The Debrief: Nicole Brown on the Best Job Ever!

Welcome to The Debrief, where we’ll recap the experience of a rider or equestrian following a big result or otherwise memorable competition or achievement. Click here to read more editions of The Debrief.

In this edition, we spoke to the ‘voice of eventing,’ commentator, presenter and podcast host, Nicole Brown, on how she managed to turn her love of the sport into a full time career, and how volunteering at her local horse show led to her becoming the voice behind some of the biggest events in the world, and landed her opportunities that her younger self could only ever have dreamed of.

Nicole Brown, podcast host, commentator, presenter…THE voice of Eventing.

Obviously you are now a very well known commentator, especially in the UK. But where did the journey begin; how did you end up with a career as a commentator?

So, I used to event – not terribly successfully I might add – and I absolutely loved it. Then, when I was about 18, I sold my horse to go off to University, but I wanted to stay involved in the sport. I offered to volunteer at a local horse trials, which was in the same village that I lived in, and I happened to be working with a guy called Paul Elliott. He organised horse trials, but he was also a cross country controller. We got talking, and I mentioned that I always wanted to have a go at commentating, and he suggested that I come along and give it a go. I did, and I totally and utterly fell in love with it.

Did you think at that point that you could make a career out of it?

No, not at all! It was only ever something that I just loved doing, not a career move. As I say, I wanted to stay involved in the sport. I loved the sport and it was one that I really wanted to give something back to. I became really passionate about telling a story and, I guess, sharing the excitement and explaining the action as it unfolded was really important to me, in order for us all to be able to go on this journey.

There’s nothing quite like the emotion of sport, and you never know what’s going to be happening – especially in our sport. It’s a really immediate, reactionary discipline.

So no, I never dreamed that it would be something that would take me to as many places as it has taken me and give me as many opportunities as it has. It only really started as a hobby, and it has grown and grown from there!

When did it become apparent that you actually could make a career out of commentating and presenting?

My first big break was the Event Rider Masters series which kicked off in 2016. I was involved in that, and there were a couple of people who really gave me an opportunity –Paul Tapner and Alice Fox Pitt in particular – and took a chance on me when I wasn’t overly experienced. That really was the start of more of the TV commentary and TV coverage side of my role. I was stepping away from the live event commentary, and into the livestream and more produced content. So that series was an enormous stepping stone to be able to give me opportunities to see if it was something I was really quite good at, and if it was something that I still loved doing. It was very different: a different environment, different pressures, that sort of thing.

But it was actually at Gatcombe Horse Trials in 2016 – lot of people were away in Rio and so we had a bit of a reshuffle with the crew – and I was basically the anchor for the commentary for the livestream that whole weekend, for all of the different phases. That was the first really big opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone – and it was very much outside of my comfort zone – and to get stuck in to that level of opportunity. Then from there, I got asked to do Burghley Horse Trials for the BBC, for the Red Button Coverage, literally just a few weeks later at the start of September. Another huge opportunity, especially as a female voice, because there wouldn’t be that many of them around at that time, particularly at that sort of level.

So, Burghley 2016 was my first BBC production, beside the brilliant Mike Tucker and Ian Stark who were absolutely incredible – very, very, very kind and generous, and welcoming. That was a real dream come true, because I had grown up listening to these brilliant broadcasters, watching these brilliant riders, and now I was all of a sudden in a position where I was talking about them. That was a HUGE step for me – 2016 was definitely a sort of sliding doors year – if you can have a sliding doors year?!

It is obvious from listening to you on The EquiRatings Eventing Podcast how passionate you are, and how much you love our sport, and want to tell the story of our sport. Could you tell us a little about the role of the podcast in bringing the Eventing community together?

The podcast is very much about giving people a space to have those conversations, because you wouldn’t necessarily have that many close friends that are going to care that much about who wins Badminton. You might have, but you also might not, and everybody might look at you and think, “who is William Fox Pitt?! I don’t even know who that is!” So it gives really passionate people a chance to get involved in the sport, and get immersed in the story, and educate themselves as well, but with a really nice group of people. The listenership is a really lovely community, so that’s great: it’s part of what we set out to do.

