The invitation only Eventers Challenge in the International Arena at Hickstead is one of the highlights of not only the Royal International meeting, but for Eventing fans too. The 21 fence course, which is a combination of show jumps and solid, natural obstacles, includes the Derby Bank, Irish Bank, a water jump as well as the Road Crossing among others.
Badminton winner Paul Tapner took the win in sublime style. “I love this class, especially on a horse like this [Bonza King of Rouges]; he’s careful, fast and brave, the type of horse to excel in a class like this.”
From the start, you could see Paul was determined to win, galloping over the first cross country fence before swinging round to the gate at 2, a showjumping fence that proved particularly influential throughout the class. Sweeping away from the collecting ring, the upright gate positioned on flat cups caught horses out, who had started the course in cross country mode.
“I gained time early on, but then my horse got very excited behind the bank and slipped a few times,” Paul says. “That tends to make you slow down.”
Paul, who is the Digital and Technical Manager of the Event Rider Masters series, manages to juggle his demanding full time role with the running of his Event yard and the riding and competing of 5 horses. “I’ve probably got 3 horses too many, but my wife Georgina and my head lad Ben Edwards keep my horses going for me.” Paul’s journey to Hickstead comprised planning of the final stages of Gatcombe Horse Trials, the 5th leg of the series.
Paul and wife Georgina have their own equestrian centre, Wickstead Horseplay, in Wiltshire which holds affiliated and unaffiliated events throughout the year, complete with a Derby course.
“It was obviously the preparation at Wickstead Horseplay over our Derby course that prepped me so well for today!” Paul laughs. His competitive preparation for this class couldn’t have been much worse after a freak accident at Aston-Le-Walls saw his horses’ bit break towards the end of the cross country course and him having to try and stop and subsequently retire, after producing a 29.6 Dressage score.
Second place went to penultimate rider Abi Walters, riding the 15.3hh mare Perfick Miss Amber. Owned by Hannah Brown the little mare tried her heart out.
“She’s just marvellous,” Abi explains proudly. “She’s little, nippy and a jolly good jumper, a great mix for this class.”
As with the Hickstead Derby, experience really pays dividends in this class as was evident with the results of first timers compared with those which have completed previous rides. “It’s my horses third year of doing this class, she knows the way around now!’ Abi explains.
Irish rider Joseph Murphy took 3rd with Electric Cruise. His Irish provenance should have helped with the Bank jumping, which proved true as he jumped both banks with perfection.
Last to go Alexander Bragg finished in 4th having had 2 fences down to add a total of 8 seconds to his time. The gate at 2 caught him out as did the final fence. Alex entered the arena just as Pippa Funnell had a crashing fall at the last, a boxed hedge with rail over. Billy The Biz had produced a foot perfect round to this point and looked to take the lead before trying to bank the hedge, as he quite rightly had at the Irish Bank earlier in the course. Pippa and Billy got up and walked out of the arena, as did Austin O’Connor and Zahiro Sit T Veld as his horse jumped exuberantly off the Irish Bank at 12.
Photo credit: Frog & Field.