The sport of eventing gained a new audience this week, courtesy of the inaugural London Capital & Finance Osborne Horse Trials. An estimated 5,000 spectators enjoyed both the spectacle and the scorching weather over the two days. In a first for the Isle of Wight, mainland-based event riders made the journey to one of the most beautiful settings imaginable for a horse trials – Osborne House, former royal residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and now under the guardianship of English Heritage.
Presented as a showcase event, a specially designed and shortened dressage test with a compact show jumping arena, where spectators were almost within touching distance of the horses as they performed, provided a new stage for the elite riders.
World Number One Oliver Townend dominated proceedings taking both first and second place in the headline Grand Prix class on Thursday. Short-format specialist Cillnabradden Evo took the win and with Mitsubishi Motors Badminton runner up Cooley SRS taking second place.
“I came here in part for the prize money of course, but also to give the horses a non-pressurised run. The shortened dressage was a nice test that they hadn't performed before, and the jumping phases were well within their scope, so it was all about the amazing atmosphere created by these wonderful spectators which gave it such a special feel,” said Oliver, mission accomplished with a total of £17,000 heading his way for these two placings.
Oliver was also victorious on the opening day of competition, winning the second class (and £4,000) aboard Black Tie II, who was having his first run for 12 months.
“I've only ridden Black Tie four times since he's been back in work because I've been away so much. The girls at home have done a great job – and he's such an old pro now, he knows what he's doing, though it was a tough enough cross country course with the terrain and the way it had been roped.”
The opening section saw super Swede Ludwig Svennerstal pocket most of the prize money. Fialotta bagged £4,000 for the win and Fit For Fun Raa £2,000 for third place. Ludwig's horses were separated by Emily King's Quinlan Z.
“Osborne House is a very exciting new venue, and it's good to have proper money to compete for,” said Ludwig. “It's nice to see so many people here spectating. It could become a great event.”
Not all the competitors had travelled over on the ferry; the Isle of Wight boasted its very own Sarah Holmes, who raised the proverbial roof on completion of her clean sweep of clear showjumping rounds. Her progress across country could be followed by listening to the cheers from the crowds. Three double clears rewarded Sarah with sixth, ninth and 10th places.
The man of the moment, Oliver Townend, summed it up from his perspective. “I was blown away when I arrived and saw the venue – I've got nothing to say about it but positives. We've enjoyed ourselves; it's been like having four horses on holiday. We've eaten at fantastic restaurants every night and I've been with my best friends. Events that can provide prize money like this make a big difference to the lives of professional riders like me.”