Who will take the British Open crown?

  • Robert Whitaker won the first championship and last year’s prize went to Nick Skelton, so Britain’s riders will be all out to keep the Open title at home for the third successive year.

    This competition has a unique format. Riders jump in qualifying classes for points, with the top 20 going through to Sunday afternoon’s final, carrying forward their points as faults.

    The rider with the lowest total at the end of the final is crowned British Open Champion and takes the major prize pot — Nick Skelton (pictured) won £25,000 last year.

    Britain’s challenge is led by Robert Smith, who is back after a break. Nick Skelton will use the show as a warm-up for the World Cup final in Las Vegas, while Olympia winner Richard Davenport has also been in fine form on the World Cup circuit.

    The other Brits — any of whom would be a worthy champion — comprise Mark Armstrong, Damian Charles, Guy Williams, Tim Stockdale, Scott Smith, Paul Barker, John Renwick, Ben Maher, James Davenport, Tim Gredley and John and Robert Whitaker.

    The overseas entry is a good one. It includes Swiss world number two Markus Fuchs, Germany’s former World Champion Franke Sloothaak, Dutchman Harry Smolders, who came close last year, and Ireland’s Billy Twomey, who has been enjoying a fantastic run of late.

    Representing the lady riders is one of the world’s best, New Zealand-born Samantha McIntosh, an Olympian for her adopted country of Bulgaria.

    Competing for national pride

    Wales may have walked away with the Six Nations rugby crown, but the Scottish team will be determined to retain the Home International honours. The competition begins with an individual class on Saturday and finishes on Sunday with a Nations Cup competition. The Scots won’t have it all their own way. The rival squads look strong this year and this could be the closest competition yet.

    Showcasing young talent

    All indoor season, riders have been chasing points for places in the World Class Start and Potential Young Riders Classic. Open to riders aged under-23, this class has been designed to show the strength in depth of Britain’s young stars, who last year took team gold at European under-18 and under-21 level. Lance Whitehouse has been in fantastic form in the qualifying series. Can the Leicestershire-based rider keep it up on Friday in Sheffield?

    Show jumping highlights

    Thursday afternoon: Steel City Shield
    Evening: Sheffield Masters; British Open first competition

    Friday afternoon: World Class Start & Potential Young Riders Classic; accumulator
    Evening: Grandstand Classic; British Open second competition

    Saturday afternoon: British Open third competition; Thomas Bates & Son International Classic
    Evening: knockout, puissance

    Sunday afternoon: easibed British Home International Challenge; British Speed Stakes; British Open Championship final

    Outstanding entertainment

    The British Open displays are headlined by stunt rider Daniel Naprous, who will perform his “Masked Caballero” routine. Buckinghamshire-based Daniel has been appearing in films since the age of eight. He is an all-round performer — his accomplishments include fire eating; juggling; unicycling; swordsmanship; martial arts; trampolining and diving.

    The lighter side of equestrianism will be provided by Frenchman Joel Chacon, who first appeared in Britain at HOYS 2002. Chacon, a former acrobat, combines equestrian skills with comedy in his original display.

    On Thursday and Friday, spectators can get a feel for the sport of arena polo. Usually played outdoors, polo, like most disciplines, moves indoors during the winter. Because of their close proximity, spectators will have a real chance to experience this fast moving sport at close hand.

    The audience will also be given a taste of one of the oldest equestrian disciplines through a display of vaulting. Best described as “gymnastics on a moving horse”, the sport dates back to 1500BC. In the Middle Ages, it was part of the education of knights and noblemen. Vaulting became an FEI discipline in 1986. The vaulters at Sheffield have represented Britain at European and World Championships.

    Twenty-six members of Cheshire Hunt North branch of the Pony Club will present their “Military in Miniature” ride. The display is based on the Household Cavalry’s musical ride, and the performers are aged between seven and 15. They are under the supervision of trainer and choreographer Psyche Kennerley, who has arranged displays at HOYS on two previous occasions.

    If you think you have good balance in the saddle, wait until you’ve seen the players in the horseball international challenge. Teams of four players try to score goals by throwing a ball fitted with six leather handles through a 1m hoop, set 3.5m off the ground. Players will twist their ponies, ride without using their reins, and literally lean down to the ground at speed to grab the ball.

    And last but not least, the popular fast-paced sport of scurry driving, will give the crowd the chance to get behind the drivers. Whips (as the drivers are more correctly know) steer a pair of ponies through a course of obstacles, with time-penalties for faults along the way. Watch the grooms on the back trying to counterbalance the carriages so that they don’t tip up.

    Visit the H&H stand

    If you are going to the British Open, then don’t forget to visit the Horse & Hound stand (F4), where there is a free-to-enter competition for £500-worth of goods from Harry Hall and Masta.

    Robert Smith will be on the stand during the show signing autographs and there are many more prizes to be won, including hats from William Funnell’s range, products from Net-Tex Industries, and Spillers meadow herb treats.

    And you can take advantage of fantastic subscription offers on Horse & Hound, Eventing and HORSE magazines. Come and see us to find out more.

    How to get there

    The Hallam FM Arena is less than two miles from Sheffield City Airport and is served by supertram. Trams run every 10min from 6am to midnight. Car parking: £10 coach; £6 minibus; £5 car.

    From the north: leave the M1 at junction 34. Take the fourth exit on the roundabout. Follow signs for Sheffield Centre (A6109), turn left (following signs to the ring road, A6102). The arena is on the right.

    From the south: leave the M1 at junction 33. Take the first exit on the roundabout on to the A630 (Sheffield). Continue until the exit for ring road (services). Follow signs for the ring road, straight over a small roundabout. Turn right at the next roundabout on to the ring road/Meadowhall (A6178). The arena is on the left.

    For more details about the show and tickets visit: www.britishopenshowjumping.com

  • This preview was first published in Horse & Hound (31 March ’05)

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