William Funnell perhaps summed it up better than anyone when asked to reflect on three spectacularly successful days that comprised the inaugural Equestrian.com Liverpool International Horse Show.
“You run out of superlatives for this show,” said the 2013-European-team-gold medallist. “We have tried to give entertainment, and you can see with the riders that we really enjoyed the show. The whole thing was fantastic.”
There were some who said it could not be done — a brand new show in an untried waterfront equestrian venue on the first three days of a New Year. But they figured without Nina Barbour and her dynamic organising team.
Barbour had already done it more than once through the other jewel in her crown — Bolesworth International — so the doubters really should have known better.
But even by the soaring standards that equestrian sport has come to expect from Barbour and company, Liverpool was something else.
It was the show that had everything — brilliant competition highlighted by the performances of Funnell, evergreen John Whitaker, grand prix winner Billy Twomey, plus the Allen sisters Pippa and Millie, who fought out a memorable jump-off in the Under-25 championship; huge crowds, spectacular entertainment and a feelgood factor of remarkable proportions.
One prominent rider said to me on Sunday evening that in his mind, Barbour is British showjumping’s most visionary figure for 50 years. Not since Douglas Bunn weaved his magic at Hickstead, has anything on this scale been witnessed.
Bumper crowds thronged the Liverpool Echo Arena throughout, while a bustling shopping village had a major wow factor for sellers and buyers, with the whole spectator experience enhanced by slick presentation, wonderful musical entertainment and a feeling of everyone wanting more.
“The organisers of this show deserve a serious amount of credit,” said Twomey. “The arena has been nearly full every day. To get a show kicked off in the first year and have big crowds is really impressive. It is an unbelievable show.”
And Whitaker added: “The facilities, the ring, everything at Liverpool is top-class. It is not easy to organise something like this, but it’s a great new addition to the calendar.”
Olympic-gold medallist Peter Charles was similarly enthused, stating: “You get treated beautifully, they look after the riders and the public have been fantastic. It is a truly great show. Full marks to Nina Barbour.”
And Liverpool’s success was not lost on a sizeable foreign rider contingent, including in-form Italians Emanuele Gaudiano and Piergiorgio Bucci, who both won classes.
“It is a super new show,” Gaudiano said. “It is the first show of the year, and it is an unbelievable event — one that will get bigger and bigger.
And Bucci added: “I enjoyed the show so much. I must say congratulations to Nina Barbour and all the organisers. This is the first year at Liverpool, and they have done an amazing job. It is so impressive. It is a super arena, and you get a really good, warm feeling in there.”
The good news for showjumping fans new — there are now many — and old is that Liverpool is here to stay, as is Bolesworth, and perhaps most importantly of all, so is Nina Barbour.