Winter Championships: Evening Gala in Hartpury Arena

The 2016 Blue Chip Winter Championships was held at Hartpury College from March 30 to April 3. Classes ranged from 0.85m Pony Junior competition to a 1.40m Grand Prix. The culmination of the championships was on Evening Gala Event, when the night began with the Kingsland Equestrian Junior Challenge and ended with the Blue Chip Grand Prix.

Doors opened at 6:20 p.m. with the Junior Challenge kicking off at 7 p.m. The stands were filled to capacity with spectators excited in the fun yet competitive atmosphere. Tickets were £8 which included a £5 Blue Chip Feed Voucher to be used at the championship and a Blue Chip Feed baseball cap.

The Kingsland Equestrian Junior Challenge was unlike any class that I had seen before. It was a mix of a pony jumper course and a Pony Club or Gymkhana games class. Riders began by navigating a course of – fences as quickly as possible, egged on by the announcer and crowd when they chose tight rollback options and raced to the finish. A groom held the pony while the rider dismounted, ran back to the middle of the arena, and went through an obstacle course consisting of an egg and spoon plank walk, wheelbarrow weaving, and stacking boxes in ascending order before running across the finish line. The junior riders were good sports, keeping the crowd entertained as they fought to keep the boxes in the wheelbarrow with their chin as they weaved through cones and knocked over their own box towers. In the end, the winner was a young rider on a spirited chestnut pony who raced to the top of the standings. They completed their victory gallop in a Kingsland cooler, followed by the other entrees who were all considered winners in this fun class.

Next was a master class presented by Graham and Tina Fletcher about producing horses for competition. The Fletchers are international level show jumpers with Tina representing Great Britain in competitions such as the World Equestrian Games. Three horses were presented, beginning with a young and relatively inexperienced Warmblood gelding. Graham narrated as the rider navigated a set of four bounces designed to make the horse aware and balanced. Next they rode a bending line on a related distance of 6 strides. By changing the canter and distance to the in- element, the stride inside was ridden as five-, six-, seven-, and eight-strides. The second horse and rider were more experienced and practiced building a correct canter and looking away on approach to the jump once a stride was set. Both the Fletchers and the audience were impressed when he was able to look away seven-strides before the fence! Last was a competitor in the Grand Prix on a young horse. They rode through a combination of four fences set one-stride apart beginning with an oxer followed by three verticals. Graham noted that he liked the oxer in to bring them in on a more open stride, followed by the verticals to teach them to bring their balance over their hindquarters to clear the fences. At first the young horse jumped over his shoulder which made the Fletchers roll out the groundlines farther. As the horse progressed he jumped up and around the verticals rather than at them, and the line ended with the final fence set at the top of the standards.

Following the master class, the arena was dragged and the course set for the 1.40m Grand Prix, with 40 entries in the class after 44 qualified. It began with an oxer by the in-gate on a bending line to a vertical, around the corner to a oxer to vertical four- or five-stride line on the diagonal. Then riders jumped an oxer away from the in-gate into the corner followed by an oxer-vertical-vertical combination with three strides to another oxer. Next was an oxer, then a two-stride vertical to oxer combination, followed by a bending line to a tall plank. Riders then rolled back to a solid wall-like vertical and rode a bending line to the final oxer. There were many rounds with multiple rails down, with a few riders choosing to retire rather than complete the course. Eleven ended up in the jump-off, including the combination that won in 2015 who were going for the £1,000 bonus. The modified jump-off course offered multiple options for shorter turns and places to open up the stride to save time. A few went double-clear on slower times, but the riders who were shooting for the win attempted a very tight rollback turn to a double of verticals. This turn caught the previous winner when his horse was off to the right and refused the out element, resulting in a fall and elimination.

The 2016 Blue Chip Grand Prix was won by Jay Halim and Bart IV who mastered the tight rollback and raced the clock for an exciting win!

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