Lake at Badminton is always a magnet for hoards of spectators. It appeared later in the course this year and this was reflected in the technicality of the questions asked.
There was still plenty of excitement for the thousands of visitors gathered, but 2016 was a ‘dunk-free’ zone!
“This was a really enjoyable trip that offered a good insight into what goes on behind the scenes to make sure that Badminton is available to be watched and that results are constantly updated – this takes a lot of effort from many people. It was great to meet Francis Whittington and to learn what it really takes to be a top event rider. I admire his drive for the sport and I found this very inspiring.”
Lydia Binks, Reaseheath Undergraduate
The Reaseheath HE students are looking forward to being part of the team at Bolesworth International Horse Show in June.