Adrian Speight and Millfield Baloney capped a stellar season as they headed the The Showjumping Business Partnership international stairway final at the British Showjumping national championships (3-10 Aug) and were named national champions.
Adrian and Judith Witham’s 15-year-old gelding headed to this show on a tidal wave of form, having won the international stairway and grand prix at Royal Lancs (30 July – 1 Aug) and area trial at Hartpury (25 July) in recent weeks.
The combination, who have been together for three years, had already picked up their Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) wildcard as they topped this year’s gold league and also finished second in the international stairway series.
“Since taking over the ride, with the help of Pam Dunning, Adrian has transformed the horse and formed a superb partnership,” said Judith, who has owned ‘Louie’ since a three-year-old.
“Finding a bit which suited him instead of the hackamore helped as he has a little more control! Adrian is meticulous in his preparation and seems to have nerves of steel — unlike ‘Louie’ who can get wound up. The pair have been on fire recently, but this is their best win so far and I couldn’t be more pleased for both horse and rider.”
Mark McGowan’s international stairway final track certainly made the riders work for the national title, with an exacting time limit and poles falling all round — although a double of verticals at the arena’s edge caused the lion’s share of faults.
“I had a little bit of luck in the first round, I was stood with Joe Whitaker and we watched six or eight go and realised the time was very tight,” Adrian said.
“At the fence after the water jump you had to go back round the triple bar and there was a clock there — we worked out you had to be there in 52 sec and I looked up and I was gone 52sec and I thought ‘I’m behind’. I had my bit of luck over the next oxer where we had a rattle on the back rail. After that, I knew there wouldn’t be many clears.”
In the end, just three combinations from more than 40 starters kept clean sheets, and Adrian was joined in the second round on 0 faults by Joe Stockdale (Equine America Cacharel IV) and Robert Smith (Ilton).
Under the table A9 format, Joe Fernyhough (Calcourt Particle) on one time penalty and Jack Whitaker (Elucar VE) on two also went through, while Michael Whitaker (Q Parvarti N) also left the fences standing but collected two time penalties for sixth place.
In the jump off, Jack and Joe Fernyhough both had a rail to add to their first round penalties before Joe Stockdale took the lead with a deceptively smooth and relaxed clear on his mother Laura’s hugely talented 10-year-old mare.
But the partnership left just enough margin to enable a challenge and Adrian seized the advantage of jumping in last draw, delivering a fast, accurate and clean clear on a spring-heeled Millfield Baloney to find 0.61sec of headway.
“He was very clean in the jump off, I think the first round woke him up a bit,” Adrian said. “He felt great.”
The horse has won a couple of area trials this year with either the sole clear or beaten a steady round, but this class showed just how competitive he could be against the clock.
“Mark Edwards said to me the other day that since I’d had Happy Boy (his current speed horse), who is very quick round a 1.30m, I’ve been riding [Millfield Baloney] a lot faster — and I thought he was absolutely right!” added Adrian, who had also had the fastest time in Friday’s 1.40m final, but added one down.
As Adrian had already guaranteed his place at HOYS, the wild card from heading this class was passed down to Joe Stockdale. Mark Edwards also collected a wild card as gold league runner up, so his ticket for winning the international stairway series went to Tim Davies.
The U25 wild card was collected by Joe Fernyhough, who finished third in the final, while the wild card for the winner of the British Showjumping championship series — awarded for the highest points across the 1.40m national final, speed horse final and international stairway final — went to speed horse national champion Ben Walker.
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