There’s nothing like cross-country Saturday at Bramham and after three years away, a large and expectant crowd gathered to watch three competitions featuring some of the world’s best horses and riders.

Ros and her rising star reap rewards

A busy day of cross-country was brought to a thrilling climax in the Land Rover CCI4*-S. Overnight leaders Ros Canter and Izilot DHI, owned by Ros and Alex Moody, proved untouchable. Early in the morning, over Di Boddy’s showjumping test, they stopped the clock a single second over the time to add 0.4 of a penalty to their dressage of 23.5. Second-placed Alex Hua Tian and Jilsonne van Bareelhof lowered a fence and added 2.8 time penalties, which put them out of contention for a top placing, while Oliver Townend produced a lovely clear with Paul Ridgeon’s Cooley Rosalent to move up into the runner-up slot. Piggy March also rose with Alison Swinburn and John and Chloe Perry’s Brookfield Quality, thanks to just 0.4 of a time penalty.

Oliver was the first of the top contenders on course and the beautiful grey mare belied her youth, looking totally at home in Bramham Park’s terrain to purr around clear and finish on her dressage score of 26.6. That put early pressure on the two-phase leader Ros Canter, who was the only person who could go ahead of Oliver.

Piggy and ‘Norris’ had a great round that will have given the horse a great deal of confidence. The jumping was faultess and they stopped the clock on a time of 6.42 – 10 seconds over the optimum time for four penalties and final score, 31.3, which secured third place at worst.

It was down to Ros and she knew what score she had to beat – she could exceed the time by six seconds and no more to take the Land Rover silver salver and £2,000 prize money. ‘Isaac’ is renowned for being a talented but quirky horse, so Ros had to produce a special round. However, she’s a rider who can pull off just that when it matters most, and what a ride she gave this promising young horse. They cruised round but, as Isaac pulled up the final hill, the time was ticking – it was going to be close. They jumped the last, the Goodbye Flys Finale, and pushed to the finish line – three seconds over, and the title was theirs.

“I am [feeling relieved about today] because Isaac can sometimes go in different directions to where the course is supposed to lead you!” laughed Ros after her round. “He can also win, like he’s done today, but he can also lose, so it was a relief to come through the finish and know he’d enjoyed the experience so much. He’s a nervous horse – brave as a lion at the jumps, there’s never any doubt about him jumping a ditch or his scope – but there’s a lot going on in his brain and he’s been nervous all the way through his life, so it’s important that, when I do go fast, he comes away having had a nice experience and I think he did today.

“I think it [the course] suited him. I think he would have gone round the long format today. He is such a brave jumper that the ditches and big fences don’t bother him at all, it’s more if there’s a decoration we’ve got to go round or something that takes his concentration or makes him a bit spooky that we tend to have our problems, but he’s getting better and better. I’ve had help from all sorts of people. Chris Bartle’s been massively influential in getting me to ride him slightly differently, Caroline Moore, everyone’s put hours into helping me, Ian Woodhead, Amy Woodhead, I’ve had people help me ride him on the flat when he’s been naughty – so it’s been a big team effort. It’s nice that he’s done it in Yorkshire, too, because a lot of those people are Yorkshire-based.”

Huddersfield-born Oliver will take his young mare home with a sense of achievement; “She’s probably as good as we’ve got, if not as good as we’ve had. She’s only seven still and she was very good. She’s still a baby – she’s a baby with the flags and the people, even trees blowing – but if you get the fence in front of her and you show the way, she’ll jump it. It’s been an unbelievable experience for her and she’ll come on for the run. I couldn’t be happier with the way she’s gone,” he said.

Piggy was another rider who was pleased with her charge; “I had a few bridle issues at Houghton two weeks ago, so I dropped him from the long to the short here. All was fine today, we didn’t have any moments at all, he was beautiful and I’m very proud. I was very pleased with him, a third rosette in that class and that company is cool. He’s a great jumping horse and I’ll be interested to see where this journey goes with him,” she explained.

She also had praise for the course and its designer; “It was a quality track, a really lovely track and we’re all totally behind Ian [Stark] and his courses. It was a mixed day and we’ve had a few years off with Covid, and many horses won’t have experienced the ditches and terrain at decent competition or preparation they’d normally get to this level. The track was absolutely brilliant, there wasn’t one fence that shouldn’t have been there and they made all the right reasons throughout the day,” she added.

A birthday to remember for Izzy Taylor

In the CCI4*-L, there’s a new name heading the leaderboard and it’s that of birthday girl Izzy Taylor riding Monkeying Around. Today across the country, the horse didn’t live up to his cheeky name and instead was a picture of focus, carefully listening to his pilot for an incident-free round. Riding for Marc Sartori, Izzy stopped the clock on 10.34 to add 1.2 time penalties, which was good enough for the early lead.

