Glorious return for Oliver at Three Counties following a freak road accident *H&H Plus*

  • Teamwork makes the dream work for one showing royalist, who returns to the ring in triumph after a particularly turbulent year, at the Three Counties Equine, Three Counties Showground, Worcs

    CLAIRE OLIVER made a fairytale return to the show ring to win, take her Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) ticket and stand champion with Susan Granger’s lightweight cob Freddie Kruger.

    This was Claire’s first outing since a freak accident on the road in late March left her with a fractured pelvis and collarbone – and it was Freddie’s first appearance in the ring since 2019.

    Claire, who only started riding again three weeks ago, was already on a high here as Susan’s exciting middleweight hunter Cudlic Spartacus (Sparky) was third in the 11-strong middleweight division.

    “I just hoped they would both go well, as the Three Counties Show holds so many happy memories for us,” reflected Claire, who was quick to credit the behind-the-scenes help she has received in recent months.

    “My head girl Sophie Headley Ward has done a fantastic job keeping the horses going, and Jess Cronk – who used to work for Robert [Oliver] – helped for a while, too,” she said. “Matthew Ainsworth has also been an amazing support, as has David Puttock.”

    Matthew was himself to the fore in hunter ranks where his ride, Sue Hookham’s recent purchase, the awesome heavyweight Dublins Street Fighter (James), gave the all-conquering Walker/Day team a close run to stand reserve.

    Excellent classes filled the main ring with many horses clearly relishing the chance for a decent spin on grass. There was no denying Rob Walker and MHS Morning Master, who headed 15 lightweights throughout and claimed the title with a typically blistering gallop.

    James was also an emphatic class winner, though – every inch a true heavyweight with bone, quality, type and presence in abundance.

    “For such a big horse, he was super to ride – light, mannerly and extremely comfortable,” said judge Kath Barley.

    Freda Newton bought James the year before he was four-year-old champion in Dublin. He then went to James Munro and Russell Skelton, and was bought by Sue in March this year for Matthew to ride.

    “He is the most fabulous sit-on,” said Matthew. “You can barely feel his feet touch the ground and his gallop is just breathtaking.”

    This was only the pair’s third outing together, having won and qualified for Royal International (RIHS) at Wiltshire show, and won and stood reserve at Bath and West.

    “I must admit I’m very excited about him – it’s just such a shame that Robert isn’t here to see him today, as he was instrumental in Freda buying him in the first place,” added Matthew, for whom the late Robert was mentor, former employer and close friend.

    “James’s next outing now will be Hickstead – he doesn’t need to do a lot of shows and he really enjoys life at home.”


    ANOTHER “wounded soldier” hit the heights in the HOYS workers, where Simon Grundy built a typically innovative track, fully utilising the Hereford ring’s many natural features.

    Slightly slippery ground proved quite testing, though, and just one of the 22 starters – Jason Newbold aboard his own 12-year-old The Troika (Timmy) – remained clear. It was a case of triumph over pain for Jason, determined to make his first bid for a 2021 HOYS place despite still wearing a plaster cast after breaking his wrist four weeks ago.

    “Timmy came to be sold three years ago, and never left,” said a jubilant Jason. “He hunted a full season with the Grafton before we knew how good he was. He has ‘character,’ shall we say, but seems to have found his niche in life now and would jump the moon for me if I asked him.”

    This was the pair’s second outing of the year, having picked up their Hickstead pass at Wiltshire.

    Native ridden ranks were booming, too, occupying the Malvern ring for a full day.

    Stand-in jockey Alice Tomlinson made a triumphant debut with Chris Phillips’s experienced Exmoor Eddra Chillies (Ed) to head a good class and then, to her astonishment, land the highly competitive small breeds title.

    “I’d never even sat on the pony before, but Katy [Marriott-Payne] was busy in another ring and luckily we hit it off straightaway,” said Alice, for whom riding an Exmoor at HOYS will be a first. “He was a cool dude who loves a gallop and I thoroughly enjoyed him – I’m keeping the ride for the rest of the season now.”

    The large breeds equivalent went to Lincolnshire-based home-producer Catherine Hudson with her super-consistent Welsh section D gelding Gwynfaes Macsen Wledig (Max), thankfully now fully recovered from an adverse reaction to his flu vaccination in 2019 which saw him sidelined for the season.

    “We almost lost him,” said Catherine, who works full-time for Ferrero and competes as a hobby. “He’s as good as new now, thank God!”


    JANE HOLDERNESS-RODDAM officiated in an interesting 15-strong Price Family supreme qualifier, which featured a wide range of breeds and types.

    She chose both champion and reserve from the plaited horse sections, awarding the top spot to Sarah Gibbons’ three-year-old riding horse champion, The Seducer, bred by Ann Bassett and Tony Wareham and produced and shown by in-hand specialist Steve Pitt.

    The upstanding son of Aveia is out of Elite De Roulette, herself a former HOYS in-hand final runner-up for the Bassett/Wareham team. Seducer, bought by Steve from them as a yearling, was unshown before this year, when he was section champion at Bath and West.

    Tony and Ann were in the ribbons as producers themselves, as Tony led Carol Dagless-Brown’s grand hack champion mare Reveille to stand reserve.

    It was a bumper weekend all round for Steve and partner Vicky Smith, as she rode Jane Scrivens’ exciting young hack Brown Panther to win, qualify and stand champion on his open debut.


    NATIVE workers were out in force, so it was some achievement for Maia Avery to head the largest height section and then stand champion with her home-produced Connemara stallion Carracanada River, giving the pair their first HOYS ticket – at their first attempt.

    Locally based Maia, 16, bought River – a stunning dark bay son of Templebready Fear Bui – on a spontaneous shopping trip to Ireland two years ago.

    “I knew as soon as I saw him that we would be booking the ferry for him, and we clicked straightaway,” said Maia, who collected their first Hickstead ticket the previous week at NPS Area 14 – also at the first attempt.

    “We spent our first year just getting to know each other, and he enjoys dressage, showjumping, cross-country and even side-saddle,” she added. “It’s always been my dream to compete at HOYS and now it’s finally come true.”

    This report can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale date 24 June 2021

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