Warwickshire Hunt Pony Club wins Prince Philip Cup at Horse of the Year Show

PUBLISHED: 13:11 24 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:24 28 October 2014

Lap of honour with Prince Philip Cup: (left to right) Kieran Tuttiett, Jess Wild, Isabella Holman-West, Ella Clark, Zack Mallalieu / Photo: Andrew Holman-West

Lap of honour with Prince Philip Cup: (left to right) Kieran Tuttiett, Jess Wild, Isabella Holman-West, Ella Clark, Zack Mallalieu / Photo: Andrew Holman-West

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The Warwickshire Hunt Pony Club side are celebrating their first ever win in the coveted Prince Philip Cup for Mounted Games at the Horse of The Year Show.

Zack Mallalieu in the bending race / Photo: Andrew Holman-WestZack Mallalieu in the bending race / Photo: Andrew Holman-West

The 6-strong squad of teenagers, trained by the highly-experienced Lisa Davis from Harbury, fought off tough competition from their fellow-finalists, the other five teams who had been whittled down from over 250 Pony Club teams from as far afield as Scotland, Cornwall and Northern Ireland. The Warwickshire youngsters, Isabella Holman-West, Kieran Tuttiett, Jess Wild, Zack Mallalieu - plus Ella Clark and reserve Peter Fielding - snatched an unlikely victory after star rider Kieran was sidelined for the last two days when his pony Mulee fell ill. Despite taking a narrow lead after the first three days of the championship, the side which finished second in last year’s event were automatically eliminated from several games requiring all five riders to take part. With Kieran, an England Mounted Games international, forced to sit out the crucial final session where each of the 7 games carried double points, his teammates knew they needed a blistering performance to stave off the challenge from their rivals, particularly the highly-rated Sir Watkin Williams Wynn’s Pony Club (3 W’s) from Cheshire.

Roared on by banks of their supporters in the packed NEC stadium, the Warwickshire team started strongly, winning the opening Stepping Stones race by a nose from newcomers Romney Marsh to snatch 8 points. From then on they looked invincible, keeping their nerve during high speed battles of acrobatic dexterity and vaulting on and off their ponies at a gallop. They won all but two of the races to clinch an astounding 52 points out of 56, finishing 18 points clear of their nearest rivals, the 3 W’s. They staged a stylish finale, all four riders leaping over the line inside a giant sack to win the last game ‘Big Sack by inches from the Scots side Eglinton.

Trainer Lisa Davis, amid tears and popping champagne corks, said: “I’m ecstatic – just so thrilled with all of them. We were favourites after winning the Preliminary event, the Virbac Cup on Thursday, but we knew it was going to be hard after we lost a top pairing like Kieran and Mulee, which meant the others had to really pull together and do every race of the final session. We’ve been training flat out for this for a full year, ever since we came second last time. We wanted it so badly - and now all that hard work and dedication has paid off. Our loyal parents, friends and supporters raised £10,000 to help with all the travelling and equipment to give us the chance to achieve this and our backup team of cooks and grooms were amazing. Most of this team have been competing together since the age of 7 and this was their last year so it’s brilliant to go out on such a high.”

“I just couldn’t believe it,” gasped Ella Clark “but we knew we had to keep concentrating and not make any silly mistakes under pressure – it’s so easy to miss popping the balloon with a sharp stick at full gallop in the balloon and cone game for example when you’re desperate to make up a few yards.”

“It’s been my dream to win the Prince Philip Cup since my first competition at Stratfrod Racecourse when I was 7 years old,” grinned Isabella Holman-West, who had been travelling back from her boarding school at Ascot twice a week to train with the squad. “It was tough losing Kieran but it was teamwork that did it for us – and I can hardly believe we’ve won it after all this hard work.”

What next for the team? Lisa Davis said: “Well, we’ve got some really good young riders coming up for next season who’ve already won junior Mounted Games championships and they’ll be riding some of our star ponies from this year – so fingers crossed we can qualify for HOYS again next year. The moment we’ve finished celebrating, the hard work starts all over again.”

The Mounted Games Championship was launched in 1957 by the Duke of Edinburgh who aimed to create an event in which children with “ordinary” ponies could compete on equal terms with the more privileged, through training and dedication. A format based on cavalry skills was used, designed to enhance rider skills and teamwork. The combination of explosive speed, dexterity and acrobatic vaulting skills – plus occasional temperamental displays from over-excited ponies quickly made it one of the Horse of the Year Show’s most popular events. This is only the second time the Warwickshire Hunt Pony Club has qualified for the finals and their first championship victory.

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