Barbury Horse Trials open the much curtailed eventing season - without the crowds
This was a 'behind close doors' programme shortened to two days - Saturday & Sunday 11 & 12 July - and held in wonderful sunny weather.It was a very different looking Barbury Castle Estate venue for the very belated opening of the eventing season after the Covid-19 lockdown.
The competition - organised by Musketeer Event Management - concentrated on the lower ranked classes giving riders the chance to introduce new and less experienced horses to the competitive demands of dressage, show jumping and cross-country. The cross-country obstacles had been designed by Alec Lochore to give horses a fair chance on their first outing of the season.
It was a case of strict guidelines as regards social distancing - with an abundance of washing facilities and hand sanitiser stations.
There were of plenty of entries for the Novice, Open Novice, Intermediate and BE100 classes. The trials kept their 'international' tag with entries representing Hong Kong, Namibia, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa.
With the restriction in classes some of the sports big names were absent. But the Marlborough-based couple Jonelle and Tim Price had several entries, as did Tom McEwen and Zara Tindall.
Among the winning combinations were the Ramsbury-based couple Georgie Strang and Jesse Campbell.
Also taking part was Jonty Evans who suffered a life-threatening head injury in an eventing fall in June 2018 and returned to the sport at the end of the 2019 season.
British team gold medallist Tom McEwen claimed the intermediate class riding eight-year-old Coilbri de Riverland, a horse now well established at this level. Tom almost made it a one-two, but had to settle for third place on his mare Cassiana de Riverland, both horses bought from France's Riverland stud.
“I was happy with all my rides - they felt fit and well, pleased to be out. I think everyone there was pleased to be out,” said Tom. “Yes it felt a bit odd to have no spectators or tradestands but there were advantages. There was more space in the showjump warm up for starters, and having two collecting rings worked really well.
“The cross-country course might have been a little softer than usual but it was still educational and appropriate for a first run back after the break, while the ground was the best I have ever seen it at Barbury.
It was Georgie Strang who separated Tom's rides, Red Hot Cooley leading the dressage phase but a rail down in the showjumping costing her the win.
In the open intermediate Tom McEwen was back in the money, finishing second on Bob Chaplin. However, the fastest round of the day from Therese Viklund and Viscera promoted the pair to the top spot in this class. Just 2.8 cross country time penalties was good enough to move the mare above Tom and third placed Tim Price on Spartaco.
Hector Payne also came out all guns blazing, jumping double clears and finishing in the top 10 on all six of his rides: “Running BE100 classes at such short notice was a big success. Equine first timers really relished the open setting, and lots of riders who haven't been able to compete at Barbury before were loving it."
There were several 'next generation' riders competing. Lucinda Fredericks' daughter Ellie won the open novice on Britannias Mail, an offspring of Lucinda's multiple Five Star winner Headley Britannia. Tina Cook's daughter Isabelle jumped clear in the open BE100 on Tina's old Five Star ride Star Witness. And Paul Tapner's daughter Madison only just missed out on a placing in a BE100 section.
Event Organiser Alec Lochore's courses rode well with cross-country clears the order of the day, although showjumping clears were harder to achieve. Many combinations across the competitions took it carefully over the cross-country course and collected time penalties for coming home above the 4 minute 30 second time limit. In one of the Novice sections Tim Price and Kroon Freddie had the second best dressage score, but collected 6.4 time faults on the cross-country - putting them down to eighth place.
Winners of the five Novice sections were Tom McEwen (Spring Morning), Gubby Leech (James Bond van 'T Akkerhof), Hector Payne (Hero RHF), Sarah Way (Jumbo Jones) and Jesse Campbell (Global Candy Boy). Coming second to Campbell was Georgie Strang (Global Halifax) - she won a section of the BE100 class on Speedwell, with Tim Price in second place on Chio 220.
The surprise of the first day was the presence of a television team from the Event Rider Masters (ERM) organisation. Because of the pandemic they had to cancel their international 2020 contest which, as it happens, was not going to include Barbury. But they were called on to provide live coverage over the two days of Barbury's famous cross- country course. This was was streamed over the two days on the subscription Horse and Country channel.
The ERM team were covering the whole cross country course as it stretches over the downs, using just four of their new remotely controlled cameras - two of them wireless linked and two cabled to the mobile control room. The competition - with commentary - was transmitted to the satellite by GBSE Event Technology which is run by Andy and Hazel Evans.
They are another example of the eventing support companies that have been hit hard by the cancellation of so many competitions this year. There was only one trade stand at this year's Barbury Horse Trials - a harness and saddlery supplier ready to help any competitor who had left a vital piece of tack back at their yard.
Over the weekend there were also eventing competitions at Tweseldown and Aske. More fixtures will take place during the rest of July and August, but two of the eventing calendar's major meetings have been cancelled due to the uncertainties over the pandemic - Blenheim Palace and five star Burghley.