Preparations are already under way for the popular Skipton Horse Trials. Last year’s event was a huge success and organisers are hoping for more of the same. Lesley Tate looks at what people can expect from the two events.

With what has been one of the wettest winters for many a year, my rides out have been greatly restricted to the roads and lanes around East and West Marton and Coniston Cold.

The wonderful off road bridlepaths that we’re so lucky to have in the area have been out of bounds for much of the winter for fear of churning up farmers’ fields, or indeed of getting stuck in the mud.

However, the ground is starting to dry out and with all that road work, horses will be super-fit and raring to go for the eventing season.

Skipton Horse Trials, sponsored by Skipton Building Society, is the largest equestrian event in Craven and is fast gaining a reputation for itself as the best grass roots competition in the north.

It is a great day out whether you’re competing at a high level, an enthusiastic amateur, a champion in the making or like me, someone who has ridden for years but has never been quite brave enough to tackle it.

Even the non-horsey person will find it a hugely entertaining day out – you can take the dog along (as long as it’s on a lead) and it is truly amazing to witness the partnership of riders and horses as they tackle obstacles that really don’t look like jumps at all, rather oversized picnic tables and holes in trees.

It is a true test of horse and rider working together with confidence and trust, and bucket loads of courage.

Then there is the showjumping and the dressage. What better way to spend an early or mid summer day than with deckchair and picnic watching all the action?

The Skipton trials, held as usual at John Howard’s Funkirk Farm, Heslaker Lane, off the A59 just before Broughton, will this year celebrate its Silver Jubilee (25 years), and organisers are going all out to make it a year to remember.

Held over two weekends, in June and in August, it attracts around 600 competitors, with top eventers, such as Ruth Edge, Oliver Townend and Ben Hobday using it as a qualifier on their route to events like the Badminton Horse Trials.

Planning takes all year and is carried out by the three organisers, brothers Robin and Mike Bower as well as Tim Bennett together with a small committee.

One thing’s for sure, the team, most of whom ride competitively, are most definitely not in it for the money. “It is a labour of love,” says committee member Kate Bower.

“We certainly don’t make any money and if we break even, we’re happy. We just want to do it,” she says.

As with Badminton and Burghley, competitors compete in three disciplines – cross country, showjumping and dressage.

Entry starts at BE90 – which used to be called introductory level – and with obstacles just under three feet, it’s a good start for the new eventer. Next up is BE100, or pre-novice; and then BE120, novice. There is also an open novice class.

There are thoughts about bringing in a BE80 class in future years, but the jury is still out on that, because of the expected large increase of competitors that would bring and the possible necessity of bringing in another day.

For the moment however, everyone is happy with the event as it is, particularly the atmosphere and the fact that amateurs can rub shoulders with the professionals.

“We get the really experienced riders coming with strings of young horses, and we get people coming with just one horse,” says Kate.

“What I really like is we get professionals riding up against amateurs, and the amateurs can do just as well.

“We’ve also had someone in her 60s and as young as 14, and men and women compete at the same level.”

There is also the excellent catering tent, all done in-house and a selection of trade stands selling horse tack, feed and of course, dog supplies.

With the first weekend of the event fast approaching (June 14/15), and as soon as the ground has dried out a little more, the team will start tidying up the fences already in place and getting out others kept in storage.

There is also the water fence to be restored and made ready, always a popular place for people to sit and watch.

The course is re-designed every few years by Ronald Alexander, and in between times it is freshened up and rebuilt by course builder, Tim Bennett.

Over the years, the event has built up an army of volunteers, 200 of which are required on each day to help the event run smoothly.

“We get lots of people who enjoy riding and horses in general and who come back every year, some even spend the weekend camping and make it a real social event,” says fellow committee member Sheila Pilling.

Last year, the event had the support of scouts from the 16th Sacred Heart Colne and 1st West Craven Scouts.

“They were brilliant, they brought their tents along and made a real weekend of it,” says Sheila.

Then there was also helpers from the Pendle Forest and Craven Hunt Pony Club, and the West Yorkshire Trail Riders Fellowship. It’s not just horsey people who like to come along and help out – much like the people who come just to watch – it is a really exciting and interesting day out.

“People come along with their dogs and walk around the course and can sit and watch the dressage and showjumping with a picnic, we’d really like to get across, it’s not just an event for horsey people, everyone can enjoy it,” says Kate.

This year the event’s main sponsor is once again Skipton Building Society, a role it has proudly held for four years.

The event has a number of other sponsors, but it is keen to encourage more to join.

The expense of running the event every year is huge, what with the hire of the show jumps, the generators and the site itself, but for every company or individual who comes on board there is the promise of advertising reaching the ever increasing crowds and access to an industry worth millions. With it being the special silver anniversary year, there is likely to be special rosettes and some specially adapted obstacles and jumps.

Meanwhile, international event rider, Ben Hobday, has given Skipton a ringing endorsement and will be back again this year.

“I love Skipton,” he said. “It’s a great local event with a good atmosphere and is perfect for my young horses.

“The team there do a great job running the event are very helpful and build and design a good course.

“I’ve been going to Skipton for a long time and it’s normally a lucky event for me, so I keep coming back. I would recommend it for riders wanting to educate their horses and run on good going.”

For more details of Skipton Horse Trials go to its website at or to volunteer to help out, email