When you think of Olympia, what springs to mind? Is it elite UK riders doing battle with their European counterparts in showjumping or dressage? Or is it the delights of the show’s festive classics such as the Shetland pony grand national, Kennel Club dog agility or the famous Olympia Christmas finale?

For me, at least, it’s not the sight of a 13-year-old girl making a course of 1.50m showjumps look like a Pony Club course…

Emily Ward was the first rider into the arena for the Team Murka and the World Class Programme under 23 British Championships on Friday morning. She produced a classy clear round on Michael Whitaker’s Witch to get the competition underway and followed it up with a flying jump off to claim the £5,100 first prize from final draw. While many riders tried and failed to negotiate a tricky turn into the double, Emily took the longer smoother route and used Witch’s speed across the ground to brilliant effect.

Now admittedly Emily is not your average young teenager showjumper. She initially enjoyed a very successful period in working hunter pony classes, including becoming the youngest person ever to win the 143cm class at RIHS and HOYS at the age of just nine. Then she started showjumping and has successfully represented Britain in international ‘children on horses’ competitions.

But today she beat many riders nearly 10 years her senior, including such established names as William Whitaker and Joe Clayton. And that certainly made me sit up and take notice.

Other riders who caught my eye included Louise Saywell, who won the style prize in the first round with a score of 20 out of 20. Style judge Peter Charles said: “That’s the best round I’ve ever seen in this class.” I was also impressed by Jessica Mondoza, who did a great job with a very buzzy Classic Highfly.

There were some combinations who looked a little overwhelmed by the unique atmosphere of Olympia’s Grand Hall, but if this class is indicative of the future of British showjumping, then I believe the future is very bright indeed.

Carol