Wellington eventing report: Dargun dares to win *H&H Plus*

  • Piggy March claims a fourth victory aboard Dargun as he grows in “strength and confidence”, while Tom McEwen enjoys a successful weekend

    Wellington, Hants, 28 August–1 September

    Only five horses broke the 30 barrier in the dressage in the feature Whickr CCI3*-S, two of whom were ridden by Piggy March. The Northamptonshire rider claimed the eventual honours with Jane Del Missier’s striking chestnut Dargun, a former ride of Emily King.

    The pair led from pillar to post after recording a 24.3 first-phase score, and they followed this up with two flawless displays of jumping – the 12-year-old’s big white blaze making him visible across country over the undulations of Wellington Country Park.

    Piggy only started riding the son of Vaillant at the beginning of 2020 and this was their fourth victory in quick succession following the easing of lockdown.

    “He was a really fun horse for Emily,” said Piggy. “Lockdown worked wonders for him and he now feels much stronger, both in character and physique – I worked hard on developing his strength and confidence. He’s an established horse and can already do his job well, but every step we have formed a better partnership. He’s a yard favourite and very sweet-natured.

    “I withdrew him from Aston-le-Walls because the weather was like a monsoon and I didn’t want him to have a horrible time; it’s all about making it feel easy and positive for him. He’s a straight-forward horse but needs to believe in himself – I cannot afford to make mistakes on him.”

    The showjumping in this international class resulted in 36.8% of the 66 starters producing clear rounds, while on the cross-country 80% of the competitors finished on a clean jumping sheet.

    “These three-star classes are a great stepping stone between intermediate and advanced,” added Piggy. “I was pleased to see plenty of advanced fences also included in the three-star. It was a good track and had enough questions to make you think.”

    Tom McEwen and Coilbri De Riverland settled for second on a score of 28.8, with Amy O’Connor (Sankro) in third. Piggy also took fifth aboard Sportsfield Top Notch.

    Tom backed the French-bred Coilbri De Riverland as a three-year-old and has produced him since.

    “He’s a real character and cheeky, but a classy horse,” he said. “It was a tough section and he was up against more experienced horses. He’s only a small horse at 16.1hh and it took him a few years to strengthen up.”

    It was a successful weekend for Tom, who took the Bloomfields Horseboxes CCI2*-S on MHS Brown Jack. The Gatcombe Park-based rider produced a perfectly judged cross-country round, finishing bang on the optimum time of 5min 23sec.

    If all goes to plan, the Fred and Penny Barker-owned gelding will be aimed at the six-year-old championships at Le Lion this autumn.

    “He’s a really special horse and has the right mindset, he’s definitely ready to go to Le Lion,” said Tom. “Lockdown hugely benefited him because I had time to play around with him at home, working on his flatwork and showjumping. The two-star cross-country was educational and asked a bit more than usual at this level, which was good.”

    Louise Bradley (Poynstown Braeve) finished 3.3 penalties in arrears, adding just 0.4 of a time-penalty to her dressage of 27.1, with Alice Davies-Cooke (Cavalier King John) in third.

    A bold course

    Kitty King and Ceylor LAN followed up their advanced win at Aston-le-Walls with victory at Wellington, topping advanced section I. The pair dominated with a leading 24.5 dressage, adding 1.6 time-penalties across country. Tom Jackson and Capels Hollow Drift took the runner-up spot and Ros Canter (Lordships Graffalo) finished third.

    “Capels Hollow Drift is a very smart horse and finished second at the seven-year-old championships at Le Lion in 2018,” said Tom of the nine-year-old son of Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan. “He then stepped up to advanced as an eight-year-old. I broke my leg last year and then Covid-19 happened, so all my horses have missed a fair chunk of competing.

    “He felt great round the cross-country at Wellington. The advanced track felt tough enough – it was a bold course.”

    Tom was on winning form in open intermediate section N aboard Fire Fly, finishing on 24.8. “He’s gone from strength to strength. He’d lost a bit of confidence across country before I got him, so I’ve just been taking him easy for the past three seasons,” said Tom. “He’s a unique character but is super talented.”

    Jesse Campbell and Cleveland (24.6) won open intermediate section M, while intermediate section K went to Alex Kennedy and Hai Five (26.6). Intermediate section L was won by Sam Griffiths and Annaghmore Valoner (29.8). Molly Faulkner steered Classic Affair to success in the under-21 open intermediate class (26.8).

    “Training with Scott Brash has helped”

    Dressage lessons and lockdown training with Scott Brash paid dividends for Red Hot Cooley and his jockey Georgie Strang after they clinched the honours in advanced section J, finishing on their dressage of 28.5. It was a first win at this level for the son of Ramiro B. The nine-year-old came to Georgie’s yard from Ireland as a just-backed “spooky” four-year-old.

    “I produced him slowly and he grew a lot in the first year I had him,” explained Georgie. “I did four-year-old classes with him non-competitively, but always thought he could be a top horse for me. Physically, it took him a while to develop and learn to balance himself – he’s a big horse at 17hh and has long legs.

    “I owe a lot to my dressage trainer, Lisa White, who has really helped me find the key to him,” added Georgie. “The showjumping has always been his weakest phase, but Scott has given me the confidence to ride him to his strengths instead of trying to change him. I focus on giving him enough room before a fence – training in lockdown was a massive help.”

    Ros Canter (Zenshera) took the runner-up spot in this section, while Zara Tindall (Class Affair) claimed third.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 10 September 2020