James Avery hits the lead at Gatcombe

Great start for Cantabrian, James Avery, competing in the British Eventing Championships!

James Avery and Zazu at Gatcombe Park (Image: Libby Law)

James Avery is off to the best of starts at the prestigious British Eventing Championships at Gatcombe Park. He leads the Intermediate Championship on Zazu with a score of 27.5.

There is no way James would burst into tears after such a lovely test on Zazu, but he does look a bit emotional in this photo! (Image: Libby Law)

Behind him are UK riders Angus Smales on Ballinteskin Rado (28.5) and William Fox-Pitt on Little Fire (29.5).

William Fox-Pitt is in third place on Little Fire (Image: Libby Law)

Other New Zealanders competing in this class include Dan Jocelyn who rode Blackthorn Cruise into 15th with a score of 32.3.  Tim Price and Kindred Spirit IV produced 34 to go into 32nd place. The field of 46 certainly produced some good dressage, going by the scores: they range from 27.5 through to 46.

Dan Jocelyn and Blackthorn Cruise are 15th dressage (Image: Libby Law)

Ben Hobday leads the Novice Championship on Shadow Man II with 27.3. The best-placed Kiwi in that class is Dan on Fjury with 33.1 (36th place). James Avery is 39th on Vitali with a score of 33.5.

Tim Price and Kindred Spirit IV in the Intermediate Championship dressage (Image: Libby Law)

Young Event Horse

Meanwhile, Tim Price impressed the Young Event Horse judges with Susan Lamb’s 16.1hh dark brown gelding Happy Boy, and qualified for the final at Burghley. With the judging taking place in the main arena, it was an exciting climax to the qualifier.  Vicky Brake took the title, riding her 16.2hh bay gelding Coolparks Sarco, ahead of Tim and Happy Boy (by Quintus D’Oq). Third was Kitty King with Mrs Joanna Jones’ 16.3hh bay gelding MHS Fernhill Finale (by Verdi). The Series was set up more than 30 years ago to help identify potential future four-star event horses and is still acknowledged as a ‘shop window’ for these. Its aim is to encourage breeders and trainers to produce and present the type of young horse which will be considered to be ideal material for a world class eventing.

The judges look for an athletic, loose-moving horse with a promising jumping technique and attitude which, with correct training and production, will develop physically and mentally into a strong three-day eventer.  The winner is the horse with the highest overall marks from four sections: dressage, show jumping up to 1.05m for five-year-olds, conformation and quality, and finally suitability and potential.

British Open

Competition for this year’s British Open title at Gatcombe is wide open in an elite but high-quality field. The competition incorporates the fifth out of seven legs of the Event Rider Masters (ERM) series, now in its second season, which has a final at Blenheim next month.

Britain’s Sarah Cohen is the highest-placed rider on the ERM rankings competing at Gatcombe – the current leader is last year’s runner-up here, Thomas Carlile – and, in the absence of the Frenchman, who will be preparing for the European championships in a fortnight’s time, Sarah will be hoping to oust him from the top spot.

She has been having a fantastic season on her only horse, the 17-year-old Treason: the pair won the German leg, at Wiesbaden, were well-placed at Chatsworth and at Jardy in France and could easily lift Sarah’s first British Open title this weekend.

The always competitive Gemma Tattersall, a winner at Chatsworth, is equal third on the rankings and she, too, will be eyeing a first British Open title. She is riding the classy thoroughbred Arctic Soul; the ex-racehorse is one of the world’s best cross-country horses and the calm atmosphere of Gatcombe’s dressage arenas should suit him.

Gemma Tattersall and Arctic Soul competing at an earlier event. (Image: Libby Law)

Pippa Funnell, three times a national champion at Gatcombe, went brilliantly on Swedish rider Hedwig Wik’s Chippieh, a new ride for Pippa this season, to finish fifth and best Brit at Barbury Castle recently.

Look out also for Izzy Taylor on a new ride, the white-faced chestnut Perfect Stranger, taken to four-star level by Andrew Nicholson and well capable of a big result here; Beanie Sturgis on the speedy little Lebowski; and last year’s British Open Champion, the always competitive Oliver Townend, this time on Note Worthy, recently third in a CIC3* at Barbury.

All class in the arena – Mark Todd and Charisma at their best

Antipodean riders have a great record at Gatcombe – New Zealand’s Sir Mark Todd’s goes back to 1985 when he won on Charisma (they also took the title in 1988 and Toddy has won on both Bahlua and Word For Word). This time he rides the promising Kiltubrid Rhapsody. His team mate Tim is in with a shout too, on Xavier Faer; the pair were third at Badminton in May.

New Zealand’s Andrew Bennie is part of the ground jury in the CIC3* and is seen here with the other members (Annabel Scrimgeour and Jane Holderness-Roddam) walking the course. (Image: Libby Law)

In the Advanced class, the only New Zealander competing is Blyth Tait with Leo Distinction. This class, along with the ERM, gets under way on Saturday.

Gatcombe has been described as the toughest international one-day event in the world and the combination of its terrain and the nail-biting pressure of the reverse order format for cross-country always makes a thrilling contest.