Izzy was clearly delighted with her partner; “He was fantastic, I’m really proud and pleased with him. He had to dig deep and help me out, but that’s what cross-county is – we have to help each other out. He was very, very good. He’s 11 now, and seen a little more of life and gets what the aim is. It was good for him – it’s a big track here with lots of ditches, and he did have to look to me a bit and that probably helped him.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete and he could do anything he chose to. He’s scopey, he can turn himself inside out if he needs to, there’s nothing he can’t do. He’s like a talented child who’s never had to try very hard and then when they do, they don’t like it. He’s realised he can and enjoys it. He got better and better, which was great – I’m really pleased with his mentality, he believes now that he can do it. I’m so proud of him.”

Dressage leaders Piggy March and Coolparks Sarco, owned by James and Jo Lambert, who carried the expectations of Yorkshire on their backs because Piggy was deputising for local rider Nicola Wilson, didn’t have the fairytale ride they hoped for, after an unlucky glance off at the B element of fence 19, the Speedi-Beat Double Feat.

Shortly after, Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel put up one of the rounds of the class for owners Kate James and Annie Makin, stopping the clock on 10.24 to finish seven seconds under the time, one of only seven combinations to do so. This was enough to secure second place behind Izzy.

“She’s very, very cool – she gets cooler as she gets older,” said a very pleased Ros. “She loved it today. I thought she’d like Bramham because every time she sees a hill, she pricks her ears a little bit more and gallops a bit faster. She came up here [Fence 22, Land Rover Above and Beyond] like a bat out of hell – she’s just like, ‘I’ll take that challenge on’, and off she goes. I thought if I could make the time on anyone, I’d make the time on her because I knew she’d go the distance.

“She’s just getting more and more rideable to a fence, she’s feeling scopier than she ever did. We’ve had her since she was a three-year-old but, funnily enough, we’ve had bumps along the road in our relationship – she’s gone from being really easy, then getting a bit buzzed by the atmosphere and being a bit trickier and stronger. I think this year we’ve just found a balance and I’m really enjoying it. She’s small and unassuming, she doesn’t stand out from the crowd, but she’s a gutsy little thing.”

Day one dressage leaders Thomas Carlile and Darmagnac de Beliard find themselves back on the podium in third, as they clocked up just 1.6 time penalties to finish on 30.9 in total.

A total of 2.8 time penalties from Kirsty Chabert and Opposition Loire, who she jointly owns with The Daisy Chain, was good enough to retain fourth spot, while Japan’s Toshiyuki Tanaka climbed 10 placings up the leaderboard from his dressage position with Swiper JRA, owned by the Japanese Equestrian Federation and Riding Club Crane, with an expertly judged round ridden clear inside the time.

Phoebe powers to the top of the leaderboard

In the British Horse Feeds U25 CCI4*-L, there’s also a new leader in British rider Phoebe Locke, who rode a fantastic clear with John Dean’s Bellagio Declaynge. Phoebe, who’s carrying a knee injury, and the Tinka’s Boy sired 11-year-old were second after the dressage, but seized the opportunity afforded to them when leaders Alex Holman and Carrick Diamond Bard, owned by Alex and Janet Coe, amassed 2.4 time penalties on their otherwise faultless round.

Phoebe has two French riders hot on her heels in the shape of Morgane Euriat and Heloise Le Guern, following two rounds which epitomised the flair and style we associate with that county’s riders. Morgane finished just one second over the time to add 0.4 to her total with Baccarat D Argonne, which gave them second spot, while compatriot Heloise, riding Canakine du Sudre Z was faultess for third place.

Alex drops to fourth on a total of 32.4, while fellow Brit Greta Mason makes a move into the top five for the first time with Sarah Winfrey’s Cooley for Sure, the reward for finishing on their dressage score of 34.1.

Phoebe (22) is based in Wotton Bassett, Wiltshire at a yard she took on in March, where she has nine horses, and today’s performance was everything she’d hoped. “I had a really good ride today. I had a hairy moment through the water where I had no stirrups, but I managed to keep going! I managed to get to the ‘D’ element, then collected him up as I went up the hill. I’ve been riding with one leg really because I’ve done my ACL ligament [in my knee] and I fell of at Houghton and had concussion, so I’ve had to jump through a few hoops to get here, but it’s always been my aim to come here. I’m really happy that the hard work to get here has paid off,” she explained.

“The course rode really well, actually – I think Ian Stark always rewards attacking riding. The water was my fault and the rest rode really well – it was a ‘get out there and attack it’, which I really wanted to do. I had my plan to watch a few good people and stick to my guns. I know my horse and I just rode what was underneath me. I was really happy with how he finished. He found Bicton quite hard, I probably didn’t get him quite fit enough, but this year he’s fitter and he finished really nicely.”

Two horses put down

Sadly, two horses had to be put down due to injuries sustained during today’s cross country phase. For the full statements, please click here. The Bramham Team extend their deepest sympathy to the connections of the horses at this difficult time.

Tomorrow’s competition

Sunday morning starts with the crucial final horse inspection in front of the house from 08.30, where the HiHo Silver best dressed rider and British Horse Feeds best turned-out horse will be decided, with the jumping getting underway for the U25s at around 10.00.

Full start times and results – click here.