British riders led the way on day one of the International classes at the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead with Guy Williams heading a British top three in the big class of the day, the Bunn Leisure Trophy.
Thirty-seven tackled this 1.50m two-phase qualifier for the Kigh George V grand prix but Guy and the ultra-consistent Rouge De Ravel have form in this ring as double winners at the Hickstead Derby meeting. And they maintained their winning record here, the 14-year-old selle Francais stallion answering Guy’s every question with relish to win by 0.92 sec.
“He’s unbelievable at the moment,” said Guy. “He doesn’t ever really hit fences and the run he’s been on since Windsor is amazing – he won two last week, two the week before that, two the week before that and two at the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby meeting.”
Between Guy and long-time groom Natalie Tinworth, they have a well-honed routine for Rouge.
“He trouble is, he’s so manly – you have to keep riding him at shows or he becomes hard to handle,” said Guy. “If you wanted to give him three weeks off, he’d take four weeks to get going again. For a holiday, you need to give him a week off then use him again. We’ve tried it every way, three weeks on, a week off seems to be the trick.”
Natalie is a crucial part of the system.
“I never jump him at home and Natalie rides him all the time. Actually, I never ride him, she hacks him out every morning, I think I annoy him if I ride him every day – and then he knows when I get on that it’s time to do a job and time to win; he only needs me in the ring.
“It’s quite a psychological thing with him – he’s difficult to get on, and I have to get on him at the stables. There’s a lot of little things with him. Here, it drives him mad with all the ponies – he’s a full-on stallion, and he’s feisty to handle. But that’s his make-up – and when he’s at his feistiest, he’s at his best, so I have to work with it.”
This win served as valuable preparation for the King George V gold cup.
“Today I didn’t really aim to go full-tilt,” explains Guy. “He’s so fast when he’s fast, and that course today really suited him. It was a lot of turns back to verticals, and he’s the best around at turning back to verticals. His balance is amazing. That’s how we win every class he wins; he’s so smooth in his turns. He’s a real Grand Prix horse in a jump-off – I know if we jump a clear in the first round on Sunday, then we’ll be in with a good chance.”
Two on-form ladies filled second and third places with Ellen Whitaker on Norman Oley’s 10-year-old stallion Arena UK Winston in second and Amanda Derbyshire taking third aboard the Luidam 11-year-old Luibanta BH. Michael Whitaker was fifth on El Wee Widge behind Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson in fourth on Ermindo W.
And the Brits were again to the fore in the opening 5* class, the Bunn Leisure Vase, with three ladies on top. Amanda took the honours in this 73-strong 1.45m speed with the Cobra nine-year-old Oasis Spirit with 0.81 sec in hand.
“It’s pretty special to do that here,” said Amanda. “I only got her at the end of last year, and she hadn’t done much over in Ireland where she was bred. I’ve been slowly producing her this year and I really love her.”
Lancashire born-and-bred Amanda is now based in Wellington, Florida, and is pleased to return to Hickstead.
“Last year was my first year back since I was in pony classes – so it’s been about twelve years, at least,” she explains. “In America there’s a few big arenas like this, especially at the Hampton Classic, which would be the most similar. But it’s so special to be in front of a home crowd and win in front of them, too – now we’re hoping we can carry that on in the Nations Cup, which is the most important thing.”
Amanda lines up with Ben Maher, Amy Inglis and James Wilson in the point-scoring leg of the Longines FEI Nations Cup of Great Britain and are hoping for their first home win since 2010.
Jess Mendoza finished second aboard the Dollar Du Murier 10-year-old Dollar Girl 46. Jodie Hall-McAteer was slightly in arrears for third on the Mr Visto/Noncorde 10-year-old Fantom, Ellen finished fifth on Jack Van’t Kattenheye, Ellen uncle John took sixth with Sharid and James Wilson guided Eskola M into seventh.
Leesa Long topped the Harcour RIHS amateur championship with long-term campaigner Saber, the win marking an amazing recovery from injury.
Fourteen contended this two-phase class with Leesa flying ahead to take victory by almost four sec.
“It means a lot,” said Brighton-bases Leesa, who admits competing in this iconic arena was the main motivator throughout physiotherapy following a riding accident at the beginning of the year.
“I broke my ankle pretty badly in January when I landed on my feet falling off a horse. I was told I wouldn’t ride for nine months, and I had to have an external fixation.”
Her injury came four years after another ankle injury in eerily similar circumstances left her battling for the full use of her foot.
“They said this was the worse break, because it crushed eleven bones, but that one damaged the nerves and paralysed part of my foot,” she says. “Since I’ve been back the hardest thing has been that that old injury hurts more – I guess I’d been protecting it, which I can’t do now. When it starts hurting I can hardly walk, but I’m getting stronger all the time.”
In both cases, Long’s rehabilitation included stints at Oaksey House, the innovative physiotherapy centre spearheaded by the Injured Jockeys Fund.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk again – I was non-weight bearing for four months and because of the paralysis, I had to relearn how to take every step. But I’d been told it’d be a year before I rode again, and it was only nine months,” she says. “I went to Oaksey again this time, and they gave me loads of exercises to do. Then I came to Hickstead to see Johnny Harrison [whose practice overlooks the arena] and I sat there looking out at the arena thinking, ‘I’m dying to ride out there again’ I just really hoped I could get the all-clear and ride at this show.”
Hard work and ineffable grit – “my husband is an ex-jockey, so I don’t get much sympathy at home!” – meant t
hat Long was able to make her return to the show ring at Pyecombe at the beginning of the month. Her placings snowballed, and suddenly, she found herself qualified to ride in the main arena at Hickstead once again – on three horses.
“I had to choose one, and Saber loves this main ring and has won a few times here, so it had to be him,” she explains. “He hadn’t jumped for nine months – he had the time off with me, and he’s only jumped at one show before this, but he’s one of the best horses I’ve ever had, and we’ve been together for ten years.”
India Sime guided Delaplane Bee into second with Scarlett Worrow’s Daimond in third. Alice Haynes finished fourth on Hyacint DHI, Ellis Jones posted the steadiest of the double clears for fifth on Darco L and Michaela Wood came home on a fast four for sixth with Lingala.
Text © Jumping Around & pjotos courtesy British Showjumping