Tense finish as huge class goes right to the wire on day four of the Area Festival Championships

  • The prelim silver turned out to be one of the most exciting classes of the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships, with 45 entrants and running from 8am until just before 6pm. It proved somewhat agonising for Sarah Bird and Double Denim II, though, who set a high standard of 70.35% from first draw, that could not be matched all day – until the final pair Jessica Nevin and the coloured gelding Nicky Byrne, entered the arena almost 10 hours later to clinch the title with 70.62%.

    Jessica and the 12-year-old 15hh gelding combine dressage with eventing, and have qualified for the grassroots championships at Badminton in a few weeks. That milestone will mark the end of an era though with Jessica, a surveyor, relocating to London in May and putting “Ernie” out on lease.

    “I bought him two-and-a-half years ago, when I had just finished university and wanted a horse to bring on for a year,” she said. “He doesn’t have any breeding [information] and he was very green when I bought him as a nine-year-old, but he was so good I couldn’t bear to part with him. He has the nicest personality. We have learnt the eventing together as I used to do showing, so it has been a learning curve for us both.”

    Budding lawyers among under-21 winners

    Two of the winners on day four of the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships were teenagers juggling riding with working towards a career in law.

    Alicia Roberts, winner of the elementary silver under-21 title on Godin Linda (pictured, below), is an A level student at Hartpury College & University, and is studying sociology, business and economics with dreams of becoming a corporate lawyer. She has plenty of ambition in the world of dressage as well, planning to push on up the levels with the 11-year-old liver chestnut mare Linda, who is her first horse.

    “She’s the nicest, softest horse. I just fell in love with her,” said Alicia, who trains with Amanda Leaker. “I’ve only had her for a year so she’s come up to elementary, especially silver, very quickly. She loves her work.”

    Alicia Roberts and Godin Linda at the Area Festival championships

    Lola Rega, winner of the prelim bronze under-21 final with Amy 13, is currently at college studying law, criminology and business and is another hoping to become a lawyer – although she admits that her first choice of career would be in dressage.

    “Law is the back-up, but dressage is my dream,” said Lola.

    “She was really nervous but she trusted me in the arena and that was most important to me because I didn’t expect anything from today. I did intro last year so didn’t expect to win at prelim so soon; she couldn’t even canter at the start of this year,” said Lola of the nine-year-old grey mare, who is “ very sweet and loves everyone”.

    Area Festival Championships: ‘I thought I might fall off’

    “I felt very nervous, and thought I might fall off,” admitted Alice Wigmore, 16, winner of the elementary bronze under-21 title with Woodlands Unbelievable. “But I was really happy with him – I thought he was going to be more spooky. I honestly didn’t think I would win.”

    Alice is trained by Olivia Oakeley and credits her with helping overcome the spookiness.

    “Olivia says to keep my reins short and try not to let him look at things. He is sweet though; he likes cuddles and he loves Polos,” said Alice, an A level student studying biology, psychology and chemistry.

    Sophie Taylor rode the 18-year-old Vision Of Dreams to victory in the prelim silver under-21 final, finishing more than 4% clear of her nearest rivals with 71.25%.

    “He deserves this win; he just stuck with me in there and was like, ‘I got this mum’. The square halt at the end summed the whole test up,” said Sophie, who is also 18, and recently completed an “amazing” apprenticeship with Australian event rider Sammi Birch, before starting work with her father’s security business. “He was my first pony and I’ve had him since I was 12. When I got him I honestly fell off at walk – none of us knew what we were doing, and had to be taught how to muck out. He has made me the rider I am today and I owe him the world.

    “I don’t want to wear him into the ground, but he’s nowhere near ready to be retired so he’ll go out and probably do a few shows over the summer. He doesn’t owe me anything.”

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