Seconds away from victory for Wiltshire eventer Georgie Strang at Hickstead
Georgie Strang and Cooley Earl have claimed the runner-up spot at Hickstead's main arena in one of the most iconic British equestrian events.
For one class only, the famous Hickstead arena is taken over each year for the MS Amlin Eventers' Challenge - which attracts the world’s best event riders.
The 2018 showdown was another hard-fought battle. Riders just kept finding ways to go quicker and no one could afford a mistake. Georgie Strang, who is based at Sir Mark Todd's Badgerstown yard, came into the class quietly confident of a good run.
Eleven year-old gelding Cooley Earl, owned by Diana Morrish, has previous Hickstead form and had not been intimated by the main arena when they completed one of only five clear rounds at last year’s event.
It is well known that this ring can often catch even the top horses out, but Cooley Earl took to the ring like a duck to water and finished a respectable fifth in 2017.
Strang’s comments on her previous efforts was that she wished she had just gone faster, but was pleased that Earl’s laid-back nature had meant he took it all in his stride. Back for another attempt last week, the pair knew exactly what was ahead of them.
With a Badminton completion and a great run at Barbury under their belt, confidence levels where high.
Ireland’s Elizabeth Power had flown round to take the lead off Abigail Walters by fractions of a second. The crowd erupted in appreciation of this great performance, just as Georgie entered the ring. For many a horse this would have been off-putting, but after the event Georgie reported it had been perfect for Earl who loves the crowd and thrives on an electric atmosphere.
The duo produced a classic round. Never looking rushed but always meeting the fences on a good spot, eating up the ground and producing smooth tight turns the whole way. They stopped the clock at 124.40 seconds, 0.09 ahead of Elizabeth Power. It was, as the Hickstead website put it, 'a super round'.
They certainly helped to give the class a scintillating finish for the enthusiastic crowd, with the last three riders taking the lead and then losing it to the next competitor into the ring.
Last of the draw was the 2017 winning combination of Paul Tapner and Bonza King of Rouges. There were two heart-stopping rattles of poles, but everything stayed - and they reclaimed the title.
At the press conference afterwards, Paul Tapner explained he had worked out where and how he could go faster by counting the number of strides he took throughout the course. Georgie responded: "My round wasn’t calculated like Paul’s, but perhaps that’s a trick I need to think about for 2019!"