Chomping at the bit to make early start

THE 2016 British Eventing season is up and running, with Yorkshire prospect James Sommerville's yard among those 'chomping at the bit' for the newly-created Askham Bryan Horse Trials.

Sommerville, 28, has spent the last four years building a promising team of young up and coming event horses, that are now based at the rider’s new yard, Oxbank Farm, Northallerton.

The former Boroughbridge High School pupil relocated from his parents’ yard in Grafton last year with his new Northalleton stables handily placed at just a 10-mile drive from his home in Thirsk with girlfriend Lucie Cornes the yard’s head girl.

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This weekend’s Askham Bryan Horse Trials provides an ideal local opening to the new season with the event having also attracted Northallerton’s World No 13 Nicola Wilson.

Wilson has four horses entered for BE100 assignments in Shannonview Glory, Khanamore, JL Dublin and All We Need, and Sommerville agrees that the event is exactly what Yorkshire needs.

Previously, the opening weekend’s events were all in the south of England with White Rose county riders forced to trek to the likes of Isleham, Aston-Le-Walls or even Moreton in Dorset to get their season up and running.

In previous seasons, Sommerville merely sat out the curtain-raiser but this weekend the rider is only too happy to support an event just a 13-mile drive from his Northallerton base. Sommerville has Master Ramiro, Shadow Inspector and Monbeg Messiah engaged for BE90 action, in the horses’ first ever event. He told The Yorkshire Post: “Previously, we didn’t compete the first fixture of the season. I think there was Isleham in Cambridgeshire or Aston le Walls or one even further south so we sat the first weekend out.

“But now, with the Askham Bryan fixture, we thought we’d get out there with a few of the babies early on. Our babies are raring to go so I thought it would be good for them to get out there earlier. They are chomping at the bit so let’s have a go. We’re looking forward to it.

“With Askham Bryan, I went there last year towards the end of the season, it’s the first time I’ve been and I was actually quite impressed because you never know what to expect when you go somewhere new. However the going was fantastic, the course was very educational and while we only had three BE100s there, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We have had this fixture pencilled in the diary and I’ve made sure the young horses are ready to go there this time of year for this fixture.”

Sommerville will also arrive with a further spring in his step, having recently secured the sponsorship from the makers of Fibre-Beet, a quick soak conditioning feed for horses. The Northallerton rider has 12 rides in his care at present, headed by 10-year-old gelding Talent, who is being aimed at Bramham’s CCI three-star in the summer.

The current stable star has a burgeoning support cast behind him.

“Last season the yard was a bit like a revolving door as there was horses coming and going,” said Sommerville. “We’ve had 19 before in at one point last season, but that was a bit manic. I wouldn’t want more than 16. It’s just finding that happy balance. I would always want quality over quantity.

“There are some more stables being built up here so there’s room for a few more, some of which I have already got lined up. We’ve got a lot of very nice young horses. One or two have moved on and we’ve kept the cream of those to compete. We’re hopefully trying to keep the horse power for years to come so, eventually, we can go to the three and four stars with top horses to be competitive, rather than just making up the numbers and getting round.”

Reflecting on his 2015 progress, Sommerville said: “We had seven at Burghley in the Young Event Horse Final at the beginning of September, which I think was a record. I don’t think anyone has been daft enough to take as many as that before!”