Piggy March Provides a Vintage Start to Thoresby CCI4*-S

Piggy March cuts an imposing figure on the first day of 2022’s first British four-star, taking an easy one-two with two Brookfield-owned horses [pictured, Brookfield Quality]. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

2019 was a pretty good year, in hindsight, wasn’t it? We didn’t have a global pandemic to reckon with; energy prices hadn’t skyrocketed; we weren’t yet collectively suffering from some sort of generalised weirdness as a result of being inside for too long, alone with our house plants. Oh, and Piggy March won, like, everything.

Well, colour us well and truly deja vu-ed, because the first day of dressage in the CCI4*-S at the Thoresby Spring Carnival of Eventing – the replacement for Belton Horse Trials that’s been patiently waiting for its moment since 2020 — was all about March Madness, v2.0. Amidst a few unwelcome snow flurries and in the confines of Thoresby Hall’s fairytale walled garden, she delivered a double-handed attack on the class that’s left her in first and second place going into day two.

“This was definitely one of his best tests physically and mentally — all around, really, he felt very good and grown up,” says Piggy of Brookfield Inocent, with whom she took team gold and individual silver at last year’s European Championships and who will be one of her rides at Badminton next month. His 23.9 might not be the lowest score he’s ever delivered – that accolade goes to his 2020 Burgham CCI4*-S test, which earned him a 21.8 – but it was enough to give him a nearly two-point lead in the class. And now, enthuses Piggy, the thirteen-year-old gelding really feels like he’s ready to give his best stuff.

“He’s always been a slightly spooky horse; you don’t always see it, but he’s never been one you can always go in and trust not to find a monster in there,” she says. “But he feels like he’s grown up there, and in his self carriage — he’s a blood horse, and as much as he’s lovely and moves very well, it’s always been about finding that last bit of self carriage to be able to hold himself up to the high standard and the consistency.”

Sitting second on a 25.7 is stablemate Brookfield Quality – or Nervous Norris to his friends, because of his slightly anxious character. Getting to the bottom of him, and producing top quality work, has been about fine-tuning and compromising in the preparation, Piggy explains.

“He’s actually always been super consistent in his dressage,” she says. “He just always tries really hard! He’s been a bit of a slow burner to develop physically and mentally as well. Both of them are Irish horses, and as quality and as talented as they are, they’ve been slightly slow burners in various aspects. [Norris] is terrified of the warm-up with too many people in it, so I warmed him up at the top and then walked him down there and then picked him up to warm up around the test arena — any more than that and he can start to jump around a bit, but I know I can trust him to just pick him up right before the test.”

Bubby Upton and Badminton entrant Cola III get their prep under way in fine style. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s not just established British stalwarts that enjoyed their moment in the spotlight today – the young guns certainly had their time to shine too, helmed by under-25 National Champion Bubby Upton and her Badminton entrant Cola III. They sit in third place provisionally on a score of 26.1 – almost, though not quite, a personal best internationally.

“He was mega – I’m so pleased with him,” she beams, before chastising herself for a mistake in one flying change: “obviously, that was expensive, but hopefully it’ll be where it needs to be at Badminton!”

Though Cola has been an enormously consistent competitor with Bubby in the irons, maintaining his progress through the levels hasn’t always been straightforward – but the pair had a eureka moment over the winter when they finally found a bit that would suit his tricky oral conformation in the Bomber Bits Happy Tongue.

“He’s come on so much this winter. I don’t like to make excuses or anything, but we have really struggled with his mouth over the years – he’s been uncomfortable, and we’ve never been able to get a bit that fits him. He has a peculiarly shaped mouth and really fleshy lips, so we finally found a bit that doesn’t rub him – and he’s so happy, I can’t even tell you. It’s so nice knowing that he’s comfortable now.”

Bubby Upton’s Bicton under-25 CCI4*-L victor Cannavaro shows off a winter’s worth of dedicated training, which Bubby fits in around her studies. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Bubby’s second ride, her national title partner Cannavaro, also delivered an excellent test for 29.5, which sees them in 12th place at the halfway point.

“He’s come on a lot in the last couple of years, and that really shone through last year,” she says. “He always puts a big smile on my face because he makes me so proud; he keeps exceeding expectations. We never expected him to be at this level – not because he doesn’t have the ability, but because he’s not very blood. But he feels super; he’s fit and fresh and I was so pleased that he maintained it in there. I just fluffed up one change – the opposite to the one on the other horse! So I haven’t managed to nail a test yet [in this class]. But I’m delighted with him, as we’ve been working hard to consolidate the changes over the winter. He has one good one and the other one, because he was a show jumper, has just taken a while.”

