April 7, 2008

pictures and story by Jane Thompson

Daniel Naprous and the Devil's Horsemen thrilled the crowd with their trick riding.

Oliver Townend throws his rosette to appreciative children in the audience.

William Whitaker and Haddon House Leonardo, in front of the 7'2" wall they successfully mastered just moments later to win the puissance.

Arena polo teams await the throw-in. New Zealand player Mickey Henderson is pictured in black at the right.

The British Open Showjumping championships is as much about entertainment as it is about top showjumpers performing.

The music, the lighting, the programme are all designed to make it a great outing for the family. And there were plenty of them here on the Saturday in Birmingham.

The British Open started on Thursday and qualified riders compete over four days culminating in the final on Sunday night. While we couldn't attend the whole weekend, we did thoroughly enjoy our experience on Saturday.

The Saturday programme started with a speed event (Table A 1.45m against the clock) and was won by Eric Van der Vleuten from Netherlands, who jumped a clear round 1.6 seconds faster than Robert Smith from Great Britain.

The programme then diverted from the "pure" showjumping, starting with a Scurry Challenge. This involved a pair of ponies in a cart with the driver and the groom going hell for leather around a course. Flying sand, grooms clinging on like riders in a motorbike sidecar, and great crowd support and cheering. Ponies were cute and had the cute names to match. Piglet and Pooh Bear won the event, followed by Branston and Pickle, and the pairs such as Zig and Zag, not to mention Bill and Ben, also looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The Parelli display was very tame after the pony scurry, and the barrel racing didn't go down that well with the crowd who were increasingly opting for the shopping area where you could buy anything for your horse or pony, not to mention whatever fashion statement you were after for your own look.

The Open Indoor Cross Country Power and Speed event was frankly a bit of an anticlimax for us Kiwis as I had hoped that Andrew Nicholson would compete on the Saturday as well as the Friday night (which we couldn't attend). Knowing how hard Andrew works, he probably had a full team of horses out eventing. He had finished 8th in the eventers showjumping the night before. The eventers showjumping on the Saturday comprised of a duo of an eventer and a showjumper, competing against the clock over a course comprising corners and other cross-country type fences for the eventing rider and a showjumping course for the showjumper. The winner of the event was the combination of Mark Kyle from Ireland and the 18-year-old William Whitaker of THAT famous family. Ollie Townend, always popular with the high ratio of female eventing fans, placed second with William Funnell (Pippa's husband).

There was a lovely tradition that was started with the showjumpers where the riders threw their rosettes into the crowd to the appreciate kids who clutched their rosette as if they had won it themselves. Ollie continued this tradition - after all he probably doesn't treasure his rosettes anymore after collecting so many.

The third round of the main showjumping competition was won by Harvey Smith, who once again rode a superb round on Mr Springfield, the horse he finished fourth on at the Athens Olympics. Apparently there have been a series of injuries and a long recovery time but he was very clean today. There were 13 clear rounds and then a series of four faulters so the riders obviously coped well with the course.

The highlight of outing for us was the Puissance in the evening session. Sitting through the various "entertainment" events that were repeated from the day session again in the evening session (such as the polo, the parelli demonstration and the barrel racing) was a little trying, but the Puissance event, which started at 9:30pm, was well worth the wait.

The eventual winner was William Whitaker on Haddon House Leonardo, who jumped 7 foot 2 inches to take the title from Dale Burnham who didn't manage to clear the wall at that height. An exciting new combination in the event was Ellen Whitaker on Ladina B. They placed 4th equal. She is a fantastic rider, and the big white mare is an exciting talent.

Other things the two Kiwis in Birmingham enjoyed was the music (played nearly constantly but adding significantly to the atmosphere), the pageantry as only the British can do, and the opportunity to see some exciting young European talent competing.