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‘Royal Welsh Agricultural Show’ is not your average county fair

By Kim Fleming, Website managing editor

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The stands are filled to the brim with a boastful audience. The announcer shouts, “Next, coming into the arena, it’s the team from the United States of America!” The fence of the massive field is lined with faces, blurring by so quickly their features become indistinguishable. Excited cheers emanate from the hoard of people surrounding the central event. Each and every eye is focused on you. The feeling of carrying the country’s flag over 3000 miles away from home is one like no other.

This past July, I was fortunate enough to experience this honor, along with every emotion accompanying it, when I was invited to ride in the Mounted Games Invitational World Team Championship held at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show as a part of Team USA. Riding at my side were several of my peers from across the country and in the stands were more than 20,000 viewers.

The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, dating back to 1904 at its inception, is a four-day long annual event held in Wales and contains a wide variety of exhibitions, shops, and show animals. Since its beginning, the show has gained massive popularity and has become one of Europe’s largest agricultural fairs, attracting more than 200,000 people each year from all corners of the world.

Not only is the Royal Welsh Show viewed as one of Wales’ largest social events, but it is also a financial staple for the the small town of Builth Wells, where the show’s home, the Llanelwedd showground, is located.

Buried deep in the mountainous terrain of beautiful Wales lies the town of Builth Wells, a quaint merchant village decorated with vibrant murals on the sides of its weathered stone buildings, complete with worn cobblestone streets and a powerfully swift river at its center. Spanning the wide river proudly stands the Builth Bridge, its six arches composed completely of stone, which leads hundreds of thousands of people to the gates of the Royal Welsh each July.

Forget about the sketchy carnival rides and health-code violation ridden food trucks of the Great Frederick Fair, the Royal Welsh has everything our local fair has to offer and much more. A massive food hall packed with over 60 booths draws in a large crowd at the show, each stand rich with some of Wales’ top quality handmade foods, preserves and drinks. Entering this building ensures you’ll leave with a healthy amount of free samples and perhaps even a wheel or two of cheese.

In addition to delicious food vendors, the Royal Welsh is also filled with hundreds of shops, their contents varying from horse supplies and tack shops to clothing stores and even agricultural machinery vendors. After all, what would an agricultural fair be without a tractor or two?  What about 400?  The display of different tractors and farming equipment is astounding to walk up and down, weaving in and out of the aisles as the different brands showcase their best models.

At the center of the group of scattered tents and showcases lay three arenas where the exhibitions and livestock judging competitions take place. The main arena is the most popular attraction where people surround every inch of the fence line, fill the grandstand and cover the hillside perpendicular to the seating. This arena is run on a tight time schedule, filling each minute with an event to keep the audience engaged in some way.

Amongst the exhibitors in this arena were Lorenzo and his world class horse team, the Kangaroo Kid, the RAF Hawks Parachuting Display Team, Black Mountains Falconry, and many others. The demonstrations were all so different and unique, it was like nothing I have ever seen to witness them all at the same venue.

The BBC covered the show extensively, with cameramen and reporters scattered about the showground to fully capture the complete Royal Welsh experience. A highlight reel compiled by the BBC can be viewed here.

At the end of the long day, the Royal Welsh showgrounds are far from quiet. The night scene of the Royal Welsh is just as lively, if not more vivacious than the daytime. A music festival titled “Young People’s Village” raves every night during the entire week of the show until the early morning hours, complete with a lineup of some of the best DJ’s in the U.K. In town, the Young Farmers nightclub attracts many locals and fair-goers as well, and the bass of the music can still be heard back at the showground well into the next day.

Not only was the Royal Welsh Show a great honor to be selected to compete at, but it was also an opportunity to reunite with a few of my friends from across the pond who I had met in Europe the year before. Some of them were riding for other countries such as England, Wales and Ireland, whereas others simply came to spectate at the event and assist in refereeing and setting up equipment. Finally meeting up with friends you hardly ever get to see is such a warm feeling, like drinking hot chocolate on a frigid winter day. You could spend hours upon end catching up and laughing, never wanting to move from that moment in fear of missing them for another whole year.

Being able to compete in such an atmosphere is every athlete’s dream and was an experience unlike any other — my heart was beating out of my chest with adrenaline, my hands shaking, my mind completely focused on the task at hand, worried to make a mistake that could cost us a race. Cheers from the spectators, originally sending chills down my spine, faded into the background as I listened to my horse and played each race as I would in any other situation.

After each session, we would perform a parade in which each team could complete a victory gallop around the arena carrying their country’s flag, tipping it as a sign of respect as we pass the Royal Welsh Show Society in the stands. Flying the Stars and Stripes high above the crowd was such an honor, like I was doing my country proud so far away from home. It filled me with amounts of pride that lasted for weeks after I arrived back on American soil.

Unfortunately, we did not win the competition, but ended up third out of seven teams. Considering half of our team was competing on horses we had never met until days before the show, we did extremely well with what we were given. Placing only several points behind the home team Wales, it was the highest Team USA has ever placed at the Royal Welsh Show.

To hear the announcer say at the end of one of the races, in his thick Welsh accent, “Now it’s the USA in first place, coming down to collect their flag and watch the Stars and Stripes coming home,” was completely astounding. Although we did not win the competition overall, I am incredibly proud of how Team USA performed at such a high class show, proving we are fully capable of holding our own against the European teams. In Europe, mounted games riders play at the highest level of speed and accuracy in the world, and to say we are able to successfully compete against them truly makes us world class riders on a world class team.

For a short video recapping the highlights of the trip, please click here.

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‘Royal Welsh Agricultural Show’ is not your average county fair