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Despite a year’s absence, the finalists of the 2021 Simon Constable Equine Vets and Mr & Mrs Roberts Ridden Purebred Arab of the Year Championship looked as though they had never been away. The Championship was held midday on Saturday 9 October, the penultimate day of the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), and attracted a large audience into the electric TopSpec arena. Kathy Houghton took up the reins as the ride judge and Annette Dixon judged the conformation of the 17 present finalists.
As the horses entered the arena of dreams, as read a banner on the warm-up side of the entrance to the TopSpec ring, there was a brief moment to reflect on the tales of the 2021 showing season. Although 2020 had seen the sport grind to a halt, 2021 had proved fruitful for organisers and exhibitors alike. Stoneleigh Horse Show fielded four separate qualifiers for the championships, and the Arab Horse Society National Championship Show once again offered three golden tickets. Notably, the Meads Show Team qualified and presented four horses for HOYS which may be a record in this class and is in any case a monumental achievement. Many horses arrived at HOYS after some big wins, perhaps none more so than the reigning champion Rafeekah (Designed x Kaamelia) who netted the Royal Windsor, Royal International Horse Show, and AHS National Championship titles. After a year away, all the combinations looked happy to be back and aware of the importance of the class for showcasing the breed to a large audience.
Rafeekah, the 2021 HOYS Ridden Arab Champion. Credit Kerry Bates
As usual, the class was split into two for the go-round and the second group stayed in for the ride judge while the original group were presented for conformation judging. Although the second group to be ridden were interrupted by a loud ‘flash-mob’ organised by HOYS, the horses coped admirably with the music that shook the seating and seemed more suited to a music festival than a horse show. However, such is the unpredictability of the sport and HOYS has always been truly one-of-a-kind; it adds to the magic.
There was a wonderful mix of experienced campaigners and HOYS first-timers in the line-up, and the audience awaited the results with bated breath. It is important to note that there was an error in the class that meant two placed horses were not called into the final line up. The following results are reported correctly to show the amendments. Unfortunately, mistakes can sometimes happen, and the stewards are only human but the grace with which the affected competitors handled the aftermath of the situation is a testament to the showing community.
Following his epic season, Rafeekah (Designed x Kaamelia) kept his crown after being called forward as the Ridden Purebred Arab of the Year Champion. Bred by Helen Cawley and owned by Kerry Bates, Rafeekah once again gave a foot-perfect performance to score joint-top in the ride (48/50) and top in the conformation (47/50) sections, giving them an unassailable score of 95/100. Young rider Kimberley Bates once again showed her class and experience piloting Rafeekah to another victory, although this one was particularly historic as no other Arabian has posted back-to-back championship titles. As well as the usual rosettes and rug, eight-year old Rafeekah also received the Arab Horse Society Perpetual Trophy for winning the championship and the Elustarius Perpetual Trophy for finishing as the highest placed gelding.
The 2021 HOYS Ridden Arab Champion, Rafeekah. Credit Kerry Bates
The Beruga Perpetual Trophy, presented to the highest placed mare, was awarded to the 2021 reserve champion Signet (Adawy x Om El Shabrina) who finished on 88/100. Bred and owned by Judith Powell, Signet was ridden by Louisa Biles and – like the champion – qualified at Stoneleigh Horse Show. The nine-year old grey mare was the final horse in the first group to be ridden and performed well for the judge to score 47/50.
Taking 3rd on this occasion was the HOYS debutante TM Gwendolyn (Adawy x Gardenja), bred by Tina Atherton. The sire, Adawy (Borneo x Ashiqa) was HOYS champion in 2013 and his qualified daughters finished 2nd and 3rd this year, what an achievement! TM Gwendolyn was two marks behind the reserve on 86/100 and was responsive to the ride judge as well as her owner/rider Amanda Miller.
CS Lelisha, Aja Adonis, Aleeyah Matisse and Forever Spirit of Versace
Although they finished on the same score as TM Gwendolyn, Kirsty Nelson and CS Lelisha (Krown x G Lilja) took 4th this year at the world’s most famous horse show. CS Lelisha was the first of the second group to be ridden and performed beautifully for the ride judge to equal the score of this year’s champion, a testament to her training by the Meads Show Team. Bred by Mr A and Mrs J Davis, the 12-year old mare is proudly owned by Len Morgan and qualified at Aintree. ‘Lilly’ is now reported to be an expectant mother for next season; perhaps we might see that foal following in mum’s footsteps as a multiple-garlanded show horse?
