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Behind the Scenes

Here at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, we are incredibly lucky to have our wonderful Head of Department's, who look after individual areas of the event and their volunteer teams. Here's a sneaky peak at what they get up to and little bit more about them.

Wendy McGowan – Official’s Catering Manager 

 1.   Explain what your role is on event.

My role is Head of Department for the official’s Catering team, the picnic run ladies, programme sellers and treasury team. I am very lucky to have built up an excellent team of volunteers in all these areas who do an outstanding job during the event. Once on event, my main task is to ensure that all officials have enough refreshments for their early morning briefings and then throughout the day. Having hot water for teas and coffees does mean that I am on site turning urns on from 5:30am and you will see me on my buggy responding to requests and delivering essential supplies (mainly chocolate!) to keep the teams in good spirits and well refreshed throughout the day.

2.   In the lead up to the event, what is your most difficult task? 

Once I have confirmed my teams, and I am very lucky to have loyal volunteers to the Event who return each year, in the lead up to the event the hardest task is making sure I know where all the briefings are going to be held so that I can ensure deliveries to the briefing locations are made in good time.

3.  What is the strangest request you have had from a volunteer?

I don’t recall having a particularly strange request but the most common one is always, “can we have more chocolate?”

4.   What is your role within the sport when you’re not beavering around the Blenheim site on a golf buggy?

When I’m not flying round Blenheim on my buggy, my day job is Financial Director for British Eventing. I have been in this role now for six years and it’s a job I thoroughly enjoy.

5.   If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what food would it be?

If I could eat only one food for the rest of my life it would be seafood.  Plateau de fruits de mer is my food heaven.

Jennie Smith – Fence Judge Coordinator

1.  Tell us about your role as Fence Judge Coordinator at Blenheim.

The job starts right back in February when we start pulling together our teams and decide how many volunteers are needed for fence judging. This can vary according to the fences – you need more people on a combination, for example, than on a single fence. Generally, I manage a team of around 90 people that all come to me via the volunteering process on the Blenheim website. Unfortunately, we always receive more applications than are needed, so some people are disappointed, but there are other vital roles on event and if people are flexible there is always a role for them at Blenheim. It’s important to keep everyone involved, updated and feeling part of the Blenheim Team right up to, as well as during the event, so I send out frequent emails and newsletters. However, all of our fence judges volunteer regularly at other British Eventing events, at all levels across the country so I do see most of them quite a few times before the event. Most of my work is done prior to the event, and if I’ve got it right, once everyone is in position things should run smoothly without much input from me! We have a very experienced, flexible, and friendly fence judging team at Blenheim and this does make life easier.

My role is also a voluntary position, so I have to fit it around a full-time job and family, as well as the other horse trials I volunteer at.

2.   What are the best and worst parts about managing a team of fence judges?

Best - meeting some lovely people and going to some fabulous places.

Worst – never being able to please everybody at all time!

3.  How are you involved with the sport of eventing outside of Blenheim?

I organise fence judges for another seven events from BE80T to CIC3*, and I am fence judging steward at another CCI3*. I also volunteer as a fence judge, or any other job that needs doing, at various BE events. I created and administrate the British Eventing Volunteers Facebook page and Twitter account @BEVolunteers. I very rarely go to spectate anymore!

4.  Would you prefer the weather to be extremely hot or very wet?

Can I choose in-between?! I guess at least if it’s hot the events still run, and we can provide water & ways to cool down. Very wet usually means the event is cancelled. People smile more in the sunshine too.

5.   If you could choose one song for the whole team of Blenheim volunteers to sing, what would it be?

The obvious answer would be ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, but if I’m being truthful anything by Jason Donovan!


Zanie King – Stable Manager

1.   Tell us about your role at Blenheim.

I am Blenheim’s Stable Manager - therefore my job is to run the event stables and it’s team and look after the welfare of the competitors, horses and the owners.

2.   What is the most difficult aspect of your job as Stable Manager?

It’s a hard task to please everyone!

3.   Talk us through a typical day at the Blenheim stables.

Our day starts early to open up the stables and check that all is as should be, I am then there to cater for all competitor and equine needs and deal with any issues that arise as I am the initial base for rider/event contact. It’s a case of being there to uphold event rules but we endeavour to make our event a pleasurable experience for all competitors, grooms and owners.

4.   What is your ‘real life’ job?

I am jack of all trades! I am a co-organiser of Salperton Park Horse Trials and also help out at Bramham, Barbury and Larkhill Horse Trials. I do entries and travel logistics for Laura Collett, freelance event grooming and of course look after my own horses and Event Rider Chris King.

5.   If you could ride any horse to ride around Blenheim, which would you go for?

I’m not the bravest rider so I would choose a horse that I looked after for Pippa Funnell when I was her head girl - Primmores Pride - as he was bold and brave with plenty of scope.


