English eccentricity at its best at the Sidmouth Horse Trials

PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 August 2019

Sidmouth Horse Trials 2018, with winner Malarkey at the centre. Picture: Philippa Davies

Sidmouth Horse Trials 2018, with winner Malarkey at the centre. Picture: Philippa Davies

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Weird and wonderful fancy dress is among the things that gives Sidmouth Folk Festival its ‘vibe’, and you do not get much weirder or more wonderful than the annual Sidmouth Horse Trials.

Participants in the ever-popular Sidmouth Horse TrialsParticipants in the ever-popular Sidmouth Horse Trials

This fancy dress competition is closely linked to the true spirit of the festival. It was inspired by the Beasts of Disguise which traditionally accompany Morris dancers; originally hobby horses, but nowadays mythical creatures such as unicorns and dragons are also seen. This tradition, like the dances themselves, is hundreds of years old. The Beast would act as a mascot for the troupe of dancers, interacting with the audience, and adding some colour and humour to the performance. There is an Illustrious Order of Fools and Beasts which holds an annual gathering in the New Forest, called an Unconvention.

The Sidmouth Horse Trials were introduced to the festival relatively recently, in 2015, and have inspired some highly inventive and entertaining costumes, created with a large dollop of artistic licence. The competition is judged by Aardman Animations, the creators of Wallace and Gromit. Last year the judge, creative director Peter Lord, was impressed by a huge orange giraffe with an extending neck, but awarded first prize to an eyelash-fluttering filly called Malarky, created and 'ridden' by Julie Page.

This year's Horse Trials will take place at 1.30pm on Sunday, August 4, with Peter Lord again awarding the trophy.


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