Laura Phipps reports …

March signals an exciting time for many Eventing aficionado as it sees the event season “spring” into life. Riders welcomed the first fixture of the season at Stafford Horse Trials, this Spring schedule sponsored for the first time by Equi-Trek Stafford, which brought three full days of exciting competition with classes from BE80 (T) to BE100. Changes had been made to many of the questions on the cross-country course in all classes, however were designed to remain educational. 

The first day of competition saw riders competing in the first qualifier for the Blue Chip Central North West 80T Challenge.

Section A was won in comfortable fashion by Rachel Andrews, a field officer for World Horse Welfare and her own Gonzo, whom she describes as a “dream come true”. Rachel credits Harriet Woodcock and Alice Beasley on the flat and Michael Owen and Maddy Moffett over jumps, for their help in bringing on “very green” Gonzo. They completed on their leading dressage mark of 22.5, a comfortable 5.5 penalties ahead of second placed Carly Woolley riding Grand Illusion. William, as he is known at home, was bought by Rachel in September 2015 from Ran Arbel as a recently backed 4yo and Rachel expressed she “couldn’t be more proud of him”. This was a welcome win for Rachel, as before the purchase of William, she endured a torrid time during the summer of 2015 as she explains “I had lost my dog Maggie and as with all horse owners, had some heartbreak and disappointments by losing my lovely 2-year-old homebred filly to colic and having to retire my mare Ella just before our first Novice event”. She continues “winning the BE80 was just amazing and I feel like all our hard work has paid off. William did me so proud and I am thrilled to have qualified for the championships. Our aim now is to move up to BE90 and I would absolutely love to qualify for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup at Badminton”.

Hannah Parr was another who’s season started rosily with Tinkers Boy, who managed to contain his nerves to stay on their dressage mark of 30.3 to win Section C. Hannah enlisted the help of Ollie and Rachel Finnegan, of Leicestershire Hunter Hirelings, in finding Colin whom she bought from Ireland as a 4yo after having only seen a photograph. Hannah describes him as “a perfectly natured genuine boy however, is complex to ride” advising “it took a year to even begin to sort out the contact issues in his mouth let alone ride a dressage test”. Now a rising 7yo, last season was a successful one at 80 level for the pair with two wins at PC and unaffiliated level yet Hannah was still “completely shocked to win”. She enthused “he’s a very talented horse at home but lives on his nerves resulting in him being very green at competitions but everything came together on the day”. Having hunted Colin lightly with the Quorn last season, Hannah has decided to focus his attentions solely on eventing with the aim of moving up to BE90 level by May and to compete at the Blue Chip 80 Championships. Tayla Brooks riding Springwind Catwalk relinquished their leading dressage score of 25.8 to come 2nd by adding 4 SJ penalties and 0.8 XC TF faults.

Andrew Heffernan enjoyed good results here with a marginal win in BE90 Open Section J. Finishing scores in this class were tightly clustered with the first five all completing on their sub 30 dressage scores. Andrew won aboard Gloriette DHI, a 6-yo mare by Spartacus, by 0.2 of a penalty from Joshua Balance and Dassett Breeze on 26.5. Phoebe Powell partnered Miss Valentino to third place on a score of 27.3.

Andrew also enjoyed a second-place finish riding Cafre Nebraska in BE100 Section K behind winner Oliver Townend, who continues his excellent start to the season. Oliver’s ride here was River Warrior, a 6-yo gelding by Askoll Peter Pan. Oliver along with Andrew again notched a clean sheet, completing on scores of 24.5 and 27.5 respectively.

