Held on the South of England show ground and surrounded by the farm land of the pretty district of Ardingly in West Sussex, and running for over 40 years, the popular South of England event was this weekend blessed with fantastic weather, especially for early April.
Benefitting from the showground setting there is the benefit of the Norfolk Pavillion, which is open to all, providing the option for a sit down full English breakfast, a bar, plus lovely toilets - now what more could you want? With ample space on offer the event offers an abundance of space for horsebox parking, spectators, a secluded dressage area, feature show jumping location and picnic spots galore scattered around the rolling hills of the cross country course.
John Farrell and Brian Lear set a testing show jumping course which caught out a few, which Scott Bricknell's cross country course being a good galloping track with a few technical questions including the recently updated Quarry. With mutterings from some riders as to feelings that the course was slightly softer than usual on the whole the courses rode very well, with the ground described as fantastic, brilliant or wonderful by many competitors, who also praised the organisers Jenny and Tim Nolan for yet another well run and friendly event.
2017 saw the official charity as Hannah's Willberry Wonder Pony, a cause so close to the heart of many competitors and supporters. With funds being raised via a charity raffle, superstar VIP Teddy The Shetland was present to rattle his bucket and flutter his eye lashes at unsuspecting passers by. Supported by his glamorous assistant Pippa Funnell to draw the winning tickets, the raffle raised over £1,300 for the charity.
A few riders shared their experiences, one of these, Laura Gordon said gleefully "We did it! We completed our first Novice"! She went on to explain that in 2012 she had a rotational fall, which resulted in her suffering a broken pelvis. As you can imagine her jumping confidence was shot to pieces, but she missed the excitement of eventing. Finley was brought as a young horse to bring on and has been Laura's dream horse for the past 4 years. She only intended to run at 90 with an occasional 100, but this incredible horse has given her the confidence to compete in their first Novice with fantastic results and the potential to go 1*. So, in Laura's words "Never give up people, because it feels fantastic when you get there!"
Another rider happy to speak to The Bit UK's team was Felicity Collins, who was thrilled to have her first Intermediate win under belt and the real bonus came with 1st & 2nd spots in the same section. Her winning horse RSH Contend'Or (Mickey) she said was an 'exceptional 8 year old'. Jointly owned by Vicki Collins & Mrs Avrina Milton, even as a green 7 year old he was selected for the Junior European Championships, where he was the best placed British team member, helping the team to win the Bronze medal! He will now aim for Houghton Young Rider National Championships in May for his first CCI2*, with Blenheim CIC3* 8/9yos in mind for Autumn. Felicity's second place horse Just Amazing (Mazie) is a home bred and started by Felicity until school was too demanding when Mum Vicki took over and introduced her to eventing. Felicity had the ride back in 2015 and in the past 2 years has successfully moved up to Advanced and 2* level. Felicity said "it's quite special to go from watching a horse born, to riding them round Advanced & Intermediate with success!". As a post script Felicity said " South of England's ground was great and the courses were flowing, which encouraged forward riding, and everyone was friendly and relaxed!"
From one up and coming young rider to another, Jemima Upton had a very successful trip to South of England, with all four rides finishing in the top 4. "After having been away travelling in India we had a late start to the season, but it was worth the wait! It was a great well run event with plenty of inviting questions which was perfect for all of their first runs" commented Jemima, who was thrilled with all four horses this weekend. "My lovely 14.2 pony ( Liscannor Tulira) who I have produced has become so established and came out this season like a true professional knowing his job" added Jemima regarding her 4th place BE100 finish. There was also a 4th for Hugotogo in the BE100 and a 3rd for Free Bee in the Novice, however it was Easy Boy who proved the star of the yard with a win in his first event of the season. "I have been so lucky to be able to ride such a talented horse like EB. He is such a jumping machine and his way of going on the flat is really coming together. He loves his job and I just love riding him, he is a very cool horse. I am aiming to move him up to 2* this season."
It wouldn't have been right however if Pippa Funnell hadn't have been the star of the show, with her mother and brother as joint organisers. Eventing legend Pippa picked up a 2nd place in the Novice with Maybach, two 4th place finishes with Billy Beware in the AI and Majas Hope in the OI, and a win for Billy Walk On in the OI, who produced a double clear to finish on 28. The icing on the cake came from Sandman 7 in the AI, co-owned by organiser Jenny Nolan and Ruth McMullen, who added 6.4 times to their 23.4 dressage to win on a three phase score of 29.8