The Bolesworth Estate is a hidden gem of the Cheshire countryside. We take a stroll around the 6,000 acres estate with Nina Barbour, whose family has cared for the Estate since 1856 as she prepares for the inaugural Bolesworth International this June
As Nina takes direction from our photographer in the gardens of Bolesworth Castle, the first thing I note is how softly spoken she is but also how at ease she chatting to us about her life and loves as well as patiently explaining the equestrian terms to someone more at home with Thelwell than Big Star (the horse Nick Skelton rode to Olympic 2012 gold).
Building on the Olympic success and keeping Britain at the top of the table are just two of the things that have inspired Nina to push the already established Bolesworth Classic to International status: “With the Olympics still fresh in everyone’s mind it has to be a good time,” explains Nina. “We have fantastic shows in Olympia and Hickstead but they’re both down south. With such a strong equestrian county the Bolesworth International is a huge event for Cheshire as well as for the riders’ calendars.”
It’s not just for the show-jumping elite though. The four-day event is firmly about capitalising on the nation’s Olympic legacy and putting Cheshire firmly on the international show-jumping calendar, it is also about bringing the sport to those who, like me, may not have any other previous experience of it beyond summer 2012 viewing.
For this very reason, there will be many other activities, less serious than the action taking place in the arena; from Newfoundland rescue bear demonstrations to fine food marquee; and from stunt bikes to birds of prey.
“If the event is to be a success we not only have to appeal to the riders, who have been really supportive, but also the wider community. Britain is currently home to the top two world-ranked show-jumpers in Ben Maher and Scott Brash and it is something to be really proud of. The European Series is all about high-end sport but is also sociable and accessible and this is what we want to achieve here as we take the Classic to International level.
“My favourite part of the event is the Grand Prix. It is the ultimate test of athleticism and the relationship between horse and rider. It is easy to think that show-jumping is about any person jumping on any horse but it so much more complex than that. Yes, you need two very good individual elements but it’s about that special bond between animal and person that make the most special and successful relationships.”
Nina is unsure whether she will be taking part in the show-jumping as her beloved horse, Lord Louis passed away last year. Olympic winners Nick Skelton and Laura Kraut do plan to attend and compete and Louise Whitaker, daughter of international show-jumper John Whitaker is rumoured to have changed her wedding date in order to attend. No pressure then.
As Nina tells us of the plans and all that needs to be achieved in the next month, she is calm and collected and definitely a woman in control.
After discovering horses at a young age following some riding lessons with friends, Nina went on to successfully event at three-star level. Eventing (also known as horse-trials) tests riders and their horses on the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country and show-jumping.
She studied Land Economy at Cambridge but always knew she would come home and be involved in the equestrian world. Home is where the heart is and Nina’s passion is what she is doing right now.
What advice would Nina give to budding Nick Skelton’s out there? “I started with my local riding school, then progressed to Pony Club and onwards. If you really are interested go to the British Horse Society as there’s loads of information about joining a club and finding somewhere to ride. After that it’s all about hard work and determination really. It isn’t a cheap sport to get involved with though: The horse which won two silver medals in the Olympics has just changed hands for €8.6m!”
In 2007 Nina assumed directorship responsibilities for the Bolesworth Estate after her father passed away. She has continued with her father’s vision to create a modern working environment which includes 120 commercial lettings, 850 employees, 150 residential lettings, a dozen dairy farms and an annual equestrian spectacular. She also runs Harthill Stud with business partner and former Badminton and Burghely champion Oliver Townend.
As I ask Nina about her loves and hates many come back to Cheshire and horses. “I’d love to go and sit on a beach somewhere and just do nothing but that’s not possible right now. I love the ice-cream farm down the road and I really like Tarporley for its relaxed atmosphere and independent shops. Cheshire is an amazing place, it’s the third biggest horse hot spot you know and the countryside is amazing.”
At this moment we are sitting at the front of Bolesworth Castle, perched on a hill and taking in the rolling views towards Wales and Ellesmere Port. “You never tire of this view,” concludes Nina. As the interview draws to a close and I turn my back on the view, my conclusion is that the softly-spoken Nina Barbour is someone with passion, determination and a clear goal in mind who loves her life and all that comes with it.