Some of the world’s best show jumpers will grace the arena of the London International Show at Olympia in December.
Olympia has long been known for its world class show jumping and this year five of the top 10 riders look set to compete at the show. Invitations have gone out to 15 nations and the nominated entries read like a Who’s Who of the show jumping world.
Fourteen Olympic riders have been invited, including FEI world number one show jumper and Olympic silver medallist Rodrigo Pessoa, from Brasil, who has already confirmed his presence. Former Olympia winner Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is also expected, as is Britain’s Robert Smith, who ranks number six.
The British contingent will be particularly strong this year. Although international rules require Olympia to invite only eight British riders, a qualification mix-up led the organisers to open their doors to the top 14 show jumpers in Britain.
In the past, British riders in the top 10 of the national rankings at the end of September received an automatic invitation to the show. But the organising committee changed the rules this year and decided that only the 10 top-ranked riders who had been on a Nations Cup team in the previous 18 months would be invited to the show.
Riders were selected from a list supplied by the BSJA, but Andrew Davies (seventh) was due to miss out because he had not been on a team after he sold his top ride, Limbo, last December. As Guy Williams, ranked 11th, had also not jumped on a team, the 12th-placed rider, Paul Barker, received an invitation to Olympia.
However, it later emerged that the BSJA list did not include victories from some international shows. The revised ranking list included several changes in position, the most important of which was that Paul Barker was now 14th. It also turned out that some riders had not been informed about the change in Olympia’s qualification criteria.
“There was a breakdown in communication over passing on the new rules to riders, so invitations have gone to the top 14 British riders, including Andrew Davies and Guy Williams,” says a show spokesman. “But in 2005, the Nations Cup criteria will apply.”
The Whitaker clan has the lion’s share of the invitations, with four members — Ellen, Robert, Michael and John — in attendance, while twelve-year-old George will take part in the Mitsubishi Motors Pony Club 75th Anniversary Show Jumping Competition.
Tim Stockdale, Richard Davenport and Nick Skelton are also expected. Robert Smith is likely to come but his top ride, Mr Springfield, will miss the show after a minor injury has put him out of competition until next year.
“We hope that this will give some additional British riders the chance to gain experience against the very best riders in the world on home turf in one of the most atmospheric venues in the world,” says Show Director Simon Brooks-Ward.
Riders will battle it out for the nearly £246,000 prize money — and the Mitsubishi car which will go to the winner of the new daily Mitsubishi Ride and Drive series.
“There will be a Ride and Drive every evening,” explains Olympia spokeswoman Candy Burnyeat. “It’s a relay where [riders] jump a round then jump off their horse and into a car. The fastest times go to the final and the winner wins a car.”
The show jumping action will start on 16 December with the aptly named Welcome Speed Stakes, which will be the first of the 16-class line-up. The winner-takes-all Masters will be held on Saturday but eyes will be peeled on Sunday’s event, when the World Cup Qualifier takes place. The show will culminate on Monday 20 December with the Grand Prix, which is Olympia’s richest class with prize money of £40,000.
Tickets for the show jumping days at Olympia cost from £16 to £39. Group, child and senior citizen discounts apply for some performances. Details are available at www.olympiahorseshow.com, where tickets can also be booked.