The rain made an unwelcome return on Saturday morning but that wasn’t enough to put off the locals from a chance to watch some top flight cross country action at the Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials. And those that shrugged off the weather weren’t disappointed.

The buzz amongst the riders in the Equi-Trek CCI3* was that this was one of Ian Stark’s trickiest tests to date with the rain adding to the difficulty factor. It was a test of the bond between even the strongest partnership with a number of technical questions, challenging lines and accurate riding.

Second to go was last year’s victor, Andrew Nicholson with promising nine year old Byrnesgrove First Diamond, owned by Mary Channer and an athletic clear for just 2.8 time penalties showed that Ian’s course was possible. This gave them the honour of clubhouse leaders.

The first of our major challengers was day one dressage leader Jesse Campbell with his own Cleveland and they set off full of determination. They were going well but a big leap over the ditch at 17a, the Hollow made the distance to part b difficult and they ran past, dashing any hopes of victory.

The fifth placed combination after dressage, Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa with his own Calle 44 put in a classy round with just 2.4 time penalties which made them our new leaders.

It was then on to the overnight leaders, Gemma Tattersall with the Pebbles Syndicate’s Quicklook V. The pair are here chasing qualification for the European Championships…just to add that little extra bit of pressure. The pair made little of Ian’s course but for a slight waiver off line in the influential Equi-TrekR Roundhouse where they took the flag on the second corner. ‘Pebbles’ isn’t a full thoroughbred and the undulations of Bramham and Gemma said the conditions were testing for the mare. “She galloped as fast as her little legs could go,” she said. The clock stopped on 10.39, 16 seconds over the time allowed for 6.4 penalties, enough to overtake Yoshi.

A few horses later, the crowd’s interest was held by local star Nicola Wilson and Gerry & Mary Kemp and Janine Shewan’s One Two Many for their third trip round the park at Bramham. They finished sixth here last year and set off with a view to better that and laying 28th after dressage, they had their work cut out. The Chacoa sired gelding and Nicola then went on to put up the performance of the day – the only pairing to finish inside the optimum time on the CCI course and promoting them over 20 places up the leader board.

Sammi Birch from Australia loves Bramham and showed it once again today with a fantastic round with her own Hunter Valley – a fault free round was needed to overtake Gemma. They used the familiarity with the park well and put in a magnificent clear but 3.2 time penalties left them a fraction behind Gemma.

The final pair which could upset the leader board was Pippa Funnell and Sandman 7. The horse has been off after a crashing fall last season and Pippa has been working on building his confidence but a lack of ‘match practice’ caught them out at the tricky new ‘Spinney’ combination where he ran past the b element. Pippa didn’t want to upset him and calmly raised her hand to retire.

So it looked like Gemma had retained her place at the top…until a check of the leader board revealed that the fence judges at six felt that both of Quicklook’s shoulders hadn’t passed inside the flags and 50 penalties was awarded. The news soon got back to Gemma who was about to set off to walk the CIC course for her second ride and an objection was duly lodged. It was an agonising wait while the Bishop Burton College CCI u25s completed their rounds and the Ground Jury could then review the CCTV footage. After watching carefully, they all agreed that ‘Pebbles’ had jumped clear and the 50 was duly removed, leaving Gemma as the overnight leader.

Ian Stark’s course proved influential in the Bishop Burton College CCI3* u25 class with a real shake up of the top five.

Third placed Emily King was the first of the leading pack to set off was Emily King and Dargun and they started promisingly but picked up 20 penalties at the Woodhead Seeds Offset Rails at nine. The Devon rider wanted to give him a confident ride so continued on but then retired at the Bond Dickinson Pond at 20. Not their day but certainly ones to watch for the future.

East Sussex rider Will Furlong set off with his 2016 Hartpury CCI2* winner Collien P 2 looking like they meant business and were impressive, making light of every challenge, despite this being their first three star three day together. They passed through the finish flags to stop the clock on 10.25, agonisingly two seconds over the time for 0.8 penalties but this was good enough to promote them from sixth to first.

On to our dressage leader, Thibault Fournier with Siniani de Lathus who were going great guns until a misunderstanding at the Equi-Trek Roundhouse ejected Thibault out the side door, sadly meaning elimination. Next up was Gina Ruck for Britain with her horse of a lifetime, Rehy Too and they also impressed with a clear and ten time penalties to add to a dressage of 50.0 which too them from 14th to second.

Charlotte Bacon was another to impress with Last Touch who cruised round with just 2.4 time penalties to add to 59.8 dressage to give a British top three after the French dressage domination. However, Marie-Caroline Barbier gave the French fans much to cheer about with a clear and 18 time penalties raised her a place to fourth while dressage runner up Aurelien Leroy was also clear with Seashore Spring but steady to add 24.8 time.

At the end of the day Will said; I was a fraction disappointed with my dressage test, she was tense and lost a couple of marks. I’ve never been to Bramham before and was warned that the jumping is influential. It’s the mare’s first CCI*** and I had a fantastic round, there was some massive fences out there so  I was pleased to be just two seconds over the time. I had a hairy moment at the second water jump but she’s really gutsy and gave 100% today. The ground was really good and I was lucky that the rain eased for my round, I saw some slipping this morning so I put bigger studs in!

“She has a bit of a funny technique in the show jumping, she tends to go quite flat but she did jump clear at Hartpury. I’m lucky I’ve got over ten penalties in hand, I might need them!”

So for both sections, it’s all to play for in Sunday’s decisive show jumping test, subject to being passed fit in the final vet inspection. The Bishop Burton class is up first and Will is sitting pretty with an 11 point cushion over Gina but will he need it? A slight amend to the timetable means their jumping starts at 10:45 with prize giving at 11.45. The action then turns to the showcase Equi-Trek CCI3* at 1pm with the 2017 champion being crowned at 14.45. There’s less than a fence separating the top four so it’s tight; who will hold their nerve and leave the colour poles standing?

For full results – click here

Rider interviews – click here