Michelle Patrick was full of praise for this event remarking “the stewards and volunteers were bright, smiley and happy and brought wonderful energy to the event; they were an absolute credit to Stafford and deserve a massive thank you. This was a super event that we will definitely be coming back to”. Michelle will be hoping history repeats itself if she does return, as she was the winner of BE90 Section E to gain hers and her mount, Dream on Porsche, their first BE victory in only their second attempt at this level. They won with a score of 25.4, only adding 2.4 XC time faults to their dressage score. Michelle, who trains with Emma Hyslop-Webb, described this win as “surreal” and enthused she was “immensely proud of her little mare”. The “little mare”, Porsche is a 16hh 10-yo Westphalian, bred in Germany. Porsche arrived in England as a 6yo “lawn mower”. Michelle purchased Porsche as a just backed 7-yo after the loss of her previous horse. Despite being bred to be a dressage diva, being by Dream On (Donnerhall), Michelle commented the mare with “an opinion about pretty much everything, seems to love jumping and particularly playing in water. We owe Emma a lot as we have come such a long way from the just backed, wobbly and confused 7-yo.” It is onward and upwards for this pair as they are entered for a BE100 at Norton Disney next month and Michelle advised she would “love to get to Novice”. A close second place went to Finn Healy on Jack in the Box 11 on their dressage score of 26.0

Becky Hartley was another to remain on her dressage score to take a win in BE90 Section I on a mark of 28.0. Becky was riding her own Bee Master Cobra whom she describes as being “one of those horses who has been on this planet before” and that proved apt as this was his very first BE event. Becky commented “Brice is only 5 and still quite weak so I’m going to take things slowly but he is so lovely to do and also very talented”. Becky has high hopes for Brice as she advised she would “love to aim for Osberton for the young horse championship”. Stafford is a local event for Becky and she was full of praise for the organisers: “the Plant team always run a top event and it was great to win on home ground”. Occurring 4 SJ penalties relegated the joint dressage leader of Sarah Kranz and Pictus Jurian to 2nd place scoring 29.3.

Team Plant were definitely tested on this March fixture. The weather did not grace Stafford favourably on Saturday with rain falling.  The team were made to work hard to ensure the third day of competition went ahead. An impressive effort was made; dressage arenas were moved, the showjumping arena was extended onto fresh ground and several cross country fences were also moved to unanimous praise from competitors. 

Grateful, no doubt, that the third day of competition commenced, was BE100 Open Section R winner Camilla Hardie, as her and her mount, For the Boys, had a win in this class in 2016 to defend. This win was the first for the pair since last years triumph as Camilla exclaimed “Stafford is not only our local friendly event, it’s also a very happy hunting ground”. They completed on their dressage score of 26.8. Camilla has produced For the Boys or Dougal, from a 4-yo describing him as “the ultimate allrounder; he competes as a coloured show horse, in pure showjumping and we have completed the Corinthian Cup at Gatcombe for the last 2 years”. Camilla reflects on her win here commenting “I am over the moon. The organisers did an amazing job of re-siteing everything to ensure the Sunday could go ahead and although the ground was sticky, Dougal was in his element, starting with a 9 for his entry in the dressage. I’m thrilled!. We’ll go on to do some ON’s and maybe a one star but I need to work on his fitness as it’s not his forte”. Second place went to Francesca Fitzherbert riding Hartpury Take it 2 the Top also completing on their dressage score of 28.5.

Other winners:

BE80 (T) Section B – Andrea Parrish and Landmark Shady Lady

BE80(T) Section D – Sally Poppe and Majestic Silver

BE90 Section F – Emma Rarity and Zummertimes

BE90 Section G – Giovanni Mere and Darby Day Dancer

BE90 Section H – Sharon Latham and Torpenhow Lia

BE90 Section M – Stephanie Hill and Stormhill Martin

BE90 Section N – Anna Tomlinson and Rainbows Blaze

BE90 Section O – Alice Walker and Rhapsody RFW

BE100 Section L – Tyler Cassells and Francesca Du Domaine R

BE100 Section S – Franky Reid-Warrilow – Dolley Phantom

BE100 Plus Section P- Tyler Cassells and Serenade 111

BE100 Plus Section Q – Emily Philp and Mister Bond 11

Photographs courtesy of Hannah Cole Photography

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