Foal to Five Star
On the final day of the Chedington Equestrian Bicton Park 5*, the Devon crowd was treated to top class action from a limited but talented field of some of the World’s best riders. Giving them the first all-female top three at a British 5* event in 18 years.
The only rider to complete on their dressage score, finishing on 27.9 penalties was Great Britain’s Gemma Tattersall onboard Chris and Lisa Stone’s Chilli Knight, a horse she saw being born as a foal. The combination jumped an incredible clear round to better their overnight second place and win the only top level event on British soil this year, clinching Gemma’s first 5* title in the process. “I can’t believe it!!” She exclaimed, visibly emotional, “I never thought in a million years he’d jump round there clear as he came out feeling a bit tired, but he just jumped his little heart out in there for me,” she said of the 11 year old gelding.
With not even a fence between the top three riders, none of them could afford to have a rail down. “I really felt the pressure today,” Gemma said, “but I just closed my eyes and pretended I was jumping at Hickstead, one of my favourite places.” A strategy that obviously paid off.
Overnight leaders and Badminton 2019 champions, Piggy March and 16 year old Vanir Kamira didn’t have the strongest show jumping track record in their favour heading into the arena in a bid to maintain their lead. Sadly they tipped the rails on the the two most troublesome fences on the course, the Voltaire Design oxer at 6 and another oxer with a water tray at fence 8. “I’ll take that all day long,” Piggy said stoically of their round. “If someone had told me at the beginning of the day that I could go in and jump, or they’d give me a final score with one rail down, I’d have taken the one rail,” she mused on her final score of 28.7 leaving them in eventual third place.
The only rider to complete with two horses in the top five was British stalwart Pippa Funnell, piloting both Billy Walk on and Majas Hope. Pippa needed neither of the two fences in hand to secure third place with Billy Walk On, and in producing a foot perfect clear round managed to climb the leader board to top the podium in second place on a finishing score of 33.9. “This weekend, he’s really developed into something I always thought he was,” she said of the 12 year old gelding. “He could not have performed better in all three phases, he’s absolutely class. I could not fault him, he was outstanding.”
Pippa had been vocal after her cross country round that during preparation for the event she felt it might be time to hang up her boots, “it was in the back of my mind that after two years off, would I still have the hunger to compete? And with the sickness and anxiety I felt before going country, I really did think to myself “why do I do this?”” She laughed.
But after those results, Pippa’s boots are now remaining well and truly laced up for now. “When you have a weekend like that on horses of such class, there’s no way I can retire just yet,” she said with a smile.
Sitting just ahead of fifth placed Pippa and Majas Hope was current World Champion Ros Canter onboard her five star debutant Pencos Crown Jewel, a 12 year old mare that she has produced from a five year old. The top ten also included Olympic team gold medalist Oliver Townend in 7th onboard another 5* debutant, Tregilder. Had they not been given 11 penalties for triggering a frangible pin at fence 16a, a set of upright rails leading to a ditch and an angled brush fence out – a decision Oliver did not agree with – the combination would have finished in eventual fourth place. “You train a horse all its life to drop their back legs ahead of a coffin jump, and it’s frustrating that good horses are being penalised when it isn’t fair.” He said of the penalties.
The story of the day, however, is not necessarily of the incredible job that the hardworking Bicton team did, or of the fantastic sport witnessed throughout the weekend, but of the highjacking of the final press conference where Gary Stevens entered from stage left and popped the most important question Gemma will ever hear in his life…”Gemma Tattersall, will you marry me?” An already emotional Gemma was left initially speechless before answering with a resounding “yes!” to top off, what must be, the most incredible weekend of her life so far.
Many people, including myself have so much to thank this magnificent pop-up five star event for, which was produced incredibly within just 11 weeks, but not least the happy couple. I’ll cheers that!