Guess Who’s Back, Back Again: Andrew Nicholson Takes Barbury Title (Tell a Friend)

Barbury coverage is brought to you by Trefonas Law, an immigration law firm located in Jackson, WY. 

Trefonas Law features experienced U.S. visa and immigration law practitioners working with the equestrian industry. We can provide advice and assistance with P1 and 01 athlete visas, short-term work visas, as well as general immigration services. Contact us to see how we can find the right visa for you!

Andrew Nicholson and Swallow Springs showcase the unique camber of the Barbury course en route to a second consecutive win. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s an ancient bit of Wiltshire folklore that says that once you’ve seen 100 white horses in the area (the real ones, not the ones carved into the chalky hills of the Downs), the next man you shake hands with will become your husband. I’ve been to many a Barbury, and I’ve certainly not been counting – so for once, I was quietly grateful for a bit of enforced social distancing. After all, Andrew Nicholson‘s string of entries alone over the past half a decade must push the tally up quite considerably, and one must remain vigilant in matters of the heart.

If you were to pin all your hopes on white horses, though, you might take it as something of a good omen that Andrew’s top horse, the 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Swallow Springs (Chillout x Kilila, by Cult Hero xx), clocked up the fastest round of the day, adding 7.6 time penalties to take his second Barbury title in today’s competition.

“It should be easy for him – he’s been [in the top five at] Badminton and Burghley, and he knows his job. And he felt beautiful on the cross-country,” says Andrew, who sat second after the first phase on a 27.7 – one of just three sub-30 marks. But even with Swallow Springs’ experience, he was still slightly awed by the crowds that gathered around Barbury’s atmospheric showjumping arena, which feels almost like a natural amphitheatre and adds a not inconsiderable atmosphere to the testing track in the ring. That resulted in a knocked pole for the pair, which pushed them down the leaderboard ahead of their cross-country round.

“He didn’t quite jump high enough over it, because he was looking at the people on the hill – but he’s done Bicton, Aston le Walls and Weston Park, and while Bicton had some crowds, but not loads,” he says. “But it’s so nice to back out with people.”

To assume that a dropped rail in close company would rule the pair out, though, would be to wildly underestimate the influence of Barbury’s cross-country challenge. It’s not necessarily that it’s a technically difficult track; in fact, just shy of 75% of the 55 starters crossed the finish line without jumping penalties. Instead, it’s a question of time: the course is designed as a series of hairpin turns and loops across the face of an enormous hill, which means that horses are almost always running across a camber and readjusting for the next up- or downhill stretch. There are few places to make up any lost time, and even Andrew – the ‘King of Barbury’ and a man as knowledgable about Barbury’s secrets as course designer Alec Lochore – couldn’t come close to the 6:17 optimum. With his finishing score of 39.3 logged, and after the withdrawal of Tokyo-bound dressage leaders Tim Price and Vitali, there were seven or eight riders ahead of him who could take away the top spot – but even with fifteen or sixteen seconds in hand, as several of them had, there was no usurping the king.

Andrew Nicholson accepts yet another jewel in his crown as unofficial King of Barbury. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s fitting that Barbury should be such a happy hunting ground for the gelding, whose rider has won a record seven CCI4*-S titles at this event and lives nearly within hacking distance. After all, he’s named for Swallowhead Spring, the enigmatic sacred crook in the river Kennet, tucked away in the nearby village of Avebury. The area is renowned for its ancient links to Anglo-Saxon paganism, scattered with neolithic standing stones and – serendipitously – marked with those thirteen colossal white horses, each carved into the chalky hills to undertake a centuries-long watch over Wiltshire.

