Bicton Arena eventing report: Mary King scores a local win *H&H Plus*

  • Mary King scores a win with a slow-maturing home-bred, while Kitty King’s on-form greys land a one-two

    Bicton Arena (2), Devon, 24–26 July

    Mary King scored a local win when she captured open intermediate (OI) section Q with King Robert II.

    “I haven’t won at Bicton for years,” confessed the Sidmouth rider, who led the dressage on 24.8. “The ground was good, so I thought I would go fast, but not flat out.”

    King Robert is home-bred, out of Kings Temptress and by Chilli Morning, whom Mary briefly competed before passing the stallion to William Fox-Pitt. “Bobby” was eighth in the CCI4*-S at Tattersalls last year, but has also had some more patchy form.

    “With my neck issues, I haven’t been riding that well,” said Mary, who suffers from cervical dystonia – neck muscle contractions which cause her head to involuntarily turn to the left – and also added that Bobby has been a late-maturing horse.

    “He’s 10, and a big, rangy sort, and he only feels like he’s getting stronger this year. I’ve never had such a slow developer, but he’s an absolute sweetheart – such a kind and gentle horse and so polite when he’s being ridden.”

    Mary’s stables are now almost exclusively filled with home-breds, and she admitted that she spent many happy hours working on their education during lockdown.

    “I would truck along with the youngsters in the morning and then go to the beach in the afternoon,” she laughed. “Because no one else was competing, I didn’t miss eventing at all.”

    Kitty King keeps up her form

    The advanced intermediate (AI) turned out to be something of a Kitty King benefit, the Wiltshire-based rider pulling off an impressive one-two aboard French-bred horses in elite company. She credited her lockdown training schedule as being partly responsible for her success, which included three victories from eight runners over the three days of this popular West Country event.

    “I trained my horses during the lull as I would in the winter,” said the rider, who headed the 47-strong AI aboard the 11-year-old Vendredi Biats and took the runner-up spot with Cristal Fontaine. “They did pole work and flatwork and were lunged, hacked and jumped, with alternate weeks of quiet and then more intense work. I planned to have them ready when the season started.”

    Within striking distance of dressage leaders Therese Viklund and Diabolique (who scuppered their chances with two rolled showjumping poles) following the five-star dressage test, Vendredi Biats kept a clean sheet during the two subsequent jumping phases, while his stablemate exceeded the 6min 4sec optimum time by  a mere second.

    One of Vendredi Biats’ four owners – Diana Bown – was there to watch her horse triumph.

    “She lives on the Isle of Wight and recently broke her arm, so it meant a lot to her to come here on her first outing since lockdown and see her horse win,” said Kitty, explaining that the gelding’s other three owners – Samantha Wilson, Sally Eyre and Sally Lloyd-Baker – had watched Bicton’s first ever horse trials livestream.

    “When I realised what a class field of intermediates we were having, I knew that I had to do something to stop a lot of people turning up,” said organiser Helen West. “ClipMyHorse.TV had cameras on the dressage arena, in the showjumping and on half a dozen cross-country fences. Paul Tapner [third on Bonza King Of Rouges] told me that his mum had watched in Australia. It hadn’t dawned on me that we might have viewers from that far afield!”

    No dramas for Forrest Gump

    Following on from two winning Kings, there were also two victorious Toms, with Tom McEwen and Braveheart B relegating Jonelle Price and Classic Moet into second place in OI section P.

    “He’s the yard favourite. Everyone loves him,” said Tom of Barbara Cooper’s 10-year-old gelding who was purchased from Vere Phillipps four years ago. “I used lockdown to consolidate his training and he’s come out on flying form.”

    Tom Jackson ran away with the spoils in OI section U aboard Forrest Gump 124, leaving Kirsty Chabert and Classic VI trailing in their wake.

    “Like my other horses, he’s missed almost a year of action,” said Tom, who broke his leg badly at Hartpury last August in a fall from Newmarket Prospect.

    “I had an operation and I didn’t start riding again until the beginning of December and then lockdown happened.”

    The bay Forrest Gump, owned by the Swedish company SHE Eventing AB, was bred in Germany and arrived in Tom’s Guildford yard two years ago.

    “He’s a good mover and a great jumper and, when he needs to be, he’s quick across the country,” said Tom. “He’s a very talented horse and I hope the future’s bright.”

    While Tom said he had a comfortable passage with his bay nine-year-old through fence seven, the blue and white roll-top Fishing Lodge houses into and at the exit to the first water, this fence did catch out some, notable scalps including Alberto Giugni’s Carneyhaugh Quantum, Ben Way’s Borough Free Flight and Tiana Coudray’s Cancaras Girl.

    “It was a tough question for an intermediate, but if you attacked it, it jumped well,” Tom said.

    Dani Evans’ prolific winner Hollywood Dancer added yet another victory to her CV, bringing her tally to nine, when claiming intermediate section T. The mare belongs to Ann Butler.

    “She’s good in all three phases,” said Dani, who purchased the Dutch-bred horse from showjumper Dan Moseley who, in turn, had found her at a Brightwells’ sale. “I seem to ride quite a few mares, and she’s definitely one of the best I’ve ever had.”

    Laura Collett (Charlotte Heber Percy and Teresa Stopford Sackville’s Moonlight Charmer) and Chris Burton (Carolyn and Anthony Townsend’s Leopard’s Action) claimed the two remaining intermediates.

    Bicton ran 258 horses on each of its three days – the maximum number allowed under Covid-19 restrictions. Around 200 BE90s were balloted out.

    Helen West’s husband Andrew Fell was the weekend’s hero, spending multiple hours on his tractor both agri-vating and then aero-vating the cross-country track.

    “Bicton deserves plaudits for all the work they put in. The going was brilliant,” said Kitty King.

    “I feel I pitched it right”

    Course-designer Helen West was satisfied she had designed her intermediate cross-country course, which boasted half a dozen new fences and a revamped route, at the right level considering horses are so short of match practice. In all, 85% of 234 horses jumped clear.

    “I feel I pitched it right,” said Helen. “The site is always a challenge in itself because of its natural features, but I had first time intermediates, as well as professional riders, telling me afterwards that they had had a good experience.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 30 July 2020