The King is Back! Barbury International Horse Trials Report
Written by Amy Bennett
In a seriously competitive section at the international CIC*** class at St James’s Place Barbury International Horse Trials, the king of Barbury Castle reigned supreme once more. New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson stormed around the third leg of the Event Rider Master (ERM) series to take his fifth Barbury title in a row with the only sub-40 score of the section. But in the absence of his now retired Barbury champion Avebury, the title this year was awarded to Nicholson’s trusty championship campaigner and London Olympics partner, Nereo.
In a seemingly easy cruising speed, the most experienced combination on the field looked like they barely broke a sweat, and left every other rider that chased the time with arms and legs pumping the whole way around the seven minute track, in his shadow. This master of eventing is definitely back on embarrassingly top form and is ready to prove a point or two.
“I really felt the big atmosphere out there today, but this is why I do it, for the people who support me and to win the first ERM class held at Barbury is extra special. A massive thanks goes to my team and family, who had it tough when I got injured, being the patient was the easy part”, said a more emotional than usual Nicholson, who suffered a horrific fall last year in which he broke his neck.
For those unfamiliar with the ERM, it is a formatted series of eventing that invites the top 40 riders in the world to compete for an unprecedented prize pool over six of the UK’s best three-star tracks. With a £50,000 total prize fund per leg, there’s £16,000 for the winner (of each leg) and prize money up to 10th place. For the series leader there’s and additional £30,000 up for grabs at the end of the series. So far the new format has attracted serious equestrian talent and fierce competition.
The twisty, hilly track of Barbury is well renowned for deceiving even the speediest of cross country partnerships of a clear round inside the time. But this year showed a particularly disproportionate number of riders stopping the clock with a couple of seconds to spare. Partly down to the new layout of the course, but it’s also amazing to see what a large cheque waiting at the finish line can do to incentivise the stopwatch lookers.
It was thrilling to see so many incredible combinations going full throttle, and it made for a seriously exciting atmosphere, where typically the final top riders would compete in reverse order.
This year’s ERM inclusion at Barbury sent cheers ringing around the natural amphitheatre of Barbury that my ears had certainly never heard before. Riders were pushing to the final fence with a steely and determined look in their eye, in front of a screaming crowd urging them until the very last stride.
Hot on the heels of Nicholson and Deborah Sellar’s 16-year-old chestnut Nereo, was Australia’s Paul Tapner riding his notorious one day specialist, the serially fast Irish thoroughbred bay gelding, Yogi Bear. Taking lines across the country that any other rider daren’t take, Tapner tore up the Barbury turf to come in two seconds inside the time.
“Being on the ERM podium has been a main aim for me this season, so I am very happy,” Tapner commented, “Gatcombe, is the next ERM leg and I will certainly be there”.
However, it wasn’t a complete Southern Hemisphere takeover of the top three and Tapner was by no means the quickest of the day, with Great Britain’s golden girl of the moment, Gemma Tattersall, taking third on the very promising Santiago Bay at what was only the mare’s third outing at CIC*** level. Kicking harder than usual, Tattersall galloped the feisty eight-year-old mare to the finish line for the fastest round of the day, stopping the clock with seven seconds to spare.
“Although I nearly did fall off her at the start,” Gemma laughed, “she’s a real professional and knows her job and wants to win as much as I do. She’s a real competitive little horse.”
St James Place CIC*** Barbury International Horse Trials
In another display of antipodean dominance, Australian Christopher Burton took the main class of the event, the St James’s Place CIC*** with a horse not particularly well-known on the eventing circuit thus far, Polystar I. Having taken on the ride this year from Swedish owner Michaela Sandberg, this was the combination’s first double clear inside the time.
“Michaela asked me if I would want to take the ride as they want to get him sold,” Burton said of the 11-year-old gelding, “I hadn’t been able to convince many people to come and look at him but I suspect they might now he’s won this!” He laughed.
Great Britain’s Nicola Wilson looks to be turning round her current run of bad luck to take second on board her Boekelo 2015 winner, Bulana. Crediting the first time’s use of a new Kind To noseband for the mare’s more obedient performance, it was clear the hills of Barbury also did their job in somewhat curbing the 10-year-old mare’s enthusiasm for cross country.
“usually when her feet touch the ground after the first fence she’s like a rocket, but to me delight and pleasure she gave me a beautiful ride up the hill to the second and stayed that way the whole way round,” Nicola said of the striking back mare, “it seemed criminal to break that rhythm so I just let her cruise along and take it in her stride.”
Just a mere tenth of a penalty behind Wilson was another British female who has had her fair share of the limelight over the years, Sarah Cohen riding Treason. The 2002 gelding has been her seasoned partner of ten years, and is her only remaining competitive mount after refocusing her attention on her children. The pair could potentially attempt for their four star comeback this autumn
“If I ride well enough at Gatcombe next month then I could go to Burghley” Sarah said. “I had Beanie Sturgess giving me a good dressing down in the start box to get my backside into gear,” she chuckled, “but I’ve always believed in him and I don’t want to give up on his chance, so it was nice to have a good result for him.”
For full results from all the action at Barbury International Horse Trials please visit the website www.barburyhorsetrials.co.uk