Top-class entries at last HOYS qualifier
Working show pony
Frenchfort Prince (Zac) was the second choice for Jade Churchman and her family but he stepped up to the plate here to book his place at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in the SEIB Insurance Brokers Search for a Star (SFAS) working show pony qualifier.
“We were looking for a pony for me to learn to ride,” recalled Jade. “We went to see one that didn’t seem right. The dealer said she had another one that had just come over from Ireland — and Zac’s little head popped over the door. We instantly fell in love with him and his personality and picked him up the next day.”
That was five years ago and the bay Connemara has never given Jade a reason to regret her decision. She and the now nine-year-old compete in dressage, working hunters and showing.
“He’s a dude,” enthused Jade. “Zac has done everything I have asked of him; he will turn his hoof to anything and will give it a try. He’s qualified for the native dressage championships and has been consistent throughout the year in showing. Everybody loves Zac — he is a cheeky but very loveable pony.”
She credits instructor Ann Housden and show rider Elle Kivlochan, with whom she has jumping lessons, for her success. But she didn’t expect to qualify for HOYS at Vale View.
“It was our first attempt to qualify,” said Jade. “We just came for the experience and the judges and stewards were very polite and helpful. It has been awesome and still doesn’t feel real.”
The original winner of this class was disqualified due to a passport discrepancy.
“It’s very sad to have to disqualify someone — especially when it’s a child,” said Nicolina MacKenzie, marketing manager of SEIB. “But our rules are made crystal clear and we don’t bend them for anyone. The SEIB series is the face of ethical showing and we are determined to keep it that way.”
Working show horse
Fran Embleton’s day did not start well. Having set off from Malton in North Yorkshire for the 135-mile trip to Vale View, she got no further than half a mile when she discovered that the trailer had two flat tyres. After a lot of frantic phoning, she found someone willing to take her and her horse, Blue, and they arrived for the working show horse class with 10 minutes to spare.
“Blue must love a quick warm-up because he excelled himself today, picking up first place and a HOYS ticket,” said Fran, who works as a quality control manager at a food company. “I love this hairy little horse — he always gives 100 per cent.”
She bought the now 18-year-old Blue after he failed to reach his reserve at York horse sales and she thought he would suit her son, Tom. Blue and Tom quickly formed a bond and have hunted with the Saltersgate Farmers and the Middleton for the past 12 seasons.
“In my younger days I loved team chasing and that type of stuff,” said Fran. “But someone suggested showing him, so I gave it a go and he has done really well. He’s a no-hassle horse so long as you like bathing, though he forgets he’s a cob and tries to keep up with his thoroughbred friends. He’s a tractor with a Ferrari engine.”
The working show horse class, which is new this year and includes a couple of small jumps, was perfect for Blue, so Fran entered him for the first qualifier this season, at Osbaldeston in April.
“We came third but got great remarks from the judges,” she said. “I entered this one on the day the entries closed. I thought, ‘What the heck! Neither of us is getting any younger and this might be our last chance.’ Someone was definitely looking down on me.”
Leicestershire-based Emma Burbank took the top riding horse/hack ticket with her 12-year-old Formidable Opposition, a horse bought by her mother, Michelle, as a birthday present for her three and a half years ago.
Emma, who works as a maternity administrator for a midwifery service, has had to be patient with “Ferdie” — a son of the top eventing sire Fleetwater Opposition — as he did not have the best start in life.
“It has taken Ferdie a long time to settle and trust me as he had been badly treated at some point,” said Emma, who lost her two previous show horses — the intermediate working hunter Carnsdale Rockstar and the loaned middleweight hunter Lorenzo — in 2015. “We’ve only done a few local shows before this.”
Emma was quick to credit Michelle too. “She gives me a lot of help looking after him, and babysitting my two-year-old daughter Isla,” she added. “My dream was always to compete at HOYS so I just hoped to go out there today and do our best.
“Search for a Star has been a lovely experience — everyone is so helpful and welcoming.”
The second HOYS place in this class went to Middlesex-based 16-year-old Danni Waterman, who rode Natasha Anglin’s 12-year-old intermediate/hack campaigner Pendley Countryman (Peanut).
This was a partnership that came about by accident. “Six months ago, Natasha was looking for a show horse for me to compete and answered an advert,” said Danni, who has only been riding for two years. “The owner said it had just been sold but she had another one — Peanut — that we might like, so she sent photos and videos of him to Natasha. She liked what she saw, and bought him over the phone.”
Natasha added: “Peanut is very sensitive, so we have to take everything day by day. Danni has regular lessons from Emma Fletcher and they’ve helped a lot.
“I’ve been riding for 30 years and have always loved showing, but it got to the stage where I preferred to do the stuff on the ground — such as preparing the horses before a show — so it works perfectly with Danni and me; we share our passion for the sport.”
