THE inaugural Barrier Animal Health Spring Festival in Northern Ireland was held last weekend at Castle Irvine, Necarne, following a qualification process which began back in late summer for members of Branches of Area 17 of The Pony Club

Marcus Capel, Chief Executive Officer of The Pony Club, was on hand for the two days to present the prizes for the three disciplines of arena eventing, dressage and show jumping and he was most impressed with all that the competition involved. “There was great riding by the members at a top-class venue, which had a superb atmosphere – a real Championship.

“It was one of the most enjoyable competitions I have ever been to. It was so good to see such enthusiasm from riders and parents alike and the social on Saturday evening was brilliant!” concluded Capel, who was listed on the programme as one of the event officials, along with Pony Club Trustee and former Area 17 Representative Liz Lowry and senior District Commissioner, Vanne Campbell, but was more than willing to help with tea and coffee runs for the sometimes cold, but always very willing, volunteers.

Winning dressage team Killultagh 1 rider Faith Greer on Twinkle at the Barrier Animal Health Pony Club Area 17 Spring Festival at Necarne \ Jonathan Sterritt, JRS Photography

The current Area 17 Representative, and show organiser, Fran Rowlatt-McCormick commented: “The Pony Club Barrier Health Spring Festival is one of the biggest events in The Pony Club’s sporting calendar and, with a lot of encouragement from Liz Lowry, we decided that this year was the year for the first Spring Festival final to be held in Northern Ireland.

“Castle Irvine was selected as the venue, as it has a great ‘championship atmosphere’ with plenty of arenas and space for stabling and entertainment. The team there could not have been more supportive and helpful while, over the past nine months, it was good to see so many local venues running the qualifiers, which are aimed mainly at members riding at PC70 to PC100 level. We had over 430 entries.

“Despite heavy rain showers and even a touch of snow on Saturday, teams from the Route and Mid Antrim Branches ran the show jumping like clockwork in the Walled Garden, while the North Down and East Down Branches ran the dressage in two arenas, the Rose Garden and the Indoor.

“On Saturday evening, over 250 people attended a ‘social’ in the upstairs bar and café area with food provided by Mahon’s Hotel. There was a lot of energy spent on line-dancing, with many parents then telling stories of how they had competed at Castle Irvine in days gone by.

“The East and North Down Branches continued to run the dressage on Sunday, while the East Antrims and the Iveaghs ran the arena eventing in the Walled Garden. All prize-giving ceremonies took place in the courtyard. One standout success of the weekend was the establishment of a scoring team run by Christine Crozier. Using Pony Club Results to upload live scores, this ran very smoothly and formed the backbone of the organisation,” concluded Fran, who really did gather a good team around her both in general and for each of the three disciplines.

Whether they won prizes in competition or not, all riders went home with stable plaques as a memento of the Festival. Some people won prizes at the two raffles, which were held as fundraisers for the Area 17 mounted games and dressage teams travelling to the Royal Windsor Horse Show in early May.

Winning dressage team Killultagh 1 rider Georgia Shannon on Daisy at the Barrier Animal Health Pony Club Area 17 Spring Festival at Necarne \ Jonathan Sterritt, JRS Photography

“It was just great to see so many members having a wonderful time,” said Liz Lowry. “Many of them may never have been to a championship before due to costs, family commitments etc. I felt that having our own Spring Festival offered such a togetherness of the Area and will only go on to make it even better.”

In the three disciplines at the Festival, the team scoring was as follows: points were awarded to each team competitor depending on their placing (1st =1 point, 2nd = 2 points etc) relative only to other team competitors in that class. The points for the three best-placed team members were added together to give the team score and the team with the least points were the winners.

Dressage winners

In dressage, which was run over two days in the Rose Garden and Indoor, the winning team was the Killultagh 1 quartet of Faith Greer, Georgia Shannon, Rosey Herron and Amelia Wheeler, whose total was seven points. On double that score, the North Down team of Grace Jackson, Eve Lawther, Heidi Martin and Katie O’Reilly finished second, ahead of the Iveagh 4 squad of Anna Poots, Ella McCrory, Pippa Moore and Jessica Mulgrew, who were on a total of 21.

Twenty-nine teams started in the dressage section, where the chief steward was Faith Ponsonby, who could well be on three ground juries at the upcoming Ballindenisk international horse trials (April 24th to 28th). The North Down Branch fielded seven teams, five squads represented East Antrim while there were four teams apiece for East Downs and the Iveaghs.

Two grades were catered for on Saturday, with those in the 44-runner PC70 riding their tests in the Rose Garden. Here, judge Coreen Abernethy awarded the weekend’s highest score (79.40%) to the East Downs’ Imogen Gray riding the Connemara gelding Mount Temple Boy, a 19-year-old bay by Loughlum Sadat.

Mid Antrim’s Katie Surgenor slotted into second on DS Ebony Boy (75.60), ahead of the double-handed Grace Jackson of the North Down Branch, who placed third with Holybush Juno (73) and fourth with Greendown Mandarin (71.40).

Glory for McCrory

Abernethy also judged the PC80 (Grassroots) competition, which was held indoors. Again, there was a clear-cut winner in Iveagh member Ella McCrory, who scored 75.21% on the 12-year-old grey gelding Bobby Dazzler. Killultagh’s Georgia Shannon claimed the second spot on Daisy (72.71) with the East Antrims’ Annie Davis finishing third on AJ Lightening Cavalier (71.04).

The same judge was back in the indoor arena on Sunday for the Novice competition, where she awarded her highest score, 71.88%, to two riders on the same collective mark (50.5). These were North Down Branch member Alice Salters, who was on board Wilderwood Storm, a 20-year-old ISH gelding by Westside Mirah, who she competes at EI80 level with Eventing Ireland, and Killultagh’s Rosey Herron riding the ISH mare Twentypark Empress.

This 11-year-old daughter of Emperor Augustus recorded five EI90 (Amateur) wins last season with Herron’s mum, Johanna in the saddle, concluding their campaign with a second-place finish at that level at the Eventing Ireland national championships. For good measure, Herron junior also placed third in Sunday’s class with Solitaire Rusty Brown (71.67).

Erin McCrea recorded two wins before Ponsonby in the Rose Garden, in both cases riding her father Clinton’s Rubane Candy, a 12-year-old grey/roan mare by OB Active with whom she competes at Novice level with Dressage Ireland, at EI100 (J) level with Eventing Ireland and at 1.10m level with Showjumping Ireland.

The combination scored 74.50% in the seven-runner Intermediate, where their nearest rivals were the North Down pairing of Eve Adair on Dot (70.50), while they scored 73.75 in the Open, where their only rivals were Fermanagh’s Emily Black and Donn Boy (64.53).