Pippa Funnell retained her lead in the dressage at Blenheim Petplan International Horse Trials for most of the day, with little change to the top of the leader board early on, until Ruth Friend hit the stage.
The 25-year-old from Cumbria rode an extremely accurate test to produce her best performance to date on Two Thyme, to finish on 35.8, three penalties clear of Pippa Funnell and well ahead of the rest of the field.
Ruth’s ascendance through the eventing ranks has been a true victory of mind over matter. Her dressage trainer, Judy Harvey, explains: “Ruth really came from nothing. She’s so dedicated that I can remember not so long ago she was living in a horsebox for the whole season. Every time she went anywhere, she’d have to pack up her whole life, load the horses and set off!
Harvey started training Ruth in Aberdeen when she was just 13, and first started out on Icedancer. “When I first saw her, I thought what crazy parents have put their daughter on that horse. The second time I saw her, Icedancer bucked her off in a car park. And her rise thereafter was meteoric.
“But I knew damn well that she could produce as good a score as that on Two Thyme. He’s got three good paces, and she’s a very accurate rider. She’s positive, she gets into the arena and she really goes for it,” Harvey added.
Ruth’s record with the 10-year-old this season is truly astonishing. She snatched victory in the British Open Championships at Gatcombe, and ‘kindly’ dropped a show jump in the Scottish Championships at Thirlestane to concede victory to Stunning and William Fox-Pitt.
The German rider Ingrid Klimke produced the next best performance today. She has got off to a very good start with Robinson’s Concord in this, her Blenheim debut – her experience in pure dressage giving her a clear advantage over some of her eventing rivals.
Leslie Law had to face a bit of a nightmare with Roger and Heidi Day’s Fox on the Run. Run he did, blowing up in the dressage arena, in spite of working in beautifully.
Trainer Tracy Robinson explained that the 10-year-old had “worked well all this week, and has been soft and relaxed.
“But in the arena today he just dried up and went tight against Leslie’s hand. He does it every time he goes on the dressage stage.
The gelding was withdrawn before the cross-country on his two most recent three star outings, and Leslie explained that the decision here at Blenheim would be “down to his owner”.
“The horse would run across country all day long, but I don’t yet know for sure whether we’ll run tomorrow,” he added.
Andrew Nicholson, amazingly, stands in joint 17th place with both of his rides, Henry Tankerville and Flush Banker. His gutsy riding across country means that he is well placed going into tomorrow’s competition.
Rain today, with more forecast overnight is likely to slow the ground somewhat, and it will be very interesting to see how many horses can make it back across this short format cross-country, which is slightly longer than in previous years.
Results after dressage
1. Two Thyme (Ruth Friend) 35.8
2. Viceroy II (Pippa Funnell) 38.8
3. Flambeau H (Simone Deitermann GER) 40.2
4. Escape Lane Mili (Dider Willefert FRA) 43.6
5. Robinson’s Concord (Ingrid Klimke GER) 44.0
6. Silver Sun (Sally Taylor) 45.0