Danni and Peanut made their first attempt to qualify at Bury Farm, where they finished fifth and learned from that to improve their performance. “We had a lovely time both here and at Bury Farm. Search for a Star is an experience we’d thoroughly recommend,” Natasha concluded.
A rider who hadn’t been in the show ring since she was on the lead-rein booked her place at HOYS) in the hunter section.
Jennifer Levis had passed her first year of a vet nursing course at the Royal Veterinary College, London, the Monday before this final qualifier, so it was a week of celebration. Landing the coveted ticket on Greendale Maximo (Jazz) was the icing on the cake.
“If someone had said to me beforehand that I would qualify, I would have laughed and told them that there was no way that would happen,” admitted Jennifer, who lives in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire. “Jazz only came back into work in February after an injury, so I took him to Vale View just to see how we would do.”
Jennifer has owned Jazz since he was two weeks old.
“Mum and I had always wanted a horse by Aimbry Chester and came across Jazz when we were looking for a new horse for me,” recalled Jennifer. “Nothing had caught our eye so we went to End House Stud. That’s when we saw him floating across the field next to his mum and we instantly knew he was the foal we wanted, even though we were actually looking for a three-year-old.”
Their instincts proved spot on, as Jazz stood in-hand hunter pony champion at Cheshire County as a two-year-old. Jennifer backed him herself and brought him on, doing some dressage and jumping.
“I would have been happy with him just behaving and giving me and the judge a good ride [at Vale View],” admitted Jennifer. “Jazz means the world to me and he has helped me with my confidence over the years, so I felt that he deserved to have a chance of going to HOYS.”
The second qualifying place went to Sarah Hind riding Take the Biscuit, making up for a crashing disappointment last year.
“We qualified at Bury Farm in 2016 but when we reached HOYS we were turned away because one of Biscuit’s vaccines had been given a couple of days too late,” revealed Sarah, who lives in Newthorpe, Notts. “I was totally devastated because I didn’t think I could ever qualify again.”
She bought Biscuit three years ago from an internet advert and the pair have worked their way up to county-level showing.
“He is a fantastic horse and so easy-going,” said Sarah, a vet nurse who is studying to be a veterinary physiotherapist. “He does get a little worried but he trusts me, whatever I ask of him. And he loves all food so he’ll do anything for a treat.”
She enjoyed the experience at Vale View, saying: “This is a fantastic series and very well organised. The other competitors, and the atmosphere, were welcoming and the advice from the judges will help me in the future.
“Biscuit really is my horse of a lifetime and I feel so privileged to have him,” she added. “To be given this chance [to go to HOYS again] is unbelievable.”
Show and Maxi Cobs
Laura Bendel, an animal health specialist from Bletchley, Bucks, had more reason than most to celebrate when winning the cob class with her 13-year-old Seamus. The handsome black gelding has had a chequered past, including a serious driving accident and a potentially life-threatening leg injury, followed by two years in the field.
“He’d had several homes before ending up with my friend Clare Hurrell,” said Laura, 34. “Then he severely damaged his leg at the beginning of 2015 and had pioneering treatment through Buckingham Vets and the Royal Veterinary College, with only a small chance he’d ever come sound.”
The enforced rest did the trick, however, and Laura bought him from Clare on Christmas Day last year as a present to herself. “I’ve had to be very patient with him as he was scared of his own shadow,” added Laura. “But thanks to Louise Robson, my instructor, we have taken Seamus from being a scaredy cat to a slightly braver boy.
“He’s become my supercob, competing successfully in dressage as well as showing. He’s well on the way to qualifying for the winter regionals and we’re getting ready to try some novice level dressage to music.”
It was while at a dressage competition that a friend suggested Laura try showing. Advice received at a Showing Register (TSR) clinic, plus lessons from cob specialist Lynn Russell, led the pair to attempt their first ever SFAS qualifier at Keysoe.
“Unfortunately Seamus took fright and tried to run the judges over, so we were last,” said Laura. “We tried again at Bury Farm where we were third, so to win today is just incredible. Seamus tries so hard and has the most amazing personality. He really does rise to the occasion and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
An Irish-bred coloured mare — originally from the same source as Will Morton’s 2013 SEIB SFAS cob victor, Woodfield Choice — brought success at the last attempt for Stoke-on-Trent-based Tori Smith, 35.
Tori, a working capital manager in a law firm, has “stolen” the ride on Woodfield Prize Puzzle from her mother, Caron, and here finished second to qualify. “Mum bought Puzzle three years ago as a happy hacker for herself but I thought she was too good,” said Tori, who competes in dressage and shows at local and county level. The pair have also started showjumping.
“We’ve had problems keeping Puzzle’s weight down and her fitness level up, but I’ve had a lot of help from Laura Hanson and the Andrew Downes eventing team,” said Tori. “Thanks to their hard work, she is going so much better this year.”
