BELSAY Castle provided a stunning backdrop to the first Belsay Horse Trials last weekend and organisers have been overwhelmed by the positive response from competitors, sponsors, trade stands and the public alike.
Around 4,000 people attended the event over Saturday and Sunday to watch just under 500 equestrian competitors, including Olympic silver medallist Nicola Wilson, take part in dressage, show jumping and cross country.
There were no rosettes for Nicola this time, however.
James Sommerville from Yorkshire was the leading rider over the two days with wins in the Shivers Equine BE100 Section F (Chilli Chap) on Saturday and the Rebels of Sweden Novice Section H on Sunday (Arko BB, a ride he has, in fact, just taken over from Nicola Wilson).
Ronald Alexander’s course, built over the last six months by Nick de Silva and Peter Spong in some pretty difficult weather conditions, was big and bold but very fair.
The beautiful undulating Grade 1 Heritage parkland that surrounds Belsay Castle proved challenging to some of the less fit horses and the Lycett’s Launch drop at 15b caught out a few unbalanced riders, but there were no major bogey fences.
The most senior class of the weekend, the Intermediate Novice Section M, sponsored by Samuel Philips, was won by Fred Scala on Kiltealy Rhodes, owned by Ramscove Ltd with James Adams coming second on Helen Bell’s Cuffesgrange Harleking, his third event on this horse.
Meanwhile, another Yorkshire rider, Katie Hardisty, was delighted with her win on Croft Farm Percy in the Novice Regional Final Section L, supported by lead sponsor Bond Dickinson.
Katie qualifies for the National Novice Final at Gatcombe in August alongside second and third-placed riders Helen Robinson on Towneley Magic Tricks, who made the four-hour trip from Lancashire, and Laura Swinnerton on Scorcha II.
Some Northumbrian riders did well on their home turf.
Mark Jackson from Meldon, near Morpeth, won the Ward Hadaway BE90 Section C on Rathvara on Saturday, while on Sunday he picked up the Auchendinny Carnegie Trophy (presented by Mrs Pat Collison) for the Highest Placed Northumbrian Rider in the Novice Classes.
Sunday’s Novice U18 Class, sponsored by Queen Margaret’s School, York, also saw success for local riders.
Ex-pony team member Phillipa Hill, from Thirsk, won the class on DHI Ricanga, but second was Sophie Dodds from Hexham on Be Touchable. Adam Gillespie from Newston, Stocksfield, was fifth on Culmore Edition, with Pip Nixon from Little Whittington, Corbridge, sixth on Dunloughan Whirlwind and Susie White, also from the Tyne Valley, seventh on Heaven Eyes.
Both this year’s and last year’s National U18 champions, Sophie Beatty and Isabella Innes-Kerr are educated at Queen Margaret’s and a number of the school’s current pupils competed at Belsay, including Delilah de Wesselow, daughter of Peter and Laura de Wesselow who co-organised Belsay Horse Trials.
Northumberland’s leading prep school, Mowden Hall, was also involved in the event, sponsoring the BE90 Section A on Saturday.
Several Mowden alumni, past and present, competed in the class including Orlando Bridgeman from Alnwick, in his first BE event on his pony Ros Rynn Og.
Another prominent Northumbrian, Dame Margaret Barbour, presented the prizes for the BE90 Section B, sponsored by Barbour and won by Kate Sanderson, a Morpeth pony club member, on her pony Cefncoch Crusader.
One yard from Everingham, near Pocklington in Yorkshire, was particularly pleased to have made the journey to Belsay.
All three horse-and-rider combinations were placed in their sections: Harriet Morris-Baumber riding Wikefield Valhalla was fourth in the Brewin Dolphin Novice Section I – it’s only the horse’s second year eventing having graduated from pure dressage; Natalie Hardstaff was sixth on Robin IV in the Ford Parts BE100 Section O, while on Saturday Georgia Dukes took eighth on Shannondale Skatman in the Lycett’s BE100 Open Section G.
Rachel Bluemen, owner of Wikefield Valhalla said: “Eventing is a fairly new sport for me but everything about Belsay impressed – the stunning setting, the happy atmosphere, the incredibly well-organised and welcoming team running it, who had obviously worked so hard.
“The whole thing just felt different – like a mini-Blair or Chatsworth. We had a fantastic weekend and cannot wait to come back again next year.”
The event attracted sponsorship from some of Newcastle’s biggest companies including Bond Dickinson, Barbour, Brewin Dolphin, Ryecroft Glenton, Lycetts, Ward Hadaway, Metnor Group, Benfield, Foster Maddison and Jobling Purser, all of whom were delighted with the experience.
Simon Kirkup of Bond Dickinson, lead sponsor, said: “We were really pleased with our sponsorship.
“Belsay is a beautiful place and the organisers and course builders made the most of the setting. It was well run, well marketed and the hospitality tent had a fantastic atmosphere.
“I am sure this is an event with a great future.”
Lots of local businesses also supported the event, and many of the smaller sponsors also competed in the event, including wildlife artist Mary Ann Rogers, who was the first competitor to jump the cross-country course on Saturday.
Laura de Wesselow, who represents the current generation of Middleton family who have lived at Belsay for more than 700 years, was delighted with the response to the event.
She said: “It is amazing – we have had such good feedback from so many people – the sponsors, the trade stands, the competitors and people who came to watch.
“To have had that many visitors to a horse trials at this level is quite an achievement. We worked closely with English Heritage and I know that their members were delighted to see something like this at Belsay.
“I believe we have something really special to build on here at Belsay and I cannot wait to start building the Intermediate course for 2014.”
Tony Walton, a Trustee of The Belsay Trust, which is responsible for the upkeep of the Parkland at Belsay, said: “We look forward to the event getting bigger and better in future years.”