Most of UK’s rural equestrian community make the annual pilgrimage to Olympia, in West London, the week before Christmas to see the splendid horse displays and gorge on shopping in the stunning collection of retailers. Every need and whim of horse and rider, dog and dog lover is satisfied by the approximately 250 specialist shops, selling all things related to horse sport, with fashion, jewellery, gifts, novelty items, and art all with equestrian characteristics.
The London International Horse Show offers FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) championship qualifiers in Showjumping, Dressage and Driving, with world class riders participating. The Show has become a family outing for all generations; many competitors were spectators in their youth and in turn their children are spectating now, families come with grandparents and young riders bring their coaches, the programme has something for everyone. The audience is seated tiers, with the top tier being elegant private boxes with the luxuries of space and a delicious seated dinner, for which a dress code of black tie is appropriate.
Famous riders are celebrities in UK, the big names in Dressage and Showjumping have a huge number of fans and over 100,000 people witness the shows that run over the 12th-18th December. The Freestyle Dressage and the Puissance Jumping tests are most popular with the audience, tickets are sold out months in advance.
The daringly fast display by the Metropolitan Police demonstrates the skills of the mounted officers, the superb training of the horses and as they leap at a gallop through hoops of fire the amazing trust they have in their riders. These are the same horses deployed at football matches or demonstrations and often seen patrolling London side by side with the heavy traffic. Although the first Olympia was in 1907 in the presence of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, this year is the 45th year of Olympia as we know it, to keep the novelty fresh the Chilean Huasos have been invited to show off their cowboy style of riding. These Chilean horses are bred for cattle work in the plains and hills of Chile, the Huasos are all very experienced horsemen and women and take great care of their animals. They use soft leather tack and the bits are very simple, their clothing is beautifully decorative and spurs have a blunt ending to ensure that no pain is inflicted upon their animals.
In Thelwell Pony Club style there is a Shetland Pony Grand National which is hugely popular with children as is the Kennel Club Dog Agility display. The combination of glamour, competition, fun and spectacle is irresistible to the horsey crowd, the cheers for the extravagantly themed Christmas finale are testament to the enjoyment.