Showing winners dazzle at Hickstead

Former racehorse Awesome Freddie shines in the show ring, plus read our round up of the showing classes at the Al Shira'aa Hickstead Derby Meeting. 

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Samantha Wallin and Awesome Freddie were crowned champions in Hickstead’s Longines International Arena on Sunday, winning the Retraining of Racehorses Tattersalls Thoroughbred Show Series Championship.

The pair were chosen by a judging panel that included legendary trainer Sir Mark Prescott, and they saw off competition from several star racehorses, including Grandeur and Annacotty.

Awesome Freddie, a 14-year-old gelding, won twice under rules during his racing career. He was trained by Dan Skelton – who is the son of Olympic showjumper and Hickstead regular Nick Skelton. But Awesome Freddie was never going to quite live up to his name as a racehorse, so a change of job beckoned.

Fortunately, when Wallin came across him, she immediately spotted his potential – and in doing so, Awesome Freddie found his calling.

“He’s not easy – he’s very, very tricky. He wouldn’t be a happy hacker, so there’s no other job for him. He’s quite naughty, really. He’s very lucky these classes are on, because they’re perfect for him,” says Wallin.

“We’ve been showing him for three years now, and it’s taken him all this time to come right. But he loves it here – he’s been placed at the Longines Royal International Horse Show in the hunter classes. I knew he’d love this show, too.”

Awesome Freddie’s win is made even more poignant by the fact that he nearly died in November, after undergoing a hernia operation. He then spent a period of time recovering on a drip.

“It was very touch-and-go for a while - he was very nearly dead,” Wallin says. “I can’t believe he’s come back so well. We’ve taken it slowly with him, and he hasn’t done much this year – but he was actually supposed to have six months off, so we’ve gone quickly enough with him. But he’s well.”

The Retraining of Racehorses classes are one of several initiatives designed to create a second career for horses coming off the track. In Awesome Freddie’s case, he remains supported by Gwen Meacham, who bred him and owned him throughout his career. Meacham then gave the horse to Wallin, who she connected with via showing and dressage star Louise Bell.

“It’s lovely that the owner was here today; she comes to the shows and still loves it,” says Wallin, who enjoyed her first win in the Longines International Arena today. “Just to get through and ride around in the main arena is amazing – the atmosphere is electric. It’s just completely phenomenal; it really takes your breath away. Everything is done brilliantly here.”

Valhalla blooms at Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby

Doncaster’s Polly Coles decisively broke her Hickstead curse, winning the Alltech Supreme Hunter Championship with Bloomfield Valhalla.

“We’ve always had a good time here, but as a kid I hated it – I fell off every time,” says Coles. “It’s the only show I ever get nervous at. But everyone wants to go into that ring – and to be able to win in there and gallop around it is surreal. It’s a part of history.”

Coles has been steadily building up a string of accolades with the seven-year-old gelding, whom she bought from top show producer Jayne Ross last year. Since then, he’s been crowned champion at Cheshire and Devon, among others, and has qualified for the Horse of the Year Show. He was also crowned the National Hunter Champion in his showing debut with Coles. But as well as being a recurrent prize-winner, he’s also very much a part of the family.

“He’s very cheeky, and he just loves to have a nice time,” says Coles with a smile. “His world revolves around polos. He’s lovely to ride; he’s a proper horse that will take you over the country.”

Although Coles has been attending Hickstead’s Longines Royal International Horse Show since childhood, this is her first time competing at the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting. And that longstanding curse? “I think we’ve broken it now – although I might need a vodka before I go in there again!” she added.

Father-son victory at Hickstead

The Diss-based showing dynasty did a father-son double. 

While family patriarch Allister Hood took the spoils in Friday’s Supreme Cob Championship (read his remarkable story here), it was son Oliver who would triumph in the I.C.E. Horseboxes Supreme Coloured Horse Ridden Championship. He rode Lisha Leeman’s Kellythorpes Master Key to the top spot – his second in as many years.

“He came to us as a five-year-old, and he’s really improved and stepped up this year,” says Hood. “To be champion two years in a row is great. The year before last, too, he went to the Royal International and was Supreme.”

Kellythorpes Master Key has become something of a Hickstead specialist, but he still remains one of the best-loved horses on the Hoods’ yard. “It’s funny, he always seems to come alive at Hickstead. He loves it,” explains Hood. “He’s a really great character, and everyone gets to ride him on the yard. He’s brilliant.”

Jayne Ross takes treble 

Showing supremo Jayne Ross made it a hat-trick of wins in the Longines International Arena.

The prolific producer claimed the top spot in the Alltech Supreme Riding Horse Championship riding Casino, the Alltech Small Show Hunter Championship with Church Rock Cashel, and the Alltech Supreme Hack Championship with Forgelands Hyde Park.

The Stokenchurch-based rider is no stranger to the main arena at Hickstead, but despite her long and fruitful history with the venue, Ross insists that it never loses its magic.

“It is the best arena to ride in for any of us,” she says. “Us showing riders are very lucky to be allowed onto that hallowed turf, so I try to make the most of it every time I’m in there. It’s great fun.”

She certainly made the most of it this week. Two of her winners – Casino and Forgelands Hyde Park – are making their mark as consistently successful members of her string.

“Forgelands Hyde Park won at the Longines Royal International Horse Show last year, so he’s been in this atmosphere before,” says Ross. “He’s very mannerly, and he’s also quite a showman, so he really enjoyed the sun and the crowds.”

Casino, she explains, has several years’ worth of class wins at the Horse of the Year Show and the Royal International, but this is actually her first championship win. “She’s been reserve two or three times – she’s always the bridesmaid, so it’s lovely for her to finally get top spot this time,” she added.

But her Small Show Hunter Champion, Church Rock Cashel, is a newcomer to the West Sussex venue.

“He’s only a young horse – just a six-year-old – and it’s his first visit to Hickstead. He loved it, so now he’ll be back for the Royal International,” says Ross. “It can go one of two ways when a young horse gets into this arena. They can be overawed by it, and become a recluse, and then you need to help them along – or they can play to the crowd, which is what this horse did.”

For more showing results, click here. 

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