Heard about HorseFest, THE new event for 2021? Here we talk to Heidi Hunter-Cope about her vision with business partner, Thea Roberts and find out more about how the events that takes place at Weston Park, July 23 to 25.
A Meeting of Minds!
How did you both meet?
Now that’s a funny story – we live about 30 minutes ride from each other. Shortly after I moved in, a horse arrived, tacked up and riderless in my garden! It turned out it was Thea’s friend who kept her horse at Thea’s house. We briefly said ‘hello’ and later in the week, Thea popped a note in my post box saying it would be nice to catch up at some point (with the mention of a glass of wine!) – a little while later, we did, and we have been great friends ever since. We also work together for the Premier League in our other lives as consultants!
What is your fulltime job?
Hehe! I’m not sure I have one – HorseFest is my third business.
My profession is a business psychologist and I work independently for different organisations helping them to get the best from their people resource and helping individuals to be the best version of themselves. I have done that for rather a long time (not wishing to age myself!!). I used to be a Director of a consulting company and have been working independently for around 11 years.
In addition to my consulting business, I also own a baby and toddler swim school – up until COVID, we taught more than 900 babies, toddlers and pre-school children to swim each week. I started that business in 2010 to create a little more work-life balance and to take the pressure off needing to be away all the time which can be a downside of consulting.
Are your family horsey?
No … well, they weren’t! I was the horse crazed one who begged by mum and dad to let me ride (I started lessons age 4!) and continued begging until I got a pony at age 11. Then my mum did the most amazing thing! She learnt to ride at a local riding school and one day asked me to take her out on my pony. I popped a lead rein on and she said, “no, take that off, I’ll be fine”, and then proceeded to trot off down the road looking rather fabulous.
I was soooo proud of her! Some years later, she got her own horse and loved her time riding. My dad wasn’t horsey, but he helped loads and when I competed, he was my technician! I did Milton Keynes 3DE a few times back in the day, and he used to calculate when I needed to be at each marker on the roads and tracks… show jumping, he always had a stopwatch in hand!
The best thing – neither of my parents were pushy, they wanted me to experience the joy of riding and supported me in that.
Tell us about your horsey journey?
My journey starts with Merrylegs a shaggy little Shetland who I begged to ride at the park when I was very little. We were on a day out with my dad’s friend Terry and he actually paid for that first ride … my dad never forgave him as my passion grew. Though dad did get his own back when Terry had a daughter – Nicki – who he encouraged to ride and who also still rides today!
From age four to 11 I rode at riding schools and always loved the naughty ponies – I was fearless back in the day!
At age 11, Kate came into my life. A 14.1hh bay pony – TB x Section B – she was beautiful and my best friend. Knowing nothing about buying ponies, we got her from a dealer – she was super sharp and gorgeous – I just fell in love with her. We had so many adventures – hacking for hours and hours and sharing so many secrets – she knew everything about me. I really learnt to ride when I got Kate. Despite promises from the dealer, at the start, we never made it past fence one for quite some time. Over the months and years, our partnership grew and we flew! She was a cross-country machine and we had the best times. Kate became lame age 17 – she had a calcified tendon and so had to retire which was heart-breaking. We decided to have a couple of foals, but breeding didn’t really work out for us – her first foal, Sam, had a really dippy back and could never be ridden (though enjoyed his life and died age 29 having never worked a day!). Kate lost her second foal and so ended our breeding experience. Kate stayed with me until she died age 36.
After Kate, came my mum’s horse Hough (Huff) – he was a stunning Section D with serious attitude and loads of talent. Mum had a great time dressaging him and I evented and show jumped him. He was only 15hh and we had an amazing time at Pre-novice back in the day. Mum injured herself in a fall and Hough came to me when he was 17 – I thought he’d just chill out, but he was the one I took to Milton Keynes – he competed in unaffiliated 2-day and 3-days until he was 23 and I found out I was pregnant. Such an amazing horse. He lived happily until he was 32-years- old.
Next came Geoffrey – I bought Geoff when I was a student in Manchester – I borrowed money from my mum and dad and worked five jobs to keep him at livery! He was four when I got him … three months later, he was kicked in the field and suffered a smashed olecranon – he had ground breaking surgery by Chris Riggs (now Head of Veterinary Clinical Services at the Hong Kong Jockey Club). Chris was one of only two people in the country who could do the surgery back then – it involved plating the bone and a bone graft from his hip to his elbow. Incredibly, Geoff recovered and went on to event and team chase!! Later he pulled a suspensory ligament, so we switched to dressage – we weren’t great, but we had fun. Geoff died in 2019 age 29.
