First lady leads stellar field at UK Nationals

  • Third to go shines brightest in the supreme, after an impressive show stuns the star-studded judging panel at UK Nationals, reports Tricia Johnson

    JORDAN COOK pulled off one of the super-seamless shows for which he is renowned to nail the JM Horseboxes £1,000 overall ridden horse supreme title on day two of this novel UK Nationals show, inaugurated by Scott Dixon last year. Jordan’s performance on Cindy Dilasser’s lovely home-bred hack, Sutton Grange Lady Eleanor (Ellie), earned 29 marks out of a possible 30 and the magnificent Rory Gilsenan memorial trophy.

    At the end of a successful evening performance, during which the atmosphere built to a crescendo worthy of Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), eight top combinations came forward to be assessed under the format of two judges’ marks being displayed while one remained “secret”.

    Third to go, Jordan and Ellie floated round in a league of their own, executing a technically demanding show in which even the most difficult manoeuvres looked easy. This impressed showjumper Jack Whitaker, who co-judged alongside Jo Jefferson and former HOYS show pony winner-turned-professional dancer Sam Salter, who each gave the combination 10/10.

    “The horse did everything right and the rider had superb showmanship,” said Jack, who awarded a nine. “After all, a horse will only perform as well as the rider rides it. The only reason I didn’t give it 10 was that it was early on and I wanted to keep one mark in reserve just in case!”

    Reserve went to Edward Young, another consummate showman, with Lauren Mollard’s ultra-mannerly Be Smart. When the eight-year-old claimed the small hunter supreme on day one, it was a poignant win for all concerned as Lauren’s father Ian – the horse’s original owner – died two years ago to the day.

    Simon Reynolds had the unenviable job of being first to go, but produced another professional performance to finish just one mark behind with Rowena Stevenson’s striking grey lightweight cob, Copenhagen.

    “It caught my eye”

    THE 13-strong Judge Family £1,000 overall ridden pony supreme fell to Zara Brookes with her intermediate champion Parkgate Royal Visit William, another who produced a foot-perfect performance.

    “The minute it entered the ring, it caught my eye,” said co-judge Sam. “It was produced to perfection; its way of going was stunning.”

    “Produced to perfection”: Zara Brookes and Parkgate Royal Visit William claim ridden pony supreme with a foot-perfect performance

    “Produced to perfection”: Zara Brookes and Parkgate Royal Visit William claim ridden pony supreme with a foot-perfect performance.

    William’s 2021 run includes the intermediate title at Royal Windsor and a win at Derbyshire Festival, as well as the hack championship at Hickstead with producer Rob Walker.

    “I’ve only ever ridden in one supreme before, so I didn’t go in with any thoughts of winning,” said Zara, 17, who missed her chance at Hickstead due to a clash with the hacks. “I just set out to have a good time here, so it was lovely to get in the ring on him and do well – plus now I’ve finally won my first-ever flower sash.”

    Audience applause rang in the rafters when Lilly Ahern-Lee, nine, and the super-cute Shetland Lotuspoint Cassius were called into reserve. This charming pair had landed the junior mountain and moorland supreme en route to earn their first flower sash, which dwarfed him.

    Judge Vanessa Clark commented: “This was a beautiful picture; the pony went very sweetly and politely – I loved it.”

    Lilly Ahern-Lee and Shetland Lotuspoint Cassius are junior mountain and moorland supreme en route to the ridden pony reserve

    Lilly Ahern-Lee and Shetland Lotuspoint Cassius are junior mountain and moorland supreme en route to the ridden pony reserve

    Vanessa also co-judged the mini show pony supreme, which fell to the Paskin family’s Team Hillyard-produced six-year-old first ridden, Trevaylor Toy Story (Buzz), and Rose Cassapi-Paskin, 12, fresh from gaining their first HOYS ticket and the mini-section title at National Pony Society (NPS).

    Their flawless performance here moved Vanessa to comment: “This is a beautiful, mannerly pony, with plenty of limb and a lovely turn of foot. I was particularly pleased to see it being ridden in a loose-ring snaffle.”

    As this was the partnership’s first time indoors with lights, music and a crowd, Rose’s mother Tracey was justifiably delighted.

    “Buzz behaved well beyond his years,” she said. Rose is an Atherstone Hunt branch of the Pony Club member and recently qualified for the dressage regional finals, where she will be one of the youngest riders. “Having Buzz go in a loose-ring snaffle has always been important to me because of the dressage aim,” added Tracey. “It was so refreshing that the judges commented on it.”

