HUNT END’S Nicki Sharp is celebrating after her horse Cristal Clear VII – ridden by Stoke Prior’s Sarah Hedges – claimed a superb seventh place in the Speedi-Beet Grade C Championship at the prestigious Horse of the Year Show at Birmingham’s NEC.
Such a great result at this national showjumping level is of even greater delight for Sharp, as 12 months ago their dreams of having a horse competing at HOYS were dashed when the same horse was forced to pull out of the 2013 event at the last minute due to injury.
The efforts of the team are not to be underestimated, as their finishing position saw them beat some of the UK’s top international riders including Tim Stockdale, William Funnell and Billy Twomey, who is Ireland’s top ranking showjumper.
Speaking to the Standard, an elated Sharp said: “Cristal competing at HOYS and her success is a dream come true for me!
“I watched HOYS as a child and have ridden horses all my life, but I never dreamed that I would own a horse capable of qualifying for HOYS.
“I bought Cristal, a grey Holstein mare who is now eight years old, in February 2013 and Sarah has been jumping her since then. We didn’t expect her to be as good as she is, and this is down to her natural talent, together with Sarah’s great skill and experience.
“The pair qualified for HOYS last year but we had to withdraw Cristal when she was injured just before the show which was heartbreaking!
“Cristal is still young for a showjumper and we hope that she will continue to progress with Sarah.”
The success continued for Hedges and Cristal on Sunday when they won a Blue Chip Dynamic B&C qualifier class at Markfield Equestrian Centre in Leicestershire, which means they will jump at the Blue Chip Championship 2015 at Hartpury Arena in Gloucestershire.
Hedges is the owner of Stoke Prior’s Whitford Riding Stables – established in 1964 and the longest running riding school in Worcestershire – and has plenty of equestrian tradition having showjumped at HOYS before, around 15 years ago.
Sharp added: “Nic, my partner, and I own three other horses at Whitford Stables besides Cristal.
“Nic and I compete locally at dressage and we love doing that and take great enjoyment from it, but Sarah’s efforts are on a different scale.
“I could never dream of riding at her level, so being owner of such a talented horse and in partnership with such a fine rider is the next best thing for me.
“We are just so thrilled by all of this and it’s really given us the taste for more success. None of this is about making money, it’s all about the love of horses and the sport in general.”
Cristal Clear VII qualified for HOYS thanks to her efforts at the Cheshire County Show and she has continued to do well at county shows throughout the year, jumping heights ranging from 1.30m to 1.40m.
In Birmingham, Cristal and Hedges enjoyed a clear first round with no faults, which put them through to the jump-off where horses and riders are also racing against the clock.
Knocking just one pole down – equalling four faults – they clocked 42.75 seconds as Cristal competed at a height of 1.45m.
Such efforts have inspired the team and Sharp added: “We really do have high hopes for Cristal and Sarah. It’s always hard to predict what the future may hold, but we certainly have belief we can keep performing like this and potentially even better in the future.”
Owner Nicki Sharp with Cristal in the warm-up area. (s)