Showjumpers take great steps upward

In a week to remember, the Allan Bloodlines Showjumping Team made further progress at International and National level at the Hickstead British Showjumping Derby Meeting.

With coaching from Tim Beecher and with a team of horses sent out by trainer Bernice Cuthbert in magnificent shape physically and mentally, rider John Crippen enjoyed a life-changing week of successes and progress. The team machine hummed with energy and efficiency throughout five long days.

LOUGHNATOUSA RAVEN confirmed her arrival on the International Scene with a smoothly taken 5th of 37 in the Derby Salver, an FEI 1.45 class in the International Arena won by Ellen Whitaker on CORTAFLEX KANSELIER. Earlier in the day, RAVEN had cake-walked to 4th in the Equine America 1.35 Open Championship also in the Main Ring having qualified the day before.

Cheekily using the Derby Vase (FEI 1.45m) in the International Arena as a warm-up, RAVEN then went, after considerable debate, for the 1.60m Hickstead Derby Trial. The heights were not an issue for this tremendous mare and it was decided to test her with a great “degree of difficulty” added to the equation. Only one horse of the 35 considered capable of such things, all ridden by top class riders, went clear. RAVEN had two down – one being in the notorious Devil’s Dyke – and qualified – with ease – for the Derby itself. Wow!

More of that below, but in the meantime LOUGHNATOUSA DIAMOND was having yet another brilliant show. This exciting multiple winner turned on the taps for himself and John with an opening win in the Grade C Championship Qualifier, accompanied in the class by the less experienced but progressive and scopey stable companion LOUGHNATOUSA RAFA. RAFA finished a very creditable 5th in the big field and both took their place in the International Arena the next day.

RAFA took a giant stride forward in experience with John responding accurately to specific coaching in bringing this horse on. He had only one fence down in the Main Ring. DIAMOND finished 2nd – missing a win by milliseconds – in a thrilling clear round speed performance in which John followed his now customary brilliant lines, saving time at every opportunity. Giving a couple of hundredths of a second greater respect to one particularly awkward obstacle may have cost them 1st place, but – more likely – it saved them a superb 2nd in this world-famous equestrian stadium.

A quiet day for DIAMOND and RAFA in favour of concentration on RAVEN’s big classes was replaced on the Saturday – RAVEN’S day off competition – with another victory for DIAMOND in the 1.25 Open, beating a field of about 100 horses with a typically thrilling 2nd phase. When John asks DIAMOND to go flat out, the horse loves it and provides an excellent spectacle. RAFA went in the Horse & Hound Foxhunter for further mileage and waltzed to 3rd – again in a monster field. A good horse in the making, different to the others, but, as he gains in confidence, running in increasing harmony with John Crippen.

RAVEN’s Derby Day dawned after much planning and a good deal of excitement. Cuthbert’s meticulous attention to detail brought the mare forward in superb condition for a major new test. The 1.60 heights – and more – were not an issue for this powerhouse, but the Devil’s Dyke, the huge Derby Bank and the general degree of difficulty in arguably the most testing showjumping course in the world would surely ask big questions.

A full house on a glorious day welcomed RAVEN to the Arena, 10th to go of the 29 Derby contestants, many of which were battle hardened veterans including previous winners. Hers was a round of two halves. Immaculate to start with, one annoying back rail down when not quite right and successful if not brilliant through the Table. Then the Bank. The crowd’s full-throated roar greeted as smooth a passage over the Bank as any in the competition and better than most. Straight up then straight over the rail on top with the world loking upwards at them. One look and bravely down the seemingly sheer side – “bravely” applying to horse and to rider alike in their first exposure to a drop described by others as “terrifying” – then clear over the exit rail. That’s a lot of thinking and reacting for two quick equestrian brains trying it for the first time.

Then the horrible Dyke. More thinking and this time including some bamboozlement with a bit of equine brain fogging to follow. The decision to go in the Derby had been taken “in conference” on the basis of progress at the show, knowing that the mare would probably find it hard not having the relevant experience. She battled through this vile obstacle, having the middle and exit elements down – the latter looking utterly impossible to the uninitiated – and only a handful of contestants got through the Dyke clear. John later said that a few minutes break at that point would have been nice because mental tiredness crept in, and a few signals between her and her rider got mixed resulting in several fences coming down. But RAVEN tried to the line and if you don’t do it the first time, you can’t do it better the second time. Horse and rider came out of it very well, with greatly enhanced confidence and experience. Win it next year!

If RAVEN, DIAMOND and RAFA had their necks slapped frequently by delighted connections – owner and sponsor, trainer and producer, and devoted groom and helpers – so did LOUGHNATOUSA BRISCO. Bernice Cuthbert’s own young eventer spent the week jumping 1.10s at Hickstead for experience, having no more than one down in a round until his last effort late in the week. He went double clear amidst general delight. Achievement is achievement at whatever level of development and BRISCO with John in the saddle made sure to tick his very own box as well.

A brilliant week.