In the run-up to the Olympics, here’s the low-down on the big shows and local venues where you might rub shoulders with the elite
The season starts early this year, on the last day of February. At the weekend (29 February-1 March), Oliver Townend and Piggy French tend to make the trip to Cambridgeshire for Isleham, while Nicola Wilson will take her young horses to Epworth in South Yorkshire, for the season’s curtain-raisers.
“Epworth’s friendly and well run, with showjumping on a surface, so it’s always consistent at this time of year,” says Nicola. “The cross-country is encouraging so they can find their feet.”
Gemma Tattersall is among many elite eventers starting out at Tweseldown (5-8 March), often with their Badminton horses — Pippa Funnell, Kitty King, Andrew Nicholson, Izzy Taylor and Laura Collett were all in the ribbons here in 2019.
“I’ll take my top horses and a couple of younger ones,” says Gemma. “The ground is good; it takes a lot for it not to run. The team have done so much work on the venue and the courses are educational.”
Lincolnshire (13-15 March) is also on the agenda for Nicola Wilson, though her Badminton-bound Bulana heads to Norfolk event Great Witchingham (20-22 March): “It’s a long way for us, but they are very welcoming. It’s flat for the dressage and has a proper cross-country course.”
Meanwhile, fellow five-star rider Georgie Spence will head from Tweseldown to Pontispool (14-15 March).
“The showjumping is on a surface, the parking is good and the cross-country is challenging, which is good to give you a kick-start with the older horses,” she says.
Eventers will miss two favourites in the eventing calendar, Belton and Gatcombe, which are replaced by Cirencester Park (21-22 March) and the Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park (27-29 March). Georgie Spence is excited about the new events.
“It’s nice for owners to go to different places and I like not to know the layout or what the fences are; it gets your blood up,” she says.
Once the early season is under way, it’s the big events — Badminton (7-10 May), Chatsworth (16-17 May), Bramham (4-7 June) and Blenheim (17-20 September) — that are the honeypot venues for the top riders. Burghley (3-6 September) is likely to feature plenty of top riders who missed out on Olympic spots, as well as Tokyo riders on other horses.
Gareth Hughes admits to having plans “A, B and C” this year, according to Olympic selection. He’ll compete at Windsor (13-17 May) and Bolesworth (9-14 June), with Hickstead (24-27 June) and Hartpury (1-5 July) featuring after selection.
“It’s really important that we riders support the internationals in this country,” he says. “They are well run, at great venues and with very good judges. It allows us to compete at top level, without all the travelling that’s involved when we go to shows abroad. It’s also great for the sport in the UK, as it means more people can come to see the top horses.”
Carl Hester is planning to compete at the likes of Wellington and Somerford (24-27 May) Premier Leagues, besides Windsor and Bolesworth, to get more grands prix under Hawtins Delicato’s belt on home ground.
“I’m aiming to get in a bit of national schooling in between the internationals,” he says. “At international shows you’re always trying to make everything perfect, so it’s nice to be able to experiment a little at the Premier Leagues, if I need to. Last year doing this really worked for Hawtins Delicato, and it was why he was able to produce his best grand prix test to date at the Europeans.
“The grands prix at Premier Leagues also have very good judges, and can often be like mini internationals.”
Those keen to spot young show horses should head to Keysoe Spring Show (27 April) — Jayne Ross usually attends with her new novices. In the north-west, SHB (GB) at Myerscough College (4 April) is a similarly traditional route for producers.
The pros’ plaited ponies will emerge at the BSPS winter championships (18-19 April) at Arena UK, and tend to go on to great things during the season. Last year’s novice show pony champion, Team Jinks’ Stretcholt New Dimension, went on to stand show pony of the year at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).
The action hots up at the NPS Spring Festival at Malvern (25 April), which has two novice ridden finals, plus the first batch of HOYS mountain and moorland qualifiers. Native producer Aimee Devane is planning to aim her “true novices” here, and is also looking forward to Cheshire County (16-17 June).
“I’ll be aiming all my novices for the NPS Summer Championships [31 July-2 August], the Picton final being the pinnacle for any novice native,” she adds.
The ultimate showcase of novice show horses will be at Royal Windsor in May. Most top producers will be aiming their young hopefuls at these novice classes. Multi-supreme riding horse Diamonds Are Forever is just one of the legendary rides to have achieved their first major win on royal turf.
Simon Reynolds says: “Our team of novices will contend a few smaller shows before hopefully aiming them at Royal Windsor if all the prep goes to plan. It’s never a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The top showjumpers are currently competing on various tours in Florida, Spain and Portugal, and we’re unlikely to see most of them on home ground until Royal Windsor (13-17 May). However, the likes of Scott Brash are occasionally spotted with a lorryload at Pyecombe in Sussex, which runs a four-day senior show (23-26 April). In March and April, the centre holds nine days of affiliated senior showjumping.
The team riders will be involved abroad in Nations Cups in the run-up to Tokyo (see box, right), but most will also converge on Royal Windsor and Hickstead (Al Shira’aa Derby Meeting on 24-28 June and Longines Royal International Horse Show on 21-26 July).
Michael Whitaker intends to compete more in Britain this year. “I’m hoping to do Windsor and Bolesworth, and I always try to get to Great Yorkshire [14-16 July] and Hickstead. I wouldn’t rule out doing the Derby if I have a horse good enough.”
Matt Sampson, Harriett Nuttall and Olympic contender Holly Smith are other top riders we’re bound to see at Hickstead — “It’s always in my calendar,” says Holly. “I love competing there.”
The team chasing season kicks off in a couple of weeks’ time, with multi-champion Yvonne Goss gearing up for classes up to intermediate at the Beaufort in Wiltshire (15 March), the first of six consecutive weekends.
“Beaufort’s track is not overly big, with lots of timber fences, so doesn’t cause too many problems,” says Yvonne, who is also looking forward to the Skinner’s Pet Foods national championships at the Fernie (29 March).
“The championships are a highlight of the calendar. It’s a truly brilliant course with an unbelievable atmosphere. It’s a proper jumping track, but it flows really nicely.
“The Belvoir team chase [in September] is another I love. It’s only an intermediate but it’s a super course with lovely, natural hedges.”
Driving fans will enjoy a trip to Lampeter Stallion Show in Ceredigion (18 April), where champion Jessie Dudley-Apicella plans to start her season. After Royal Windsor, she’ll head to the Royal Welsh (20-23 July).
“There’s a big grandstand, and my horses have always thrived on the atmosphere there,” she says. “It’s the only show, in my opinion, that could rival Royal Windsor.”
Nominated entries for dressage, showjumping and eventing close 1 June; final entries on 6 July. Final entries for para dressage are 3 August.
- Eventing: results at four- and five-star will be considered. A long-list is expected from 12 May-1 June, from which the squad will be selected around 16 June. This means Badminton, Chatsworth, Bramham and Luhmühlen are the main events to watch Olympic contenders.
- Dressage: selection will be made in June. Keysoe (13-15 March), Windsor (13-17 May) and Bolesworth (9-14 June) are putting on grand prix specials to allow contenders to post some scores. Carl and Charlotte are expected at ’s-Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands, 12-15 March) and Saumur (France, 30 April-3 May), before Windsor and Bolesworth.
- Showjumping: Olympic contenders are likely to represent Britain in Nations Cup legs at St Gallen (Switzerland, 21-14 May), Rotterdam (18-21 June), Falsterbo (Sweden, 9-12 July), and Hickstead (23-26 July), though as the latter falls during the Tokyo horses’ quarantine period, they won’t be competing their Olympic horses.
- Para: Hartpury CPEDI (1-5 July) is traditionally the final trial, after which the riders are announced.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 February 2020