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Boyd ExCeL’s at London International

The London International Horse Show is one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious competitions. Held annually just before Christmas, TANIA HUPPATZ from Snaffle Travel was there.

The London International Horse Show is one of Britain’s best loved, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021. Held from 15-19 December in its new venue at the London ExCeL, this year it attracted some 90,000 visitors.

The show hosts FEI World Cup action in three disciplines including the FEI Dressage World Cup Grand Prix and Freestyle to Music; the FEI World Cup show jumping; and the Extreme Driving and FEI Driving World Cup.

This year, some of the FEI’s top ranked drivers battled it out for World Cup victory – and there in the thick of it, making it look all-so-easy, was Australia’s Boyd Exell, the Reigning World Champion. He’s won at London on multiple occasions and repeated his victory once again.As has been the case previously, Boyd proved too fast for Dutchman Koos de Ronde, the current world No.2, and world No.3 Bram Chardon and Chester Weber (USA).

Charlotte Fry and Glamourdale earned a standing ovation with their 2022/23 FEI Dressage World Cup™ win (Image ©FEI/Jon Stroud).

Twenty twenty-two has been particularly impressive for Boyd, who has won every FEI event he’s entered, including an individual gold medal at the FEI World Driving Championships at Pratoni, Italy, and the FEI Driving World Cup Qualifiers in Stuttgart and Sweden, before capping the year off in London as he was presented with the glittering FEI Driving World Cup trophy by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal,.

The FEI World Dressage was held over the first two days of the show with both the Grand Prix and Freestyle contested. Reigning World Champion Charlotte Fry (GBR) said she was excited to be returning to the prestigious show: “I love competing in front of my home crowd, it is always so special, and the atmosphere is incredible. It will be the best way to end an amazing year.”

And Lottie certainly showed us why she is the current World Champion. On her stunning black stallion Glamourdale, she won the Grand Prix on Thursday and had a personal best with a Freestyle score of 90.99% the following night.

FEI World Championship dressage team member Gareth Hughes (an ex-pat Aussie living in, and competing for, the UK) rode Classic Briolinca into 2nd place, a mere 6 points behind Charlotte, and closely followed by Olympian Ingrid Klimke on Franziskus FRH (GER) in 3rd place. Ingrid, a former event rider, is now following in the footsteps of her father, Olympic Dressage rider Reiner Klimke, and won team bronze at the FEI World Championships this summer.

Guy Williams riding Mr Blue Sky UK were joint winners of the Puissance (Image courtesy LIHS).

It was German based Australian rider Simone Pearce’s first time in London. Competing on her World Championship mount Fiderdance, she placed 6th in the Grand Prix and 7th in the Freestyle, not an inconsequential result among a top international lineup of 15 riders from 10 countries.

A highlight for many visitors was the Dressage Unwrapped masterclass featuring Carl Hester, Lottie Fry and Laura Collett, while eventer Pippa Funnell’s winter survival masterclass was as timely (it’s been snowing in London) as it was well received.

Hollywood stunt team The Devil’s Horsemen and France’s Régiment de Cavalerie de la Garde Républiciane gave fabulous performances. The Devil’s Horsemen, an international act well known for their stunts in Star Wars, and Games of Thrones, pelted around the arena at full gallop, vaulting on and off and hanging upside down from their horses. It left you on the edge of your seat with your teeth clenched!

The world-famous Régiment de Cavalerie delivered a mesmerising display with 27 riders in four quadrilles. Dressed in full uniform with traditional maned helmets, Napoleonic sabres and lances, and accompanied by the Cavalry band, Le Carousel des Lances, they certainly did not disappoint with their precision.

Boyd accepting the 2022/23 FEI Driving World Cup™ from Princess Anne, the Princess Royal (Image courtesy LIHS).

For a break from the action, the shopping village with over 200 trade stands proved to be a great retreat, while the Champagne Taittinger Bar and Brasserie, perfectly positioned for behind the scenes glimpses, and great views of the warm up arena, was hands down the best place to grab a bite to eat.

Back in the main ring, the show jumping, always popular at the London International, had attracted many top international names including reigning World and Olympic champions. Home favourite John Whitaker, who at 67 proved that age really is only a number, was in impressive form and although just out of the winners’ circle had a couple of placings over the show.

The famous LeMieux Puissance, complete with large red brick wall, was the crowd favourite. The class ran over five rounds, resulting in a draw between Guy Williams (GBR) riding Mr Blue Sky UK and Joseph Trunkfield (GBR) with Cruze, who cleared the 2.15m (over seven foot) wall to share in first place. Guy Williams has had Puissance wins at other competitions, and last year won the same class with Mr Blue Sky UK.

Following their shared puissance victory, Joseph and Cruze – who, Joseph says, “could jump a bus” – cleared a final 1.9m fence to win the Lemieux London Horse Show Six Bar, the only combination to clear the full line successfully.

Under 25-year-old Harry Charles (GBR) was on fire again this year and won the Voltaire Design U25 British Championship on Chavira, and the Champagne-Taittinger Ivy Stakes on Billabong du Roumois. Harry won both the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier and the London Grand Prix at last year’s show, and claimed a team bronze medal at the World Championships in Herning.

Crowd favourite, the Shetland Grand National (Image courtesy LIHS).

To the delight of the home crowd, Scott Brash (GBR) was victorious in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup with just 0.05 seconds between him and Daniel Deusser (GER). Taking home a prize purse of €170,000 (that’s just shy of $270,000 Australian), Scott was delighted: “Jefferson’s fantastic! I know how careful he is and I can trust him to ride fast at the last fence. He focuses more when I ride him quicker and I could take a chance at the last.”

Seven combinations made it through to the Martin Collins Enterprises Christmas Snowflake Stakes jump-off, with Italy’s Lorenzo de Luca putting on a masterful performance. Taking the tightest line and a gallop to the final fence put him just over one second ahead of Steve Guerdat (SUI) and current world number one, Marcus Ehning (GER).

Scott Brash (GBR) riding Hello Jefferson won the 2022/23 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ (Image ©FEI/Jon Stroud).

A delighted Lorenzo was full of praise for the show and for his horse Dirka de Blondel: “Every time she goes in the ring, she really gives her best. The atmosphere here in the ExCeL for the London International Horse Show is amazing, thank you to everyone.”

Along with top class equestrian action, there was a mix of family entertainment including the popular Shetland Pony Grand National and The Kennel Club Dog Agility competitions. And finally, in a fitting conclusion to Party Night at the London International, there was the Fancy Dress Relay. Eight pairs competed not only against the clock, but for the best dressed prize, which was judged by an enthusiastic audience. Winners of the Best Fancy Dress were John Whitaker and Marcus Ehning, outfitted as the Pirates of the Caribbean’s Elizabeth Swan and Captain Jack Sparrow, with William and Pippa Funnell as Bert and Mary Poppins close runners-up.

Feature Image: Australia’s Boyd Exell in unbeatable form (Image ©FEI/Jon Stroud).