Eventing certainly isn’t short-changed when it comes to knock-out venues. But every year that you park on the hill overlooking Barbury Horse Trials, you are hit by the uniqueness of its setting — a rolling 1,850-acre estate, set within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You’re in awe, and feeling smug that this is how you choose to spend your weekends — and that is before the sport has even begun…
1. Andrew Nicholson can never be underestimated
In case we were in any doubt, Andrew Nicholson proved that last year’s neck injury — which could have left him paralysed — seems to be behind him. Aboard Libby Sellar’s Nereo, he clinched the third leg of the Event Rider Masters, taking home the £16,000 first prize. The Kiwi has now taken the main class at Barbury for five years in a row — the past four being with the now-retired Avebury. “It all felt far too easy,” said the 54-year-old about this year’s performance. “I felt I was meeting every fence very easily. Nereo is a long-striding horse but he now adapts to whatever he’s got to do. In fact, he feels like Avebury.”
2. Christopher Burton has a new star on his hands
“I only came here to show him his first three-star competition, not to win!” said Chris Burton about his victory in the CIC3* with the 16.3hh gelding Polystar I. “But I was impressed with his stride and scope — he’s got quite a bit of thoroughbred blood — and he’s got a good attitude.” When Pippa Funnell and Gemma Tattersall, first and second after the showjumping phase, withdrew their potential Rio horses, the Australian was able to capitalise on his now comfortable lead.
3. Harry Meade is championing ex-racehorse talent
Wiltshire-based Harry took the £2,000 first prize in the Retraining of Racehorses class with his new ride, Sparkys Reflection — a 16.3hh gelding by Glacial Storm. Henrietta Knight originally trained the 13-year-old over hurdles, but he has since had a varied career with his owner Amy Martin, turning his hoof to everything from Pony Club and hunting to advanced eventing and even galloping along the Norfolk Coast. “Having come from Henrietta, he’s probably had as good a start as any eventer, and he’s been a real family horse with Amy,” said Harry. “He might have been a lazy racehorse, but he’s a sweet, charming character and I’d like to see how far he can go in eventing.”
4. Eventers prove that speed isn’t everything…
As tense for many as the main competition, adrenaline was pumping in the JCB Champions Challenge, run in aid of H&H’s charity of the year, the Injured Jockeys Fund. Seamless baton changes meant that the eventers (Mark Todd, Paul Tapner and Tim and Jonelle Price) stripped the jockeys (Richard Johnson, Wayne Hutchinson, Tom Scudamore and Tom Bellamy) of the title after a two-year reign.
5. Things are looking good for Rio
Our Rio-bound riders were on flying form, with Gemma Tattersall finishing third in the Event Rider Masters, William Fox-Pitt seventh and travelling reserve Pippa Funnell in 11th.
6. This is textbook spectator viewing
If plans were ever afoot for a man-made horse trials venue, Barbury would be the template. With the Mark Phillips-designed cross-country course set in a natural amphitheatre formed by the beautiful Marlborough Downs, spectators can lie back and watch the action unfold — binoculars optional.
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7. And finally… Can we talk about the dancing sheep?
Just when you thought the tension of the eventing was getting too much to handle, “a live show of sheep breeds and shearing” was on hand to cool things down… What would the British summer be without these eccentric treats?