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Posted on 28th April 2015

Bicton Arena stages spectacular first international competition


Devon’s first ever international horse trials drew plaudits from spectators and competitors alike following three days of intense competition which took place at Bicton Arena in East Devon at the weekend.

Organiser Helen West, who also manages the arena, had added an international class to Bicton’s schedule to provide West country-based riders with the opportunity to ride at that level. She also wanted to make it a spectacle for visitors and used the main showjumping arena, which has its own natural amphitheatre, to position several new cross country fences.

She explained: “I wanted to create something really exciting for spectators and by making the main arena one of the focal points it has really worked. I am thrilled with the crowd which is way beyond what we had hoped for and it’s fantastic for the county of Devon too as it’s the first time an international competition has been staged and we’ve proved we have the capability of doing it.

“Entries were full across all three days which is testament to the reputation Bicton is rapidly gaining as a premier competition venue and riders have been really positive. Being a rider myself we’ve been able to pay attention to the extra details which have helped turn a good competition into an excellent one.”

Nineteen-year-old Ella Hitchman (pictured) from Cheltenham, was crowned the inaugural winner of the Empire Coachbuilders-sponsored international class riding Rocky Rockstar.

Ella added just 3.3 time penalties to her dressage score of 44.4 to finish ahead of Sarah Holmes, from the Isle of White, on Lowhill Clover in second and Surrey’s Laura Normand riding Vardigo in third.

Ella said: “The course rode really well. I had some worries because as soon as you got to fence seven, until fence 15, there was no let up and it did need attacking. You had to kick all the way. But I have so much trust in my horse and he was fantastic. I’ve never done anything like jump into a main arena before and it really added something to the course.”

Ella purchased Rocky three and a half years ago to introduce her to novice level. Last year they were on the junior squad and finished ninth as individuals at Bishops Burton and this season they have their sights set on selection for Young Riders with their first trial at Aston Le Walls in May.

Cullompton-based former international event rider Clarissa Bleekman, whose daughter Janou finished seventh riding Gerry Mills’ Granntevka Prince, said: “Its been a super event and I’ve heard nothing but praise for it. It’s really putting Devon on the map and everything has been perfect.”

The event was staged with the support of British Eventing Volunteers who carry out a variety of roles free of charge, from collecting scores to fence judging. Exeter University student Sarah Gulliford who manned the road crossing after competing in a BE90 section, said: “I’ve loved every minute of it. Its so well organised and very friendly and all the students were very encouraging.”

Fellow volunteer Louise Sharpe added: “It’s amazing that Devon has staged its first international event. It really good for the south-west and the facilities are superb. Helen and her team have done a fantastic job.”

With her sights set on adding advanced classes and going up another rung and staging a three star competition, Helen isn’t resting on her laurels.

“I have huge ambitions for this place. We’ve proved this weekend we can do it and I would love now to get a three star competition,” she said.

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