The Mixed Zone’s Eleanore Kelly profiles Nina Barbour, whose entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen has established the Bolesworth International Horse Show, which takes place this week, on a top rung of the equestrian calendar
When Nina Barbour hosts a party in her back garden, the guest-list includes royalty, billionaire-heiresses and the hierarchy of the equestrian world. Her family’s back garden just happens to be part of the 6,000-acre Bolesworth Castle Estate in Cheshire where, for five days starting tomorrow, the Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show takes place.
Barbour has attracted the best riders in the world to her country seat at Tattenhall, just outside Chester. This year’s entry includes the King of Thailand’s daughter, HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, who competes in the dressage, as well as Eve Jobs, daughter of Apple founder Steve, and Sofia Abramovich, daughter of Roman. Then there are A-listers from dressage, showjumping and eventing like Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester, John Whitaker and Andrew Hoy.
The fact they choose to compete at Bolesworth when there are a number of other big shows going on in the same week, is testimony to Barbour’s hard work and pulling power. Indeed, such is the quality of the facilities, and the standards set out on the course, that the showjumping section of the show has been awarded a prestigious four-star status by the International Equestrian Federation.
It is a far cry from the first event, only seven years ago. In that time it has morphed from a small showjumping event, attracting mainly national competitors, to a large-scale, multi-disciplined, world-class extravaganza.
Barbour, who is now 37, is managing director of the estate. While it might be assumed that she was simply born into a life of wealth and privilege, she is a grafter in the rawest sense with the entrepreneurial spirit and ability to turn dreams and ideas into reality. Though Barbour had a legacy left by her father, Anthony, her extensive portfolio of events and businesses underline she has the drive to go with it.
It has not all been plain sailing, though. In addition to Bolesworth, Barbour has established the Liverpool International Horse Show as a major date on the calendar over the New Year period. However, disaster struck at the most recent show when a fire broke out in the car park adjoining the Echo Arena. It affected not only the thousands of spectators at the event, but also the stables which housed several hundred horses.
“It had already been a challenging week as a Swedish rider had to have her horse put down after an accident,” says Barbour. “But we were on the last class of the show when a message came through that there was a fire. It quickly became clear that it was out of control as smoke started to come into the arena.
“The fire crew arrived, but they weren’t geared up to tackle it. It was through the amazing organisation and quick thinking of the team that we managed to evacuate everyone and their horses.” However, it still proved a PR and business disaster as 1,400 vehicles were destroyed as the blaze tore through the multi-story car park.
“At first it was a huge relief and success in the sense no one was hurt,” says Barbour. “But it quickly turned into sheer disappointment and loss. So many people had come to support us in what should have been an amazing New Year’s weekend, and they lost their cars and possessions and couldn’t get home. We didn’t have disaster insurance either, so we took a huge hit on it.”
Given the financial implications, Barbour was forced to think hard about the future of the show. But her fighting spirit, got the better of her. “Everyone has worked so hard to establish the show, and we are determined now more than ever that it will be one of the world’s premier equestrian events. We are planning to make Liverpool 2018 the best show yet.”
Barbour, a Cambridge graduate who competed professionally as a rider, is permanently in “work mode”. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She has ambition and appears to be a real chip off the old block. Her father, adopted as a child, inherited the Bolesworth Estate, and in order to keep it in the family name set it up as a commercial enterprise, diversifying farm land for other uses and adapting farm buildings for residential and commercial use. His sudden death from cancer in 2011 gave Barbour no choice but to struggle through the mourning period and take over the running of the estate alongside her mother.
“He had left the estate in good shape, but it all happened so quickly,” she says. “He died in a matter of weeks. It was a terrible shock, but we had to stay strong. It was sad that he died just before the first show.”
Barbour had always loved competing and started off as an event rider, reaching elite level. She switched to showjumping as it was a less time-demanding sport to juggle with her work schedule. “Since a child I’ve loved horses and the competitive element. It’s exciting having an aim and pushing yourself to the next level,” she says. “I am flat-out running the business now and only compete sporadically, but I am still as ambitious as ever. I would love to win a CSI 2* Grand Prix one day.”
Her ambitions as a businesswoman are no different: she wants to grow the brand and make the Bolesworth Show one of the best in the world. This is no vanity project: it is about improving the sport for the competitors and the spectators as well as enticing a new audience.
“We’ve always aimed to stage the best in traditional equestrian sport, with new innovations for the 21st Century. I’ve always loved the long history in our sport. But I’ve travelled and competed in Europe and I wanted to bring some of the European style to British equestrian sport, where the showjumping, dressage and eventing has a great social element of a brilliant day and evening out. Somewhere you can watch sport, network and have a great time, too. We’re fortunate to have some fabulous sponsors and that’s enabled us to grow and be more ambitious.”
The Equerry Bolesworth International Horse Show takes place from June 13 to 17 at Bolesworth Castle. Tickets are available from www.bolesworthinternational.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eleanore Kelly is a multi-media journalist who competed in three-day eventing at elite level. She runs an equestrian business in Hampshire and still has a burning ambition to compete around Badminton. At present her role as an assistant producer for the BBC has to suffice. Eleanore’s latest articles.