The inaugural girls verses boys edition of Olympia, The London International Horse Show’s Markel Champions Challenge, in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund, ended with a clear victory for the boys, under the tutelage of Nick Skelton.
The quintet of Jim Crowley, Ryan Moore, Richard Johnson, Sir AP McCoy and Harry Skelton thrashed their opposition — comprising Bryony Frost, Josephine Gordon, Lizzie Kelly, Bridget Andrews and Hollie Doyle — albeit aided by some flagrant rule bending along the way.
There was an all-round upping of horse power from previous years for both teams, with the boys appearing to have captured the ride on some particularly well-schooled show jumpers.
The girls’ squad, coached by Pippa and William Funnell, were first to jump, taking a strategy of gambling on the inside routes that didn’t always pay off. Pathfinder Bryony, Josephine, and last-to-jump Hollie Doyle all added time for rails down, while Lizzie and Bridget produced clears.
Bridget laid down a particularly strong round on a bay mare who looked to really know her job, crossing the line with the fastest time of the competition on 33.88sec to take the individual win.
“She was brilliant,” said Bridget, “although I didn’t have much control in the warm up.”
Team trainer Pippa said: “When Bridget came to our yard a few months ago [to train] I told her she had a job if she wanted one. The offer still stands!”
Nick had opted for a different tack for his team, telling them to “play it safe, but be quick.” They played to their strengths, opting for wider routes but in a decent galloping rhythm.
Even with rails down, all bar AP stopped the clock under the 40sec mark — whereas only Bridget from the girls had come home below this marker.
It was left to last-to-jump Harry to challenge his fiancé’s excellent lead, and he set off well on the somewhat over-qualified grey Charming Fellow Z, borrowed from Laura Kraut.
But partway into his round, a tack malfunction saw the horse’s hackamore slip up over his head. After a quick dismount, and with the help of Nick producing a cable tie, they were back in action and permitted to restart.
As they turned to the penultimate fence however, the bridle broke again, leading Harry to accost the mount of one of his team mates and set off for a third trip round the course.
“This is the most extraordinary sporting event I’ve ever seen,” marvelled commentator Clare Balding.
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This time, Harry completed the course, but threw away his chance to steal an outright victory by a premature celebration over the penultimate fence that led him to take a pole.
Asked what he thought of his team’s performance, Nick confessed that there was “so much excitement going on, he didn’t really know what happened”.
“If he’d beaten Bridget, there might not have been a wedding though,” he said.
Harry said the win had “really set us up for Christmas.”
“We’ll be back next year with some better tack!” he added.
Don’t miss a moment of H&H’s extensive coverage. Check out dressage and Wednesday-Saturday showjumping reports in the 28 December issue (out Friday, not Thursday this week because of Christmas schedules), while showing, driving and Sunday showjumping coverage will be in the 3 January 2019 issue.