Emily Bennett (pictured) won a thrilling last-gasp victory to retain her title in the pony teams division of the 2003 Craghoppers BHDTA National Championships.

Cheshire-based Emily and her four black Welsh/Hackney ponies — fresh from representing Britain in the recent World Pony Driving Championships in Austria, where they narrowly missed winning individual and team bronze medals — were forced to fight hard all the way to the finish in a titanic contest.

“It was an excellent end result, but we were skating on thin ice!” admitted Emily.

Beverley Mellstrom — who plans to retire from teams and drive tandems instead next season — and her grey Welsh ponies took the lead in dressage, ahead of Anna Grayston and Emily.

The cross-country produced a compelling contest. Former national single pony and pony tandems champion, Anna stormed through the obstacles with her four bay Welsh ponies. She was pursued by Emily — who looked set to take the lead until one of her ponies caught a rein over a post and she had to get a groom down to untangle the harness.

Anna seized the overnight lead from Beverley, but picked up 21 penalties in the cone driving, and the championship slipped away. Emily’s slightly better round was sufficient to seal a hard-fought victory and she was crowned national champion for a second successive year.

“My dressage wasn’t good and we drove some marathon obstacles well, some not so well,” explained Emily. “I should have got my groom down quicker but apart from that silly mistake I’m pleased. The cones course was lovely but caught a few people out.”

After the championships, Emily announced that she does not intend to drive next season — instead, her husband Peter (a former international horse pairs driver) will compete with his new team of warmblood horses — but she will not rule out a return.

  • For the full report on all classes at the Craghoppers BHDTA National Championships, see this Thursday’s issue of Horse & Hound (25 September).

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