By the time Swallow Springs turned eleven, as he was in 2019 when he recorded his first international win when taking the four-star here, he was something fo a child prodigy: he’d been runner up at Bramham, third at Burghley, and fifth at Badminton. Since then, he’s gone from being the young, preternaturally clever and endearingly complicated child star of the circuit to sitting on the shelf to wait out the pandemic, and though his first two international runs back haven’t necessarily yielded wildly inspiring results – he was 30th in a CCI4*-S at Aston le Walls and 14th at the same level at Bicton last month – his performance this weekend proved that he hasn’t forgotten the job. Though his rider has plenty on his plate over the next few months in his role as coach of the Swiss eventing team, it’s not hard to imagine that another big result could be on the cards later in the season. Apparently if you stand in the eye of the nearby Uffington chalk horse and spin around three times while making a wish, it’ll come true – we reckon in the interest of ancient monument management, Andrew could probably get away with just rubbing his own white horse’s nose.

Wills Oakden’s MacGregor’s Cooley impresses in his CCI4*-S debut. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

While Swallow Springs came to Barbury as arguably the most experienced horse in the field, second-placed MacGregor’s Cooley, ridden by Scotland’s Wills Oakden, sits firmly at the other end of the spectrum. Just nine years old, the flashy Irish Sport Horse gelding has contested just six FEI events prior to his CCI4*-S debut here this week. His results along the way have been exciting, with a top ten finish in his first CCI3*-L at Houghton in May and top tens in short-format two and three-stars, too, but even Wills wasn’t sure how he’d handle the big move up.

A solid first-phase score of 32.9 – just marred slightly by a difference of opinion in the first flying change – put the pair outside the top ten, though close enough to remain in the hunt coming into today’s competition.

“I said to the owner, ‘let’s just get through the showjumping and make a plan after that,'” he says. “He’s an incredible jumper and in there, he was outstanding – and the  ground is absolutely perfect so we thought we’d give it a go and see what happened.”

Despite his inexperience, the eye-catching gelding tackled the track with aplomb, notching up the second-fastest round of the day with 8.4 time penalties.

“He was unbelievable and really gave it his all. He just felt the pinch a little bit towards the end; he’s never been that fast before, so it just caught up with us slightly. But I’m super proud of him,” says Wills, who has produced him from a four-year-old and knows his strengths – and his quirks – all too well.

“He’s a serious character; two years ago, he had me on the floor thirteen times in one year. He’s lethal! But he’s settling now, we’ve found the key to him, and his results are coming together. I always produce mine a little bit slower than most people, but they always seem to end up in the same place in the long run.”

Fiona Kashel rounds off a successful day in the office with third place aboard Drumhowan Black Magic. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It was a busy day in the office for Fiona Kashel, but an extraordinarily rewarding one: on a day that yielded just a 50% showjumping clear rate, she piloted all three of her rides to faultless finishes in this phase, before going on to deliver three impressive cross-country performances and wind up in third, ninth, and twelfth places overall. Even more impressive? Each of her horses is completely different, requiring a new set of tactics every time she left the start box.

“They couldn’t be more different,” she says with a laugh. “[Drumhowan Black Magic, who finished third] is a super horse, but he’s small and probably shouldn’t be able to do what he does because he’s really lazy and really spooky — he should be in a riding school! But he’s great, because he comes out of the start box and I just kick him the whole way around. It’s like riding in the Shetland Grand National; he never takes a hold and he’s in a snaffle like, ‘okay, let’s do it!’ But at home he can’t even be bothered to pick his feet up to walk around the yard, so his back feet are always scuffed.” She pauses, smiling fondly. “He’s my favourite – I love him.”

Though the gelding isn’t a particularly big-moving horse, which sometimes costs him marks in more extravagant company, he’s consistent and technically correct on the flat: “the more ‘tricks’ he has to do, the better – he almost needs tempi changes down the centreline or something,” laughs Fiona. The pair scored 32.5 in the first phase, though quickly climbed well into contention after lodging a polished clear over the poles. Then, they traversed Alec Lochore’s cross-country track in 6:39, adding 8.8 time penalties to finish on the same final score as Wills Oakden. But their proximity to the top spot doesn’t come without some understandable frustration.

“I cut the corner at the water complex in the main arena on my first two rides, but with him, I managed to drop my reins and so I had to go long,” she says ruefully. “We  were five seconds off winning, and I think that’s where all five of those seconds went.”

