A winning debut

Chloe Winchester, winner of the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 2015, chats to Victoria Spicer about her winning debut at Hickstead

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The Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup is one of Hickstead’s showcase events, a prestigious national championship open to the highest-ranked riders in Great Britain. Previously restricted to female riders only, it was opened up to male riders in 2008. But still, many of the names of Britain and Ireland’s best women riders are etched into the historic trophy – and last year, a fast rising star joined their ranks.

At last year’s Longines Royal International Horse Show, Chloe Winchester was just 21 and making her Hickstead international debut.  On that basis, she might have been considered one of the outsiders – but those in the know ranked her chances much more highly, as Chloe had won the Area/International points league in 2014 and had proved she had both the talent and consistency needed to win. “I went there with the aim of winning after coming top of the Area trials, which had allowed me to qualify for the class,” explains Chloe, who is a World Class Podium Potential rider. “My plan for the jump off was to get a clear round – but once I got going, I was there to win.”

Six riders went through to the second round, with Chloe the penultimate rider to go. Both Tina Fletcher and Kerry Brennan had achieved clears, while Trevor Breen and Timothy Davies both faulted. Then Chloe went clear in 49.57sec, a time so quick that even last to go Phillip Miller and the former Hickstead Derby winner Caritiar Z were some three seconds slower.

“I didn’t see anyone else go,” says Chloe. “Someone watching and told me how many strides the others were doing on the turn to the double, and I went one less. I knew Phillip was after me so didn’t want to give him too much room. Every turn was so smooth, she gave me 100 percent – I just kept thinking ‘don’t take a pull and keep kicking’.”

In terms of winning debuts, it was pretty impressive, with Chloe also picking up the trophies for the highest-placed lady rider and the best under-25. “We jumped here at Hickstead at the All England Jumping Championships, but nothing like this. It’s such a prestigious show and a very well-known class, plus it was Ladies’ day so there was a really good atmosphere. It was very exciting trotting into the arena and seeing all the crowds.”

Her win in the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup came courtesy of Avoca Valkyrie, a now 13-year-old bay mare. But while she has all the pace and scope you could want in a showjumper, she originally came from an eventing yard in Ireland. “She was rising nine when I got her, and she’d jumped up to 1.30m level,” Chloe explains. “We bought her, thinking she’d take me up to 1.40m level, but we never realised she’d be as good as she is. She keeps improving and getting better with age.” So what are her strengths? “She’s so clever and brave, and she wants to please. She’s pretty excitable but she knows her job, and she loves big rings.” Her stable name is Twiggy, and she was named after the 60s model. “From a young age, she was all legs,” Chloe laughs. “She’s a complete diva, she wants you to know how important she is.”

Soon after their Hickstead victory, Chloe and Avoca Valkyrie were off to the Young Rider European Championships in Wiener Neustadt. “We won the Queen’s Cup on the Saturday and by Wednesday we were off to Austria,” says Chloe, who was selected for the team alongside Chloe Aston, Jake Saywell and Emma O’Dwyer. In the team competition, the pair had just four faults in the first round and went clear in the second. Belgium had secured gold, with Great Britain, Germany and Ireland all finishing on eight faults, meaning a three-way jump-off for the silver and bronze medals. While Chloe jumped clear again, along with Jake and Chloe Aston, the final rider Emma O’Dwyer had to go for broke to beat the time and unfortunately lowered a rail, meaning the Brits finished fourth.

In the individual final, Chloe and Avoca Valkyrie continued to impress, just missing out on the medals again in fourth place by 0.4pen. “It was a little bit disappointing not to get a medal, but if someone had said to me at the beginning of the competition we’d have been coming home with two fourth places, I’d have definitely taken that.”

The pair continued to shine that season, concluding the year with a win in the Dodson & Horrell and The World Class Programme U23 British Championships at Olympia. “You couldn’t have two more opposite shows – Hickstead is big and open, while Olympia is held in the smallest of arenas, so it shows how versatile she is.”

Last year also saw her be selected for her first Senior Nation’s Cup team at Odense in Denmark, where the British team finished second, and she won the Young Rider Championship of Great Britain at HOYS. She was also invited to compete at the Equestrian.com Liverpool International Horse Show at the start of this year – and getting invited to take part in more international shows is something that has opened up to her following her win in the Queen’s Cup.

From there she spent several weeks competing at Cagnes-sur-Mer and Mâcon Chaintré in France, with a number of her other horses, picking up several wins and placings including a victory in a 1* Grand Prix. Now she is back in the UK and with her sights firmly set on selection for more senior FEI Nations Cup teams, as well as another crack at the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Chloe is based in Gislingham in Suffolk at her family-run yard, where she receives a lot of back up and support from her parents, Chris and Gilly. Both are horsey, and Chloe has ridden for as long as she can remember. “There is a picture of me on a Shetland pony when I was about two,” she says. “My Mum used to event up to Intermediate level, Dad did some eventing and point-to-pointing before we got into showjumping.” Chloe was a member of the Easton Harriers Pony Club, and grew up doing all Pony Club activities and some British Eventing. “I didn’t start jumping properly until I was in juniors,” she explains.  

Now she has about a dozen showjumpers at her yard, including Avoca Valkyrie, Zandokan H and Hasj VH Vliegenhof Z, a horse she describes as one to watch. “He’s got lots of scope, and he’s really careful.”

With a growing collection of horsepower, an incredible eye for a stride, and ambition to burn, Chloe Winchester is a name to note for this season. She’s one of a group of talented young female riders making waves in the world of international showjumping, alongside the likes of Jessica Mendoza, Yazmin Pinchen, Kerry Brennan and Chloe Aston.

But however dazzling a career Chloe will undoubtedly have in the future, Hickstead will remain the site of her first major win, the one that truly launched her into the public consciousness. “Last year was my best year to date, it was so special,” she says. “Now I just have to keep that going.”

This article first appeared in July 2016

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