Rika Nile reports …..

A sunny spring weekend graced the often soggy first event of the year held Gatcombe Park, by kind permission of HRH The Princess Royal, who waspresent at the prize givings to hand out the prizes – a highlight for many riders. The event attracted some of the country’s top riders and horses to the Gloucestershire venue, which for many was a pre-international run.

The first day had a full day of Novice classes, including Open Novice and Intermediate Novice sections. It was this day that saw the beginning of Louise Harwood’s hat trick of wins across the weekend, when she took Novice section D with Brechfa Medrod. They finished on their 26.3 dressage mark, just pipping Giovanni Ugolotti and Duke Of Champion to the win, after they added cross country time to their competitive 24.8 dressage mark.

The second day saw six sections run over the Intermediate track, including two Open Intermediate sections and an Advanced Intermediate, all of which included the names of top horses and riders. Not long after the Intermediate cross country had started, Fence 8 had to be removed after a horse landed on it, not only breaking the frangible pins but also the uprights of the fence. This led to Fence 8 becoming a flagged gateway next to the fence, which competitors just had to pass through.

The slight change in the course did not deter Louise’s success when she picked up win number two with Jenga II in Open Intermediate section L. They added only 3.2 cross country time to their dressage of 32.7, making them the fastest combination across the country in the two Open Intermediate sections. Not far off Jenga II’s time, adding just 3.6 to their dressage, were the winners of the second OI class (section K), Badminton-bound combination Beanie Sturgis and Lebowski.

Lebowski was not the only horse accepted into Badminton that achieved a win over the weekend, when Louise Harwood finished off her winning streak by taking the Advanced Intermediate (section M) with Whitson. In top company, the pair’s quick cross country time was enough to take the win, despite lowering a pole in the show jumping – a phase which proved to be influential over the whole weekend.

Another Badminton-bound rider who claimed a win at Gatcombe was Danielle Dunn with her Novice ride Polar Fox. Local rider Danielle, who will be heading to Badminton for the first time with Zocarla BLH, piloted the 9-year-old gelding to a win in Novice section B after completing to stay on their 30 dressage mark; only 0.3 ahead of Zara Tindall and Rum Expectations. The partnership was formed in July last year, and are aiming for the CIC3* 8/9-year-olds at Blenheim later in the year.

Danielle told Eventing Worldwide: “Gatcombe was awesome. Polar Fox was a total star and I couldn’t have asked more from him, he took on each phase in his usual enthusiastic way. He particularly loves his jumping and felt incredibly confident xc. The perfect last Novice run before moving up to the next grade! He’s had a cracking start to the season with a 4th at Tweseldown Novice and a 7th at Lincoln OI, followed by the win at Gatcombe.

“He is entered for his first 2* next weekend at Belton International and I am looking to build on his experience and keep him learning and progressing in his performance. He is a horse that has so much to give and I am very much looking to the future with him. It is a very exciting time for his fantastic group of owners – Nikki Kenyon, Char Schicht, Joan Toogood and myself.”
“It’s always great to get the win, but winning at Gatcombe is extra special. It’s such a beautiful event and is well organised. The course was beautifully presented and I thoroughly enjoyed riding around it.” Danielle added, who also wanted to thank her sponsor Equine Construction for their help and support.

Sophie Martin and Zena headed Intermediate section J after adding only 2 time penalties to their 30.2 dressage, making them one of the fastest Intermediate combinations of the day. Sophie, who is based and trains with Jonty Evans, has had Zena for four and a half years, which haven’t all been plain sailing, she told Eventing Worldwide:

“I feel like it’s taken me a long time to get to grips with her. We’ve certainly had our fair share of ups and downs! I have found her very tricky and have fallen off her more times than I care to remember! I feel like I’m only just beginning to learn how to ride her properly now but I still have a very long way to go!

“I felt a bit emotional upon winning, Jonty and Jane Evans gave me a big hug- Jonty has given me a huge amount of help and they are both incredibly supportive. They tease me and give me a real hard time which I’m sure I deserve, they tell me I’m argumentative and obstinate which I’m sure can’t be true!”

Sophie also added: “Jonty helps me with the planning of where I’m going- I would like to do a 3* by the end of the year but I don’t know how realistic that is and horses have a funny way of changing your original plans!”

Section winners:

Novice section A: Harry Mead – Red Kite

Novice section B: Danielle Dunn – Polar Fox

Novice section C: Andrew Nicholson – As Is

Novice section D: Louise Harwood – Brechfa Medrod

Open Novice section E: Becky Morrish – Quick To Spot

Open Novice section F: Kylie Roddy – Euro Power

Intermediate Novice section G: Stella Benatti – Zaron

Intermediate section H: Michael Owen – Jims Pal

Intermediate section I: Helen Witchell – Irmani D09

Intermediate section J: Sophie Martin – Zena

Open Intermediate section K: Beanie Sturgis – Lebowski

Open Intermediate section L: Louise Harwood – Jenga II

Advanced Intermediate section M: Louise Harwood – Whitson

Photographs Courtesy of Phil J Photography

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