The podcast has been going for quite some time now; how did it come to be in the first place?

So, as I say, I had been working in 2016 on the Event Rider Masters Series, and I had worked alongside Diarmuid Byrne [one of Nicole’s co-presenters] throughout that season, and we had become quite good friends – I think they [Sam and Diarmuid, founders of EquiRatings] appreciated the data geek inside of me, ready for release. I would very much manually look at my own numbers in my own mind: that was how my brain worked. I was really looking to understand a lot of stuff that EquiRatings were bringing to the sport at the time, so not only was I hugely interested in what they bought to the table, but we got on really well.

They approached me at the end of that year with the idea of starting a podcast; they felt there was a gap in the market for previewing and reviewing events, and giving a real platform to the sport of eventing, and wondered if I would be interested in hosting it with them. I had never really listened to podcasts at that point – podcasting has grown enormously, even over the last few years, but at this point, it was still very much something that was quite new.

There were a few around, by all means, but it wasn’t something that we were as familiar with as we are now. Still, when they asked if I was interested, I said “sounds great, I absolutely would be, let’s investigate it and see how it all works.” So we did; we learned how to record, how to edit, how to publish – all things that were well outside of our comfort zone. I can do the talking bit, but when it came to the technical side, I was very much going, “how does that work?!” So we were very much self taught from the beginning in that respect, and we loved the process. We also loved the reception to the show, and it has just grown and grown since then!

Of all the stories that you have told on the Podcast, are there any – or even just one in particular – that really stands out?

For me, the stories that really stand out are where people talk really openly, really honestly, and where, as interviewer, I feel like I can dig a little deeper, and find out more than what is on the surface, and what they might ordinarily talk about. It is a massive compliment as an interviewer when you speak to somebody and they give you a very frank, very honest and open answer. It’s easy to talk about the successes, it’s easy to talk about when things have gone well. But if they are prepared to make themselves vulnerable, and talk about those moments when things haven’t gone well, and haven’t gone to plan – because that is life at the end of the day – those are the conversations that really stand out for me.

I find it fascinating to get inside somebody’s head, and really find out what makes them tick. There are different ways of approaching different people, so it’s really hard to pin it down to just one person. Instead, for me, it’s about telling an inside story that listeners might not have appreciated before.

As we mentioned, you have spoken to some of the biggest names of the sport on the podcast, from Lucinda Green to Liz Halliday Sharp, and everyone in between. Similarly, you’ve worked with legends like Ian Stark and Mike Tucker at live events, but what would you say has been the highlight of your career, thus far?

I loved the Event Rider Masters series – which ran from 2016 – 2019 – because it was a format that brought the sport to a really exciting place. It was a huge opportunity, and I absolutely loved it. There was a brilliant team of people, some of the best horses and riders in the world, and a really exciting competition. As a story teller, that’s the dream, because there was always something happening, and it was very exciting – very fast paced.

Other than that, Burghley 2016, my first opportunity to work for the BBC and alongside Ian and Mark was huge….I’m not going to be able to give one answer, because there have been a few! I would say, working at places like Badminton and Burghley is always a highlight. You go to these events as you grow up, watching these top names and riders, and you don’t really dream it could be you behind the scenes one day. So yes, those big 5*’s hold a very special spot.

You still do a lot of work for lower level, grassroots events, too. How does commentating at those events compare to the bigger ones?

Those kind of events are very much what I started talking about at the beginning of my career, so they still hold a very special place in my heart. There is still something really magical about telling those stories, as well, because the grassroots level is the foundation that our sport is built on, and I love that side if it.

I’d be lying if I said that the 5*’s and the big shows weren’t special, because they absolutely are, and they definitely do stand out. There’s not many of them in the calendar, so you really do appreciate them and enjoy them. Every time I go I pinch myself and think, I am really lucky to be able to do this job.

