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Feature: Unsung Heroes of Royal Windsor

It takes hundreds of people to run a show as large and diverse as Royal Windsor, many of whom have specialist skills and work extremely long hours largely for the thrill of being involved. We (eventually!) tracked down five dedicated RWHS personnel to see them in action
Words by Lucy Higginson

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The Chief Vet – Martin Watson

“I’ve been involved with this Show for 30 years, and the Chief Vet for the past 10 or so, but I actually put weeks into the Show every year.
It’s my job to choose a team of vets with the right qualifications, decide the rota, take care of them, set up an on-site treatment hospital and so on.
There are around 10 vets working through Royal Windsor, and quite some time beforehand in some cases… the overseas horses may be here for two weeks or more.
Every FEI horse [competing in the international classes] and those competing in The Pageant is examined and has its passport checked on arrival. We’ve a vet at each arena during every class, and screens kindly loaned by Windsor Racecourse in the rare event of a serious accident. But most of the time we’re dealing with cases of transit fever, kick injuries, trauma sustained in travelling – plus a few distressed dogs who have been left in cars in the car park. We’ve seven vets on the showground at any one time, and share the on-calls at night but it’s not uncommon to find myself up at 5am and here until after midnight.
There is also tremendous pressure to get the international horses away from the Show as soon as the competitions are over and this requires a big effort to have travelling documents checked, issued and signed. I am the last vet standing to see off any late departures after the Show has ended.
It’s a massive commitment, but a great team effort and I absolutely love it. It’s a privilege to be involved in the greatest horse show in the world.”

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The Volunteer Steward – Nora Tarrant

“I first volunteered here for The Queen’s 90th Birthday pageant, and have done the same each day of Royal Windsor for the past five years, even though it’s an hour to get here from home. I do quite a lot of community service and it’s a privilege to serve here.
You may be asked to do all kinds of things – it’s important to be flexible – from manning crossing points, buggy driving, answering visitors’ questions to checking tickets at the front gate or helping fill spare seats in the grandstands as quickly as possible. Doing small things like that well can make such a difference to a visitor’s day.
I enjoy talking to people and finding a bit about them, and watching various parts of the show – seeing top-level showjumpers close up, the hounds in the main arena, and the ponies in the Shetland Pony Grand National. It’s super to see young people showing such teamwork and dedication to their animals, and it can take great guts to carry on sometimes when it’s not all going to plan.
It can be a long day – up to eight hours on your feet – but there is great camaraderie among the volunteers, and people are almost universally polite here. The first thing you must do is learn where all the loos are, and then be ready to answer the next most popular question, ‘Is The Queen here today?’”

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The Catering Manager – Bethan James

“I’ve now worked at 10 Royal Windsor Horse Shows as director of operations for the official caterer Payne and Gunter, overseeing the catering operation for the Club restaurant and enclosure, the Royal Box as well as the boxes, and public areas.
It’s a stunning but sometimes challenging setting – it’s quite a big site and you can have four seasons in a day. There can also be lots of extra planning and logistics required by security when members of the Royal family are in attendance. Sometimes serving food is the easy bit!
We have over 100 employees onsite helping to serve up over 1,588 meals and over 700 bottles of Champagne through the course of the Show. We’re very passionate about what we do, sometimes here from 6am until about 11.30pm at night.
The focus at Royal Windsor is British and traditional food – last year we had a few Victorian elements as well, to tie in with The Pageant celebrating 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria. Those Victoria sponges were flying out!”

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The Arena Steward – Ed Benyon

“As Chief Steward of the Castle Arena it’s my job (with two other full-time stewards) to make sure this arena and collecting ring run safely and to time. It has to be slick, and I’m pretty obsessive about keeping to time – so if the Dubai Police overrun (as they did last year) we have to think on our feet and ask The Pony Club Mounted Games to skip one race afterwards.
I used to showjump myself – very badly – and find it incredibly satisfying helping elite jumping classes through the Arena along with a huge variety of others – from Costers to Shetlands and military displays.
Every display or act has its own Marshall and part of my job is to ensure they are waiting to come in as the previous section concludes. The professional riders tend to be the easiest to deal with even if they’re caught in a total deluge. It’s slightly more challenging when you’ve got 64 hunt followers in the collecting ring, or dozens of competitors for the services jumping, who are less used to the procedures. We’ve had plenty of loose horses, so you do need eyes in the back of your head.
All the Arena Stewards are volunteers, and it is very busy, so you may well ask why we do it. I really enjoy getting a ringside view of the best riders in the world in top-class jump-offs, being right up close to everything. But more than anything, it’s fun – even working from 6am to 11pm – to be with a great team of people and round the night off with a drink with your mates.”

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Nigel Trott – Stable Manager
“We build 980 boxes for Royal Windsor and The Pageant when you include all the stables, isolation boxes, tack rooms and so on. My team of 14 start work at the end of April (they are further supplemented by 20 volunteers during the Show) to put shavings or straw into all the boxes as required, service all bedding and forage requirements and maintain the ground in the stables. Since everything is on grass, the job gets much harder in a wet year as you can imagine.
We’ve 24-hour cover and regular night patrols who may call out a vet if they’re ever worried about a horse. I live on site throughout the show and the job is very satisfying because it’s always different – you never know what challenges you’ll face – and it’s brilliant to work with horses at the top of their profession and their grooms, who have a tough job.
Like so much at this Show, different teams are always there to support you – we work closely with the operations team, repairs team, vets and so on – they’re all at the end of a radio.
I’ve been involved with Royal Windsor for 25 years and a Stable or Site Manager for a number of years, both here and at other events including Badminton and the London 2012 Olympics. People have asked why I’ve done it for so long, and I think it just gets into your blood. It’s lovely to be able to do a job you love.”