29 June to 1 July
Over 130 competitors and friends celebrated the fact that they could get their lorries, trailers and caravans and tents on the sandy well-drained turf of this scenic Royal Estate in West Norfolk after several weeks of wild wet weather. A breezy week had the advantage of drying the ground here even though the wind showed no mercy to insecure headgear.
There were ups and downs in almost all classes at the well supported national event and the parallel East Anglian Carriage Driving Group’s club competition and this was an important selection event for the horse teams, singles, and para-drivers. An international element was introduced by Australians Mark Peel, driving Boyd Exell’s “commercial” horses (expertly) and Jessica Meredith with her horse pair in the club competition as well as Boyd himself, the reigning World Champion Horse Four-in-hand Driver, and Lorraine Cairns and Elizabeth Lawrence in advanced horse class, and Hungarian Istavan Nyul driving Christine Jamieson’s team in the national.
Two para-drivers joined the club, too, all the way from Scotland, Charlotte Thomson and Graham Smith, with Amanda Saville of Chariots of Fire. Five para-drivers vied in the national event and for selection to the team representing GB at the World Para-Drivers Championship in the Netherlands, 30 August – 2 September.
Friday was dressage day for the national drivers and Saturday was their marathon day comprising a cross-country course and eight “obstacles”. All the obstacles are solidly purpose-built and offer challenging choices of routes round posts, bridges, water splashes and trees. The club ran its dressage and cones on Saturday and afterwards many people enjoyed watching the national drivers go round the marathon obstacles. Sunday was the national’s nail-bitingly gripping cones competition while the club held its marathon using six of the same obstacles. This facility enables aspiring club drivers to match their times against similar turnouts in the higher level event and encourages them to take the next step.
In the horse four-in-hand class Boyd Exell took two teams round the dressage arena, the second hors concours (“outside the competition”, so the score does not count), seeking the right combination for the World Equestrian Games in Aachen (which he won) the following week. Georgina Hunt’s wheeler caused concern to judge Diana Brownlie and Georgina changed horses and completed the competition hors concours. Wilf Bowman-Ripley overcame his gremlins – a turnover at his “home”, Ashfields, in May – and his typical strong marathon gave the win he needed, Pippa Bassett a close second with “Devil’s Horseman” Daniel Naprous third. Boyd’s storming marathon came unstuck when he missed a gate in the last obstacle and he was eliminated. Mark Peel of Australia drove Boyd’s black and white “commercial” horses smoothly in all phases. They were the only horses he could use and he’d trained them well: weddings and funerals will never be the same.
Twelve-year-old “local” Grace Smith was the only junior in the national and FEI rules meant she drove only three obstacles although last year she drove six and won her class in the club event. She joins the GB squad travelling to the Junior World Championships in Austria.
The smallest ponies taking part were the East Anglian Carriage Driving Group’s Janet Sycamore’s miniature Shetland pair, Sooty and Sweep, and in the national Michael Hodgson gave a polished performance with his team of full-sized Shetlands – attracting royal interest – but missed a cone… Sara Howe was the winner of the pony fours from Susan Skeggs. Joseph Adams took the open pony pairs title and Emma Burge kept ahead of Rita McGregor in the advanced pairs, despite Rita’s speedy marathon.
In the national single horse classes, Matt Were went home to change horses after a minor incident and hauled his piebald out of the field (literally), coming third behind Ellen Littlechild and Sonny Hillier, the winner, in the 11-strong open class. Carole Redgrave and Marisa Pinnock tussled in the novice horse class, Carole victorious this time. Terry Bailey led all the way in the intermediate class, winning by almost 30 penalties. Ben Grose led overnight in the advanced horse class before the cones phase, when Jock McFarlane’s double-clear round put him in front by one penalty: just five penalties lay between Jock and fifth place.
In the advanced horse pairs Barry Capstick, Ireland, was almost 40 penalties ahead. Pat Cooper won the horse tandem class from David Taylor and Fred Pendlebury, the last uncharacteristically eliminated in the cones – as were several more drivers.
“Most surprised and delighted” winner was Inharness reader Linda Hill on winning intermediate pony class: only six penalties separated all four drivers. Tracey Fletcher was eight penalties clear of Katie Eyres in open pony. Sue Mart of Bennington Carriages took the pressure of leading in advanced pony class, Nicola Blandin coming second, but not giving an inch.
“We’ve had such a great time!” said Amanda Saville of Chariots of Fire, who went round with para-drivers Charlotte Thomson and Graham Smith. “This was a big thing for Charlotte and Graham and it was a lot of fun. Charlotte is totally addicted to driving; it’s all she wants to do.”
Five of the para-driving squad drove in the national event contesting for Team GB places at the FEI World Para-Equestrian Driving Championships, Breda, Netherlands, at the end of August. Deborah Daniel topped the class with Mick Ward second, driving Angela Flanagan’s Double Cream. Lucy Barclay, third, is also on the squad. Heather Clark completed but Lindsey Paice (nee Tyas) was unfortunately eliminated in the cones phase, however she will drive as an individual.
Wallace Cameron sponsored the national event and gave generous prizes of first-aid kits. Horse First donated prizes for the marathon.
In a season that has so far been hard hit by the weather and ground conditions, those who enjoyed Sandringham as participants – 130 turnouts – or spectators had a rare treat of a (mostly) dry weekend and exciting sporting entertainment.