Despite two errors on course, Pippa Funnell still manages a 26.4 with on-form Billy Walk On. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Spare a thought for poor Pippa Funnell, who accidentally played a blinder of an April Fool’s joke on herself by losing her way twice in her test with the leggy Billy Walk On, who’s looking arguably the best we’ve seen him in this phase. Though the navigational issues, which happened before the second flying change and in the extended trot diagonal, were expensive, such was the quality of the work produced in the test that the pair still went on to score a 26.4 and equal fourth overnight, which most of us still wouldn’t manage to get if we followed a SatNav and slipped the judge a tenner.

Billy Walk On — or Feale, as he’s known at home — has always been a remarkably elegant horse for his size, and competitive dressage tests are certainly not beyond the norm for him; he led the dressage at Bicton’s pop-up CCI5* last autumn on a 23.9, ultimately finishing second. Without access to the test sheet, it’s hard to gauge the context of today’s mark: though there were two errors of course, the bell was only run once – if Pippa has been penalised just for the second error, her score without it would have been a very good 24.4. But if both were penalised, her score without would have been a 20.4 – a significant all-time personal best for the gelding, who is set to make his return to Badminton next month.

We opted not to shove a recording device in Pippa’s face after her test for obvious reasons – Pippa, if you’re reading this, we’ll circle back on Sunday after you’ve almost certainly won a prize – but we do want to leave you with this little gem:

Never change, Pip.

Up-and-comer Yasmin Ingham pilots her Blenheim CCI4*-L winner Banzai du Loir to a respectable first-day placing. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

25-year-old Yasmin Ingham has a couple of things in common with Pippa, with whom she shares a score of 26.4 and overnight fourth place: they’re both among the elite group of leading British female riders, they’ve both got a collection of national titles under their belts, and they’re both, rather more immediately, planning a trip across the pond to contest the Kentucky CCI5*.

Yasmin’s ride for the week will be the exquisite debutant Banzai du Loir, who scooped the reallocated eight- and nine-year-old championship CCI4*-S in 2020 and then returned to its usual home to win the Blenheim CCI4*-L last year. Since Yasmin took the ride on Banzai over from France’s Axel Coutte in 2019, they’ve swiftly become one of Britain’s most exciting partnerships – no small feat in a country with such significant strength in depth. Now, they’re aiming for the horse’s five-star debut as one of Kentucky’s foremost rookie pairs – but as with any five-star entry, the lead-up is all about taking it one day, and one ride, at a time. And today’s? It certainly didn’t disappoint.

“I’m really happy with Banzai; he did a really lovely test with some really super work,” says Yasmin. “His highlights were definitely his flying changes; we’ve been trying to work on those over the winter and they were really spot on today, so I was happy with that. His extended trot was brilliant – again, we’re just trying to grab those extra marks for the accuracy, because I feel that’s where we drop a few. For example, he cantered before I asked him to in the walk-to-canter transition at A, which will have cost us a bit, but all in all, I’m delighted. He just keeps getting better, which is very exciting, and I feel like he’s really becoming developed at this level. He has a very busy brain, and keeping him on side mentally is the golden key.”

Nicola Wilson and Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S winner Coolparks Sarco close out the day with a test that shows off their winter homework. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Reigning European Champion Nicola Wilson rode through some warm-up ring theatrics with her 2021 Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old winner Coolpark Sarco, who returns for his ten-year-old season looking physically stronger, no doubt helped along by his solid end-of-season run at Boekelo last year. He was rewarded with a 27.1 – incidentally, the exact score he received in his first FEI run of 2021 – and then merrily shed all notions of civility as he merrily bucked his way back to the stables.

“I thought he did some lovely work and was really expressive,” says Nicola. “He rushed through the bridle in his two changes a little bit, but I was overall pleased with his test. He feels a lot stronger this year – and he’s very happy to be back out!”

Ballaghmor Class delivers a solid showing that doesn’t yet push the barriers of his capabilities in his first international of the year. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The man who started his career as eventing’s dark horse seems to be determined to continue his legacy of top-level successes with, well, white horses; today, Oliver Townend delivered two provisional top ten tests with excellent grey horses, taking ninth overnight with Burghley and Kentucky winner Ballaghmor Class and seventh with new ride, the former Andrew Nicholson five-star mount Swallow Springs, who produced a 27.6 to take an early lead in the class and demonstrated that the partnership, which came together in the latter part of the 2021 season and netted a tenth-place finish at Blenheim, has well and truly hit its stride.

