‘This Arena Smells Like Death:’ The Boekelo Halftime Show

One of my favorite parts of attending a major European horse show is the in-arena entertainment. With such big crowds turning out to watch, organizers know that they have to do something “special” to keep people entertained in the downtime.

Covering international events for Eventing Nation I’ve witnessed some pretty wild let’s-give-’em-a-show efforts: falconry exhibitions and bizarre awards ceremonies at Luhmühlen in Germany, mass line dancing and a befuddling performance by these guys at Pau in France…

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Not being able to understand a single word the announcer is saying ups the “I have no idea what is going on” factor even further.

Once again, at this weekend’s Dutch CCI3* Boekelo, I got suckered in.

When I spotted an adorable white pony at the arena in-gate during today’s lunch break, I thought, Yes! Pony jumping exhibition! And like a moth to the flame sprinted outside the press tent to see what was going on.

The crowd cheered and the pony trotted into the ring. But what was it dragging behind it on a string? And what was that nauseating smell?

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

I’m not sure what it was, and I honestly don’t ever want to know, but it was definitely some sort of dead animal part that, because it wasn’t already dead enough, was drenched in extra-strength dead animal perfume.

As I threw up in my mouth the kid and the pony took off cantering, dragging the horrifyingly malodorous object behind them around the ring.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

OMG, I realized. They’re  doing a drag hunt. Right here in the show jumping ring. 

And right on cue, a pack of hounds was unleashed from the ingate, followed by a huntsman and his crew.

After several moments of frantically circling the ring in hot pursuit of a dead animal that did not exist …

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

… the huntsman gathered the hounds up …

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

… and the band (yes, there was a band) played them a little song …

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

… and then the huntsman tossed the pack a real, much larger dead animal to consume, at which point it was full-on canine “Lord of the Flies.”

I love fox hunting, and would have immensely enjoyed all of this (especially had I been watching it from behind some sort of scentproof glass wall) except that I kept wondering how it was going to affect the horses yet to show jump in the arena, which now severely reeked of roadkill. The phrase, “It smells like something crawled up in there and died” — yeah, that’s actually how it smelled. Everywhere.

Horses are sentient beings, and just like Black Beauty didn’t want to go over that bridge because she sensed it was compromised, I am sure that some of today’s post lunch-break horses were wary of cantering three sheets to the wind into what was clearly some sort of animal cannibalism zone.

The U.S.’s Tamie Smith and Dempsey, her baby 8-year-old future superstar who got his mind blown by Boekelo’s sensory overload for the better, were among the first ones in the arena after the break. They did not get the press release about the mock hunt.

Transcript from our post-ride interview:

Tamie: “His eyes are popping out of his head. I can’t wait until he goes to a normal horse show at home because he’s going to be like a broke plow pony.”

Me: “Yeah. And ALSO the whole arena smells like dead animal.”

Tamie: “It does, doesn’t it? It’s gross. I’m pretty sure it’s all the throw up from the party last night.”

Me: “No, they actually dragged a dead animal around the ring. Did you not …”

Tamie: “No. What?!”

Me: “It’s an actual dead animal. Because they did like a drag hunt for the halftime show.”

Tamie: “Oh my, oh, gross …”

Me: “Umm yeah.”

Tamie: “It must have landed right in front of the red oxer because he was like, ‘I dunno!’ about that one.”

Which, it did.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

“OK, mum, if you say so.” Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

“Although I think the last animal here got murdered.” Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

“But OK. I’m brave. I’m a big brave boy.” Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Poor Dempsey. What a vegan trooper. That guy deserves an extra carrot tonight.

#OnlyAtBoekelo. Go Eventing.

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