Describe your job in 3 words (if you can)!
My job….Best. Job. Ever.

What is the VERY best bit about your job?

It is probably the opportunities I get to see things behind the scenes. So often, we take for granted what we see on our television screens, or what we see at an event as a spectator, and I don’t underestimate how fortunate I am to be able to see everything that goes on behind the scenes of an event. Everything from the organisers and the huge effort that they make to put on a brilliant event, to the grooms, to the owners, to the mum juggle with the riders (something that I can really relate to). Getting that opportunity to see the ‘nitty gritty’ – and tell the story of that ‘nitty gritty’ – is the big pitch.

Have you got any bucket list interviews – or events – that you would still like to tick off the list?

I have never been to Aachen, in person, and I have never done the Olympics, on the ground. I would love to do an Olympics.

Bucket list interviews…not at the moment: there’s nobody that stands out right now. I would love to tap into other sports, and other great minds outside of the Equestrian world, and how we can learn from them, and find out what makes them so successful.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Trust your guts – it is all worth it.

You wear a lot of hats – mother, wife, podcast host, commentator, presenter – how difficult is it all to juggle, and how do you find the balance between work and family?

I think any mum will tell you, it is difficult. Whether you are working, not working, there is such a juggle with everything. I certainly feel guilty for being at work/not being at work. Getting that balance right is really difficult. However, I think it is worth persevering to get the balance. Ultimately, we can all only ever do our best in life – we all only ever want the best for our families. Still, the juggle is hard, the juggle is real. There are times when you question it, but at the end of the day, you’re doing it for the right reasons, and I think you have to stay true to that. I am really fortunate – I love my job, and working definitely makes me a better mum, and being a mum definitely makes me better at my job.

Have you any spoilers you can share in terms of what is next for the podcast, and where will you be starting your season as commentator?

In terms of the podcast, we have got some very exciting plans in the pipeline building up to the Olympics in Paris, and we will be a big part in telling the Olympic story. But I can’t give too much away!

We will also have another Inside Kentucky series that will kick off in the middle of March, bringing you all the behind scenes action, as well as much coverage as we can on the ground there, and at other big events.

For me personally, my first big show will be Badminton – early spring – which I am very much looking forward to.

Finally, a question you often like to ask your guests on the podcast – Ones to Watch!
Could you give readers an American and a European combination – or two – that you think will be worth watching?!

I’m going to say Caroline Pamukcu – Pan American Games Gold medallist in 2023 – and HSH Blake – don’t discount them from the Olympics conversation. They will come out firing this Spring. The horse that I would say that you really need to keep an eye on – it’s another one of Caroline’s, and I think he is a future star – is the reigning 3* USEF National Champion, HSH Connor. I think he has won seven of his 13 International starts, he has all the ingredients he needs. He was the individual Silver Medallist in Lion d’Angers as a 6 year old as well, so he has travelled in the past too – he is the real deal.

Another one – and a rider that perhaps US audiences may not know or have heard a huge amount about – is young British rider Bubby Upton, who has excelled coming up the levels right through from Pony/Junior and Young Riders. She has a whole haul of medals from various different Championships at that level, and now she has been really impressive following her step up to 5* level, too. She was the Bramham U25 Champion last year, with a horse called Magic Roundabout, last summer, too.

Unfortunately, she had a really bad fall last August, and so has had to take some time out on the side-lines, but her rehab has been going really well. She is back riding, back training and it is all very much all systems go for the start of the season. She is a very fierce competitor and has some lovely horses, and I think she is definitely one that may not be on your radar right now, but should be!

You heard it hear first, and if you want to hear about other horse and rider combinations that Nicole would tip for the top, go and check out the Eventing Podcast, as well as the USEF Eventing Podcast, which Nicole also hosts From top rider interviews, to behind the scenes access at all of the big events – and much, much more besides – these podcasts have something for everyone. Keep your ears peeled for Nicole’s expert commentary at all of the big events this season too!

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments