We’re Far From The Madding Crowd

Why don’t more people watch horse driving trials in the UK? Promoting and marketing anything is not easy: there are so many activities for people to do, yet making entry free and informing people ahead of time about the event, the venue and about the sport has to be done if we are to attract an audience.

The continental press and equestrian magazines were mentioning the World Championships well in advance. The day before the even several top drivers were interviewed in the newspapers, which must have helped draw the crowds, that and the TV coverage. The even was well organised and the reasonably priced catering for the public was outstanding. Fans of horse driving trials came from all over the world to enjoy this: the knew what to expect and had some superb entertainment. The obstacles were surrounded by people ten deep from before eight on Saturday morning, despite the heat.

Why does driving attract such a huge crowd in the continent? What could we do in the UK to attract more people to events, at every level?

Maybe… if every club event organiser in the UK would invite the sports editor of the local newspaper or radio station for a drink or meal two or three weeks before the event takes place to explain the competition, he or she might listen. My experience is that this works. Asking a photographer to come and watch the is not good enough, as nobody organising has sufficient time on the day to explain the sport to him or her so they can make sense of it. Find members of the press and other important visitors a ‘buddy’, someone who knows the sport and can explain it with enthusiasm.

We are a friendly set of people: it shouldn’t be impossible. The equestrian centres, riding clubs, tack shops and Pony Clubs can be made aware of the carriage driving going on in their local area, as well as the local press, TV and radio. Use facebook and Twitter. Get the attention of the ‘interested rider’ the Pony Club members and committees, the local riding clubs and equestrian centres. Make our sport accessible to the rider, the young and old, the horse-lover. Promotion and more promotion is the only way the public is going to get to know about the sport.
Do not make people pay to watch: the organisers of club events in Europe do not charge the public to come in. Advertise the important ‘free admission’. And get a good commentator and public address system so that the casual visitor understands what is going on and is engaged. Have a newsletter or card or programme available so that people know when things are happening and they can keep it and get into contact with your club afterwards. [Horse and Hound’s Olympic ‘pull-out’ was a huge success, especially when the organisers at first failed to print enough equestrian running oprgers. Ed]

This all takes time, forward planning, co-ordination and persistence – and there are clubs already doing many of these things in their local area, however we always need more people to come into the sport, as fans, drivers, sponsors, helpers and officials, backsteppers and sport enthusiasts or it will not thrive at the top. We need to plan for next year, the next five and ten years; build on the interest of the Driving Back to Sport initiatives, the Pony Club’s new driving badge, the government’s Join In campaign, and open up horse driving as accessible to everyone, starting with the clubs, the heart of the sport.