Day 4: Spectacular Saturday

As I sit down to write my thoughts on what was a dramatic Saturday at the Horse of the Year Show. I find that, firstly, I am still on a high from that intense puissance. I can’t stop replaying the images in my mind of the action that unfolded last night. The bravery of the riders and the trust the horses have in them to leap over a wall that grew far above the heads of the wall builders is beyond me. By the end of the event it stood at a staggering two metres twenty. That, coupled with a sold out audience, made for an unforgettable spectacle. I have been lucky enough to be in the audience for the past two years. With this being my third year, as always I had huge anticipation, for what is one of my favourite events at HOYS. It exceeded all of my expectations and I have to admit while the past two years have been amazing. This was the most intense final I have witnessed. Before I get carried away with all the details of what was an amazing night. It really topped off what was a fantastic day for me as HOYS ambassador, and I witnessed many great events that should not be overshadowed.

It started with the usual excitement for what the day had in store. I feel now that it’s Saturday I have settled into a HOYS routine – which will be strange come Monday when I don’t see the usual welcoming faces in the morning. The only major change today was I met Rob, who I would be teaming up with for the day to shoot the short videos that make it onto the Horse of the Year Show Facebook page, as Rupert was away from the show for the day. We made a plan to film most of the footage in the afternoon so that left me the morning free for some necessary HOYS binge watching and much needed retail therapy. I joined my mum, Jane, who like me is always totally captivated by the HOYS spirit and wants to watch and take in as much as she can. Luckily we were able to catch the Stable Company 138cm Championship. These ponies are absolute firecrackers and there is so many talented young riders in that class, it truly is a joy to watch. The speed that they attack the course leaves me amazed. I am sure there are a lot of names we will be hearing even more of in the future.

My mum and I made our way around the vast number of trade stands in the retail village. I love the range of products on offer to the public, from horse equipment and clothing to absolutely beautiful pieces of delicate jewellery. There are stands to inform and others with products that differ from what are on offer at your local shopping centre. I made a couple of purchases that I am absolutely delighted with. However, as they are presents for my close friends and family who are soon going to be celebrating an important birthday or another important family announcement I was told of recently, I don’t want to divulge too much. All I can say is I love at HOYS that you can buy unique gifts and it makes it even more special when you can personalise it. I can’t wait to give these special gifts to my loved ones and see their reactions. However, I have had to exercise my self control and keep myself away from the chocolate fondue stand in order to save my clothes from the impending stains that would result from my messy eating. I then was lucky to catch the Sandal BMW 158cm Show Type of the Year Championship; it was great to soak up more of that intense atmosphere in the Top Spec arena.

I had the privilege of meeting Tom and Hilary Barfoot-Saunt who’s HOYS story really captivated me. They were married 50 years ago to the day. On the day of their wedding they made there way from the reception to the Horse of the Year Show. They had not returned to the show for 50 years. For their 50th wedding anniversary they made their HOYS return. Their family organised this for them and sponsored the 128cm Championship to honour their anniversary. Tom had been told about the surprise a while before the event. However, Hilary didn’t know the big surprise until the night before. I was also treated to the history of the Barfoot-Saunt name and I was captivated. They told me that they had, had a fantastic day. Thank you to them both for letting the HOYS audience share in their story and their special day.

I was still excited from yesterday when I got to witness the crowds at Carl Hester’s signing. Today was the turn of Nick Skelton, and I made my way down to his signing full of anticipation. As expected the crowds were huge. I can’t even begin to put into words what it means to see so many fans get the opportunity to get to meet the Olympic Champion. I know because I am one of them. I was so lucky to get my autograph and a photograph taken with him. He has given us so many incredible equestrian moments. I am definitely supporting and rooting for him for BBC Sports Personality of the year: “The rider that wouldn’t let a broken neck stop him”. Just incredible and so deserving. I am keeping my autograph safe and it will definitely be going up on my wall when I get home as a reminder of what you can overcome and what you can achieve with hard work and dedication. It was an honour to get to shake his hand.

I rounded off my daytime watching by catching the International Show jumping sponsored by the Irish Horse Gateway. The quality of jumping I have been treated to this week has left me completely in awe. I then headed back over to the hotel to get dressed up for the evening performance. Saturday night at HOYS is always a great excuse to get dressed up. However, I must admit as I squeezed my sore feet into my heels, I wished it was acceptable to wear a dress with a pair of slippers. I had to rush to head back over as we wanted to bring HOYS fans a behind the scenes look at how the images are brought to them on canterbanter.co.uk. I was fascinated by the whole process. Firstly I have to thank the team at Impact Media for being so welcoming to me and allowing us to have a look at the journey of the images and the quick turn around that happens for them to become the finished package that you see at home. The team have to use so much intuition to pick the best pictures to put out. It takes so much team work. The images come in from the camera men to a van situated just outside the NEC where a sound technician, slow motion expert, director reside, all working to bring you the HOYS experience. It is incredible to watch them work there is a tension in the van but also a calmness. Sometimes I think whilst watching at home it is easy to forget that there are a team of people making thousands of decisions a minute in order to bring the quality footage to canterbanter.co.uk.

I was lucky enough to catch the Scurry Driver Championship and the Gilles Fortier Show in between my filming – Both of which were just incredible the scurry driving championship was so tense and exciting and I still can’t find the words for the Gilles Fortier show as my jaw is constantly on the floor. Incredible and a great way to set me up for the Puissance. I made my way down to the practise arena and managed to record some footage just as the wall was going past. It was also great to see the riders warming up in the background. I don’t know how they manage to remain so calm in the warm up when they know the feat they are about to try and achieve. After my filming was done for the day I made my way up to the Champions Bar and settled on the edge of my seat for the Puissance. As I said earlier it was amazing I don’t think I have ever seen so many horses make it so far – INCREDIBLE – the audience were right behind every rider that made their way down to the big red wall. Gasping and laughing the commentators took us through every emotion with the riders. I have an unbelievable respect for the horses and the riders who challenge for this title. The eventual winner, Holly Smith, more than deserved the title. It was great to see a British rider take the title, and amazing for Holly to do it for the girls.

After the buzz of the event, which I think will take me weeks to come down from, I made my way over to check out the HOYS after party. Everyone was in great spirits and I have to give a special shout out to the band, Mother Popcorn, who had people dancing away. It was an unforgettable night at HOYS. I believe HOYS is a unique event that everyone should try and experience – there is nothing like it.

Hannah Eccles

HOYS Ambassador