Milla Lanni and her veteran Zarzoo, 16, led from the front to score a thoroughly deserved win in the inaugural CIC** at the RS Components Brigstock Horse Trials, where experience counted over an appropriately testing cross-country course.

She was the only rider to finish inside the optimum time — Mark Kyle, fourth on Perseus, was the next fastest with 5.2pen — and set herself up for a two-fence lead for the reverse order show jumping phase, though she only used up one of those rails.

“I was surprised the course caused so much trouble,” explained Milla. “The water came as a surprise and Zarzoo was a bit suspicious at fence nine; he catapulted off the bank and I had to grab the contact for the skinny. But I knew I’d got to go fast to give myself some leeway because we have been known to have a couple [of show jumps] down before.”

Milla, 38, has owned Zarzoo since he was as a three-year-old, and he has twice been placed at Blenheim as well as having four-star runs to his credit.

Second throughout was another veteran horse, though with a young jockey. Jane Starkey’s In The Purple, who won the 2006 British national title under Lucy Wiegersma, is now “having fun” with 21-year-old Sarah Stretton, who is doing horses full-time after passing a diploma in horse management. It was their third event together.

Natasha Halliday was thrilled to rise from sixth to third with a clear round on Viva La Diva in the rain-soaked show jumping which, though a big course, was straightforward and in a spacious arena.

There were only 13 cross-country clears from the 32 starters in that phase, of whom 23 finished, the rest mainly being wiped out by accumulated refusals.

Brigstock’s reputation as a good, old-fashioned, meaty track is certainly being maintained by designer Philip Herbert.

“It’s beefy,” said Jeanette Brakewell. “If your horse doesn’t do ditches, you won’t get very far. But the stronger you ride, the better you’ll go.”

Most problems occurred at the water, where, in the CIC**, horses had to turn sharp right into the dark, popping over a brush before dropping off the ledge into the water, through the trees, over a log and a pointed brush.

Yoshiaki Oiwa won the AI on the French-bred Anglo Arab Khanjer Black, one of two horses (with the Australian thoroughbred Gorgeous George) that he has qualified for Hong Kong.

“I can’t decide which horse to take but, as I’m the only Japanese rider, it’s quite relaxed,” he said.

Piggy French and the Wells’s Cast Away ll stayed on their dressage score of 36.1 in second place, and the dressage leaders, Jeanette Brakewell on Hartpury College’s eight-year-old stallion Take It 2 The Limit, were third.

Matthew Wright scored a one-two in the open intermediate, on Cermont and Caunton Welldone, and intermediate victories went to J-P Sheffield on Pure Manhattan and Oliver Townend (ODT Tivoli).

The park at David and Mary Laing’s Fermyn Woods Hall provided a beautiful backdrop to the immaculate arenas and fences, while the lush turf soaked up the violent and freezing rain squalls.

Breeder Sam Barr was among those of us who remembered this event in its 1980s pre-Badminton heyday and said, quite rightly: “Aren’t we lucky to be back here?”

Read the results

This report was first published in Horse & Hound (22 May, ’08)