Gail Ambrose – Bladon Arena Coordinator

1.   Explain your role on Event?

I organise and run the Riding Club, Pony Club & Equilibrium Products Eventer Challenges in the Bladon Arena. This is an arena based competition of Cross Country and Show Jumping fences. I oversee the whole competition and have the final say on any decisions that have to be made on the day. My role is made easy by the amazing team of judges, stewards and volunteers who are well briefed so we can run a safe and enjoyable competition.

2.   What is the most difficult aspect of your job as Bladon Arena Coordinator?

Keeping everybody happy and making sure everything runs to time!

3.   What is the strangest request you have ever received from a volunteer?

I haven’t really had any strange requests but I do know that the Bladon Arena has a reputation for consuming the most amount of chocolate on event!

4.   What is your favourite thing about Blenheim?

The whole event but especially the Saturday which is my day off so I can relax and enjoy the Cross Country and have some retail therapy! I have been involved in Blenheim for over 20 years and have watched it grow, it just gets better and better each year.

5.   If you could ride any horse in the CCI3* competition here at Blenheim, who would it be, and why?

Nicola Wilson’s Opposition Buzz, who is sadly not with us anymore. He was such an awesome horse Cross Country and to ride him at Blenheim would have been my dream.


Ann Ballard – Dressage Coordinator

1.   Tell us about your role as Dressage Coordinator at Blenheim.

I find a team of volunteers to run the CCI and CIC arenas on the day. Writers, stewards score collectors etc. and make sure they have the information they need. I also put up the arenas, with the help of Liz Howe, which includes warm up arenas and practice arenas.

2.   In the lead up to the event, what is your most difficult task?

It varies each year - this year it is likely to be getting the correct number of volunteers. My team has been jinxed with accidents and I seem to be looking for replacements each week! Other years it has been mislaid boards or letters for the arenas, or high winds that have blown down the arenas/letters and we have had to find different ways of securing them!

3.   What is your job outside of Blenheim?

I help run the family farming business.

4.   What is your favourite part about being involved at Blenheim?

It reminds me of the wonderful times I had when I evented.

5.   If you were only allowed to eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Dark Chocolate because I am addicted to it!


Niki Jackson – Head of Visitor Liaison

1.   Tell us about your role at Blenheim.

I first volunteered for Blenheim six years ago and loved it from day one! I have since achieved the dizzy heights of Head of Visitor Liaison which means I have responsibility for everyone in the grandstands and VIP/Members areas. I also manage the Blenheim Ambassadors (our version of the Olympic Gamesmakers who provide information and help to visitors), the main scoreboard team, the visitor element of our hospitality areas and, starting this year, the Owner Liaison Office.  It’s quite a large remit and it would be impossible to undertake without the support and enthusiasm of my wonderful team. 

2.    What are the best and worst parts about managing your team?

Having such a great team really helps me – our early morning briefings are always lively and fun. They are a flexible, good-humoured and willing bunch who make my role on event very easy. In fact, getting them to take their breaks during the day is often my hardest task! I enjoy the pre-event planning, working out team rosters, attending meetings and trying to come up with new and innovative ideas to enhance the event for my team and our visitors.

No worst parts really in managing the team.  Personally, sore feet from all the standing which I’m not used to, then the post-Blenheim Blues! The Monday after the event has finished is always a rather forlorn day for me, but there’s always next year to start planning!

3.    What is your real life job?

I work for a specialist electricity generating company.

4.   What is it about Blenheim that makes it so special to you?

Even though Blenheim is a major date in the international eventing calendar, it still manages to retain a warm and friendly feel. Driving in early each morning, when the site is quiet, still gives me such a buzz; I feel immensely proud to be a part of such a fantastic event.

5.   If you could have a superpower what would it be and why?

Never given this any thought and never wanted to leap tall buildings in a single bound! The gift to relieve famine and disease and to stop wars would, I expect, be everyone’s choice. The ability to stretch time would be very handy… and the power to resist chocolate. Neither really ‘super’ but both very useful to me!


Belinda Thompson – Chief Scorer

1.    What is involved in your role at Blenheim?

I am the Chief Scorer for both the CCI3* and the CIC3*, so it is my job to collate all of the scores for these international classes and make them available for the competitors and public to see.

2.   What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

Sorting out accommodation and evening meals for my volunteer helpers that come from afar!

3.   Talk us through a typical day in the scorer’s box.

After the initial trot up we allocate competitors suitable times that don't clash if they are riding more than one horse. On the Dressage days we ensure that the Dressage sheets are collected promptly so they can be added up whilst the next competitor is in the arena. This enables the commentator to announce scores between horses. Cross Country days mean ensuring that the scores, and any penalties, are reported to my team promptly so we can accurately 'live' score. Finally, the Show Jumping, where we 'live' score, so the results can be made available immediately.

4.   What is your favourite part about Blenheim?

Working in such a beautiful location with an amazing team!

5.   If you could go on a holiday anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

It would have to be Malawi so my husband, Guy, and I could go kayaking.