Though Ballaghmor Class performed with his usual polished professionalism, it was a touch more conservative than many of his previous efforts at the level, and the resultant score of 28.9 felt a far cry from the 20.8 he scored at Badminton in 2018. But lest the naysayers take it as a sign that the World Number One’s iron horse is losing his touch, think again: we’ve seen Ballaghmor Class deliver a similar effort, at Belton in 2019 where he scored a 30.3, and then go on to put a 21.1 on the board at Badminton. And just as Oliver used to do with Belton, it would seem he’s got a solid plan for his top horses this weekend: get a test on the board, jump a round of show jumps, and then withdraw, saving the run for Burnham Market in a couple of weeks.

Full-time supermodel and part-time eventer Edie Campbell storms into the top ten with Fireball F. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The top ten after day one is full of household names of the British eventing scene, but sitting in provision eighth place on a respectable 27.9 is a rider who’s well-known for a rather different reason.

Supermodel Edie Campbell is at her most recognisable when gracing the pages of Vogue or traversing runways at fashion weeks the world over, but in her limited free time, it turns out she’s just as much of a weird horse girl as the rest of us – and producing her top horse, Fireball F, to the upper levels has been a labour of love for the multitasking rider over the past few seasons as she balances her jet-setting career with the nomadic life of an eventer.

“The system kind of works itself out – it’s tricky, because work can be super last minute, which means you can’t plan. But everyone’s pretty used to it by now and I’m quite zen about it,” she explains. “[Groom] Becca sorts the nags and I know precisely how long it’ll take me to get from the gallops to Heathrow Airport. Basically, it’s usually workable – but you have to be happy to be flexible and I accept that the perfect prep might not be possible.”

This afternoon, though, it all fell into place.

“Today was kind of wild – I have a lot of screenshots of my name quite far up the leaderboard, which is a novelty for me,” she says. Their test, which represents a personal best for the partnership at any level, has come as the result of a sea change in Edie’s system.

“There’s been a bit of a regime change at home this winter, which has meant, firstly, that all the ponies are in a bit of a new system in terms of their management, and that I’m training with new people, which seems to be working out. Izzy Taylor’s been helping me the last couple of weeks, and she warmed me up today – and I guess she knows what she’s doing!”

What has developed, Edie explains, is a horse that feels “a whole lot more rideable, and I’m riding better. Last year I felt like dressage was something that happened to me, and now I’m a bit more taking the wheel. [Izzy has] put me in a position where I can have a bit more of a say – plus, I have her old head groom, Becca Rossi, on my team now, and she’s equal parts fantastic and terrifying. I know I’ll get such an eye roll if I don’t ride well, so that kind of holds me accountable!”

With two influential jumping phases left to come on Sunday Edie is remaining pragmatic about the job ahead of her with the 12-year-old gelding, who she’s produced through the grades after purchasing him as a seven-year-old show jumper.

“He’s the cutest little spoilt brat,” she says fondly. “He’s super classy and knows it. But we’ve had some issues across country at four-star, so I’m gonna bask in his dressage score for the next 24 hours – and then I’ve got to step up and make the jumping happen.”

Ros Canter’s Paris prospect, the exciting Lordships Graffalo, takes a first-day top-ten position in the walled garden. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Finally, Ros Canter rounds out the top ten overnight on Lordships Graffalo, the ten-year-old British-bred heir apparent to her World Champion Allstar B, who will contest this class himself tomorrow. ‘Walter’, as the young horse is known, put a polished 29.4 on the board, not quite reaching the exceptional low scores of his 2021 season, in which he finished in the top two in four of his five FEI runs, but proving once again that he’s every bit as classy as Ros has hoped.

Tomorrow will bring us another jam-packed day of dressage, with highlights including tests from Laura Collett and London 52Izzy Taylor and Monkeying AroundBen Hobday and Shadow Man IIEmily King and Valmy Biats, European Champions Nicola Wilson and JL Dublin, and our own Matt Flynn and Wizzerd and Tiana Coudray and Cancaras Girl. We’ll be back with a full report on how it all goes down, as well as a preview of what’s to come on Saturday.

Until then, folks: stay weird and Go Eventing.


The top ten is a showcase of British female talent (and, um, Oliver Townend) in the Grantham Cup CCI4*-S after day one of dressage.

Thoresby Spring Eventing Carnival: [Website] [Live Scoring] [EN’s Coverage] [EN’s Twitter] [EN’s Instagram]