Fox Pitt and the King Girls Reign Supreme as Houghton Hall Cope with Huge Entries
The first major horse trial event took place over the weekend in the UK at Houghton Hall in Norfolk by kind permission of Lord Cholmondeley. There were several international classes including a Nations Cup round competing at FEI 4 star short. The other two international classes were both of the long variety and were 2 and 3 star. There was, as one might expect, a huge entry for all the classes after all the time locked down with little or no competition and for the first time this year, we can actually say that spring had arrived with warm weather and little or no wind. This was an event which was much increased from previous years with showing classes, unaffiliated dressage and eventing with some showjumping thrown in for good measure. One would have imagined that with all the competition and some spectators allowed to attend, there would be a buzz of excitement and atmosphere around the park, but actually, the whole thing seemed to lack any soul or atmosphere at all. It was all rather, ‘business as usual, and little or no buzz at all. A surprising shame in our view.
Of the nine international classes, every section split to accommodate all the entries, there were three for the 4 star short, one of which was allocated for riders in the Nations Cup, and two sections for the rest of the 4 star classes. The other two long versions of the 2 and 3 star events had similarly large entries which again were split into three sections per competition.
Firstly, and a nightmare for the organisers one would imagine, was that the Nations Cup ended up with only three countries competing as the authorities would not allow competitors from mainland European countries into the UK under their Covid regulations. As a result, Great Britain, Ireland and Australia put forward teams, all of the riders being UK based anyway.
In the individual 4 star, there were a total of 102 starters from 129 entries. At the end of the dressage section, several riders were sitting on low penalty scores of under 30. In the lead was Kitty King on 24 points, She was riding Vendredi Biats. She was just ahead of Chinese national, Alex HuaTian riding his own Jilsonne Van Bareelhof . In third, again with a very low score was William Fox Pitt riding Little Fire, finishing on 25.4 penalties. There were eight riders at the top of the leader board within one fence of each other at the end of the dressage. As this was a ‘short’ class, the show jumping came next. Forty five of the one hundred starting in the show jumping went clear with no knock down or time penalties. Kitty King was one of the forty five, so she remained at the top of the leader board going onto the third cross country phase. Alex Hua Tian collected 06 of a time fault, but still stayed in second place with William Fox Pitt staying in third with a clear round. Two did not come forward after the dressage.
Cross country day dawned, and with so many horses having to be re-presented for the trot up, the start had to be delayed for 30 minutes. The ground had dried pout superbly well considering how much rain had fallen over the past couple of weeks,. The sunny weather arrived just in time. The ground was a little spongy, but made for soft landings and easy for the horses to travel through. In the trot up, there were several horses not allowed to continue. Both of Pippa Funnell’s horses were withdrawn as well as others from Piggy March with her Badminton winner of 2019, (the last time Badminton was run) Vanir Kamira and most disappointingly, the current leader in this class, Kitty King with her Venredi Biats. This left Alex Hau Tian on the top of the leader board – all he needed was a clear cross country to win. However, he collected 6 penalties for time as he exceeded the optimum time of 6 minutes 41 seconds to complete the course.
It was generally considered that this course was fairly benign. Course builder Alex Lahore with his team from Willis Brothers, (builders of the Badminton Course usually) obviously took into account the lack of runs that these horses would have had over the past year, so compensated this with an easier course. The one tricky bit proved to be a skinny fence in the middle of the water complex. It was the second of the four jumping efforts required at this fence, which was positioned about a third of the way round the course. While many riders did get round with no faults, there were some notable absentees from that list, including Oliver Townend riding Tregilder who refused the second part of the corner jumps three times, one of only two in the class to be eliminated over the cross country. He faired rather better on one of his other rides, Arklow Puissance, getting round clear. Only two riders retired, and another twelve withdrawn before the cross country leaving 85 runners take on the course.
In the final analysis, William Fox Pitt, who was second before the off, got a clear round which made him the winner. With Alex Hua Tian collecting 6 penalties, the gate was wide open for several others with low scores of say 30 or less to fill the minor placings, and this they did. Selina Milne took runner up spot with Iron IV and exactly 30 penalties. She was clear in both the show jumping and cross country as was Bubby Upton riding Magic Roundabout IV who ended up third with 30.70, again her dressage score. Alex Hua Tian was fourth.
In the FEI 3 star Long, the winner was Rosalind Carter won riding Izilot DHI with an astonishingly low 22.50 penalties with Oliver Townend riding Colley Rosalent on 25.70 and third was Nicola Wilson riding Coolparks Sarco on 27.20 penalties. There were six riders who collected less than 30 penalties in the class of 55 who completed all three elements. In the other section of the 3 star, Rosalind Carter, also won, beating 52 completed rivals on another ridiculously low score of 24.10 penalties. This time she was riding Shannondale Nadia.
The final FEI class, the 2 star long, 95 horses completed the three elements and Emily King took the honours riding Imposant with a final score of 23.90. She got clear in both the showjumping and the cross country as did the top eleven in this class, all finishing on their dressage score. Laura Collett and PiggyMarch were second and third respectively.
Despite there being little discernable atmosphere at Houghton Hall, this was a very successful proper re-start to the UK’s international season. Huge numbers of horses managed to get out in the arena after so long, including all the other classes of dressage, show jumping and showing. It must have been a logistical nightmare for the organisers, having to fit everything in, but they did which allowed for six days of full equestrian frolics!