Running Away With The Circus

Feb 1, 2019 - 7:47 AM

It’s the start of a new year and all the talk is of this year’s events, the merry-go-global list that takes us to almost the four corners of the earth. Every year, the list gets longer: World Cups, Nations Cups, Global Champions Tour, etc. I have been lucky enough to be at the forefront of many of these events over the last 10 years and like so many, we spend an awful lot of time traveling to them. (I spent over 30 days literally in the air last year, according to British Airways. One whole month of the year, sat on my arse!)

The Chronicle ran an article earlier this month on the decline of derbies and growth of the new type of events, the city-center showcases or those simply in spectacular locations. These events are all a huge privilege to walk into and call work every morning. The GCT on Miami Beach simply takes your breath away every morning, and I am not kidding. Every day it really is a breath-taking admiration of nature at the sunrise and sunset.

Early morning works
Sunrises in Miami are always stunning. Stefano Grasso/LGCT Photo

The roaring stadiums of Aachen and Hamburg (Germany), the new boundaries pushed in Shanghai and the noise of Barcelona (Spain) or Madrid. Our lives read like a travelogue. This year already I have finished two weeks in Palm Beach (Florida) and then it’s to Dubai (United Arab Emirates) for five days, via home in England, before back to Palm Beach. My own choice and dear God I’m lucky to have the choice.

Take the flip side though; we are a sport where longevity of riders has to be more than the majority of athletes in other sports. While tennis players and golfers might spend a maximum of 20 to 25 years on this tour of airports and hotels, show jumpers could be doing it for more than 40 years! That’s commitment.

The rewards are there to be had—to have worked in Prague  before Christmas on the Global Tour playoffs with $13 million in prize money was a personal career highlight for me. For those that took home the major money, it was a payday high.

Everything though comes at a cost. What those on the outside don’t see is the lengths riders, grooms, officials and all those involved will go to in order to spend time with their families, just a few snatched hours or a single day. Our industry is a 365-day one; there is no let up.

Personally, the amount of time I spend at home is very little. Again, absolutely by choice, but with it comes the weddings in the summer that you miss, a friend’s barbeque or a delayed holiday with your hugely understanding partner to fit into your busy schedule. Sport and the lifestyle can become an obsession, something that comes first above all else.

No one in the top flight is asking for sympathy; there are so many that would give anything to be a part of the big show. It does take everything you have to do it though. The commitment by everyone involved is 100 percent, 24/7. For those who make it there, the tightrope walked each week to keep yourself there can be exhausting itself. One day you’re top dog or the popular choice; the next, there’s a new kid in town.

A view of the arena
The ability to travel to places like Prague is one of the allures of this job. Mario Grassia/LGCT Photo

However, when you run off to join this circus—and I don’t just mean riders; I mean grooms, officials, organizers, wives, husbands, kids, they’re all swept up in it—it is all too easy to become lost in this world and lose touch with reality. To keep your feet on the floor you have to realize that it will last as long as it lasts… and long may it be for many! The next time you see the glamorous pictures of a famous city or a packed stadium, understand the commitment that all of those involved give to make it work. There are definitely more highs than lows, and dear God are there highs! Don’t lose sight of the lows though.

Working alongside several other announcers (the same applies to riders) recently, I can understand that when they have young families, the local options become more important than an ambition to trek around the planet. Just getting home at night and spending time with your wife and kids is the most precious thing you can have.

This sport, by its very nature, requires a huge commitment at every level because it involves a living, breathing animal that needs feeding and exercising every day. Horse people are a very special breed.

So, next time you see those wonderful pictures of Palm Beach, Aachen or Barcelona, just keep in mind how much it takes to get there. For those in the bubble, never lose sight of what is important and relish the opportunities our sport has given us to see the world.

Like I always say about my humble role: it’s not like I do a real job; doctors do that! This circus can be the greatest excitement you will ever have, so enjoy it while it lasts. Always keep in mind though what drives you and what you’re doing it for, what is important to you and never rue lost time with the important people.

See you down the road in 2019 and raise a glass to the wonderful opportunities that our sport offers and what exciting times lie ahead.


Steven Wilde got his start in commentating in 2001 and has gone on to announce at some of the world’s biggest venues, in all the Olympic disciplines. His voice has been heard at Hickstead, Blenheim and Barbury Horse Trials, and the 2012 London Olympic Games in England. He grew up in the sport of show jumping, as his mother was an international rider, and he’s been successful at organizing shows as well. Read all his blog entries here.

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