byCatherine Austen| Mar 1, 2018
Oh dear. All over the UK, frustrated event riders are gnashing their teeth. A spell of very cold weather, rather dramatically named ‘the Beast from the East’ by tabloid sub-editors, has meant that horse trials on the opening weekend of the UK season have been cancelled.
It was interesting to check out who was entered up for this first, very early weekend of the season. Oliver Townend and Izzy Taylor, who are easily the busiest riders on the European circuit, both had lorryloads ready to go, as did the equally driven Piggy French. The generation above them, however – Pippa Funnell, Tina Cook, Mark Todd, William Fox-Pitt – were all giving it another week. You don’t get old without getting wise…
I love this part of the year – even though I have no intention of going to an event for several weeks, as I have no desire to emulate polar exploration. New horse and rider partnerships appear; established stars swagger out once again.
I’ll wait until the first CIC3* of the season to make my long-range predictions for the World Equestrian Games – I promise I will do them well before Badminton and Kentucky though, as it is almost cheating to wait until afterwards. But here are six horses I will be watching closely this spring:
1) Mr Bass
Laura Collett calls him a ‘freak’, and he is probably the most talented pure jumper on the circuit with the exception of Tom McEwen’s Toledo De Kerser. Winners of Burgham’s CIC3* and second at Blenheim’s CCI3* on their last two outings of 2017, I reckon if they can get a top-five finish in a spring CCI – be it three- or four-star – then they’ve booked their ticket to WEG.
He’s barely bigger than a pony, especially with Mark Todd’s endless legs wrapped round him, but he’s a dude. He started 2017 at novice level and finished it with seventh place at Boekelo CCI3*. The comparisons to Toddy’s dual Olympic gold medal winner Charisma are inevitable – but I know Toddy thinks McClaren is more talented.
3) Ballaghmor Class
I am not sure I have ever seen a more impressive cross-country round than the one that Oliver Townend rode on this 10-year-old grey to win Burghley. Oliver let him adjust to the increased size and difficulty of the fences, filling him with confidence, until they were two-thirds of the way round – and then pressed the ‘go’ button. I don’t think it was a fluke, and I think ‘Thomas’ is the horse for which Oliver has been looking for so long, but he will need to prove it again this spring at Badminton.
4) Vanir Kamira
The transformation in this mare after less than a year with Piggy French was incredible, and she finished a very narrow second to Ballaghmor Class at Burghley. Piggy’s brilliance in developing trust and a partnership with a horse has never been seen to better advantage, and it will be fascinating to see whether she can built on that yet further this year.
5) Jet Set IV
A couple of years ago, Andrew Nicholson thought this was the horse that would finally win him Badminton. In fact, the superhero Nereo did that in 2017, and Jet Set’s career has half-halted through minor illnesses and injury. He is exceptionally talented – he was Andrew’s first really big winner after the New Zealand rider’s terrible accident, taking Bramham CCI3* in 2016 – and, if he can stay in one piece, he could just deliver Andrew another four-star win this year.
Tim Price rode this little jewel of a mare for his wife, Jonelle, while she was pregnant with their first child last year. It was a pairing that worked perfectly, culminating in a Boekelo victory, and Tim has kept the ride on her. WEG will obviously be the aim, but I would have thought they will pick up a big spring win en route.
Photos FEI/Libby Law, FEI/Jacob Melissen
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