This past week has seen the longest spell of good weather we have had this year, and drying ground proved perfect at Aldon Horse Trials in Somerset, which I’m told often suffers from inclement conditions. With the cancellation of Tweseldown, (my usual seasonal opener to watch those aiming for the spring 4 stars), I decided to head down to Somerset for the first time.
I had never been to Aldon before, as I’d always envisioned it to be too far west, or awkward to get to. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a little over an hour away down the dreaded A303, that was thankfully clear of traffic early on Sunday morning. The A303 winds it’s way through some of the most stunning, rolling countryside England has to offer, passing the World Heritage site of Stonehenge, and the racecourse towns of Salisbury & Wincanton, and so on a bright Sunday morning you have time to take in the scenery and play ‘I spy the Norman church spires’ that are dotted along the route.
Aldon Horse Trials itself is a cross between Gatcombe with it’s ‘park bowl’ and Barbury where spectators can watch most of the action from a single vantage point as the track winds it’s way back and forth across the main valley bowl that plays host to the cross country course. Added to this is the quirk of running the dressage across the lane at the Rugby Club – very apt given the conclusion of the 6 Nations.
Whilst many of the 4 star horses you’d expect to see heading to Badminton or Kentucky were out having their first decent run of the season, man of the match surely has to go to the young Will Furlong who rode three horses in the OI U21’s section to take 1st, 2nd & 4th, and looked to be jumping for fun on the lovely grey, Pioneer Silvie. It’s great to see the boys giving the girls a run for their money in this age group, which is largely dominated by the fairer sex.
Millie Dumas is another young rider making a name for herself, and someone I had been looking forward to watching. Sunday was full of mixed blessings for Millie with a fall from The Duke Of Cavan when he chested a bounce fence, although she made amends with good results from her other two rides. I was also impressed with the way ‘The Duke’ stood waiting for Millie to get back on her feet, and then just casually walked over to me to be held whilst Millie dusted herself off!
The opening class of the day was was a pony trial, which was just as well as I was beginning to question why so many of these horses were so small, but they were nimble and quick! So quick that a handful of the field managed to pick up time faults for going too fast, amazing considering the terrain.
Later in the day, The course was awash with new and old Advanced horses getting themselves tuned up for the season. Mary King won the big class of the day on Imperial Cavalier, and at one point had daughter Emily hot on her heels behind her on course, just the type of thing commentators dream of. Mary always looks as if she’s having fun on cross country, and rode the very striking King Joules into a top ten place. It was good weekend for the King family with Emily taking the ON U18’s.
Paul Tapner had five rides at Aldon over the weekend, three finishing in the minor placings, including the very handy looking Pioneer Milly, who I’ve seen blast blast me on the gallops before, and looks to become a seriously nice advanced horse over the coming years.
Pippa Funnel has always been one of my favourite riders to watch cross country, and also came armed with five rides. Or Noir De La Loge ‘pinged’ round the cross country finishing double clear, looking a picture of health and fitness. The powerful looking Redesigned also ran at Aldon with a clear sheet cross country.
Harry Meade made a welcome return to competition after breaking both elbows in a fall last year, and didn’t waste anytime getting match practice with 4 rides, including his advanced ride Wild Lone.
Here’s a few photos of horses I’m keen to see again this season: