Aston-le-Walls eventing report: Kitty King is crème de la crème *H&H Plus*

  • Consistent Kitty King scores with a brace of wins over a track that earns course-designer Nigel Taylor praise, and lockdown training pays dividends with low scores in abundance

    Aston-le-Walls (X) and (4), Northants, 11–16 August

    Kitty King continued her blistering form with two advanced wins – topping one section by a close-to 20-penalty margin.

    Kitty, who jumped double clears on all her six rides from BE100 to advanced, repeated her double success from Aston’s July fixture, where she took top honours in a brace of open intermediate (OI) sections.

    Her Rio Olympic ride Ceylor LAN, owned by Diana Bown, Jacqueline Owen and Samantha Wilson, achieved the best dressage across all advanced sections with a score of 20.2. The pair added 6.8 cross country time-penalties to their first-phase total, leaving them 19.3 penalties clear of Piggy March and Brookfield Quality.

    “To have him back and feeling on top form was lovely,” said Kitty, who is campaigning the 13-year-old on the one-day circuit this year. “To win by nearly 20 marks just doesn’t happen in an advanced, not unless you’re Michael Jung!”

    After dressage in Wednesday’s scorching heat, Thursday turned Aston tropical.

    “‘Sprout’ just felt so happy – we went cross-country in torrential rain, but we both had great big smiles on our faces,” she added.

    “We’ve changed his routine and my husband, Ben, has to take a lot of the credit. I ride him once a week or so, Ben hacks him and does a bit of lungeing, and I will do one schooling session with him a week. Not overtraining seems to be suiting him and he is thriving.”

    Cristal Fontaine followed up last month’s Aston OI win with a victory in the competitive eight- and nine-year-olds’ advanced.

    “He is a lovely young horse and gave a brilliant performance,” said Kitty, of the eight-year-old owned by Camilla and Alex Wakeley.

    The rising star added two cross-country time-penalties to his dressage mark of 27.7 to end up on a score of 29.7, topping the section ahead of Ireland’s Aoife Clark on the French-bred Celus D’Ermac Z. Aoife and the nine-year-old jumped a double clear to add 5.6 time-faults to their section-heading first phase score of 26.7, finishing on 32.3.

    While Thursday morning’s rain resulted in tricky showjumping conditions, with only a third of advanced horses jumping clear, the deluge was welcomed for the cross-country, sinking into well-prepared ground for good going.

    Nigel Taylor’s course featured a mix of bold, attacking hedges and accuracy questions, three waters, plus an extra loop through the trees. Riders were quick to praise the track, which served as both an encouraging first time at this level and a confident run for the more experienced horses.

    Hector Payne and Dynasty also enjoyed a wide-margin advanced victory. They scooped first place with seven penalties in hand over Izzy Taylor and the eight-year-old Italian-bred Hartacker, who was making his top-level debut.

    Dynasty, owned by Judith and Jeremy Skinner, and David and Margie Hall, posted a dressage of 22 before breezing through the jumping phases. He added just two time-faults to his first-phase score to finish on a total of 24.

    “It was a bigger margin than I was expecting,” said Hector. “I was early in the day and Kitty was hot on my heels [with Vendredi Biats, 0.7 of a penalty behind,] and winning every section, so I didn’t have much time to play with.”

    Kitty opted for a steady cross-country run on “Froggy” in preparation for Burgham CCI4*-S, allowing Hector a margin he didn’t really need.

    “The horse is in the form of his life, so it’s nice to be able to show that,” added Hector, who had been gearing the 12-year-old gelding for his first Badminton when the pandemic hit. He now heads to Burgham with Pau as his autumn aim, Covid permitting.

    “The new section through the woods gave some extra distance and made the course less twisty,” he added. “It wasn’t the toughest advanced we’ve ever done, but considering where we are in the season it was plenty fair and had some good questions to test us. All the courses were a step up on what Nigel had built a month ago.”

    Pippa Funnell and Billy Walk On, owned by Barbara and Nicholas Walkinshaw, were also caught in the peak of the storm across country on their way to an advanced victory.

    “It looked as if I’d fallen off in the water,” she laughed. “It was his first run since Blenheim last year – I’ve been working away in lockdown on the basics and he was fabulous.”

    With the pandemic continuing to cause uncertainty, Pippa’s plans for her more experienced campaigners are not finalised.

    “For the younger ones, you need to keep giving them experience,” she said, explaining that for her more seasoned campaigners it’s about striking a balance between keeping them supple and well, without adding “unnecessary mileage”.

    “The rides I’ve had on them show they don’t forget, and I’d as soon as save them for next year.”

    “It’s about loving the horse first”

    Mollie Summerland and her star campaigner Charly Van Ter Heiden’s strong dressage of 27.3 meant the pair could afford a rolled pole showjumping, a handful of cross-country time-faults and still win the under-25 advanced with breathing room.

    This was the third run of the summer for the 11-year-old gelding, whom Mollie has produced from BE90 to four-star. The pair finished on a score of 36.5, with Toots Bartlett and C Why in second on 41.2.

    “Lockdown gave me time to focus on areas I wanted to work on with the horses,” said Mollie, crediting training with Olivia Oakeley. “I also found that time beneficial to work on myself – time to reflect on why I do the sport. It’s about loving the horse first and the competition second.

    “Sometimes when you’re going from big event to big event, it feels like a lot of pressure, and you’re riding in preparation for a competition. I do thrive off that, but I also just love riding and working with him every day.”

    Aston’s bumper entries resulted in 11 OI and intermediate sections, with all the victors jumping double clears.

    Surrey-based French rider Gaspard Maksud and the seven-year-old mare Zaragoza II posted the best finishing score of the day, winning on their dressage of 18.2. Olympian Alex Hua Tian and Jilsonne Van Bareelhof also produced a winning test in the teens, adding four cross-country time-faults to their 18.9 dressage.

    Among those to win on their dressage scores were James Sommerville and the consistent Edison NJ (28.9), Izzy Taylor and Romantic (29.6), Harry Horton with Maybe This Time II (29.1) and Piggy March aboard Brookfield Cavalier Cruise (20.2).

    The remaining sections were won by Helen Witchell and My Ernie (30.5), Toby Pigott on Lance A Little (26.7), Yasmin Olsson-Sanderson riding Inchello DHI (24.6), JP Sheffield with Schindlers Boy (35.4) and Sara Bowe on Kilcoltrim Mermist (29.1).

    Ref Horse & Hound; 20 August 2020