If you're an equestrian and happen to have Twitter or Instagram you are most likely familiar with the account "Horse Show Boyfriend", or at least I hope you are.
HSB started as the very funny musings of non horsey boyfriend Austin Bell, who spent a year travelling the A/AA circuit with his girlfriend (what up MegAt!) The account quickly grew a cult following and has become a published book that has garnered the attention of multiple high profile riders as well as the one and only George Morris.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask Austin some questions about HSB and its future as well as keep the hope alive for all those non horsey boyfriends and husbands out there that you can embrace the equestrian lifestyle!
People may only know you as "Horse Show Boyfriend"; tell us a little more about yourself.
When I am not attending horse shows and taking pictures at them in an attempt to not overheat or die of boredom, I work remotely as a caption and subtitle editor for vendors like Netflix and Hulu. Before moving to West Palm Beach with my girlfriend, I lived out in LA where I worked on music videos. I grew up in North Carolina.
How'd you meet your other half?
We met at Davidson College in NC just above Charlotte. It is probably now best known for also being the college of my classmate, Stephen Curry. I actually met sort of met her on Facebook, as we found out we were both staying on campus over the summer through it. She had a horse at the time but was not actively showing and I clearly had no idea what i was getting in to.
Favourite show jumping venue so far.
I guess it’s kind of a tie for me: New Albany was amazing and sort of the perfect “horse show day;” if I could only attend one show or Grand Prix per year that I’ve been to before, that would probably be it, but I don’t really see it as a show jumping venue because it’s so much more than that. I really like Tryon, because the crowds really get in to the big events. Watching the last to go in a jump off win a Grand Prix under the lights at Tryon is very exciting because of the crowd. Miami was also very exciting because of the high level of competition and the scenery, but I wished I had been able to experience all of the top foreign riders in a setting more conducive to competition instead of emphasizing the backdrop.
How'd you decide to write the book, and did you ever think it would become this type of cult favourite?
The book initially started as a Twitter feed, @horseshowbf, that was essentially my horse show observations that made no sense to use on my girlfriend’s account. These were mostly musings about why strange things in the horse show world were the way that they are. Based on the positive feedback I got from doing that, I started sort of taking notes as we went places and eventually decided that I needed some bigger justification for having to sit through Pony Finals.
Walk us through giving your book to George Morris.
I had actually met George before—the book goes in to a little more detail about that, but I had seen him at the barn, but he didn’t remember me. He was chilling out at the sitting area next to the in-gate before a Grand Prix at Tryon, I think they were walking or dragging the ring and he was sitting by himself and didn’t look like he would be too upset by being bothered at that moment, so I went up and introduced myself and gave him a copy. I think he was pretty bewildered, but I looked about 5 minutes later and he was still sitting there and had started reading it, so that was exciting enough for me. The next day I get a call from George (he had gotten my number from someone I mentioned in the book as a friend) and he immediately started gushing about how great he thought the book was and how much he enjoyed it, while I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I got a chance to catch up with him in person a few weeks later, and he was already trying to get me to team up with him for my next project.
Explain hunters, jumpers and equitation to non horse people.
I tell the horse-muggle amongst us that knowing the difference between the disciplines is one of the most important first steps in understanding show jumping. The simple explanation is the way each is won: jumpers objectively on time and the number of rails, hunters and equitation subjectively on the horse’s form and rider’s form, respectively. Really the most important thing to know is that when the jumps have sponsors on them or are colorful, it’s a jumper class and when they look like fake trees, it’s a hunter or usually equitation. I’ve had a few employees at horse shows that aren’t horse people come up to me and say they now know what’s going on in each ring after reading the book.
Favourite horse and rider combo so far.
A combo is really hard to pick for me because I have a lot of favorite riders and not as huge of a connection to the horses yet. I feel a little like I’m watching history whenever I see McLain and HH Azur go, but I am also very excited whenever I get to watch Kent in a competitive jump-off. I really enjoyed watching Karen Polle and With Wings at WEF this year—you would be hard pressed to find a tighter rider/horse connection at the highest level. It’s also been fun to watch a professional rider that I became friends with, Alex Granato, develop a relationship with a young horse, Carlchen W, over time. When I first met them almost 2 years ago, they were winning 7-year old and 1.40m classes and in the past 2 months they've won an FEI 3* Grand Prix in Kentucky and a $70k Grand Prix in Colorado, and it’s really awesome to have been following them and see all the progress they’ve made together.
Advice for the other non horsey boyfriends & husbands out there.
My two biggest tips are to find something about horse showing that meshes with your interests and develop an interest in the professional competition. I get through a lot of boring horse shows because I like taking pictures, so any time a class is dragging I’ll just focus on getting a good jumping or turning shot or candids around the ring. Similarly it becomes more interesting when you start watching it at the highest level. Even a non-horseperson can appreciate a competitive jump-off.
Favourite peeps foundation mini horse?
Peeps will really always be #1 for me because we have such a funny relationship. I doubt anyone gives her as many treats as me, so she is generally very friendly with me but also knows a good portion of the time I don’t know what I’m doing, so she won’t hesitate to run away from me in the paddock when I’m trying to bring her in or make very difficult for me to put her halter on. I recently saw her for the first time in two months and she was really excited to see me, so that was really cute. I also love Toasty (how can you not?) and Tiny, the grumpy old lady of the group who has the hardest time walking but has made a lot of improvement.
What's in store for the future of the "horse show boyfriend"?
That’s a good question. I’m in Tryon for the summer and have a few small things in the works, but I am still deciding if my next major project will be horse related or not. Which is to say, I’m still waiting for Kent Farrington to commission me to do his tell-all behind the scenes biography.
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xoxo - Natalie