UK National Championships showing report: Young horse proves to have star quality *H&H Plus*

  • A young intermediate with star quality lands the top accolade, standing over one of last term’s most promising hunters

    UK National Championships, Arena UK, Lincs, 15–16 August

    A series of sparkling, foot-perfect performances at the very end of this new and ground-breaking show brought supreme success for locally based producer Lucy Glover with Charlotte Read’s new intermediate hunter Carnsdale Wise Guy.

    The show, the brainchild of Scott Dixon, drew the great and the good from across the country and although the weather gods frowned on the grand finale, delivering a torrential downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning, an exceptionally high-class field of 16 – comprising both ponies and horses – competed for £500 and the magnificent Rory Gilsenan memorial trophy.

    After an initial go-round in small groups, each champion performed an individual show, with three judges marking skating-style. Only two sets of marks were publicly displayed, though, while the third judge’s scores were relayed directly to the commentator. This proved a popular tactic as the totals remained a mystery until the final combination had completed.

    Then, tension built as it emerged that four pairs had achieved equal marks and it was decided that Rory Gilsenan’s widow and daughter, Vanessa and Katie Gilsenan, would make the final decision. After a further go-round – including another gallop – and conformation assessment of the quartet, the champion and reserve were called forward.

    Guy, a striking six-year-old, had caught the eye from the moment he entered the ring at a powerful, swinging walk, and his smooth, soft, unhurried paces and seamless, balanced transitions could barely be faulted.

    “We had some fabulous horses and ponies forward, and they all coped admirably with the weather conditions,” said “secret” judge Alan Davies. “The ultimate winner never put a foot wrong, was up in the bridle and was a lovely stamp of a small hunter – he really deserved to win the fabulous trophy.”

    Robert Walker wound up reserve with last year’s Royal Windsor novice hunter champion, Somerville Lad, after a flamboyant, classic “showman’s show” was marred at the very end when the horse suddenly spooked badly after halting, almost unseating his rider.

    Guy was ridden to victory last year at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) by Robert’s son Sam, and then joined Lucy in March for her to campaign in this, her final intermediate year. Charlotte’s son James, 16, will take over in 153cm show hunter ponies and intermediates next term.

    “Guy is just amazing to ride,” said Lucy, for whom it was a first and last appearance with him. “He feels as though you’re on springs. As I was last to go, I had plenty of time to think about my show, but the nerves certainly built up!

    “It was a huge honour to win this trophy as everyone who knew Rory had so much respect and love for him.”

    Guy has sizeable shoes to fill as Charlotte’s previous prime contender, Carmens Novello, was supreme pony at HOYS with Lucy, but now has a new jockey.

    “Although Lucy does a super job and there are never any shortcuts, no one expected this on their first-ever outing,” said Charlotte. “Guy will come home now so that he and James can have fun and get to know each other properly – they have really clicked already, though, in just a few weeks.”

    The win – and trophy – were all the more poignant as Charlotte’s brother is suffering from a brain tumour and recently underwent surgery.

    Team Walker scores

    Team Walker had a great show, fielding 11 horses – including several ridden debutants – and netting four championships and six reserves against strong competition.

    “The show was very competitor-friendly, affordable and most of all fun,” said Robert.

    The family run was continued by his sister-in-law Vicky Hesford, whose squad was also on song. Amateur rider Charlotte Alford made a triumphant debut in horse ranks to be one of the final four in the supreme, aboard the charming cob champion Silverwoods, another who shone throughout.

    “My last show was HOYS last year on my Connemara, so I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for today,” said a jubilant Charlotte.

    The final member of the quartet was Jordan Cook aboard Paul Mortimer’s exciting young riding horse champion, Royal Illusion – another to show a beautifully soft, cadenced way of going. Sadly, though, time ran out before the pair had showed an extension in their otherwise flawless show.

    The enchanting picture of stand-in jockey Kiki Arthur, five, on the Heywoods’ immaculate Welsh A lead-rein, Thistledown Vodka Soda (Theo), was the next highest scorer from the pack, despite the disadvantage of a very early draw. It was a momentous result, as Kiki had only contested a few tiny tots classes last year, and had never ridden Theo – mini native champion here – in the ring before.

    “Rebecca and Evie (Heywood) couldn’t make it here so kindly asked Kiki, who is my niece, to ride Theo,” said producer Sharn Linney. “Theo hasn’t been out since HOYS, but he looked after her the whole time and Kiki loved every minute.”

    “Next year we’ll be bigger”

    This was the first time Scott Dixon has run any show, but he earned well-deserved praise from every quarter, as did Arena UK staff. All agreed that the standard was exceptional, and the absence of qualifiers was seen as a major bonus rather than a drawback.

    “I have always wanted to put a show together,” said Scott, who finally decided to go ahead just four weeks previously. “I’ve been very lucky to have competed all over the world, and I wanted to take aspects from the different countries’ championship shows in order to create a new, prestigious event.

    “Next year, the show will be even bigger, with several tweaks, and we will aim to get some big sponsorship packages to increase the prize money, too.

    “It was a huge risk to undertake the event this year, not just because of the amount of money required to cover the outgoings, but also to keep everyone safe. Arena UK staff bent over backwards to help me.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 20 August 2020