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The Friday of Roses kicked off with the equestrian competition, located 45 minutes drive Northeast of York, at Snainton Equestrian Centre.
Home advantage counts for a lot in an equestrian competition — yes, I know all sports say this, but consider that York train using these horses all the time, whereas Lancaster turn up on the day, are allocated horses, and have ten minutes to get to know them before riding the competition!
Before the dressage commenced, I gained an idea of how the teams were feeling. Lancaster’s Brittany McGeady was positive, and hoped to ‘do Lancaster proud’, while Dave Lovell explained that Lancaster have ‘the best possible chance’. Louise Henderson, who hit the deck at the last competition, commented that ‘the most important thing is for everyone to stay safe and have a good day’. York’s Rachel Heap was confident that York had ‘prepared well’ and was optimistic after a successful BUCS year.
It was a beautiful warm day, so the dressage took place in the outdoor school. Judge Woffinden explained that she assesses the riders on how well they handle an unfamiliar horse in a high-pressure situation, and admires all competitors for giving it a go!
York’s Ellie Curtis was first up, riding Buttercup, a young and inexperienced horse, which presented extra challenge. Lancaster’s Alex Maxwell, however, managed a far superior round using the same horse, earning her a fantastic score of 173.
Another of Lancaster’s high scorers was Dave Lovell, riding an enormous and rather stunning piebald named Crow, who received 169.5. However, soon the heat began to interfere with the dressage, and poor Crow was noticeably dripping with sweat. By the time Lancaster’s Louise rode him, his outline had disintegrated, and an exhausted Louise later cried, ‘I was carrying him around the school!’ Judge Woffinden was sympathetic, and aimed to judge not on how the horse behaves, but how the riders respond and react to tough situations.
Most riders were caught out by the ‘give and retake’ move, which involves a rider releasing rein contact over a few strides, before taking back contact. It is a test of self-carriage, in which the horse must stay in balance. The riders seemed tentative to give their horses the extra rein for fear of losing outline. Judge Woffinden was disappointed, and marked many competitors down for maintaining too much contact.
The highest overall scorer of the dressage was York’s Kate Morgan, riding Max, a cheeky chestnut pony. She rode a beautifully consistent round, scoring an impressive 181. Speaking to her afterwards, she told me she’s extremely happy with the result.
Dressage over, and York’s A team were in the lead with only 14 penalties, followed by Lancaster’s A team with 39, then York’s B team with 49, and finally Lancaster’s B team with 55.5. Lancaster’s captain Emily Cowland exclaimed, ‘I’m proud of us all!’ with all still to play for in the upcoming afternoon of jumping.
Riders are assessed on their style over a course of jumps, max 90cm, and points are deducted for dropping poles. Competition was extremely tough, with an impressive nine out of sixteen riders going clear. The only rider to knock down three jumps was York’s Laura Haxby, riding a bay hunter named Archie, earning York’s B team a potentially fatal 41 penalties.
Archie was by far the most challenging horse, and presented problems for many riders. Lancaster B team’s Brittany McGeady, however, confidently took him in hand and delivered an incredible clear round with an impressive style score of 151. The judge was thoroughly impressed. Frances Wilde, from the same team, took on rocket pony Blossom and secured another fantastic score of 156. These two excellent rides resulted in Lancaster’s B team shooting up the scoreboard!
Lancaster’s Alex Herring also rode clear, and gained a great style score of 154, riding Buttercup. But the rider who stole the jumping competition was York’s Yongqi Su, also on Buttercup. He received a jaw-dropping 161 style points, and Judge Woffinden hurried to congratulate him after the round.
The penalties from both disciplines were totted up, and the results were somewhat surprising. York’s A team had come in first with only 39 penalties, thanks to Morgan’s beautiful dressage and Su’s seamless jumping. To everyone’s astonishment, Lancaster’s B team were awarded second place with 102.5, surpassing their own A team! The exceptional skill shown in Maxwell’s dressage, and by McGeady and Wilde in the jumping competition gave them this crucial edge. Close behind in third was Lancaster’s A team with 104, and fourth York’s B team with 134.
Towards the Roses totals, the four A team points were thus awarded to York, and the two B team points to Lancaster.
Four of Lancaster’s riders were placed individually: Maxwell in 4th, Wilde in 5th, McGeady in 7th and Lovell in 8th. 1st place went to York’s Rachel Heap, who was the most consistent rider across both disciplines.
Lancaster’s captain Emily Cowland reflected: ‘Roses really was a testament to the teams and the progress they have made. The fact that the A team and B teams scores were so close shows how effectively we have progressed together. We embraced the competition as a team and helped each other right up until the last jump. I’m very excited to see them win Roses 2016.’