    Drama on day three of UK Nationals showing show

    Novice and amateur competition dominated day three which, sadly, was marred not only by heavy showers but also an accident that befell show director Scott Dixon. He slipped and fell on wet ground, almost slicing off his thumb on a metal structure in the process. He was rushed to hospital, but released after precautionary scans and multiple stitches.

    The Ali Talbot £500 novice supreme went to Robert Walker with Jill Day’s former HOYS in-hand victor and reigning Great Yorkshire novice champion MHS Morning Master, who oozed class from the moment he strode into the ring with 15 other bidders.

    “This horse was just stunning,” said co-judge Janay Atherden. “He has a great step, is mannerly, light in front and looked so comfortable. I kept thinking how much I’d like to ride him.”

    Reserve, however, came as a complete surprise to stand-in jockey Fiona Wilson with Lisa O’Rourke’s charismatic young Welsh D stallion Steppers Relight My Fire (Flame).

    “He was a good goer, with lovely, free action,” declared Janay. “It was so nice to see a native pony staying in a lovely rhythm without being rushed and overbent.”

    The exciting five-year-old, normally ridden by Fiona’s boss Aimee Devane, has had a great start to his career, standing reserve novice champion at the British Show Pony Society Winters, taking his first bronze medal at Norfolk – where he was overall section D champion – and winning the pure novice final at NPS. As Aimee was already riding the Fell worker Townend Schubert in this supreme, she handed the reins over to Follywood Team groom Fiona.

    “This was only his fourth show of the year, and the first time Fiona had ridden him in the ring,” said Aimee. “She’d never done a show before – she said she was just in there for a nice trot round!”

    The combination of Amelia Evans, 12, and Nicola Bentley’s Welsh B gelding Weydown Royal Consort (Marvin) stood first reserve after smashing their super show. This Team Holder-produced grey, a former Royal Welsh winner, is through to HOYS in first ridden ranks with Amelia, and Samuel Bentley, 13, has been knocking on the door in juniors.

    “As Marvin loves his jumping we hope to take him into workers next season, too,” said owner Nicola. “He has a very bright future in the ring but he is also the most fun pony to have at home.”

    Home-producer Amy Cook was the delighted recipient of the Black Country Saddles £500 amateur supreme, beating a nine-strong field on her in-form middleweight hunter, Mister Darcy Dancer. Darcy was third in the amateurs and fifth in the opens at Hickstead, and has his HOYS ticket in the bag.

    Remarkable comebacks

    A WORKING hunter puissance class was a popular innovation on the first evening. The wall reached 1.71m and the spread measured 1.80m in the final round, in which victory was shared between three combinations: Olivia Minihane with Team Homer’s working hunter champion, Golden Glove; Kieran Baslington aboard the jumping-bred Evola W and an emotional Jenny Keepe with Harlequin Express (Quinn).

    Jenny Keepe with Harlequin Express shared the honours in the working hunter puissance competition at UK nationals showing show

    Jenny Keepe with Harlequin Express shared the honours in the working hunter puissance competition.

    Just over a year ago, nightclub manager Jenny was diagnosed with a brain tumour and underwent a radical 10-hour operation followed by months of radiotherapy, which finished only recently.

    Then this March, her beloved 15-year-old Quinn was found to have a tumour in his sinuses so he, too, was operated on.

    “I honestly thought it was game over for both of us,” said Jenny, who is now subject to six-monthly scans to check her progress. “We had a month to prepare for this as Quinn gradually came back into work, so just the fact that I got him here meant more to me than ever. I never expected to win; I just wanted to get through a couple of rounds and I would have been happy with that.”

    Jenny has also set up a JustGiving page for the Brain Tumour Charity, linked to this event, and has raised almost £1,500 to date.

    “I was having transport issues, too, but Manor Elite Horseboxes kindly loaned me a new lorry as their donation, so I managed to arrive here safely and in style,” she added.

    UK Nationals showing show: “It’s a brilliant concept”

    AFTER a fairly slow start on day one – probably because many were travelling here from the NPS championships – the show began to build and it was hailed as a major success by exhibitors and officials alike.

    The format is loosely based on the glitzy – and highly successful – Australian “Grand Nationals,” and in many ways is also reminiscent of the sadly missed Cherif show here in the UK.

    Fabulous trophies, superb prize money and highly coveted flower sashes were also a prime draw, and Arena UK had its “party frock” on too, laying on lavish decorations to add to the sense of occasion. Without the pressure of chasing qualification tickets, a friendly atmosphere
    again prevailed.

    “It’s a brilliant concept,” said Edward Young. “Plus it’s a perfect run-up to the two main championship shows and then HOYS. Most of all, though, it’s fun.”

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