Tori was also quick to credit the part her parents play. “Without them, I would not be where I am today,” she said. “Their emotional and financial support over the years has been invaluable.
“Competing at HOYS has been my dream for years and I tried to qualify a riding horse some years ago,” she added. “I attempted to qualify Puzzle last year and listened to the feedback regarding her weight level and fitness, hence enlisting Andrew’s help since January — due to my job, I struggle to keep up her fitness regime.
“I said that if I didn’t manage it this time, I’d give up trying. I’m overwhelmed and shocked that my dream has finally come true.”
RDA Search for a Star
The final tickets to the brand-new Riding for the Disabled (RDA) SFAS final were decided at Vale View.
The top spot went to Cheltenham-based Lee Lawrence, 31, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that severely compromises his quality of life and affects his sight and hearing. He took up riding seriously in 2015 and joined Cotswold RDA group as an independent rider in April last year.
Lee and his mother, Margaret, have his partner, the 19-year-old Hanoverian mare Half a Whisper, on permanent loan from Louise MacCarthy through the organisation Horses 4Homes. Lee looks after the mare himself and competes locally against able-bodied riders in dressage and showing.
“Lee learns by watching and listening to coaches, teachers and judges,” said Margaret. “We were at the RDA National Championships and he decided to have a go at the qualifier there. He finished fifth but enjoyed it so much that he wanted to come here and try again.”
A devastating stroke followed by a broken back left Vicky Nurcombe struggling to cope, but riding Fabrication (Harry) gave her something to aim for, culminating in second place here and a ticket to the final.
“The stroke was the left side of my brain, so my right leg and arm were affected,” said Vicky, who was also left with aphasia, which means she struggles with speech and communication. “Riding was a therapy to get me out and about. I had a weekly lesson at the Mount RDA then went to Somerby Riding School, where I met Harry. He was such a kind person so when he came up for sale three years ago we bought him.”
At the RDA Championships in 2015, Vicky and Harry were grade II and freestyle champions but disaster struck in 2016, when Vicky broke her back falling from a young horse.
“My doctors weren’t very hopeful. I was sent home from hospital in a wheelchair, my leg wasn’t working and my arm was bent and the hand was not functional. I also had prolapsed shoulder,” she revealed.
Months of therapy followed and she began to ride again, though found dressage difficult as she could not remember the tests, but she can have a caller under British Dressage rules.
“RDA showing is a brilliant idea. Riders can do what they can do in their individual show; there is no need to strip the horse nor trot up, neither of which I can do,” said Vicky. “So long as your horse is comfortable, well schooled and good in company, you can’t put a foot wrong. It’s a stepping stone into the showing world for RDA riders.”
The final is at the British Show Horse Association National Championships on 7 September and, with as many as 30 forward for some of the qualifiers, it has been a great success.
“This was very close to my heart,” said Nicolina MacKenzie. “I am delighted it has gone so well, and it will be an excellent final.”
Results for SEIB SFAS at Vale View Equestrian Centre
Placed on the day
Class 1a Working Show Pony
1st Cat Gill riding Mr Perkins II
2nd Jade Churchman riding French Fort Prince
3rd Mai Ozon riding Harry XII
4th Ella Smith riding Gobell Idwal
5th Isobel Bates riding Beacon Midnight Dancer
6th Mia Walker-Graham riding Springfield Park Dot Net
Class 1B Working Show Horse
1st Fran Embelton riding Blue
2nd Anna Robson riding Santa Fe
3rd Jackie Worby riding Penny’s Gift
4th Amanda Holloway riding Tinkerbell
5th Rachel Eley riding Mad Harry
6th Charlotte Mooney riding Otis III
Class 2 Ridng Horse/Hack
1st Emma Burbank riding Formidable Opposition
2nd Danni Waterman riding Pendley Countryman
3rd Emily Maher riding Millrowes Money Talks
4th Elizabeth Foster riding War of words
5th Suzanne Knight riding Up to Scratch
6th Daisy Graffato riding Jay Bee blue
Class 3 Show Hunters
1st Jennifer Levis riding Greendale Maximo
2nd Sarah Hind riding Take the Biscuit
3rd Annick Hallam riding Foxcourt Careless Whisper
4th Lesley Brown riding Pictus Aristocrat
5th Danielle Burke riding Whitaker VR
6th Catriona Duffy riding Laharn Cross
Class 4 – Cobs
1st Laura Bendel riding Seamus
2nd Tori Smith riding Woodfield Puzzle
3rd Charlotte Mooney riding Fancy That
4th James Rooks riding Chantilly Lace X
5th Lucy Turner riding Quenot 4
6th Nicola Tyson riding Prince of Thieves
Class 6 RDA Showing
1st Lee Larwrence riding Half a Whisper
2nd Vicky Nurcombe riding Fabrication
3rd Sarah Bowker riding Helenic Sunrise
4th Alana Bosworth riding King Sam