Behind the scenes…Bicton International Horse Trials.

A glorious May day heralded the opportunity to go along on the Bicton Media Day organised by JB Promotions. The course walk led by Course Designer, Helen West, was fascinating and really made me think

Bicton Arena is the South West’s leading equestrian event centre, and in a time when sadly many eventing facilities are closing down, the recent news that husband-and-wife team, Andrew Fell and Helen West are taking the reins going forward ushers in a promising new era for the venue and sport alike.

Having managed Bicton for some time. on behalf of the owners, the Clinton family and Clinton Devon Estates, the couple will now take on full responsibility for the arena and are looking to host an ambitious calendar of high quality events.

They won’t have to wait too long for their first event as Bicton International Horse Trials takes place on 23 – 26 May 2024 and promises an exhilarating experience for both seasoned eventing enthusiasts and people new to the eventing world.

The 4 day event will see top international horses and riders competing across three disciplines; dressage, cross-country and showjumping. There is also a wide range of activities on offer, such as falconry displays and a dog show – as well as the tradestands and catering outlets.

A sunny Saturday will see many visitors arriving armed with picnics setting out to find their favourite spot to sit and view the Cross Country competition.

It was a real treat to meet up with the other attendees for the afternoon, one of whom was Becky Wren, who I know through my business, Hiho Silver. Becky has posted a reel about the Media day, which will be of interest if you want the lowdown on the cross-country fences, which you can find here.

I’ll leave the horsey insights to Becky, as she has so much more knowledge than me in that area! I loved seeing the course through Helen’s eyes, her passion for Bicton absolutely shone through. From first competing there at the age of seven through to marrying there thirty years later, it’s clearly been a really important part of her and Andrew’s lives.

Bicton also put Helen on the map as a cross country course designer, another of her passions – so it’s easy to see why it has such a draw for her. Helen is quoted in the recent press release as saying, “I am committed to offering quality coaching for South West based riders and am keen to build a real sense of community and comradeship for us all to enjoy.”

As we listened to Helen’s knowledgeable commentary on each fence and the lines she would expect the horses to take, it was evident that this is a lady who combines her extensive experience as a rider into the course design.

There is a real empathy for the horse and rider in Helen’s design, she’s built a course that does ask the challenging questions befitting a course at this level, but to me it doesn’t seem like she is deliberately trying to catch riders out. Helen is testing rider skill and horse/rider partnership and they most definitely need to have their wits about them to ride the course well.

The changes in elevation and undulations make Bicton a challenging course in itself, and Helen understands this. She commented, “Bicton is a cross-country designers dream, but it can tire the horses. It’s important to get a tired horse safely home, so I support this in my course design. Having been a rider, I know that the adrenalin can take over and caution goes to the wind, so I finish them up the hill, then a safe jump through the woods and no effort the other side, it worked brilliantly last year, so I haven’t changed it for this year.”

As we progress around the course, the many facets that Andrew and Helen have to think about when organising an event like Bicton become clear. From Andrew preparing the free-draining ground so that it’s ready for the event, to Helen designing the course, liaising with their Technical Director and all of the rider administration for entries. Then add in trade stands, ticket sales and just general co-ordination of everything, there is so much that goes into putting on a successful event.

As Helen talked about the origins of the Blackberry Cottage jump and the fact that many of their fences use larch and Douglas timber from the estate, meaning it’s more sustainable, she was also careful to point out that it also means that the horses can read the big bold shapes well.

In my experience, this attention to detail is the mark of a team who are not only passionate about what they do, but more importantly they are putting their competitor experience first and foremost.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Bicton develop over the next few years, and to attending the event itself again this year.

Have you ever been to Bicton? Let me know in the comments below.

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