Notes on winning from Firle Horse Trials 2019 | An Eventful Life

Notes on winning from Firle Horse Trials 2019

Firle Country Show and Horse Trials held in stunning Sussex parkland on 11-12th May 2019 marked its 41st year of running with a massive entry list of no less than 22 sections being contested; six at BE80 (T), six at BE90, seven at BE100 (including one 100 Open) and three at Novice (including one at Novice Open)

Anna Bruce hand picks a few of the winners and shares their success stories, starting with a veteran who came to the fore in the Open Novice section. 


An Eventful Life filmed all riders on cross country at 

Firle Place in 2018 and 2016 - find out more here


       Georgie Wood and Sjapo le Sursaut         Photo courtesy Spidge Photography


Young professional rider Georgie Wood, re-routed her ‘horse-of-a-lifetime’, Sjapo le Sursaut, which appropriately translates as ‘Lord of the Jump’ in Flemish, after the 20 year-old gelding missed having any runs since a double clear in the OI at the start of the season after striking into himself when jumping at home.

Georgie explained that “I wanted to give him a nice run back and swapped him in the place of a young horse who I felt didn’t need another run but in fact I was really glad I did so as the course caused plenty of trouble.”

Sjapo le Sursaut is no stranger to success however.  Spotted out show jumping, Georgie’s family managed to track down his owners and her aunt then purchased him for Georgie. Together they have not only notched up the 2017 Amateur Rider of the Year award but also won the Ssang Yong Musso Accumulator that year.

The pair also compete successfully in show jumping and have gained their Foxhunter double clears for the year but Georgie is most proud of having competed in the Eventers Challenge at Hickstead. On the first occasion she approached the organisers and explained it was a dream of hers and that, with Sjapo le Sursaut then 18, he might not have another chance.

However, having as Georgie says “Not disgraced ourselves”, they were invited to return last year.

It is a good consolation as Georgie’s hopes of contesting for the Young Riders’ team were curtailed when Sjapo le Sursaut injured a tendon in 2014 and, while he’s continued to event for a further five years, that is down to being careful with him

“I’ll only event him on good going; and we don’t gallop him – instead he does lots of hacking, goes to the Equine Aqua Treadmill every week and with my mum, Gill Maybury, being a chiropractor, she helps keep him on the road.”

Georgie combines eventing and show jumping with teaching and was thrilled to see Fern Wilson claim the BE90 Section K on her 16.3hh Dutch-bred gelding, H.

Georgie says, “I help exercise H as Fern is a vet and doesn’t have as much time but she’s also been really patient with him as he was very big and weak and yet this was only their third event together.”

Another vet took top honours, this time in the BE100 Open section.

A hugely competitive section, the top six combinations all finished on their dressage scores, but it was a pillar to post victory for Rachel Harris and Manor Mayhem, a half-Shire who is a former winner of the Blenheim Eventers Challenge.

Horses with history of top form also attending the event included this year’s BE100 Mitsubishi Motors Cup champion, Alana Sparrow and Angels Spirit competing in BE100 section E.

A rolled pole dropped them from the top spot to eventual third with Melissa Joannides and Sally Doonaveeragh taking the spoils.


       Melissa Joannides and Sally Doonaveeragh                Photo courtesy Spidge Photography


Melissa says, “To be able to say that Sally Doonaveeragh beat the 2019 Mitsubishi Cup Grassroots champion is brilliant as I think she’ll be a perfect horse to take someone round Badminton. She nearly always does a sub 30 dressage, and is really bold.”

The mare was already planned to be put up for sale following Firle and Melissa was pleased not to be the ‘bridesmaid’ this time “I’m so glad I managed to notch a win as she’s been second so many times – including at her last run at Horseheath where she was just 0.1 penalties behind the winner.”

Having a super day herself, Melissa, who was the leading foundation points rider of 2018, also notched up another win, this time in BE100 Section F aboard Golly Gosh, owned by mother and daughter, Rhona Sim and Kate Sim Read.

