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The NAF Five Star BE80 Championships have proved once again to be a competition with it all. Sixty-eight of Britain’s most talented and ambitious amateur eventers arrived at Bramham full of hope – and a dose of healthy nerves – as they aimed to realise a dream of competing at one of eventing’s most iconic venues. It was Cornish lorry driver Emily Tamblyn with her striking 18.1hh grey Knockenpower Rory who lead from the off to take the coveted title.
The action began at lunchtime on Wednesday and at the end of day one, with 26 combinations going before the dressage judging panel, it was Fox Hills Apostrophe ESS and Katie Stewart who held the advantage on a score of 33.1. NAF then held a welcome drinks party, alongside a competitors’ briefing, which gave all the riders chance to collect their goodie buckets kindly gifted by the generous title sponsor.
Katie kept her pole position for a good while, until mum-of-three Amy Bevans stormed into the lead with 31.8 on her own Annas Delight. However, Amy’s time at the top was brief – Emily Tamblyn and the Irish-bred Knockenpower Rory, or ‘Pinks’, produced a stunning display to post the first sub-30 score of the day and take the lead with 29.3. The top three remained unchanged until the very end of the day, when Pony Club rider Carys Waligora gave the judges much to praise with her own Fisherhill Pearl, and they neatly slotted in to third with a score of 32.1.
‘Terrific Thursday’ at Bramham has become a real feature in the timetable because it sees the dressage get underway for the international sections, the tradestands open their doors and the park really comes to life, with the BE80 Championship combinations tackling showjumping followed by a quick turnaround to tackle Ian Stark’s 2,175m cross-country test. As the start time of 10:30 neared, a huge sense of expectation and excitement was palpable up at the championship area of the park. An inviting, flowing showjumping course was laid out and the top-placed competitors all were up to the test, adding nothing to their overnight dressage scores as they prepared for the final phase.
The first of the three to ride was Amy Bevans and, with the scores tight at the top, the pressure was on for a penalty-free round. Amy did just that and her plucky gelding finished just one second under the five-minute optimum time, which guaranteed her second place at best. The delighted jockey punched the air and wiped away happy tears as they crossed the finish line, clearly delighted with her beloved horse’s performance. The pressure was now on Emily and, with just a 2.5 penalty cushion in hand, she couldn’t afford to hang around. She and Pinks, who spend their winters hunting on Bodmin Moor with the East Cornwall, elected to take a long route halfway round the course for safety, which took extra precious seconds, but would it pay off? She stopped the timer at 5.06, six seconds over the optimum time for 2.4 penalties – victory and the title was hers… by 0.1 of a penalty!
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It was then down to Carys to see if she could retain her podium place from her late draw. Having had a busy morning taking the written part of her PE GCSE, Carys was more than up to the task – she cruised round nine seconds inside the time to add nothing to her dressage score and finish on a total of 32.1.
A delighted Emily explained: “He’s gone so lovely. I did go for the long route at fence 11, which nearly cost me because I only finished 0.1 ahead, but I’m glad I did it because I played it safe. We didn’t qualify directly – we got through on a wild card – so I’m extra chuffed. This is our first run of the year because I entered two and they both got cancelled on me, so luckily, I went to a little unaffiliated three weeks ago, just to give him a run, and I thought that it would be what it would be.
“It means a lot to be here at Bramham, especially because we went to Chillington to qualify and we didn’t, then I got the email that I’d got in on a wild card and I just went in all guns blazing. I thought that if we’re going, we’re going. It felt amazing to do the lap of honour in the main arena – the atmosphere is just incredible, with all the crowds and the photographers down the long side. That was really cool, really special,” she beamed.
Runner-up Amy was equally delighted with her equine partner, who’s known as Otto at home: “I’ve had him since a three-year-old and produced him myself. He’s just everything to me, I love him to bits. He’s naturally very talented and I think everyone expects him to do well, but sometimes he just can’t keep his head. He did a beautiful dressage test yesterday. Showjumping is my nemesis, but we got round. I was worried about a couple of questions on the cross-country, but he just took the lead and said, ‘thanks Mum, I’m going!’. He flew home!
“I’m a mum of three and we’ve got our own electrical engineering company, too, so it’s very busy. We’ve got all the horses at home, so we’re on a tight schedule, but when days like this come along, it pays off. To have jumped double clear around here is incredible. I did the Chillington qualifier – a similar score, actually, I was in second by 0.1 there, too! We got the direct qualifier so I’m really, really pleased. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’ll definitely be back. It’s been nerve-wracking, but I was so excited, and you feel like a professional – it’s amazing.”
Young rider Carys summed up her Bramham experience and third place: “I’ve had her [Fisherhill Pearl] for almost three years – she’s a nine-year-old Connemara. We just do eventing in the summer and try to do showjumping and dressage in the winter. She’s very brave, but she can get a bit hot-headed in dressage and she likes to go a bit faster than what I want her to!
“I’ve got GCSEs at the moment, so I’m on study leave. I asked to be on the later times – I had a written PE exam this morning and came straight here from Harrogate. It’s been amazing, it’s always been my dream to compete at Bramham, so it’s just been really exciting – a bit nervous, but the rest’s been amazing. It felt really good [to be cantering round in the main arena]. My horse can be a bit excited, but the crowd was amazing.”
Katie Stewart held on to fourth place, while fifth place went to Harriette Howard riding Kellythorpes Kitten Heels on 33.3. Sixth spot was taken by Samantha Cadwallader and The King of Leon, owned by Shirley Cadwallader, on 33.9. Seventh went to Stephanie Hill riding Bazaars Texan on 34.1, just 0.5 ahead of Kirstie Wright’s Mill House Adimo Pectore ridden by Annabelle Aston-Wright in eighth on 34.6. Deborah Burrell and Imperial Tangle were ninth with 34.7, and Jessica Dickson completed the top ten with Opals Fantasy on 35.3.