Famous for its showpiece showjumping events, it’s now a bustling year-round Mecca for the horse world, boasting six arenas, all-weather training facilities, a wealth of hospitality suites, and dressage and polo events.
More than 60 years ago Douglas Bunn, a barrister before making his fortune through a caravan business, wanted the UK to have a permanent showground for equestrian sport. Determined to invest in the sport for the greater good, Douglas purchased a site called Hickstead Place in West Sussex with the intention of creating an equestrian facility to rival those found in Europe and the USA.
Over the course of the past six decades, Hickstead has woven its place in the fabric of equestrianism on a global scale. While most famous for its showpiece showjumping events, it’s now a bustling year-round Mecca for the horse world, boasting six arenas, all-weather training facilities, a wealth of hospitality suites, and dressage and polo events.
Although Douglas passed away in 2009, the Bunn family continues Douglas’s legacy to this day: six of his nine children are actively involved in the running of the facility. Edward and Lizzie are in charge of the running of the showground on a day-to-day basis, while John, Chloe, Daisy and Charlie also take on responsibilities despite also having careers in other areas.
The third generation of Bunns are also leaving a lasting imprint on the family legacy: William is the Showground Manager, while Lucy is an accomplished showjumper. The family-centric ethos is pervasive and infectious throughout Hickstead, as Sponsorship Manager Simon Gaskin explains: “Family is at the very heart of Hickstead: from the passion of the riders, whose family support teams enable them to compete here, through to the sponsors and exhibitors, many of whom have grown up attending Hickstead, we are so fortunate to have such loyal supporters. Our regular visitors often comment that it’s not ‘just another show’; Hickstead is something truly special.”
More than half a million pounds has recently been invested into the showground, with several existing grass rings being converted into two huge all-weather arenas, cementing Hickstead’s position as a world-class year-round equestrian centre. During the winter months these arenas are used for cross-country and showjumping schooling and arena polo, but at the beginning of the 2021 summer season they will be transformed to create a Premier League dressage venue with a number of arenas, as well as an international-sized warm-up arena.
In the main arena, after an enforced absence in 2020 due to Covid-19, Hickstead’s two showpiece events will make a welcome return: the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting in June, and the Longines Royal International Horse Show (featuring the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup) in July.
The Derby is one of the most revered and feared events in the world of showjumping: a mammoth 1,195m course featuring two treacherous water jumps including the infamous Devil’s Dyke. The list of winners reads like a who’s-who of post-war British and Irish showjumping, with storied riders such as David Broome, John and Michael Whitaker, Eddie Macken, Nick Skelton and William Funnell (who describes the event as “the Grand National of showjumping”) all having taken top honours.
The second iconic event at Hickstead is the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup, which pits the world’s leading riders against each other as they represent their countries in a breathtaking show of skill, balance and athleticism. In 2021, Sweden will be looking to retain their crown after last year’s enforced break from competition.
While it’s an incredible experience to watch these globally renowned events as one of the 5,000 spectators in the main arena, it’s equally remarkable to consider the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to put on events of this magnitude. And, as Estate & Showground Manager William Bunn explains, Avant loaders are instrumental to that process.
The Avant is an excellent solution for what we do. As with mobile phones, you do tend to wonder how you managed to get the job done before you had one.
And it’s not just the one, either. “We are currently running a 760 which we keep all year round,” William explains, “but during the summer we increase to two machines and during event weeks we often have three. Over the years we’ve had a variety of models, including a fully electric one which we found was very capable.
“The 760, though, is such a versatile beast. We rely heavily upon the pallet forks and bucket attachment, although in the past we’ve used the pressure washer for cleaning signs and wash-downs, the paddock hoover for removing manure from the arena during events, and the bale grab which was just as good as moving bundles of Christmas trees as it was bales.”
During the events the three Avants are shared between the grounds team, the stable/field management team and the bars team. They are used for everything from unloading jumps and piling up manure heaps to moving pallets of beer kegs and delivering fodder and bedding to stables. They can help us move anything from marquees to advertising boards.
“The reliability is excellent,” William enthuses. “We have had very few problems, and the Avant team are always very quick to help when the machine is due a service.”
As with so many of Hickstead’s proud sponsors, though, the relationship with Avant goes much deeper than simple sponsorship and provision of equipment. As well as being the Official Suppliers to the All England Jumping Course, in 2017 Avant went a step further: they sponsored the Avant Ring 2, in which more than 3,000 rounds were jumped over the course of the summer season.
Avant UK’s Managing Director, Raimo Ala-Korpi, sees Hickstead as so much more than an opportunity to showcase the versatility and reliability of these amazing multifunctional loaders: “Naturally we always have a stand at the two main events of the year, but it means so much more to us than simply an opportunity to market our products. It’s not uncommon for my team and me to arrive on site three days before the event starts, to rekindle old friendships, help with the setup and generally take in the unique atmosphere of the event. Avant espouses traditional Finnish values of loyalty and longevity in business relationships, and we feel truly invested in these world-class events. It really does feel like coming home to a family reunion every year, united by our love of these beautiful beasts and their brave and intrepid riders. I simply can’t imagine a summer without a week at Hickstead.”