Poplar Park event opens season in style

RIDERS from across East Anglia took on some of the world's leading eventing stars in one of the first contests of the 2007 season at Poplar Park this weekend.

RIDERS from across East Anglia took on some of the world's leading eventing stars in one of the first contests of the 2007 season at Poplar Park this weekend.

Crowds turned out to watch two days of top-flight competition on the cross country course and in the dressage and show jumping arenas.

The annual event is set in the undulating semi-heath and grasslands of Jim and Tricia Hardwick's equestrian centre at Hollesley, near Woodbridge.

Going on the sandy soil of the cross-country course remained good despite heavy rain in the lead-up to the event, but the two days of competition were blessed with some of the sunniest and warmest weather in years.

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Hundreds of horses and riders from across the country competed in 15 classes ranging from intro through to novice and advanced-intermediate.

Leading eventer Piggy French, riding Chicago II, took top honours in the section for most experienced horses and also picked up a second and third place during the two days of competition.

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Oliver Townend, another of the top British riders, also had a successful Poplar Park, taking home two firsts, a second and third place.

Other top names taking part included international riders Pippa Funnell and New Zealander Andrew Nicholson, who each picked up a second place during the event.

Among the most successful Suffolk riders were Debbie and Mary Edmundson, who along with several other local riders were among the winners.

Poplar Park is one of the longest-running events in the country and among the most popular spectator courses. It is popular with riders from across the country and even further afield, who regard it as a good early season run that helps build confidence while introducing some challenging questions.

The cross-country course, which always provides the most influential and entertaining part of the competition, was designed by Jim Hardwick, who was also event organiser this year.

Horse and rider are expected to negotiate a course of between 16 and 30 natural obstacles set in varying terrain within an optimum time.

Competitors are penalised for refusals or falls at fences, or for either exceeding the optimum time or going too quickly.

Mr Hardwick said the wet weather had made things difficult in the days leading up to the event but because the ground was so free-draining it made no difference to the going on the day.

“We have made quite a few changes to the cross-country course over the last year and have introduced quite a few new fences,” he added.

“Entries are up about 100 in total this year - we had around 275 horses competing on Saturday and 250 on Sunday. I think people know they always get a good run here. The course is never closed through poor ground.”

As well as the cross-country course, horses and riders were required to complete a dressage test in an arena 20 metres wide and 40 metres long (60 metres at a higher level) to show the horse is supple and obedient.

There was also a show jumping phase over a course of knock-down fences within an allotted time, with penalties being added for refusal, going over the time allowed and knocking fences over.

The event is run by a huge team of volunteers who are, in turn, coordinated by a volunteer committee. The whole undertaking requires around 200 people a day to organise, including all of the support professionals required for safety reasons.

The Hardwick family and their team of staff and volunteers spend the entire year making sure that the cross- country course is up to scratch and discussions regarding new fences, improvements to old ones and reviews of the course begin the minute the event has taken place for the year

Any money raised is donated to local charities - this year it will be shared between the East Anglian Air Ambulance, Riding for the Disabled and the Suffolk Punch Trust.

Results round-up

Intro section A: 1. Dakota IV ridden by Steven Parker, Essex; 2. Homeleigh Mere ridden by Emily Clover, Essex; 3. Sonny Early ridden by Debbie Edmundson, Suffolk.

Intro section B: 1. Bram Valley Blue Suede ridden by Hannah Talbot, Norfolk; 2. Puzzles Pleased As Punch ridden by Katie Barrett, Suffolk; 3. Bally Grey Mist ridden by Helen Bell.

Intro section C: 1. Look My Way ridden by Anna Harris, Essex; 2. Romeo Z ridden by Caroline Bridge, Suffolk; 3. Miss Gauntlette ridden by Penny Makinson, Suffolk.

Intro section D: 1. Rococo VI ridden by Petrina Philip, Essex; 2. Tullibards Macsplash ridden by Evie Hancox, Essex; 3. Fairy Story ridden by Joanne Masterson, Norfolk.

Novice section E: 1. Warrenstown General ridden by Holly Farrer, Essex; 2. The Conjurer ridden by Owen Moore, Herts; 3. Odt Salvadore ridden by Oliver Townend, Leicestershire.

Novice section F: 1. Matin D'Ete ridden by Sarah Wales, Norfolk; 2. Trainrouge ridden by Diana Grant, Suffolk; 3. Little Miss Tidy ridden by Joanne Bentley, Essex.

Open Novice section G: 1. Direct Dilemma ridden by Jordana Marston, Co Durham; 2. Cast Away II ridden by Piggy French, Leics; 3. Landfall ridden by Tom Crisp, Norfolk.

Intermediate Novice section H: 1. Tops Tiger ridden by Paula Holland, Essex; 2. Rapidash Fire ridden by Mary Edmundson, Suffolk; 3. Wilfred Wynn ridden by Emma Devereux, Essex.

Pre-Novice section I: 1. Jamboree II ridden by Jo Chipperfield, Herts; 2. Redesigned ridden by Pippa Funnell; 3. Loughshore Comedy Act ridden by Piggy French, Leics.

Pre-novice section J: 1. Final Flourish ridden by Patricia Price, Beds; 2. Bowhouse Tomos ridden by Ellen Wilton, Suffolk; 3. Whos Cruise ridden by Amy Young, Do Durham.

Pre-novice section K: 1. Greenfields Bits and Pieces ridden by Mary Edmundson, Suffolk; 2. September Bliss ridden by Elizabeth Power, County Meath, Ireland; 3. Hazy Daiz II ridden by Kate Mann, Essex.

Open pre-novice section L: 1. Blondie III ridden by Katie Barrett, Suffolk; 2. In A Spin II ridden by Kate McGahey, Cambs; 3. Bilbo ridden by Leila Loveday, Suffolk.

Intermediate section M: 1. Daisy Crazy ridden by Oliver Townend; 2. Trafalgar ridden by Andrew Nicholson, Wilts; 3. Raphael ridden by Alison Lidstone, Oxfordshire.

Open Intermediate section N: 1. N. Best Wishes ridden by Oliver Townend; 2. Little Tiger ridden by Phoebe Buckley, Cambs; 3. Crown Farm Consort ridden by John-Paul Sheffield, Leics.

Advanced-intermediate section O: 1. Chicago II ridden by Piggy French; 2. Flint Curtis ridden by Oliver Townend; 3. The Busker ridden by Phoebe Buckley.

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