The One to Watch

In the run up to the 2017 Longines Royal International Horse Show, Hickstead Press Officer Victoria Goff caught up with Amlin Plus Eventers' Challenge winner Esib Power.  


Some riders may baulk at Hickstead’s famous Derby obstacles – the 10ft 6in slope of the bank, the double of ditches, the Devil’s Dyke with its downhill drop then uphill climb. But that sort of jump holds no fear for event rider Elizabeth ‘Esib’ Power, who has competed at Badminton and Burghley and ridden at the European Championships. Instead, it was the towering height of the Derby fences that made her most nervous. “Last year when I was walking the Derby course, all the showjumpers were looking at the permanent fences, but I knew my horse wouldn’t look twice at them, I was just nervous about jumping 1.60m!” she laughs.

What gave her confidence was that her horse, Doonaveeragh O One, had already jumped round the famous course two years previously. On his Derby debut in 2014 he was ridden by Esib’s brother, jockey Robbie Power, who finished 16th with 20 faults. Two years later, he was back, this time with Esib in the plate. “I decided during the winter that I wanted to jump the Derby, and I told lots of people so I couldn’t back out of it!” she says. “But when I walked the Derby Trial course on the Friday I started to think I must have been insane. The other riders were laughing at me and asking why I was nervous, since I’ve jumped round Badminton – they kept telling me at least showjumps fall down if you hit them!” 

But the pair qualified for Sunday’s Derby, and when the big class came round Esib need not have worried, with the pair jumping round for just 12 faults to finish a very respectable joint tenth. In doing so, Esib became the first event rider this century to complete Hickstead’s most fearsome course. “I probably wouldn’t do the Derby on any other horse, but I have so much trust and faith in ‘Tommy’, and I know he’d never let me down,” she says.

They came back last month to jump in the Al Shira’aa Derby again, and once more they were impressive, finishing on 9 faults – with the double of water ditches catching them out thanks to the lightest of touches, and a stumbling descent down the bank meaning they couldn’t manage the rails at the bottom.

It is a unique situation – one horse, two siblings from two different disciplines, both returning to their showjumping roots to pick up two of Hickstead’s most coveted titles between them, and not forgetting a Hickstead Derby completion apiece. Doonaveeragh O One made his Hickstead debut in 2011 with Esib, finishing 10th in what was then the Amlin Plus Eventing Grand Prix. Until that point he’d been eventing up to three-star level before suffering a tendon injury, when Esib realised he wouldn’t stand up to the demands of galloping cross-country. Fortunately, he’d always been a very careful showjumper so a new career path lay ahead.

Robbie had asked to ride Tommy in the following year’s Eventing Grand Prix, and Esib readily agreed – providing her brother did all the lengthy rehabilitation work in bringing the horse back to fitness following his injury. With less going on in National Hunt racing in Ireland during the summer months, Robbie was able to put in the hours and make it to Hickstead, where he finished third behind Ireland’s Trevor Breen and Olympic event rider Andrew Nicholson.

Having had a taste of podium success at Hickstead, Robbie and Tommy came back the following year for the British Speed Derby. Whereas the Eventing Grand Prix saw eventers and showjumpers go head to head over a mix of coloured poles and fixed cross-country fences, the Speed Derby is open to showjumpers and includes several of Hickstead’s famous permanent obstacles, including the Devil’s Dyke, Road Crossing, the Irish Bank and the less steep side of the Derby Bank. With the course staying the same in the Speed Derby year on year, it is always incredibly fast and difficult to win. But Robbie, who won the Grand National in 2007, was determined to take the title. “I'm very competitive and love to win - so it doesn't matter whether it's racing or showjumping here on the big stage at Hickstead,” he said at the time.

In 2015, the year after Robbie’s Derby attempt, Esib was back in the saddle for the new format Amlin Plus Eventers’ Challenge. This time she scored the fastest round of the day, but one fence down saw her finish second behind Andrew Nicholson. Last summer, having recently jumped round the Derby course and knowing the horse was more than capable of winning in the International Arena, Esib and Doonaveeragh O One returned to Hickstead for another crack at the Eventers’ Challenge. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go as quick this year, but then Tim Price put up a really fast round and it became very serious all of a sudden!” she said. “Although it’s a long drive over from Ireland to do one class, it’s too good a competition to not do. I knew there was a win in him, and when you have horse like him it’s crazy not to do it as he won’t be around forever. I have to capitalise on him now while I still can.”

The pair then proved their supremacy in arena eventing competitions when they were invited to the Stockholm International Horse Show a few months after their Hickstead win. They duly took the title – winning a tractor in the process!

Tommy is 16 years old this season, and Esib plans to bring him back to Hickstead this week for another crack at the MS Amlin Eventers’ Challenge. “He rocks up at Hickstead year in and year out and he goes into that arena not knowing if he’s going to be jumping 1.60m or galloping flat out round the Eventers’ Challenge. That’s what makes him so special, he’s so brave, talented and careful, and he just relishes the big arena.”

Having been round the Derby three times and improving on each attempt, Esib and Tommy are among the ones to watch in next year’s Al Shira’aa Derby. “Last year he came down the Bank a bit quick, but he jumped a super round. In my head, it should have been an eight fault round, we had the white palisade down but that was purely down to me not having been round the course before. This year I was both elated and frustrated with our round – we were so, so close.”

With Robbie and Esib’s mother a former international event rider, and their father Captain Con Power a mainstay of the Irish showjumping team, it is little surprise they turned out to be such multitalented equestrians. Both started out competing in showjumping as children, before Robbie moved to National Hunt racing and Esib began eventing, thanks to a talented pony she had in her youth.

After several years splitting her time between Ireland and a base in Wiltshire, Esib is based permanently in Co Meath and travels over to the UK for the bigger competitions. Last summer she finished third at both the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe and the Event Riders Masters series leg at Chatsworth, and at this year’s Chatsworth she finished seventh, all with the talented Soladoun. She now has three horses to campaign at the higher levels in eventing, several youngsters to bring on and Doonaveeragh O One to showjump. “I have to put the eventing first as I still see myself as an event rider who does a bit of showjumping and not the other way round,” she says. “I absolutely love eventing. I love the eventing family, it’s a great community with brilliant people involved.”

Despite Robbie and Esib both having enjoyed success at Hickstead, the pair have never been able to attend together. Asked if she’d given Robbie any advice when he first took on the ride on Tommy, Esib laughs. “As if he’d take it! He’s annoyingly talented when he comes back to showjumping.”

Ten years after his Grand National win, Robbie is enjoying a phenomenal season in National Hunt racing. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Irish Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup on Sizing John, and was leading jockey at both Aintree and Punchestown this year. “It’s amazing to see him doing so well.  As a family we know it hasn’t been easy and there’s certainly been some hard times,” says Esib. “Robbie proves that if you keep your head down and work hard then hopefully your time will come.”

Given the Power siblings’ amazing record competing at the All England Jumping Course, you might think Doonaveeragh O One is anyone’s ride, but the truth is far from that. A very sensitive character, only Robbie and Esib can tack him up or ride him. “It’s taken months for Tommy to allow my groom to put his bridle on him!” she explains. 

He may be quirky, but he’s also one of the most consistent and versatile horses we’ve seen at Hickstead in recent years. With two wins under his belt already, don’t be surprised to see him pick up a third, though whether that’s in the MS Amlin Eventers’ Challenge or the Al Shira’aa Derby remains to be seen. What’s more certain, however, is that Esib won’t be handing over the reins again any time soon.

This article was first published in July 2017


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