Piggy March’s first visit to Ireland’s premier event, the Millstreet International Horse Trials in County Cork, is off to an excellent start as she holds the top two spots after dressage in the Noel C. Duggan Engineering Ltd CCI4*-L. She leads the 30-strong class on Jane McGivern’s beautiful grey stallion, Halo, with a score of 22.0, and is in second place with Jo and James Lambert’s Coolparks Sarco (on 23.2).
Piggy, a winner of Badminton in 2019 and Burghley last year, and her husband, Tom, run the March Stud in Northamptonshire where the Holsteiner stallion, bought from Australian Olympic medallist Kevin McNab last year, lives “a normal life outside”. She adds: “Kevin was great to buy from and gave us lots of advice but, to be honest, Halo is pretty straightforward as a stallion. He’s a very kind horse and has a great brain.”
Coolparks Sarco, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse by Shannondale Sarco St Ghyvan, was originally produced by Andrew Nicholson and won the young-horse CCI4*-S at Blenheim in 2021 with reigning European champion Nicola Wilson. Piggy took on the ride last year after Nicola was seriously injured in a fall at Badminton.
“Obviously the horse came to me in sad circumstances, but he is lovely and beautifully produced,” said Piggy. “Both horses have had slight niggles and I came here because I knew we’d be riding on surfaces and because I am a big fan of [designer] Mike Etherington-Smith’s courses. The track is very well built and fair and the horses should be able to understand the questions in front of them.”
Best Irish rider in the CCI4*-L is Badminton hero Austin O’Connor, currently 11th on Isazsa with a score of 31.0.
Australia and Japan, two nations urgently seeking Olympic team qualification, are currently in first and second positions in the CCIO3*-L, a crucial qualifier for the Olympic Games next year. The top two teams not already qualified will secure a place in Paris 2024.
New Zealand, which is already qualified thanks to a world team bronze medal last year, is third, ahead of China and South Africa.
Australia’s Shenae Lowings, 26, leads the individual standings with a score of 24.9 on Bold Venture, a horse she bought seven years ago off the racetrack. They won Werribee CCI4*-L last year and were members of the Australian squad at the world championships last year.
“He’s really exciting. It’s not often that you get a full thoroughbred that needs a bit of atmosphere in the dressage, but it is his big strength that he’s a bit of a show-off,” said Shenae, who is staying with team mate Kevin McNab in England.
The sole individual rider in the CCIO3*-L is Moroccan competitor Noor Slaoui, who is lying 15th on the Irish Sport Horse Summer Stardust. Noor was grew up in the city in Morocco, and loved horses, but only discovered eventing when driving past a horse trials on her way to university in England. She is now the sole representative of her country in the sport. “It’s been a steep learning curve, but I am loving it,” she said. “Paris would be the dream, but a lot will depend on what happens this year.”
Cross-country has been taking place today for the two-star classes over Paul Brady’s tracks, and it was a good afternoon for New Zealand’s Samantha Lissington who won the Horse Sport Ireland CCI2*-S for young horses on the six-year-old Dutch warmblood Mr Cookie Time and now leads the CCI2*-L with Quantas R after the first two phases. Ireland’s Gearoid Bolger and Into Mischief have retained their dressage lead to win the Junior class and Britain’s Emily Young-Jamieson riding Hildare Hermitage has won the Noel C. Duggan Hardware CCI2*-S.