Olympic Equestrian: Galloping Union Jack

5 June 2012

Here we are, poised midway in the season known as “Jubilympics”, London’s summer-long celebration of all things Royal, all things British and all things Olympic. The Queen’s glorious Diamond Jubilee may be over, but it looks like the Union Jacks are here to stay, poised for waving in the Games. If you’re savvy about branding, you know already that the visual symbolism for the Games is a bit blurred. Perhaps it is the tight rein the Games holds over its iconic rings; however, no one seems to mind the use of the red, white and blue Union Jack. And that’s a good thing, because it’s everywhere. Vodaphone?s Union Jack taxi zips around London to cheers from passersby and is already one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the city. But what if life imitated art and Britain’s flag could come to life? Nothing says London like the big graphic asterisk of a flag symbol–especially when plastered directly onto a moving, jumping horse. That’s exactly what Barbury Castle Horse Trials has done. They enlisted rising-star event rider Laura Collett and her clean-slate-gray Thoroughbred, Natterjack. When they were done, the horse and rider took some fences, posed for the camera and a new iconic photo series that says eventing and Britain and even suggesting the role of hosting the upcoming Olympics was born. How did they do it? The show office provided these how-to instructions for wanna-be horse painters who have enlisted the services of a safe, quiet horse to act as a palette and the following supplies:

What if life imitated art and an event’s patriotic logo could come to life? Barbury Castle Horse Trials made it happen.
  • Red, white and blue liquid chalk pens (3 or 4 of each, depending on the size of the horse, with extra blue for the background). Liquid chalk is critical, say the artistic advisers: ?it contains no hazardous substances, is harmless to horses and humans and it washes off.
  • A large haynet
  • Overalls or old clothes
  • About four or five hours of time

While the instructions are for a technical execution of the Union Jack, it’s easy to see how they could be adapted for other national symbols, corporate brands, and marketing logos. The project uses a low-tech method used by draftsmen and signmakers down through the ages–and it still works!

  1. On paper, draw a diagram of the Union Jack and how it will fit onto the horse
  2. The horse needs to be squeaky clean and have a short coat, which will help the liquid chalk pens go on.
  3. Mark out on the horse the central cross area of the Union Jack with brown sticky tape
  4. Begin painting this area in red
  5. Then mark out the diagonal elements of the cross which will feature white and red, then begin to fill these areas in accordingly, red first
  6. With blue, fill in the main areas including the neck and head. (Be careful around the eye area.)
  7. Include a red & white strip on the bottom half of the head, to break up the blue
  8. For a deeper color, add a second coat
  9. Give your horse or pony plenty of carrots or Polo treats throughout (but they generally seem to enjoy the attention!)
  10. Admire your handy work and enter into the spirit of Best of British celebrations.

It makes sense that Great Britain, the nation that brought creative quarter marks to the rumps of sport horses worldwide, would have a go at using a horse as a canvas. While the Horse Trials? list of suggestions ends with entering a horse into British celebrations, surely the value of a gray horse may have skyrocketed with this promotion and technique, which was formerly used for equine anatomy demonstrations. Imagine what you could do with a huge gray Percheron for a canvas! Not one of the horses in the Jubilee parade of carriages and cavalry through London bore a corporate logo–yet they all personified the “brand” British monarchy. It was just a matter of time before the Union Jack and Britain?s love affair with the horse melded into one. If Natterjack is the first, he won?t be the last. The Barbury Castle Horse Trials will be held in Wiltshire at the end of the month and are slated to be the last horse trials before the Olympics, so watch for international entries there that preview what we’ll see at Greenwich Park in July. Some horses may do just dressage or just showjumping phases, while others will be stretching their legs and getting the feel of British soil. In the meantime, we expect more fun and games from the horse event that dares to mix it up with a national symbol, while earning free publicity for itself in media around the world. They’ve gone viral, equestrian-style, and this blog is delighted to help spread the virus of the Union Jack horse. Imagine what they could do with a bucket of chalk and a pack of Jack Russells! To learn more: How to draw the Union Jack accuratelyBarbury Castle Horse Trials ????????? Fran Jurga is a freelance writer and editor from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her blogs include the award-winning blogs The Jurga Report (for EQUUS Magazine) and War Horse News, for the 2011 Steven Spielberg film. Fran is the founder of Hoofcare and Lameness Journal and writes a specialist Hoof Blog. In 2008, she wrote the WorldRides blog for the Hong Kong equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in 2010 the Discover WEG blog for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. You can follow Fran on Facebook and Twitter for more news about the horse world.

The finished product: it helps to have a perfect show-horse tail! (photos courtesy Barbury Castle Horse Trials)
Chalk horses are nothing new in England; several hillsides near the Barbury Castle Horse Trials have ancient and mysterious chalk horses carved into them. (Walt Jabsco image)

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