Meanwhile, ninth-placed WSF Carthago, owned by Fiona’s father, is the yin to Drumhowan Black Diamond’s yang.

“He’s younger, and much less experienced, but he’s big, and powerful, and super talented,” explains Fiona. “With him, it’s mostly about managing his brain – before the dressage, I have to work him quite hard ahead of his tests, and then out there, he got quite strong and I had to passenger him around a bit at the end.”

Tom Rowland and Quintilus navigate through Barbury’s famous Woodhenge combination. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Fourth place went the way of Tom Rowland and nine-year-old German Sport Horse Quintilius, who was contesting his third four-star run after making the step up in Burnham Market’s eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S last autumn, which acted as a replacement for Blenheim. The pair stayed well in contention from day one, sitting ninth after dressage on a respectable 30.9 and adding 11.2 time penalties to it in today’s cross-country.

“His owner actually has dressage horses with [Grand Prix rider] Dan Greenwood, so he helps us a lot – so I don’t have any excuses,” laughs Tom. “,He’s never going to be the biggest trotter in the world but he’s actually got good mediums and his changes are good. I was pleased to be in the top ten after dressage but to be honest, I think it can be five marks better.”

The cross-country course offered the gelding a chance to step up in maturity – and despite his natural tendency to be a bit of a ‘joker’, he did just that.

“He jumped really well through the skinnies at five and then I felt like, ‘yeah, he’s on it.’ It can take him a couple of fences to get going, and I felt that that question did come quite quickly,” says Tom, who noted that the course offered plenty of opportunities for an inexperienced horse to lose focus. “They’ve not seen crowds like this for a while – it’s busy, but it’s nice. Everyone’s out. But especially going into the water in the main arena – it’s bright, you’ve got the Barbury blue dye, and you’ve got a lot of people. He had a look there; he hesitated and went in quite slowly and wobbled a bit. Obviously I’m really pleased with fourth, but then I look at the scores and second place was two seconds quicker – and I probably wasted a bit of time there because he got a bit slow. I think in a year or two more, he’ll have learnt to gallop more and travel more so he can be quicker.”

Tom found the gelding as a four-year-old in Germany, where he also has a maternal half-sibling at the Luhmühlen base of Anna Siemer.

“I tried to get that one, too, but she got there first,” says Tom with a grin. “And now she won’t sell it!”

Barbury tends to suit a smaller, cattier horse who can make the best of its hairpin turns, and though that isn’t to Tom’s normal taste, he’s seeing the appeal more and more as he moves Quintilius up the levels. Now, it’s also governing his plan for the rest of the year ahead.

“He’s a smaller horse than I’m used to, but he’s mega nippy – he’s like a little go-kart, and he’s not strong. I’m used to riding big Irish horses that you’re having to haul around, whereas he’s right on the string, so that’s perfect because he loves twisty tracks, and I can manoeuvre him really well. So we’ve always had an eye on Boekelo, and hopefully that’s helped my chance of going there – and then we’ll probably do Blenheim eight- and nine-year-olds on our way there.”

Whichever way their season ends up, Quintilius always ensures there’s never a dull moment at home.

“He’s a proper joker, but never in a malicious way,” says Tom. “His attitude carries him through; he’s not every fresh or naughty, it’s more that he’s joking and spooky, and he loves to have a bit of a spin round. It’s never done in a threatening way and I actually think it’s a great character trait of his – you look at him and he’s this kind of pretty, small horse, only about 16.1hh, and it actually makes him quite hard. He’s a lot tougher than you might think. He’s a funny one.”

Aaron Miller wraps up the top five with KEC Deakon, while young riders Heidi Coy and Felicity Collins made bold strides up the leaderboard to feature in the top ten after impressive rides across the country this afternoon.

The final top ten in Barbury’s CCI4*-S.

Barbury: Website, Ride Times and Entries, Live Scores, Live Stream, EN’s Coverage, EN’s Instagram, EN’s Twitter