London International or Olympia Horse Show: The Definitive Guide
Photo Credits: Kit Houghton
The Olympia Horse Show, now known as the London International Horse Show, is a festive favourite with lots of people and an absolute Christmas tradition for many but in fact, the show is not quite as old as some people might think.
There was a horse show held at Olympia as early as 1907 and it gained huge popularity, pausing only for the two World Wars. However, after the Second World War, the show declined in popularity partly due to increasing mechanisation; in 1907 almost everyone who attended the show would have had an equine connection as life revolved around horses. By the early 1950s, the picture had changed considerably and the show fell out of favour and stopped running. Resurrected in 1972, the organisers had to resort to handing out free tickets in the roads around the venue in order to fill the seats, hard to imagine that now.
What Can You See at the London International Horse Show?
Traditionally the main show has run from Thursday through to Monday just prior to Christmas. A few years ago, two days dedicated solely to international dressage were added on Tuesday and Wednesday just before the main show making the entire event now seven days rather than five. The last five days feature largely show jumping and have two performances per day for the duration - a matinee and an evening performance – whereas the dressage days only have evening performance.
What to Expect at the London International Horse Show
Photo Credits: Kit Houghton
The main format for the show is the largely the same for each performance; two international show jumping classes interspersed with other events and displays. Each day the show jumping classes will be different and the timetable for the dressage days is similar, with just dressage instead of jumping.
The organising committee strives to bring the best equestrian entertainment to Olympia and so the displays and performances in between the main competitive classes are usually a real treat. Previous years have seen the Metropolitan Police Activity Ride, the world-famous Russian Cossacks, the Musical Ride of the Household Cavalry, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and the now infamous Shetland Pony Grand National (pictured above).
Olympia always tries to showcase top equine entertainment from around the world and finishes with a finale which always involves Father Christmas and his sleigh except naturally, it is pulled by white ponies.
What Else Is There to See and Do at Olympia?
There is a huge shopping village, about two hundred stands, around the main arena which opens from 9.30 every morning, everything equestrian imaginable plus other lovely gift ideas for the festive season, perfect for some last minute Christmas shopping. There are food outlets in abundance although it is wise to take small snacks and water with you as the prices are expensive.
Each performance has a scheduled interval to allow time for comfort breaks and shopping but the stands will be busy at this time. Savvy shoppers arrive earlier than their performance so they can have plenty of time looking around before the show starts.
Tickets and Private Boxes
Tickets go on sale in May and popular nights sell out very quickly. These tend to be the Saturday and Sunday nights which have the feature show jumping classes – the World Cup and the Grand Prix – and also the puissance where the big red wall just gets bigger and bigger.
If you really want to treat yourself, you could club together with friends and get yourself a private box. Suitable for a group of 12, these spacious boxes have premium views of the arena and are fully catered, a buffet or light meal for the matinee performance and a formal dinner for the evening show. They are a lovely relaxed way to spend time with friends and fellow enthusiasts.
Dress Code, What Should I Wear?
There is no official dress code for Olympia unless you have a private box in which case it is smart casual for the matinee performance and black tie for the evening. For those sitting down in the main arena, there is no dress code but it is as well to remember that this is the week before Christmas and for those travelling some distance, the weather can make its presence felt. Ladies' tweed coats (click here to view our selection) and warm waistcoats for the gentlemen (our selection of waistcoats for men) with flat caps (click here to view our flat caps) will keep out the winter weather on the journey to and from Olympia.
Location, How to Get There and Accommodation
The show is held in West London at an exhibition centre which is easily accessible by public transport and car. There are several tube stations nearby which take you to within walking distance and it is also possible to drive into the show. There is an NCP car park right next door to Olympia and you can book a ticket for the car park when you book your seats. The car park is always full so it is not possible to turn up on the day and hope for a space. Some people who live further afield will drive to the edge of the capital, park and then take the tube into central London.
For those travelling a greater distance and people do come from all over the country, there is a hotel nearby, the London Hilton, which is a stone’s throw from the show. This is a great location if you are attending more than one performance over a couple of days and popular with the riders too so you could expect to be sharing your breakfast with some famous names. The Hilton always books up very far in advance so if you are planning on staying overnight then you should book this when you reserve your tickets.
People travel to Olympia from all over the country and many local riding clubs and equestrian groups will arrange coach trips; this makes a long journey a little more bearable if you don’t have to drive yourself. And it is magical going through central London in the week before Christmas and looking at all the lights. The evening performance generally does not finish until 11 pm so this can make for a very late bedtime. Often the matinee which finishes at 5 pm is a better option for those with long journeys and young children in the party. You can always stay on after the matinee and either shop or head into the West End for dinner.
The London International Horse Show is a one-off, there are no other horse shows in the capital anymore and it is made even more special by its timing – the week before Christmas. Olympia is festive and fun and offers great entertainment and spectacle for the horsey with some really serious international riders and competition, and the not so horsey. Christmas, shopping, and horses all in one place, what could be better than that!