Hot to trot - Olympia Horse Show 2017

It’s the real start of Christmas for many in the equestrian world, and horse sport fans braved the freezing temperatures in their thousands to head to Olympia (officially, the London International Horse Show) over the last week. Offering FEI World Cup competitions in Dressage, Driving and Showjumping, as well as internationally renowned display teams and such favourites as the Shetland Pony Grand National, the West London show is a real destination event. For those lucky enough to have tickets to the blue-riband classes, the competition was hot enough to have everyone on the edge of their seats.

With the World Equestrian Games scheduled to take place in North Carolina next year, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics edging ever closer, us showjumping lovers at The Finer Horse wanted to bring you some of the most exciting moments from the jumping classes we saw at this year’s Olympia, as well as some horse and rider combinations to watch for the future.

Our first port of call was the World Class Programme U23 British Championship Final class. Although this might not seem exciting at first glance, we love watching this class as it gives a real insight into the future of British showjumping, and showcases the stars of the future. It’s a huge achievement for every rider to have made this final, with the qualification process very tough via a process of multiple wins in classes across the country. In general however, we find that this class can be split into two, with the cream very much rising to the top as the riders/horse & rider combinations with real class and future potential generally taking home the silverware (with the odd exception – it is showjumping after all and even the best horses have off days!).

This year, the favourites, Jack Whitaker and Harry Charles, were casualties of such equine off days, but this opened up the field for some really stylish combinations to show what they’re made of. There were some lovely mature rounds from riders-to-watch 2nd placed Billy Stud stable jockey Chloe Winchester, Mark Turnbull, and Robert Murphy, and we’re also excited to see more from the trio of Amy Inglis, Yazmin Davis and Aimee Bell (3rd to 5th placed respectively). The real star of the class however, was undoubtedly the winner Christie Pritchard. Having had a successful career in pony classes, Christie has made the often tricky transition to the senior classes and gave us a very mature and exciting performance aboard her junior horse Waldemar.

The theme of building British stars for the future continued into the senior classes at the show, and many riders used some of the 1.45 and 1.50m classes to give their 8 and 9 year olds the experience of a buzzing atmosphere in a famously small and challenging arena. The Shelley Ashman International Father Christmas Stakes certainly bore this out, as more than half the class were youngsters. The standout performance of the class was undoubtedly class winners John Whitaker and Leen O.L., a 9 year old Kannan mare usually ridden by John’s daughter Louise. Although we’ve yet to see Mr Whitaker produce anything less than a stylish round, this combination showed some serious scope to take the class from William Funnell on Billy Angelo. It looks like Louise Whitaker might have a fight on her hands if she wants her ride back from her father…

Other stars of the future showed their talent in the Christmas Masters, which is a class perfectly designed for the inexperienced horse as it is a clear-round knock-out style competition of the same course of fences ridden over a maximum of five rounds (as long as the rider can keep all the fences up). The added twist to the class is that each rider nominates a fence to be raised before he starts his round, so the course gets gradually bigger and more challenging as the competition goes on. There were some very exciting British team prospects competing in this class – Valmy de la Lande ridden by Michael Whitaker and the 2nd placed Winning Good, described by his rider Ben Maher as “one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden”.

Both horses had the crowd gasping as they cleared the fences with feet to spare, and with such big competitions coming up in the next few years we predict we’ll be seeing a lot more of these young horses.

With 7 out of the world’s top 10 riders competing in Olympia’s premier event, Sunday’s FEI World Cup Jumping leg, the showjumping fans amongst us knew we were in for a real showjumping treat. It would make for a very long list if we were to name all the horse and rider combinations that were a real joy to watch, but what made the class particularly exciting for the British fans was the plethora of combinations either at the top of their game (Scott Brash and Ursula, who made the fiendish course look like child’s play to take eventual 2nd place) or still on their journey to the top. In a class where over 35 starters from among the world’s very best produced just 4 clear rounds in the first phase of the class, taking home 4 faults was a real achievement and Laura Renwick’s Puissance winner, the 8year old chestnut gelding Top Dollar, was among this group. What a horse, to win the Puissance and then only a few days later do so well in his first 5* World Cup level class!

Other British combinations showing serious potential included Ben Maher & Don Vito, and Michael Whitaker and Calisto Blue. Both horses showed themselves to be seriously exciting young prospects who just showed the same inexperience that many of the younger horses displayed in a class where the fences came thick and fast, and where course designer Bob Ellis made full use of the challenging space at Olympia to set fences in surprising locations. Congratulations must surely go to Julien Epaillard and his beautiful 10 year old mare Toupie de la Roque though. Taking a class from Scott Brash and Ursula is no mean feat, but this French rider produced the ride of his life with his lovely mare to snatch those precious winning seconds in the jump off. We can definitely expect to hear more about this pair next year.

All in all, we had a wonderful time at Olympia this year and are already looking forward to next year’s show!

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