This was only the partnership’s third run together but Melissa was thrilled with the 14.2hh, 10 year-old, dun gelding “He’s brilliant fun.  He’s a bit whizzy and was very excited for his first couple of runs but at Firle he really knuckled down and gave me a great feeling – I call him the V8 Dun.”


       Melissa Joannides and Golly Gosh           Photo courtesy Spidge Photography


Golly Gosh wasn’t the only pony to come to the top as Jasmine Wilks came home with both a win and a runner-up spot aboard two Connemara geldings.

Riding for owner and producer, Jo Marsh-Smith, Jasmine took the top spot with Colwills Silver Hill in the BE90 section P, and was second aboard Lough Derg Joe in the BE80 section T.

Jasmine explains, “Jo is great at finding ponies for showing or eventing homes - she trains the ponies at her home and I just pop over and tune them up and compete them.”

While this is Colwills Silver Hill’s second season, it was the gelding’s first event, while for Lough Derg Joe it was his first ever event.

“I’ve been coming to Firle for years and it’s a great event” says Jasmine “With the country show going on there’s always lots to look at and this year the show jumping was in front of the house with a lot of spectators so it was fantastic for the young horses to experience.”

Jasmine was also appreciative of the cross-country course “There were new fences, they were well dressed and presented and it took some bold riding.”

Jasmine even forgave the new footing at the exit of the new water complex which her third ride, Audrey Smith’s Comsplan Zeus took aversion to, thus bypassing the element coming out of the water, and costing the pair a second placing!

“I was gutted as Comsplan Zeus is a little Trotter x Cob and only started eventing this year aged 10 but was second last time out and if he hadn’t dodged the mud, we would’ve repeated that here!”


      Hannah Rodgers and Frost Free                   Photo courtesy Spidge Photography


Perhaps she should try Hannah Rogers’ strange preparation to win.

Hannah explains, “I heard Oliver Townend being interviewed at Badminton and saying how he had it in his head that he wanted to ride a 19 dressage and he did it, so I wrote a note and put it under my pillow the night before Firle.”

The note read, “‘Please can I win a class tomorrow’”, explains Hannah.

However, she went one better, taking not one but two BE80 (T) sections for her owners, and ‘second parents’, Jeffrey and Alison Osborne. 

Hannah contacted the Osbornes, who are best known for showing and their scurry driving ponies, when she was 17 and asked if she could work for them. Although they said they didn’t have a vacancy, she was invited for interview and has worked for them for 15 years.

The win in BE90 section O aboard Frost Free, a 16.2hh Irish TB, was particularly special as Hannah “saw him being born and he started me off eventing”

And Hannah is also excited by her two other rides who were bought by the Osbornes a few months apart but discovered to be half-sisters both by the Holstein stallion, ARS Benvendi, born coincidentally on the same day.

“They are very similar in some ways but react very differently – Woodend Farm Viva is a bit of a diva, but HCB Honey is more laid back.”

It was Woodend Farm Viva to secure the win in BE80 Section V, while HCB Honey brought a third ribbon home for the team – a fourth from BE80 Section U.

“I was thrilled with the horses as the course was brilliant with lots of decoration and the scoreboard showed there was plenty of trouble.”

Among those to be caught out were none other than the great Kristina Cook who led Novice section J only to be caught out by a fairly dry old water jump, whereas her daughter, Isabelle came home with a fifth placing in a novice section on Kealdearra Clover and topped her weekend with a win in BE100 Section C aboard Silken Creme.

It wasn’t a complete all-female leader board however with Ken Spencer capitalising on Tina Cook’s misfortune to take Novice Section J aboard Mattie III, and Matthew Selby claimed the BE100 Section D aboard Fleetwater Capriccio, with the accolade of being the only combination to finish on their dressage score in this section.

Other winners were

Novice Section I – Indiana Limpus

BE100 Section A – Harriet Upton

BE100 Section B – Katherine Morris

BE90 Section L – Betsy Davis

BE90 Section M – Helen Millichamp

BE90 Section N – Lucy Wheeler

BE90 Section Q – Scarlett Lloyd

BE80 Section R – Emily Morris

BE80 Section S – Bridget Priest

BE80 Section T – Kathy Staples

BE80 Section U – Caroine Exley