Diana Gilbertson reports….
The days leading up to Alnwick Ford International (22nd-23rd September) saw high winds and torrential rain causing widespread chaos, but the event itself was blessed with rather better weather conditions. Indeed, organiser Martin Johnson said that the rain earlier in the week actually helped the ground conditions on the cross-country course, so much so that very little other ground work needed to be done in the run up to the event. This is the second fixture to be held at the Northumberland venue this year, and Martin also observed the good number of entries, the most the 1* at this particular fixture – which replaces the international previously held at Aske Hall – has ever had.
The 1* cross country course certainly caused its fair share of problems; 4 combinations were eliminated, while another 4 retired on course. One combination that remained completely unphased by it all though, was Wills Oakden and AKD Cooley Lockdown, a 7 year old gelding bought from the prestigious Cooley Farm earlier this year. A fast double clear saw the pair finish on their dressage score of 26.4 to take the top prize. Wills, who only took the ride on this horse in April, noted that the course was certainly ‘tough enough for 1*, with plenty of questions that kept the horses on their toes.’ Yet he was full of praise for his mount, who he describes as having a ‘huge amount of quality,’ with a good, honest attitude and, all being well, a big future ahead of him. The Perth based rider was also quick to comment how incredibly grateful he is to Miss McGregor for the opportunity to ride such a horse, as well as his full brother, MacGregors Cooley, who took the spoils in Novice section K, again finishing on his dressage score of 36.5.
Second placed Lucinda Crawford was similarly delighted with her horse, the 9 year old Ballintoher Harry, who she describes as ‘the love of her life.’ Again, the pair added nothing to their dressage score of 30.6, managing a clear show jumping round and cruising around the cross country to finish a comfortable 5 seconds within the time. Lucinda’s aim was to give the horse a stress free, fun run, and to finish so high up the leader board was an added bonus for the rider, who was crowned National Under 18 Champions at Frickley in July, also on this horse. After 3 years together, this combination look set for further success next season; Junior team selection is Lucinda’s main focus for next year, and with results like this, it could well be within their sights.
Another exciting prospect is Laura de Wesselow’s Quinara, ridden to third place in this section by James Adams. Although she came to James with a reputation for being a little quirky, the rider speaks very highly of the 6 year old mare, who only stepped up to Novice in June; ‘while she is certainly complex, she is also a jumping machine, and is as brave as a lion.’ James hopes to make the step up to 2* next season, and with that in mind, intends to spend the winter months working to improve the horse’s dressage accordingly.
Novice Section B was won by the illustrious Nicola Wilson, who added just one show jump to her dressage score of 28, on the 6 year old Jaguar Mail gelding, PRF Spartakiss. Katherine Lindsay added just 2.8 cross country time faults to her 29.8 dressage score to finish second in this section aboard her own Cooley Crawford, while local rider Jessica McKie took the third spot on her sister’s Angel Night. Jessica often rides the horse when her sister is away and admitted that she hopes to ‘pinch her back’ to contest a 1* next season. Of the venue itself she said, ‘it is run by a great team of people, we look forward to it every year and it’s a perfect confident course for getting the young ones going.’
This was a sentiment echoed by Novice section C winner Lucy Soeder, who highlighted the efforts that the organisers and ground team had gone to combat the aftermath of the storm force gales earlier in the week. Crediting much of her success to her mother and her trainer, Steph Robson, Lucy was thrilled to finish the season on such a high. According to Lucy, it has been a ‘rollercoaster’ of a year for this combination, although on this occasion The Full Monty VIII did not put a foot wrong all day, adding just 0.4 time penalties to a dressage score of 32 to finish in first place ahead of Amy Wybergh, second on Ooda Loop (33.3) and Emily Galbraith, who finished third on Marita Gibson’s Darkwood Peri.
Sunday saw another jam packed day of competition. 13 year old Laura Ridley will certainly be returning to school with something to smile about, after winning BE80 Section M despite this being her very first season of eventing. Finishing on a dressage score of 23.0, Laura is already proving to be a chip off the block; her mother, Charlotte is a former international event rider herself, long listed for Olympic, European and World teams throughout her career. It was she who sourced the 19 year old Toby XII through Facebook, having previously taught Lauren Best on him. She describes him as a Mary Poppins pony – ‘practically perfect in every way,’ and having spent time with Georgina Courage and then Harriet Branch, the diminutive grey gelding certainly has plenty of experience under his belt. Charlotte gives full credit to John Hill for decoding dressage for this promising young rider, whilst also observing that now that Laura has ‘stopped thinking that I am a complete idiot, and that I might actually know something,’ she is able to help with the jumping disciplines. The back-up team is completed by the Charlotte’s ‘lovely girls,’ Rachel Clark and Emma Scott, who keep the pony going while Laura is at school. Of the result, Charlotte commented that she ‘couldn’t be prouder’ to see her daughter round off her very first season with a win, and it seems that this young girl is definitely one to look out for in the future. Second place in this section went to Marny McCormack, who also finished on a very good dressage score of 24.8. Riding her own Slemish Cavaliers Young Joy, a horse she has owned for almost three years now, Marny was thrilled with the result. She now plans to move the horse up a level to BE90, whilst also continuing to progress throughout the dressage grades to elementary and beyond.
Another horse for whom success surely beckons is Helen Self Dodd’s Sannabays Giovanni, second in BE100 Section J. Finishing just behind Ben Hobday on Painter’s Bay (21.8), ‘Dude’ – as he is known at home – proved that what he lacks in stature – he is just 15.3hh – he makes up for in ability. Helen describes him as a horse that really wants to get on with his job, adding that ‘I really put my foot down on Sunday as I knew he had a shot, and he was just phenomenal, taking strides out everywhere…he proved he was a proper horse!’ Although Helen would like to take the horse further up the levels herself, it looks like she will have to sell him next season, in order to make room for other youngsters that she has waiting in the wings. ‘He is such a fun and straightforward horse, I am sure a Junior would go far with him,’ she said, and is optimistic that he will make the step up to Novice next year.
Third in this section was Steven Renton, with Annie Allen’s Incognito V. This was the horse’s first run at this level, and she completed it in style, finishing on an excellent dressage score of 25.0, just 3.2 penalties below the winners. ‘I couldn’t be happier with her, ‘Steven said of the 5 year old mare, who he hopes will continue to progress in a similarly positive way, before stepping up a level next season.
Like several other riders, Steven was effervescent with praise for this event, thanking the team for providing ‘a very well run and organised event, with good dressage arenas and educational jumping tracks.’ While that may be the last British event of this season for Martin and his team – who are also the brains behind Burgham International – they will be far from idle over the winter months. There are plans to add an intermediate course to this fixture next year, as well as developments to the existing cross country courses. Martin emphasised the importance of the ever enthusiastic volunteers who between them have not only help to ensure the smooth running of this event, but Burgham as well. With such a dedicated team behind them, as well as such strong support from riders across all levels, it seems that this is only the beginning for Alnwick Ford.