The show must go on
PUBLISHED: 12:40 19 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:38 20 February 2013
Prize bulls, acrobats on horseback, and a monster car-crushing vehicle don't usually go together, but at the country show these days, says Nicky Holford, anything goes...
The show must go on
Prize bulls, acrobats on horseback, and a monster car-crushing vehicle dont usually go together, but at the country show these days, says Nicky Holford, anything goes
Bad weather, outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease, and double-dip recessions have all contributed to making the annual summer shows resilient to every possible situation thrown at them. In order to survive they have had to be inventive.
The original country shows, under increasing financial pressure with ever-escalating insurance costs have had to adapt to the expectations of modern times. That now means providing a great day out for all the family with activities and interests to suit everyone.
Fortunately this does not mean the original concept of the big agricultural shows has been lost, but keeping a fine balance so that farmers can learn of new innovations in technology and methods, and a family can have a good day out, isnt easy.
There is a balance to be struck, says Tim Gardner, former show secretary for the Moreton-in-Marsh Show and currently show secretary for The Cotswold Hunt and Farmers Show. You need to keep farmers, livestock and horses on board to get an audience, but to pay for the facilities that are needed you have to have the audience. You cant build up an audience and all the categories of showing very quickly. Theres an old show saying: up quick, down quick.
Traditional agricultural shows have played an important part in both small country towns and larger cities for hundreds of years. From the 1830s there have been smaller events which used to be run for a couple of days and then the larger Royal Shows which could last for as long as two weeks. The Royal Show, which first started in 1839, held by the Royal Agricultural Society of England used to move around. London and Manchester were earlier venues until it eventually became based at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire where, at its height, it attracted over 140,000 visitors from more than 100 countries.
The Royal showcased all aspects of farming and country life, giving farmers and participants the chance to see the best British livestock and learn about the latest innovations. In its 170-year history The Royal Show took place annually except during the two World Wars and outbreaks of cattle disease and Foot and Mouth. But it didnt survive recent years of bad weather, Foot and Mouth and an outbreak of Bluetongue in 2008 and sadly held its last show the 160th in 2009.
Going from strength to strength and increasing in popularity is The Cotswold Show, which started in 1989 and is held in Cirencester Park. Initially the show was very much country orientated, explains Lord Bathurst, one of the company directors, and who has been involved since the first show, but it is now much more of a family show with activities for all ages.
The show has a countryside arena which has exhibits of the farming year, from ploughing the fields to harvesting, with examples of vintage machinery right through to modern satellite-guided tractors. Coarse fishing, gundog and falconry demonstrations, and rare breeds from Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs to Dorking poultry are only a few examples of what you can see.
On the less traditional side and back by popular demand is Big Pete a 7.5-ton car-crushing machine. With the price of scrap being so high this year, visitors were being asked to bring their own cars to be crushed in return for free entry.
Adding a new slant to the traditional horse show classes comes the appearance of horse whisperers, acrobatics on horseback and even the celebrity horse. Earlier this summer at the Three Counties Show in Malvern, Joey, the star of Stephen Spielbergs Warhorse, made a personal appearance.
At The Cotswold Show horse whisperer Gary Witheford demonstrated his true affinity with horses of all dimensions and moods. While under the guidance of acrobat horsewoman Amy Woodward, the Blazing Saddles stunt team dressed in daring and dramatic costumes performed extraordinary feats such as backwards arabesques on galloping horses. For the fearless you can even join a Blazing Saddle clinic to learn some of the acrobatic stunts.
The Moreton-in-Marsh Show, which takes place every first Saturday in September, has secured the talents of French performer and natural horseman Jean Francois who travels all over Europe with six horses of different breeds. There is nothing these horses wont do for him including cantering while he stands on two of them bareback with one leg on each horse.
Even the smaller hunt supporting shows are finding that they must offer some of the same facilities as the bigger shows such as shopping and food stands and provide a range of activities if they are to increase attendance figures. One of the oldest in Gloucestershire, The Cotswold Hunt and Farmers Show, which began in 1948, annually increases the number of horse, dog and livestock classes. New for this year are gundog trials, increased dog racing and tutorial dressage.
Each year we try to up our game by introducing new qualifiers for Horse of the Year as well as adding new attractions to make the show a great day out for all, says show director Trevor Clarke.
Keeping close to its roots, the Moreton-in-Marsh Show, the largest one-day agricultural show in the Cotswolds, is guaranteed to showcase the best of farming and Cotswold skills such as dry-stone walling, hedge-laying, and spinning. Key are the livestock hosting the National Shows of Poll Hereford Cattle and Cotswold Sheep and more than 100 classes of traditional breeds including bantams, ducks, geese, turkeys with many for sale.
But this 60th show, covering over 25 acres of pastureland and attracting more than 20,000 visitors, has a few tricks up its sleeve still.
The Cotswold Hunt and Farmers Show is on Sunday, August 19; admission 5 per car; www.cotswoldhunt.co.uk
Moreton-in-Marsh Show is on Saturday, September 1; admission 13.50 adult in advance, 16.50 on day; family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) 35 in advance, 42 on day. Tel: 0870 877 7409; www.moretonshow.co.uk