THERE'S nothing quite like whiling a few hours away at a horse trials event when the sun is shining. It always amazes me not more people are attracted by the lure of getting so close to a genuinely exciting, "edge of your seat" sport - and what other form of family entertainment is there where taking the dog along is not just tolerated, but almost compulsory?

We are lucky enough in Craven to have one of the premier British Eventing affiliated grassroots events not only in the North, but across the whole of the UK. Skipton Horse Trials, now 26 years old, is held twice a year, in June and in August at Funkirk Farm, Carleton, off the A59 near Broughton. Riders, both amateur and professionals, come from all over the country and as far as the Isle of Man.

It is a one-day event - which means it includes the equestrian disciplines of dressage, showjumping and cross country - the same as Badminton Horse Trials, although a mini version. People are quite at liberty to go around the showfield as they wish; they can stick close to the showjumping and dressage rings, browse around the trade stands, or take an interesting, behind-the-scenes look in the wagon parking areas, where riders are busy preparing their mounts, or even having their shoes tended to. Some of the wagons are spectacles in themselves, costing many thousands of pounds and fitted out with every conceivable luxury.

Then, there is the cross country course - always a little scary for the uninitiated, but as long as you keep your eye out for riders thundering up behind you, and for the jump judges, who will whistle every time a rider is getting close, you'll be fine. Cross country obstacles are built to scare the rider, rather than the horse, and many of them don't even look like jumps at all - some look like over-sized, flat-topped tables, there are barrels, holes between trees and sharp slopes with water jumps at the bottom.

A pleasant day out for many is to settle down close to the water obstacle with a flask and sandwiches, and just watch the show. Some at last month's event struggled across the long grass, with babies in buggies, to spend the day next to the water.

Because of the numbers of competitors, Skipton requires two days in both June and in August to fit everyone in. A great part of Skipton is that amateur riders get to compete, shoulder to shoulder, with the professionals. Skipton has seen the likes of Ruth Edge, Ben Hobday and Matthew Wright is a regular. Watching them is always an education - Wright in particular always seems to have at least one hot-headed youngster along, and to watch him expertly handle his mount around the show jumps is always worth hanging around for.

For many of the young, up and coming horse riders in the area, the event is a must-do. Several of June's success stories came up from the ranks of Pendle Forest and Craven Hunt Pony Club, including teenagers, William Bower, Katy Mousdale, Lydia Otulakowski, and Amber Coatsworth; and all want to pursue riding as a career. Both Katy and Lydia, who were competing for the first time at the BE90 class, learnt to ride at the Kilnsey Trekking Centre, while Lydia learnt at a now-closed riding school in Gargrave.

Skipton is an enormous task that requires much careful planning of a small committee, including brothers, Mike and Robin Bower, and course designer Tim Bennett. The event would also not be possible without use of John Howard's Funkirk Farm - where Skipton Races are also held - or without the help of well over a hundred volunteers, and of course, the sponsors.

A lot of those who volunteer are horse riders themselves, and may actually be competing on one of the days, but others just offer up their time in exchange for a free day out. They are always very well looked after, provided with training and regularly refreshed with drinks and cake.

Last month's event was particularly successful - as with all outdoor events in early summer, weather is an over-riding factor, and as it turned out, Saturday turned out warm, sunny and dry, and Sunday - despite a forecast of rain and strong winds - was similar. A good turnout of horse riders is always guaranteed; riders are a tough bunch, and it'll take some pretty extreme weather to put them off. More than 600 horses and riders took part over the weekend, but especially pleasing to the organisers was that more than double the number of casual visitors came through the gates.

"We received some fantastic feedback, but we will not be resting on our laurels," says joint organiser, Mike Bower. "We will continue to make improvements, particularly to the cross country course."

He adds they would be delighted to attract more sponsors. In the past, the event has been sponsored by Skipton Building Society; this year, it has the backing of, Grub's Boots, David Hill chartered surveyors, Craven Country Ride, and a number of other Craven backers, such as Gledstone Garden Centre and Bollywood Cottage, Gargrave's Indian restaurant.

"Our course designer, Tim Bennett, can design purpose built or themed cross country fences to match a sponsor's needs, adding to the interest of the course and provide great promotional opportunities," adds Mike.

One could be forgiven for thinking anything to do with horses can be elitist, and perhaps a little cliquey, and to a certain extent, like with any sport, there is an amount of jargon only familiar to those who ride and compete. But to dismiss the sport on that basis is to miss out.

Part two of Skipton Horse Trials will take place on August 8 and August 9. To find out more, including details on volunteering, entering and becoming a sponsor, visit