Brits dominate new sport of horse agility - video

January 10, 2012

British equestrians have taken out the top two spots in the Horse Agility World Championships after a neck-and-neck tussle with two Canadian combinations.

Worldwide OLHA! League Winner Dawn Westcott and her Exmoor pony stallion, Hawkwell Versuvius, with Vanessa Bee, founder of the Horse Agility Club.

Hawkwell Versuvius (Bear) jumps through the hoop during competition.

Horse Agility is based on the phenomenally popular sport of dog agility with horses working loose over a fixed obstacle course.

The titles of 'Worldwide OLHA! Video League Winner' and 'International Competitions League Winner' were awarded by The International Horse Agility Club on January 1 to two British handlers and their Exmoor ponies who grabbed the top titles in a close run battle.

In the Worldwide OLHA League, where competitors from 13 countries competed directly against each other through filmed entries, the final places were nail-bitingly close as Britain and Canada battled it out for the Championship places.

The Worldwide OLHA! League Winner, sponsored by Leasefield Holidays, was Dawn Westcott of Exmoor, Somerset with her purebred Exmoor pony stallion, Hawkwell Versuvius. Born wild on the moor, Hawkwell Versuvius, affectionately known as Bear, has become a familiar face in the show ring as a Champion stallion who won an NPS Gold Medal rosette at the NPS National Championships in 2011. He's a fully working stallion, living naturally with mares and youngstock all year round as well as competing in shows across the country.

Westcott said that when she started in this new sport she was doubtful that she could work a stallion completely loose over obstacles let alone win the World Championship, but her hard work and commitment has paid off. Her video entry showing her directing her stallion over several challenging obstacles at liberty impressed the judge, especially the hoop jumping at the climax which was spontaneous and energetic.

The reserve Champion Deborah Pitts and Pedro were a very close second, showing a remarkable connection as they moved round a course that included, seesaws, jumps and "scary corners". Pedro, originally from South America, was destined for the meat and pelt markets of Italy. After being rescued from the dockside terrified and unhandled he was shipped to England where Deborah put many hours into helping him to become a happy, well trained horse with a great future.

The winner of the International Competitions League Championship, where competitors accumulate points through real time competitons, was Susannah Muir, from Essex, with her purebred Exmoor Pony, Threeshires Zanatan (known as Twiggy). Based in Norfolk, Muir got involved in Horse Agility only at the beginning of 2011 and is thrilled to have received this Championship prize, generously sponsored by

Susannah Muir and Threeshires Zanatan (Twiggy) with trainer Chloe Elliston, won the International Competition League.
"Twiggy was 'bolshy' and sometimes aggressive around food. However horse agility has made her very easy to handle," Muir said. "Horse agility has taught me how to approach new things with a pony to ensure they are confident and do not develop new issues."

The sport has been designed so that everyone can get started by directing their horses using a lead rope but the specially devised levels system trains people and horses as they compete to turn loose and work free.

The courses for both the real time and video competitions are set to strict criteria and rules. With the video entries being open for everyone to scrutinize the judging is very particular as to how each obstacle is scored.

Each obstacle is judged in two sections. Five marks for successfully completing the obstacle as per the criteria, five marks for good horsemanship especially a positive relationship between horse and handler. No whips or sticks are allowed just as in dog agility. The emphasis is on fun and safety for all concerned.

Higher levels are being introduced for 2012 where competitors not only work their horses loose over obstacles in open country but also ride bareback and bridleless over the same course - surely the ultimate in horse human communication.

With The Horse Agility Handbook written by the sport's founder Vanessa Bee due for release later this month, and interest growing globally, this is one equestrian discipline that is set to take off.

Hawkwell Versuvius (Bear) in action.