Our Olympic equestrians are due to fly to Rio in about a week. They have a lot to do between now and then!
Tim Price has excess hay to sell, but seems to have had a good response from his Facebook advertising. Clarke Johnstone has just bought a beautiful-looking young Dutch mare, so no doubt will be trying out his new “toy”.
One who has a lot of extra stress on him at the moment is Sir Mark Todd. He is still waiting for the British Home Office to get his passport back to him. Apparently they have had it for some weeks while a visa issue gets sorted out. Maybe he needs to get the new equestrian fan, Sir Lockwood Smith, New Zealand’s High Commissioner, to step in to sort it out for him!
Seriously, however, many of them are competing at Aston Le Walls this weekend. Sir Mark had a good first day with a fourth in a novice class on Dusk Till Dawn. Jonelle was second in another novice on Cekatinka. In another section, Caroline Powell was third on Erco Polo B, Tim seventh on Falco IV, and Jesse Campbell 12th on Lord George III.
Jock had Clifton Lush out for a spin in the Advanced class, incurring eight show jumping faults and a heap of time penalties across country, after a 28.9 dressage score. He obviously didn’t need any pocket money for Rio, as going slow in the cross-country left him well out of contention. Tim was in the same class on Ringwood Sky Boy, also heading to Rio, and also cruising around the cross-country after scoring a 29.4 dressage, 13 faults in the show jumping and a (hay) stack of time faults across country.
In another Advanced class, with the jumping still to come, Balmoral Sensation and Clarke Johnstone posted a 33.7 dressage score, and Campino with Sir Mark scored 25 to take the lead. Lucy Jackson scored 36.1 on Annestown Envoy, Blyth and Leo Distinction are on 36.9, and Andrew Nicholson and Urma BK are on 31.7. Shane Rose (Australia) is competing the lovely Virgil there, his first start since arriving in the UK, and is in a good position on 29.9.
In the third section of Advanced, Sir Mark has completed his dressage on Leo, scoring 28.5, which puts him in third position, but we don’t expect he will be going after a prize, either. Andrew Nicholson has the lead on Perfect Stranger on a score of 27.1. Tim Price scored 36.4 on Xavier Faer and Lucy Jackson and Bosun are on 33.5.
Section four sees a number of Kiwis competing. Andrew rides Qwanza (34.1), Sir Mark is on Obos Colombus (36.9), Tim on The Precious One (41.6), and Caroline on Sinatra Frank Baby (35.7). Andrew Hoy on Cheeky Calimbo leads that class on 27.3.
After Aston Le Walls, Sir Mark and Tim are in the Amlin Plus Eventers’ Challenge at the wonderful Hickstead. They will ride Land Vision and Xavier Faer respectively.
Other Rio-bound eventers will be competing there too, including Pippa Funnell on Billy Cuckoo, and Tina Cook (Britain’s travelling reserve) with Star Witness. British-based Swede Ludwig Svennerstal is also riding at Hickstead, before heading out to South America to compete at his second Olympic Games.
But the Olympians among the field will certainly face some tough opposition. Ireland’s Esib Power will be there with her former eventer Doonaveeragh O One, a horse who obviously relishes competing in the International Arena at Hickstead. He finished third in the Amlin Plus Eventing Grand Prix in 2012 with Esib’s brother Robbie – a Grand National-winning jockey – and the pair won the British Speed Derby in 2013. Esib has since taken back the ride on “Tommy” and they were runners-up to Andrew Nicholson in the first Amlin Plus Eventers’ Challenge 12 months ago, before finishing 10th in last month’s Equestrian.com Derby.
Third last year in this class was Tom McEwen, who is back for another crack – this time with his horse Diesel. Other talented riders taking part include Laura Collett, Holly Woodhead, Jeanette Brakewell, Australia’s Paul Tapner and Ireland’s Joseph Murphy.
The crowds at Hickstead will no doubt be delighted to see Ben Hobday compete with Mulrys Error: a horse who is fondly known as ‘Supercob’. The pair have won legions of fans with their cross-country performances at Badminton and Burghley, but Ben missed most of last season because he was battling cancer. Fortunately, he has made a good recovery and he made an emotional return to four-star eventing at this year’s Badminton.
The Amlin Plus Eventers’ Challenge will see these riders and others tackle a course of cross-country fences in Hickstead’s International Arena. Some of the fences are fixed and others can be knocked down, which adds four seconds to the rider’s time. Many of Hickstead’s famous obstacles will feature, including the less steep side of the Derby bank, the road crossing, the Irish bank, the dreaded Devil’s Dyke and the lake in the middle of the arena.