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Nina Barbour – The show must go on

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Photo (c) Cheshire Business Magazine At only 38, Nina Barbour has helped change the face of equestrian events in the UK. Photo (c) Cheshire Business Magazine.

by Ellie Kelly


Nina Barbour is a force to be reckoned with in the world of showjumping. Just 38 years old and she is helping to change the face of equestrian events in the UK. Since 2014, Nina has brought two major shows to the equestrian calendar which have a 4* status; Equerry Bolesworth International in June and The TheraPlate UK Liverpool International at the very end of the year. Not only are Nina’s shows innovative and of an extremely high standard but she has identified a gap in the market and met demand in an area of the country where there was an absence of significant events, despite a thriving equine industry in the North West. 

Alongside this Nina runs the Bolesworth Estate, a huge commercial enterprise set up by her late father. When she has time, she competes a small team of horses at CSI2* level and if that wasn’t enough, she stands the world no 6 eventing sire Ramiro B, and has bred both eventers & showjumpers – a number of which are proving their value on the international stage. Yet life has not been plain sailing for Nina, the loss of her father 11 years ago after a short illness was a huge shock and upheaval for the family. She was propelled very quickly into taking over his vast business concerns sharing the reins initially with Mother Diana at the age of just 27.

Both her events have been plagued by some unfortunate circumstances. There have been horse fatalities and last year at Liverpool a large scale fire in the car park resulted in hundreds of cars being destroyed and the abandonment of the show on the final evening. It was largely due to the quick and efficient management by Nina and her team, along with the Merseyside Fire Service that no humans or horses were injured or killed.

In an exclusive interview, Nina Barbour reveals the story behind it all and what drives her to make better, the showjumping world. 

Photo (c) Events Through A Lens Photo (c) Events Through A Lens

What made you want to run shows?

It started when I left Cambridge university and set up a yard at home. I felt I needed a new challenge to add to this and I am lucky enough to live at a beautiful place which makes for the perfect venue. Our location was also key – we are in the North West with a thriving number of professional showjumpers nearby, including some big names. In the UK most of the key showjumping events are down South and there is very little on offer in the North. 

I also felt that whilst in Europe the competition circuit had evolved, the whole equestrian calendar had become static in the UK and I wanted to make an impact on our part of the world. 


How did the idea for the Liverpool International Horse Show come about and what was your inspiration? 

I went to the Gucci Masters in Paris a few years ago (now the Longines Masters) and I was really impressed. The standard of production in Paris was amazing and I loved the warm-up arena being right in the middle of the show, with the shopping village around it. 

We had been running Bolesworth for a few years so we knew how to run an outdoor show but I was interested in trying something indoors. With an indoor arena, you have the scope to create an amazing atmosphere and you’re not going to be challenged by the weather. The climate in England can dampen everyone’s spirits and can lead to poor attendance at best and cancellations at worse. So it is great not to have to worry about this. 

I chose Liverpool because of the venue, the Echo arena was great in terms of size, facilities and the location. It’s easy to get to and right by the Historical Albert Docks. It was also the city itself. Liverpool was UK’s Capital of Culture in 2008 and is well known as home to the Beatles and one of the best football clubs in the world: Liverpool FC. The council is as passionate as we are to deliver a great show and we are all doing everything we can to make it sustainable.


Is it sustainable and what are the challenges you have faced?

Currently no. There are always challenges to introducing an event in an economic downturn. We are also challenged by other competitions – there is a lot going on in December on the international circuit. Even geographically, it is not straightforward. Manchester and London are bigger, wealthier cities. 

When you are running a show, it is hard to make the model stack up commercially and whilst we have an exciting new title sponsor in TheraPlate UK, I am financing the shows to a great extent, with my own money. It takes years and a lot of hard work and heartache before you can say it is sustainable and I am not the only show organiser who understands that. In the UK, I don’t think the governing bodies are set up to be as supportive as they could be to help make key show centres sustainable.  The federations should be identifying how to work with the leading show organisers more effectively to drive the sport forwards.

In Ireland there is a lobby driven by both the federation and key stakeholders which helps the equestrian industry by proving the economic benefits of these shows to the government to drive for more funding. Although the equestrian industry is structured very differently over here we should be looking at something similar in the UK.

Then for Liverpool, the most recent challenge was the fire that happened last year. No one blames us but people have an irrational fear associated with the show and the venue. In reality, the venue never stopped running but there is a general feeling that it is going to be a problem. 

Photo (c) Cheshire Business Magazine Photo (c) Cheshire Business Magazine

It’s well known that you have come back fighting and there is plenty to look forward to at this year’s show?

We have just as good a rider line-up competing with a number of world class riders from the UK and abroad. The list includes John and Michael Whitaker, William Funnell, Harry Charles, Shane Breen, Anthony Condon, Billy Twomey, Andrew Kocher and Emanuele Gaudiano. Then we have Charlotte Dujardin who is competing in the dressage, and bringing Valegro for a guest appearance.

As well as top-class competition in showjumping and dressage plus some thrilling arena attractions, I think the real highlight is the New Year Eve. There will be the TheraPlate UK CSI4* Grand Prix followed by a “Battle of the Sexes” knock-out jumping competition. As we get closer to midnight, there will be an amazing finale with stunt horses, daredevil motorcycle stunts and a spectacular firework display. Plus Rock legend Rick Parfitt Jr and the RPJ Band keeping the party mood high as we see the new year in. 


What is different about the show this year?

We have a new title sponsor in TheraPlate UK, the UK distributor offering a range of rehabilitation performance enhancing equipment. 

There will be a grooms prize to win a car for a year which has been provided by TheraPlate UK. The competition will be judged on not only the best turned out horse during the week but also the best condition, something TheraPlate UK were keen to promote because of their passion to improve performance and wellbeing in equines.

Actually the silver lining from the fire, is that we now have a new and much better building that will house spacious stabling for the horses, with extra space for riders, grooms and sponsors to socialise. The horses will much prefer being in the shiny new Exhibition Centre at the venue rather than the basement of the (now demolished) multi storey car park!


As well as putting on shows and managing the family business, you are also competing on the international circuit. How do you juggle it all?

It’s not easy but I have a really good team at home, both in the yard and the office. A typical day at home means starting around 6.30 am to ride a few and then I generally spend the day working in the office. Much to my groom’s frustration, I am often running late, especially when I ride after a run of meetings.

I am lucky enough to have a couple of really nice horses which gets me out to international shows. This helps because I can experience lots of shows from a competitors point of view. I think this is where some of the shows go wrong because they have lost that connection with the riders. 


What are your plans for the future? 

With my horses, I want to get some good results at CSI2* and jump some Grand Prix. I’m planning to have a break from work next year and jump on the Sunshine Tour.

It will be a busy year on the work front as we are going through a heavy rebrand and restructure of the overall business which includes commercial and residential property and a number of other concerns under the Bolesworth brand. 

With the shows, I just want to go from strength to strength with both. Next year we will also be able to add the Official British Showjumping Young Horse Championships to our portfolio, which is really exciting. They will take place at Bolesworth Castle in August, held in the main arena to give these young horses the atmosphere of a true international atmosphere. The show will feature four, five, six and seven year old classes with qualifiers for the FEI World Young Horse Championships in Lanaken in September 2019, together with a CSI2* & CSI Am series. We hope to provide a world class platform to prepare the best British Young Horses for international careers, whilst providing a hub for trade both inside and outside of the UK.

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