CS Lelisha and Mirv
Rounding out the top five was Mirv (Psadisho Ibn Esstashan x Mirvana 11), who took the championship back in 2017 with Clare Fitch. The 13-year old grey gelding was the last to perform his show and went sweetly for the judge to finish on a score of 85/100. Mirv is owned and bred by The Hon Mary-Ann Wragg who has been a committed supporter of the Arabian breed for many years.
The marks reflected a scramble for the placings in this year’s championship, as there were only seven marks between 2nd and 12th. In 6th place, finishing on 84/100, was Aja Adonis (WH Justice x Sanadina), bred by Aja Arabians and trained by the Meads Show Team. ‘Dave’ is owned by Ben Delamere and was superbly piloted on this occasion by Maria Pook.
The Reserve Champion of 2019, Cbeebies (Monther Al Nasser x FS Cinderella) had to settle for 7th on this occasion, but he moved beautifully for the judge having impressed on the go-round. Cbeebies was bred by Mr C and Mrs J Lowe, is owned by Tracey Hateley, and was ridden by Kaitlyn Fairhurst on this occasion.
One mark behind in 8th was Aja Guiliano (Aja Angelo x Sahina), bred by Aja and owned by Susan Robinson. The 2018 Champion ignored the flash-mob that had recently started, giving the judge a safe and comfortable looking ride to score 46/50 in this section. Aja Guiliano was piloted by Harrison Taylor as his usual rider, Clare Fitch, was aboard Mirv.
The top nine was rounded off by Venus Virtuoso (Marbon Mobago x LTF Neschima C) on 83/100. The nine-year old chestnut gelding was bred by Mrs M Steele and owned by Amanda Miller, although it was John Osbourne who took the ride at HOYS. Although they could not match their 6th place from 2019, ‘Jerry’ once again scored highly with the ride judge for 47/50 and were only five marks off 2nd place.
Star Design (Designed x Grenlana) and Gemma Lucas finished 10th at his first HOYS after impressing on the go-round with his lovely paces. Sired by the same horse as the champion, this eight-year old gelding was bred by Mr EJ Jones and owned by Jacky Every.
Another chestnut gelding who was impressive on the go-round was Tracey and Joanne Hateley’s nine-year old Cipriana (Mascot des Alps x FS Cinderella), bred by Mr C & Mrs J Lowe and ridden by Jade Hateley. Cipriana gave a comfortable looking ride to stand 11th and finished on a competitive score of 82/100.
Finishing 12th on a score of 81/100 was the six-year old HOYS debutante Jumeirah (Psadisho Ibn Esstashan x Jumainah), bred by Michelle and Hugh Segre, and owned by Katie O’Brien. Beautifully ridden by Sian Warman, Jumeirah deified her youth and relative inexperience to perform maturely and is surely a great hope for the future.
The Cantsfield Perpetual Trophy for the highest placed stallion was awarded to Alonzo (Abha Qatar x Casablanca Bint Djammal), bred by Mr & Mrs H A Segre and owned by Michelle Segre. Stephanie Zebedee once again rode this chestnut stallion to impress on the go-round, and he was a credit to his producer despite a slight miscommunication with the judge.
With the class over, all the combinations all made their way home for some time to relax and reflect on their return to HOYS. All except one. For Kimberley and Rafeekah, there was still the small matter of the Supreme Horse of the Year that took place on the following and final day of the Horse of the Year Show. By now, this combination is no stranger to performing in supreme championships, having represented the Arabians both at HOYS 2019 and RIHS 2021. Once again, Rafeekah looked completely ‘at home’ among the other section champions, the best of the best from HOYS 2021. It was hard to remember that Rafeekah is only eight and Kimberley is only 22 as they went head-to-head with some of showing’s biggest names. Rafeekah was the smallest horse with the biggest heart and performed another foot-perfect individual show for this year’s supreme judges. Although the supreme went to Robert Walker and the Hunter Champion, Viewpoint (Loughahoe Guy x Quality Dame), Rafeekah looked identical in quality to the far larger and more experienced combination. Once again, the little Arab captured the hearts of spectators in the main ring and continues to inspire the next generation – as overheard when two young girls compared him to a “magical dancing unicorn”. Rafeekah, you are a real-life unicorn and an ambassador to the breed.
Rafeekah competing in the Supreme Horse. Credit Kerry Bates
Katherine Bertram is an English young rider who competes in a variety of different disciplines on her mother’s homebred pure and part-bred Arabians. Having achieved advanced rider status in Endurance after her first season at age 14 on Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), Katherine turned her attention to showjumping with his progeny, at which she currently competes at Senior Newcomers (1.10). As well as also delving into showing, eventing and, occasionally, dressage, Katherine juggles her studies while attending the University of Birmingham.