COMPETING at Olympia for the first time proved to be an unforgettable experience for the team from Eldwick Riding Club. They had qualified for the SEIB/British Riding Club’s Quadrille of the Year competition and much to their surprise, they came home with the trophy.
The team ride Connemara ponies and had chosen a Riverdance theme for their display, which must have brought with it the luck of the Irish. “We are thrilled to bits,” said team member Kath Wilkinson.
Ths year for the first time, the competition was opened up to younger riders. The Eldwick team comprised Kath and her daughter Emily, 17; Chloe Eshelby,15, and Millie Ryan, 13.
Martin Clunes, the actor and president of the British Horse Society, was judging along with dressage rider Steph Croxford and polo player and jousting expert Karl Ude-Martinez.
Clunes said the fact that they were riding Connemara ponies added emotional impact. “Their routine was properly shaped, it had a beginning and an end, and the younger riders coped beautifully with the pressure,” he added.
“We had so many messages of support from people in the Connemara Pony Society and lots of people helped us,” said Kath. “It was really expensive to get down there but it was well worth it.”
They were trained by Ryan Haigh, a BHS instructor from Huddersfield who is a former member of the King’s Troop. Their Riverdance costumes were designed and made by Maxine Church with help from Liz Lewis, team member Chloe Eshelby’s grandmother.
Second place went to Bath Riding Club who were runners-up last year, with their Pride of Bath routine, based on The Lion King. Witheridge and District Riding Club from Devon were third, with a dragon theme and fourth place went to St Edmonds Riding Club, whose display marked the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion.
Another regular highlight at Olympia is the Shetland Pony Grand National. Ten young jockeys and their ponies qualify at different events during the year to compete at Olympia.
They are all aged between nine and 13 and like proper jockeys, they wear racing silks, body protectors, skull caps and long boots.
Whips are not allowed. A number of these young jockeys go on to become successful eventers, flat and national hunt jockeys.
The ponies are paraded before each race, the jockeys mount and are led to the start before setting off round two-and-a-half laps which include 12 mini Aintree style fences, as the crowd cheers them on.
Among the winners at Olympia this time were three young riders from Yorkshire.
Katy Darkings,12, from near Richmond, riding Riccalton Pewter, won on the Thursday afternoon.
Lara Hughes,12, from Leeds, riding Knix Grand Bobby Jo, was the winner on Sunday and Charlie Todd, 10, from Brompton-on-Swale, riding Eastlands Mighty Mark was the winner on Friday.
The ponies have to be members of the National Shetland Performance Awards scheme for a year before they are eligible to race. Some of those that have been successful in racing have also won Ridden Mountain and Moorland and Working Hunter championships, as well as British Driving championships.
The Yorkshire-born show jumper Robert Smith, son of Harvey Smith, was presented with a medal of honour by the British Equestrian Federation at Olympia. The medals were presented to seven people in recognition of their outstanding achievements and contribution to the international equestrian world.
Robert Smith, who is based in Warwickshire, has represented Great Britain four times this year in the Nation’s Cup and was a member of the winning team in Dublin with Talan. He has represented Great Britain in a total of 86 Nation Cups, 18 of them winning ones and has also won the King George V Cup three times.
Last year he was the highest placed British rider at the World Equestrian Games.
Medals also went to para dressage riders Natasha Baker and Emma Sheardown; dressage riders Charlotte Dujardin and Emile Faurie, both members of the British team that won gold at this year’s Dressage European Championships; Haydn Price, the team farrier for the British World Class dressage and jumping squads and Mandy Stibbe, chairman of the senior selectors for the British Eventing team.
How’s this for a coincidence? When Hotham businessman Malcolm Worrall registered for a British Dressage affiliated competition at Port Royal Equestrian Centre on November 1, little did he know how significant the date would turn out to be.
Competing on his eight-year-old gelding, Marlon, he was allocated number 111 and had a score of 70.8 per cent in the Novice 20 class to win.
“The odds of coming first on 1-11-11 whilst wearing number 111 were very long and to top it off, I won £17 and made £1 profit,” said Malcolm.
He has only been competing on Marlon for a year at local dressage events and hopes to qualify for regional events next year.