A first year at 5 star - Royal Windsor Horse Show
It was with great excitement that The Finer Horse stepped through the hallowed portals of the Royal Windsor Horse Show (RWHS) last weekend. Long one of our favourite shows, this year promised even more than previously due to its new 5* status, and it did not disappoint. While we were devastated to have missed Nick Skelton and Big Star's magnificent and emotional send-off on Sunday we were lucky enough, due to a cancelled polo practice, to be able to attend the show on both Thursday and our traditional day of Saturday.
It was wonderful to be able to experience both the more low-key events on the schedule as well as top level international showjumping. It's a balance that RWHS has perfected over the years - the show really does have something for everyone. Besides the showjumping and dressage, the show offered such treats as the Shetland pony Grand National and DAKS Pony Club Mounted Games for the younger equestrian, as well as her beloved showing classes for Her Majesty the Queen, who was in almost daily attendance this year watching her horses and ponies vie for showing success.
A strong theme at RWHS, as always, was the celebration of all things British. In the current atmosphere of hostility over Prime Minister May's manifesto promise to allow MPs a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act (2004), seeing so many of our hunts field teams for the Inter-Hunt Relay on Thursday afternoon was a real joy. To raucous enjoyment from the packed stands, we witnessed plenty of thrills (and a few spills) over two mirror-image courses of jumps, showing the adaptability of many a hunting steed during the off-season. Another truly British spectacle was the Household Cavalry Musical Ride, a firm favourite with crowds wherever they perform. Using mostly inexperience, young horses this year, the performance stirred patriotism in every spectator present as they executed the complex moves impeccably, finishing with the customary final gallop out, Union Jack held aloft, to the strains of 'Land of Hope and Glory'. Rumour has it that the King of Bahrain was so impressed the Musical Ride will shortly be heading off to Bahrain to perform. I wonder what the locals, more used to dainty, fleet-footed Arabs, will make of a large display of 16.2hh plus Irish Draught x Thoroughbreds!
For the showjumping fans amongst us, Saturday is a real raw at RWHS. From early in the morning to late in the afternoon we could feast on jumping at all levels. Starting off with the Land Rover Services Team Jumping competition, a necessarily amateur competition for members of our uniformed services, we then progressed to the Accumulator class. This class has historically proved to be a good place to spot up and coming talent, whether equine or human, and this year we also saw evidence that one should never discount a horse purely based on his age. Charles Luckyx produced two super rounds on Lighning 67, a 17year old gelding clearly still at the top of his game, to take the class from Nina Barbour on Calle, another 17 year old.
The biggest cheer of the day by far went up during the Kingdom of Bahrain Stakes for John Whitaker, a man who needs no introduction, and his horse Talisman de Mazure, a beautiful 10 year old chestnut Selle Francais gelding owned by Team Harmony. Although slightly biased by a preference for this breed, we saw that, while ultimately not competitive in this class, Talisman showed us he is very much one to watch, memorably making a challenging triple combination in the middle of the course look like childs' play. The number of scalps collected by Bob Ellis' difficult track included such illustrious combinations as Jessica Mendoa and Toyboy, and Michael Whitaker and Viking. The most problematic obstacle was a fence in the shape of London's Tower Bridge that many a horse objected to. Bertram Allen's prolific winner Molly Malone V wasn't the only horse to refuse to go anywhere near it. Abdel Said, a Belgium-based Egyptian rider, claimed the class from Ben Maher and Don Vito in a thrilling jump-off on Hope van Scherpen Donder, a 10 year old mare clearly a chip off the old block - her sire being Balou de Rouet.
Aside from Talisman de Mazure, other standout combinations that are lesser-known but definitely ones to watch were The Billy Stud's Billy Buckingham, a huge chestnut gelding out of Billy Congo ridden by William Funnell, and Miss Fritz, anexcellent but excitable chestnut mare currently partnered by Tim Stockdale. With combinations like these and RWHS' new 5* status, British showjumping has an exciting few years ahead.