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Tug of War at the Queen's Birthday Celebrations

At BI WORLDWIDE we take great pride in our Associates, especially if they have performed in front of the Queen – what an achievement!

Our Participant Experience Agent Nina Koehler and her Thames Valley Tug of War team were invited to take part in the Royal Windsor Horse Show, marking the 90th birthday of the Queen in May. Nina shares her exciting (and pretty unique) story with us:

Tug at first sight…
About five years ago I came over to England to visit my partner and he had invited me to the end of the Tug of War season in Kessingland. I didn’t know what to expect, as I thought Tug of War was a ‘Mickey Mouse’ sport back in primary school! As I walked up to the competition ground, I couldn’t see anyone, but could hear them. It was as though I’d walked into a battle scene and for a moment I thought there was a movie being filmed - Braveheart 2 or something like that - what a roaring noise! 

Once I saw the teams competing, I quickly understood how much technique and teamwork is needed for the sport. The strength of every single team player doesn’t matter when you’re not working as a team. Winning a Tug of War is all about communication and working together. When each team player in the team place their feet on the floor like a centipede and work together, they become incredibly strong and are able to win against other teams even if they are much taller and have more muscles!

So that’s where it begun - I decided from that moment Tug of War was the sport for me! I love pushing myself and this sport allows me to work with a team who constantly test and develop each other’s abilities.

Nina and her partner ready to perform Tug of War

A special invitation
We were called together by our coach about four weeks before the Queen’s birthday, and were shown a very important email, signed with the crest of the Royal Household. The Thames Valley Tug of War team had been invited to spend a week at Winsor Castle and take part in the Royal Windsor Horse Show to mark the 90th birthday of the Queen – wow!

We were asked to perform Tug of War as part of the Enactment of the Braemar Highland Games, a Scottish event the Queen and members of the Royal Family like to visit frequently. Also performing were Pipe bands and Scottish dancers, stone throwing, caber tossing and many more activities highlighting Scottish traditions.

Three minutes of fame, here we come!

The rehearsals begin
We arrived at Windsor Park full of excitement; there was a massive arena, a fair ground with food and shopping stalls, and the Global Village - a home for more than 1,500 participants, horses, equipment, band instruments and much more.

First things first – food! We headed straight into the big canteen tent with an adjoining bar (for after the show of course) and there we sat with people from all over the world such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Austria, Fiji, Oman, Chile and Azerbaijan. It was such an honor to be sat with these lovely people from across the world. How on earth did we get here? We couldn’t believe it.

After dinner, we changed into our rugby shorts and ski boots to start our evening practice which made a lot of people rather curious about our role within the show.

Whether you are VIP or just a local Tug of War team, rehearsals are about waiting, waiting, and more waiting! We waited until we were called, we then waited behind the arena, and waited until we had to march into the arena. It took about three hours just for our rehearsal slot, but, in this time we were able to see lots of amazing acts and close up too! The horse riders from Azerbaijan left us sitting on the edge of our chairs and the horse whisperer from France left us with our jaws wide open! We sat in amazement wondering how these talented people were controlling the horses without reigns, no shouted commands or sugar treats to lure them in. The horses galloped elegantly in perfect circles, changed directions and formed a spiral. It was a ballet on hooves, and made me wonder if these ‘horse whisperers’ have their own little tricks of employee recognition we may be able to use back at work?

Due to heavy rain, Wednesday rehearsals were cancelled, which was a pity as it was the one evening that we were able to invite friends and family to watch us. We made good use of the time using it to clean our kit and muddy boots thoroughly. We wanted to make sure we made the best possible impression in front of the Queen and the members of the Royal Family.

Pick up the rope! Take the strain! Steady! Pull!

  • Nina Koehler
  • Participant Experience Agent

Let’s do this!
The weather cleared up on Thursday and we started the show with sunshine and a clear blue sky. It suddenly became very real and I wondered if the people watching would appreciate the show. The whole time I was standing next to the arena I kept checking that my shirt was tucked in and that I was the right distance from my teammates on the rope. When we marched in to the music of the bagpipes I whistled along and watched the feet of the person in front of me very closely, I did not want to get out of step!

Everything happened so fast, we stood in our positions and reacted to the commands: “Pick up the rope! Take the strain! Steady! Pull!” The organisers had already decided on choreographing our display, two steps forward and four steps back. However the other team stepped up the pace, and did their best to try and pull us over. This meant we had to fight to stay grounded, and the audience began shouting and applauding. We could hear them cheering for “Thames Valley Tug of War Club”. It was an amazing feeling to have the audience on our side.

The whistle blew, and our demonstration was over. We walked off waving to all sides enjoying the moment, before making our way up to the stage for the grand finale singing Happy Birthday to the Queen. Princess Anne was watching us perform and when she passes us, gave us a big smile and wave.

The day after our performance, our coach Simon Mitchinson and his son had the great honor to be invited for tea with the Queen as representatives of Thames Valley Tug of War Club. Hundreds of people had been invited to represent the 1,500 participants and the Queen took her time and shook the hands of every single guest as well as exchanging a couple of words with each. Simon’s son was pleased to report that the Queen had the softest hand you can imagine! This was a fantastic chance to introduce our little club to Her Majesty and we were very proud of our coach for not fainting in front of her.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The 90th Birthday Bash
On Saturday and Sunday we became professional showbiz people. The team warmed up to the beat of the Swiss Drum Corps whilst our ‘Glue Boy’ Chris was fully utilised by some of the other teams. He was asked to be the official Stone Catcher (for the Stone Throwing team) and was alone responsible for grooming the Royal Mascots (a goat, a pony and two Irish Wolfhounds!). Chris was instructed to brush the Shetland pony with baby oil so the fur was shiny, and polished the goat’s horns with a tooth brush until he could see his reflection in them.

Not sure if the Welsh Guard who was responsible for the goat knew that the goat had shared his tooth brush, but they seemed close enough, with the goat following him everywhere, from getting a cup of tea to going to the toilet.

We tried to make the most of this wonderful adventure whilst it lasted and arrived early at Windsor Park using the time to wander around the show ground. There was so much to see even before the official show started. I loved the dressage and show jumping and there was a very detailed World War II display, where all the actors were in character and answered any questions posed by the audience.

We walked along where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police warmed up for the afternoon show, and couldn’t resist getting a selfie with this magnificent team in the background. We were delighted when they steered the horses into our pictures and posed for us! They helped us get the best selfie of the event.

For the Grand Finale on Sunday everyone came together, the Royal Family gathered in the Royal Box, and there were even more participants, dancers, horses, cattle and even boats, waiting for their time to present their skills to the Queen.

We knew that all our family and friends were sitting in front of the television, waiting for a tiny glimpse of the Thames Valley Tug of War Club. But for us, the event was so much more than just those short few minutes shown on the television. What made this event so unforgettable were the people that we met and had the pleasure to work alongside, as well as the recognition we received for the sport and for our team. We can be proud of ourselves! Well done Thames Valley these memories will last a lifetime.

You can see more of Nina's pictures on our Pinterest board here.

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