Next week sees one of the UK’s largest horse shows open their gates for the Longines Royal International Horse Show. Home of the MS Amlin Eventers’ Challenge, we caught up with Georgie Strang and found out how she’s feeling about returning to Hickstead for her second shot at the title…
Last year was your first time in the MS Amlin Eventers’ Challenge how did it feel?
I was so delighted to get the invitation – although it is always a little nerve racking knowing that you are going to be taking on that famous arena. Hickstead was very local to me growing up so I would always watch the riders go into the main ring and see even some of the top horses get spooked at the atmosphere, as it is something you just don’t get anywhere else in England, especially in eventing.
This wasn’t your first time in the arena though was it?
[laughing] No. As a child I did a lot of showing and we made it to the main arena a couple of times, I think I even one a sash once! My memories a little hazy but I do remember that I had very short hair – the owners of the ponies I was riding would pin a fake pony tail to the back of my head so that I looked the part! I was always very jealous of the other girls with their pigtails and red bows!
How did Cooley Earl cope with the atmosphere?
I was a little apprehensive, as he hasn’t seen anything like it before, but I needn’t have worried. He was as cool as anything, which in my gut I knew he would be as he’s such a relaxed horse, and that’s why I took him.
Tell us about your round last year.
[Cooley] Earl absolutely loved it, lapping up the amazing crowd support and doing a great clear to finish up 5th. Although I did have to ride pretty determinedly through the dyke! In hindsight we didn’t go quite as fast as we could have done, but that was more me just focusing on trying to finish without any embarrassing moments! The crowds there really get you going, especially when you are coming around to the end and you look like you could challenge the current leader; the cheering coming from the stands does make you put your leg on and go for it a bit more, I just obviously didn’t go for it as much as I should have!
How is your season with Cooley Earl going so far?
It’s been an exciting one! We completed our first Badminton this spring, and a couple of weeks ago ran in the Event Rider Masters at Barbury where he was feeling great and jumped a lovely double clear. Barbury’s show jumping ring is perfect prep for the Eventers Challenge, as it’s one of the only eventing rings where you see banks and other natural obstacles – as we went in I thought if you can do it at Hickstead you can definitely do it here!
Have you done anything differently to prepare for this year?
Honestly I haven’t actually! As he ran so well last year I thought it best to not over think it and put my faith in him that he knows what he’s doing. Short of building our own bank I’m not sure what else we can do.
What are your hopes for this year?
I don’t want to jinx it! It would be nice to move up the leader board from last years fifth, but I’ve seen the line-up and there is some tough competition. I will be looking to kick on a little bit more than last year as now I know he can do it – I’d be lying if I said we weren’t going for the title, but I’m sure I’m not alone in that!
The format of the competition changed in 2015, which format would you prefer to ride?
Definitely the current format! It is much more suited to Earl. There are still so many obstacles that question both horse and rider, but I’m just relieved I don’t have to jump that gate that was in the old format. I was quite little when I watched them do it but it always looked huge!
Who do you think is going to be your biggest competition?
It is an amazingly strong field so everyone is competition! I’m sure Paul Tapner won’t be letting his title go without a fight.