Though I had the horses, and loved caring from them, I didn’t really ride from the day I found out I was pregnant in 2004 until 2018! In March of 2018, a friend mentioned that her daughter was going travelling for six months and would I like to loan her horse to see if I would enjoy it again …. enter Cookie. Cookie changed by life again! She was awesome – a lovely 16.1hh chestnut mare with a heart of gold. We had loads of fun together –mostly hacking and fun rides, and she reignited by horsey passions (immense thanks to Millie for letting me have her). I cried and cried at the thought of her going back and so went shopping!
Enter Ricky! He is a 16hh ex racing thoroughbred who had evented a little with his previous owner. He is a bigger version of Kate – my very first pony. We have been on some journey together. He was extremely tricky and nappy when I first got him two years ago and it has taken an awful lot of work for us to build trust between us. We are most definitely getting there – he’s now officially my mate! We’ve had loads of lessons and are really making progress now. I don’t have the confidence I used to have, but still have the love of riding and Ricky and I are having lots of fun without doing anything too scary!
The final part of my horsey jigsaw is Grace who arrived in September. We used to have a livery to keep Ricky company, but he went off to college with his owner last September, so I needed to find a companion. Grace is a 16hh sports horse who has had a really rough few years. She was lucky to recover from grass sickness two-and-a-half years ago. I bought her from the field and at the moment, we’re just bonding. We’ll see if she can be ridden in the spring and if not, she might have a foal. She’s such a sweet mare, I feel privileged to have her.
What inspired you to launch HorseFest?
A few things really:
Firstly – there are few places to learn about horses as an adult. As a child, you go to Pony Club and can learn how to look after a horse as well as how to ride, but once you leave, it’s much harder to access really good learning. You can watch demonstrations, or go to lectures, but we noticed that these tend to be in isolation. In addition, apart from when you have a lesson on your horse, most learning is through watching rather than participating. As a psychologist, I know that this isn’t a great way to learn and won’t develop and embed real skills. Adults need to learn by applying information and understanding to their own situations – solve problems etc. So HorseFest started when we began to think about adult learning in the horse world.
Secondly, we also had other observations about the context in which people learn best. At times, the horse world can be quite closed and intimidating – lots of terminology that people don’t understand and sometimes judgmental observations. So we started to think about the ideal environment to learn in – one which is light-hearted and fun, where there is no such thing as a stupid question and where people can chat to and learn from experts.
Finally, we reflected on what happens when horsey people get together – that they love to talk horse and can do so for hours! We wanted to create an environment where they could do just that and what better place than a festival!
What is different about the event?
It has been built from our values – inclusive, inspirational, energetic, developmental and caring.
It’s an immersive learning experience. The experts and riders who at HorseFest are there to help the people who attend learn. At a competition, the riders are there to compete, they pay an entrance fee and though what they do is entertaining, it isn’t specifically aimed to benefit the audience. At HorseFest, everything that the riders and experts do is for the people who attend.
It is varied and not confined to a single sport or discipline, lots in one space.
A key ingredient is relatability, so all of the experts who are coming have a relatable story to tell – we are asking them to come ‘warts and all’ – so not just a glossy image, but real people telling real stories, making normal mistakes and learning.
Workshops are designed to be participative, so people bring their own problems and questions and walk away with plans that they can put into place at home. Our celebrities, riders and trainers will also be involved in talks and Q&As so the audience can get to know them.
It will be fun! Live music, DJs, quizzes, great food and the chance to chill around the camp fire!
Why did you choose Weston Park?
It has horsey and festival credentials – the Weston Park BE Event runs annually and it has hosted a number of festivals such as V festival. They are great at outdoor events! It is also pretty central and in a stunning location.
Not many places host horsey and festival credentials! We have 1,000 acres to grow into over coming years and have felt thoroughly welcomed by the team at Weston Park.
How did you choose who you wanted to hold demonstrations?
We started with an idea of which disciplines and then looked for people who are relatable and who live by similar values. Our values are really important to us. We have some lovely and awesome people coming to share their ideas with our audience. Amazingly, everyone who we wanted to come to HorseFest has bought into the concept and is excited about being there.
What do you think the atmosphere will be like?
OMG – sooo fun! I hope to see smiles on everyone’s faces, loads of chatter about what people have seen and what they are going to do differently when they get home. People really chilling, beer or coke in hand, sat on their picnic blanket, just enjoying the atmosphere. Families enjoying time together – kids enjoying the play area – non-horsey parents enjoying the food!
Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to?
Err – all of it!! The crazy thing is, we are creating an event that we would love to attend and I imagine, we’ll be very busy dashing from one thing to another over the weekend! Things that are different and that I really want to see include Ben Atkinson with his liberty horses – that fascinates me. And Charlie Unwin and Jason Webb doing their ‘meeting of minds’ – well, I’m a psychologist, so that’s got to be a highlight!