After a spate of cancellations earlier in the season, horse trials events seem to be coming thick and fast in the northern hemisphere, and the best in the sport will be out at Bramham, which gets under way on Thursday.
This year will be the biggest in the event’s 38-year history, with a record 250 horses from 17 nations en route to Yorkshire.
Bramham contains both a traditional long format three day event (the CCI3*) and a shorter format ‘CIC3*’, as well as a class for under 25 year old riders. The difference between the more traditional three day event and the shorter format is mainly in the cross country which while being of the same difficulty is less distance and the event can be run over anywhere between one to three days.
The 6000m cross country course has been designed by former Olympian Ian Stark, himself a previous winner of the event; organisers have allowed an extra 100-plus entries in all the classes to help riders affected by the weather-disrupted UK eventing calendar.
There are also several showjumping classes, showing, young stock competitions, the Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse qualifiers, and the Great Yorkshire Show mounted games. There will be about 600 or so horses across 28 competitions over four packed days.
In the eventing, leading the home challenge is British trio William Fox-Pitt, Piggy French and Nicola Wilson, who were part of the team who claimed bronze at last year’s European Championships. Kristina Cook, Sarah Cohen, Zara Phillips and Lucy Weigersma will be looking for top performances to secure an Olympic place while Pippa Funnell, Clea Phillipps, Ruth Edge and Polly Stockton are all top Brits who’ve fared well at Bramham before.
‘Mr Bramham’ William Fox-Pitt is in the hunt for his sixth Bramham title and with six horses entered over the two sections, he has every chance and must never be ruled out.
Piggy French brings Jakata, her ‘team’ horse. They were third here in 2100 plus they were winners recently at the Houghton Hall CIC*** so must be amongst the favourites. Local heroine Nicola Wilson will give the ‘home’ crowd a treat as they’ll see her long-term partner and team stalwart Opposition Buzz in action in the CIC as well as Applejack II plus Inde in the CCI***.
There’s no way the home riders aren’t going to have it all their own way … the small matter of the Kiwi trio of Mark Todd, Caroline Powell, and Andrew Nicholson, plus Sam Griffiths (AUS), Bettina Hoy (GER) and Vittoria Pannizon (ITA) will ensure a fight for the coveted titles.
This weekend’s shorter format CIC3* shapes as the most significant for New Zealand selection prospects with leading Kiwi riders all running Olympic prospect horses. As well as the “big three”, Jonathan Paget will be looking to repeat his win last year in the CIC3*, which was also won by Kiwi Neil Spratt on Upleadon in 2009.
Paget will defend his title on Clifton Lush, Nicholson has both Nereo and Averbury, Clarke Johnstone has his world champs team bronze medal-winning horse Orient Express , Lucy Jackson has both Animator II and Kilcoltrim Ambassador, Jonelle Richards has Flintstar, Tim Price has Ringwood Sky Boy and Kate Wood goes on Easy Tiger.
A large Swedish contingent is due and they finished fourth at last year’s Euorpeans so will be challengers. The French always send a strong squad and 15 riders make the trip across the Channel looking to take some Bramham glory.
New Zealand also has six combinations competing in the traditional longer format three day event – the ‘CCI3*’ – which has been won previously by Blyth Tait in 1994 aboard Aspyring, and by Nicholson on Nereo in 2009.
Powell will give her famous 19-year old grey gelding Lenamore his first run in recent weeks as well as competing on Thornfield Jones. Todd is entered aboard Quantum Leap, Nicholson has Tristar II while Lucy Jackson has Willy Do and Craig Nicolai enters Just Ironic. Lizzie Brown competes in the under 25 event with Henton Attorney General.
The Bishop Burton College Under 25 section is the place to spot the stars of the future and even though the riders are at the beginning of their careers, they’re the most competitive.
Chinese rider Alex Hua Tian has two strong contenders entered while former European Champion Emily Parker and Treefers will be hoping to go one place better than their second place last year. Britain’s 2011 Young Rider Team Gold medallist Tom McEwen has his consistent partner Dry Old Party while other riders of note include Ben Hobday, Angus Smales and local Harrogate rider James Sommerville.
In the showjumping on Saturday and Sunday, the Whitaker family are well represented with Louise, Joanne and Donald all entered. Peter Murphy, Louise Saywell and eventer Pippa Funnell are just a small pick of the other stars. Sunday features the Wetherby Skips Grand Prix with a first prize of £1500.
Bramham will also host several classes in the Dodson & Horrell hunter show on Thursday, including Horse of the Year Show qualifiers for light, middle and heavy weight and working Hunters. The Great Yorkshire Show Pony Club Mounted Games will feature in the Equi-Trek East Arena on both Saturday and Sunday, plus the Country Store Pony Club Team Jumping is on Saturday.
Always with an eye on the future, young horses will also feature heavily with Bramham hosting a Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse four and five year old qualifier for the prestigious Championship in September plus Trot2 Event Horse Breeding and Young Stock Classes for foals to three year olds.