*Opinion* H&H’s eventing editor’s thoughts on Bramham Horse Trials 2023

  • Horse & Hound’s eventing editor Pippa Roome on Bramham’s atmosphere, formats and cross-country feel

    If you’ve never been to Bramham Horse Trials, stop whatever you are doing and book for next year right now.

    Should the nation decide to give me a stately home for services to equine journalism, Bramham is the one I’d choose – no doubt it helps that the park is lushly green when we visit in June and gilded in sunshine. I don’t imagine the Lane Fox family would be too happy to hand it over, but I can dream…

    I love the event’s show atmosphere, with the second arena filled with everything from young event horses to showing and mounted games. The spectators were thick around the main arena for the showjumping grand prix on Sunday.

    Tom McEwen was among the riders to say that the team go above and beyond to make everything right for horses and riders. It’s easy to complain when events are substandard, so we should never take excellent conditions and helpful organisers for granted.

    Which class?

    A friend asked me how riders choose between the CCI4*-L (four-star long) and the CCI4*-S (four-star short). As we were watching competitors in each class do identical dressage tests, I can see it’s a confusing question.

    Historically, CCI4*-S was the one-day event version of the three-day event at CCI4*-L, but with many CCI4*-S actually running over several days and roads and tracks and steeplechase having disappeared from the long format, the sections now feel more similar.

    In simple terms, CCI4*-S serves two purposes. Firstly, it’s a step up, qualification platform towards CCI4*-L and gives horses an introduction to the level but over a shorter cross-country course (Bramham’s CCI4*-S had a 6min 42sec optimum time, versus 10min 20sec for the CCI4*-L). The top two in Bramham’s CCI4*-S, Cooley Snapchat and Flow 7, are nine-year-olds on their way up in the sport.

    Secondly, riders use it to give experienced horses a good run over a challenging enough but not overlong track, as preparation between five-stars – for example, Zara Tindall’s ride Class Affair, third at Bramham, was at his first event since Kentucky and will now be aimed at Burghley.

    Entries were down in the senior and under-25 CCI4*-Ls, but big in the CCI4*-S. The FEI has tightened qualifications this year and the wet spring means many riders have been unable to get long-format qualifications or didn’t feel their horse was ready for that challenge. Bramham’s cross-country tracks are always at the upper end of four-star and last year was particularly strong, which may have led to riders sensibly being cautious in their entries.

    The cross-country feel

    Stats rarely tell a full story and the feel of cross-country day can turn in a single moment. Combining the senior and under-25 sections at Bramham this year, 57% of horses jumped clear, 13% were inside the time and 71% finished.

    These numbers were virtually identical in 2022, but the eventing community left last year’s Bramham feeling bruised, with course-designer Ian Stark saying the sport was vulnerable and asking questions about future direction. Some serious incidents led to several holds, so it became an anxious and elongated day.

    I don’t think all those questions have evaporated and we should continue to discuss them, but this year’s Bramham cross-country had a much happier feel, while still being an influential track.

    Popular palomino

    What drives traffic on horseandhound.co.uk fascinates me and one thing’s for sure, a coloured horse is a winner. Stories about Louisa Milne Home’s palomino Bramham runner Future Plans (by the cremello stallion Crown’s Ace Of Pearls) and Jessica Phoenix’s skewbald four-star mount Fluorescent Adolescent (by the coloured sire Gaudy) have proved popular.

    On a similar quirky note, my fun fact for the week is the link between Belsay (report, p46) and Bramham. The Connemara who came second in Belsay’s national pony championships, Glencarrig Dolphin, is the sire of Felicity Collins’ ride Shadow Minnie Moon, fifth in Bramham’s under-25 championships.

    ● Who is your favourite unusual coloured event horse? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 15 June, 2023

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