A maxi-cob showdown, a King George debutant and a CCI4* winner gunning for success. H&H has the low-down on this year's Longines Royal International Horse Show (28 July-2 August)

1. Showing: Clash of the titans: Hallmark IX vs Starry Night

Two of the greatest cobs of all time will battle for the maxi championship title on Saturday, 1 August — Robert Walker’s ride, Starry Night, and Simon Reynolds’ mount, Hallmark IX (pictured above).

The two have met in the show ring before. Hallmark IX triumphed for owner Heather Clay at the Derbyshire Festival in June, but at last week’s Great Yorkshire Show, Camilla Neame’s Starry Night was pulled forward first by the judges.

“I’m obviously going to back mine; he’s the best horse I’ve ever had and the best I think we’ll see in a long time. Plus he’s in great form,” says Simon of his four-time Horse of the Year Show maxi winner.

Robert, whose five-time HOYS heavyweight winner qualified at Royal Windsor, and is contesting maxis for the first time after measuring out this year, is confident, too.
“Starry Night’s record speaks for itself. He’s very typey — a proper cob,” he says.

“But the two are completely different — Hallmark’s a lightweight and mine’s a heavyweight, so it will be interesting to see which way it goes.”

Of course there will be other classy maxi cobs vying for the title, and father/daughter judging duo David Tatlow (conformation) and Loraine Homer (ride) could spring a surprise by calling forward someone else. Either way, an exciting finale is guaranteed.

Continued below…

2. Showing: Sundance Boy

Although only lightly campaigned, Sundance Boy, who competes on Thursday, 30 July, has stood hunter champion twice this year — at Ponies (UK) Winter Classic and Suffolk Show.

This week’s Festival of Hunting was scheduled as his final pre-RIHS outing.

“I want to take my time and not over-show him because he’s only a six-year-old,” says owner/rider Sofia Scott of the grey, a novice winner at Lincoln last year. “Hickstead’s big ring should suit him, because the more attention he gets the better he performs — plus he’ll be really able to move. But we’ll have to see how he compares to the older horses.”

Sundance Boy lives with producers Allister and Anne Hood in Norfolk, with Sofia visiting from Edinburgh, where she runs Mother’s Stockbridge Bar. Bought from his breeder, Tara Staveley, as a three-year-old, Sundance Boy was turned away to mature until he was four.

“I’m still an amateur myself; he’s the first horse to give me success in open weights and we’ve been learning the hunter circuit together,” adds Sofia. “Judges like the ride he gives; he really carries you.”

3. Amlin Plus Eventers’ Challenge: Tim Price and Wesko

Eventers return to Hickstead this year with the eventers’ challenge on Thursday,
30 July. The popular eventing grand prix did not take place last year, but this new format mixes knock down and fixed fences over a course entirely in the arena, designed by Richard Taylor. Among the front runners for the £3,000 first prize is Hickstead debutant Tim Price. “It sounds like a bit of fun — a fair test on great going,” says Tim.

Tim’s top horse Wesko is returning to competition after finishing second at Kentucky in April, so the New Zealander will make a definite decision on whether to compete him or another horse once Wesko has had a couple of runs.

Tim says: “He can be a bit enthusiastic in a pony-like way at the beginning of the year, so it wouldn’t be the right thing if he’s doing that, but if he comes back like an old pro I’ll take him. He’s a really good jumper and great on a turn, plus he’s not fazed by a crowd or by being pushed along a bit.”

4. Showjumping: Holly Gillott

Leicestershire-based Holly Gillott will partner her long-term campaigner Dougie Douglas as part of the five-member British squad for the Nations Cup on Friday, 31 July. It will be their fourth Nations Cup appearance together this year — they were part of the victorious British line-up at Rome in May and also featured in the team for Lummen and St Gallen.

If their recent form is anything to go by, the combination have every chance of producing another stellar performance on the back of their triumph in the Bunn Leisure Derby Trial in June.

Twenty-six-year-old Holly has ridden the Irish-bred chestnut gelding for six years.
“He’s very responsive and reliable. It sounds like a cliché, but he is a horse of a lifetime; he’s taken me to places you can only dream of,” says Holly of the 10-year-old.

“Dougie is my only horse at this level. He’s made the step up to five-star well and has produced clear rounds at Nations Cups for me. He always goes out there and does the job — technicality is never a problem with him and he’s very fast against the clock,” adds Holly.

5. Showjumping: Harriet Nuttall

Harriet Nuttall, 25, will be riding in her first King George V Gold Cup on Sunday, 2 August aboard her 11-year-old A Touch Imperious, who will also be making his debut in the prestigious class.

The pair have been on flying form of late, finishing joint second in the Hickstead Derby after an unfortunate rail down. They were also on the second-placed British team at the Odense Nations Cup in May.

“I’ve always wanted to ride in the King George and it is a class that should suit him — he’s a big, bold jumper and so scopey,” says Harriet. “I hope I can go there and be competitive.

“He is just like me — he loves Hickstead and performing in that arena. The going is perfect.

“A Touch Imperious is my only grand prix horse and we know each other so well,” adds Somerset-based Harriet, who has produced the chestnut gelding since he was a five-year-old, after he was bought just backed from Ireland.

The Longines Royal International Horse Show takes place 28 July-2 August. For more details and ticket information: www.hickstead.co.uk or 01273 834315

Don’t miss our full report from the Royal International in the 6 August issue of Horse & Hound magazine