IT iS hard to imagine looking around today’s cross-country course that the Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials are taking place in someone’s back garden.
But they are, even if land owner and event president Nick Lane Fox quips: “It’s not like there’s people sat on my patio.”
Yet Lane Fox would probably not resist that, the 50-year-old saying he is honoured to host Yorkshire’s premier eventing spectacle which is very much here to stay.
Lane Fox was just nine when his late father George introduced the Bramham Horse Trials in 1973 as something to do for his friends and family.
Forty-one years later, 60,000 people will descend on his property over the course of Bramham’s four days for one of the most prestigious occasions on the British eventing calender.
Lane Fox, the elder brother of three, took the reins from his father in 1997 following the death of his mother Victoria with Bramham’s founder keen to take things easier – not that he was not available 24-7 to offer his eldest son a helping hand.
But when the popular 81-year-old passed away in 2012, Nick Lane Fox had to go it alone, though not without the considerable support of his own young and large family.
As well as having brothers in James, 48, and Edward, 38 – Prince Harry’s private secretary no less – Lane Fox is married to Rachel and they have five children together aged between 15 and 22 who all ride to a degree, even if their dad says they will not be riding around Badminton.
“I’m too tight and Yorkshire to keep lots of horses sat around if they are not going to ride them all of the time,” he laughs.
Even so, it is in the blood as Sophie, George, Freddie, Charlie and Harry have grown up with the Bramham Horse Trials being staged in their own back yard, along with the Leeds Festival, which was introduced to the estate in 2003.
And Lane Fox admits both the equine delights and the modern music festival feast have become so dear to his family’s hearts that he would have little chance of axing them, even if he wanted to.
“Like me, the children have grown up with the horse trials,” Lane Fox tells The Yorkshire Post during an exclusive interview at his house.
“They have grown up with the Festival as well really as Sophie was about eight or something when that started.
“I did tease them the other day when we were all sitting around the kitchen table when they were talking about who they were going to invite to the Festival and all the rest. I said, ‘do you know what, I don’t think we’ll do it this year’ which was greeted by a double take as if to say ‘what?!’ But I couldn’t possibly afford not to do it!
“Both events have become very popular and the Bramham Horse Trials have had an enormous effect on the estate as well. It’s one of our two big events of the year with the Leeds Festival and between the two of them, they keep the place going. As well as being a good sporting event, it serves a great purpose from our point of view. But when my dad started the horse trials he literally ran it for all of his friends. He said to people ‘will you come and fence judge or man the car park or do the scoring or something’ and it literally started like that.
“He designed all of the cross-country fences and an estate woodman built them all and it was definitely a home-grown event.
“But I think he’d be very pleased to see what it looks like now. He always loved it and it was always his baby; even when I took over the running of the financial side of it he still definitely sort of presided over it and things like the cocktail party and all that sort of thing.
“He was very good at chatting to anybody and everybody and making them feel that he was so pleased to see them and that it was so good that they were there. I try and live up to that.”
In just his second year of ‘going it alone’, Lane Fox is doing an sterling job.
Key to doing so is a laid back attitude with no airs and graces about an event such as the Bramham Horse Trials taking place in his garden outside his house.
“My back garden is bigger than most people’s so it’s not as if they are actually sitting on the patio,” laughed Lane Fox.
“But it’s great. For the rest of the year, the place is our own and we live in a marvellous secluded location so actually it’s not a big drama having it full of people for about a month a year when you add the two things together and we’d like to carry them both on for as long as possible.
“The horse trials seem to go from strength to strength. They have got a firm place in people’s calendars and it’s nice to carry on doing that. It’s a great showcase for the estate as well and we seem to get great competition. Plus it makes us tidy the place up, trim everything, sweep everything and tart everything up to show it off to the public! We’ve got two enormous mowers that come on the back of tractors, not to mention a number of smaller ones. But even without mowing the park for the horse trials, the grass in the garden takes two days mowing a week – just two days someone mowing all the time. It keeps us busy!”
As does the running of the mighty Bramham house, even if former stockbroker Lane Fox does his best to convince that the property which proudly overlooks the horse trials is not as grand as it first appears.
“It seems silly to say but it’s not as big as it looks,” said Lane Fox, who used to be in the army and served ceremonial duty in the Royal Horse Guards.
“The big block down the left-hand side is the stables and my younger brother lives in the house on the side. The other side is like an old kitchen and it looks more impressive than it actually is. But having said that I’ve got five children so we fill it up quite well.
“In terms of number of bedrooms, we have 12 and about two bathrooms. They were never good at plumbing in those days. But we had the advantage that they burnt the house down in 1828 and my great grandad rebuilt in 1906 so we had some plumbing put in there!”
That’s just as well given Lane Fox and wife Rachel’s extensive family even if all five children are growing up fast. Sophie, 22, is doing an interior design diploma in London while 21-year-old George is in his third year at Durham doing history. Freddie, 20, is in his first year at Leeds Met studying music technology while 17-year-old Charlie and 15-year-old Harry board at Shrewsbury School.
It means Leeds-based student Freddie is closest to home of the quintet, as his father is well aware.
Lane Fox laughed: “Freddie seems to be here a remarkably large amount of time; when he wants food and a bath at weekends. But we do try and get together as a family quite often such as at weekends.”
And during holidays, not least Christmas which in the Lane Fox household is a double cause for celebration.
After all, the modern-day guardian as far as Bramham is concerned celebrates his birthday on Christmas Day.
The Bramham supremo said: “People always say ‘poor you’ and all the rest and ‘it’s an awfully long time between Christmas and birthday’ but as a child it was great as I always got two presents or extra big ones. And nobody forgets your birthday once they know it.
“I’ve always thought it was a good thing and the worst thing is having Christmas lunch and then it comes to tea-time when they do my birthday and they bring out a whole new cake. I’ve just eaten for Britain and then there is this other cake which I am expected to at least have a piece of.”
Nick Lane Fox can have his cake and eat it and deservedly so – with Leeds Festival and the Bramham Horse Trials taking place in his own back yard.