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First win for Southern BYRDS at Home International

last updated on August 09, 2016 16:10

First win for Southern BYRDS at Home International

Team spirit was sky high at this year’s hotly contested BYRDS Home International, held at Sparsholt College, Hants, where Southern’s Rhythm team held on to their overnight lead to claim the title for the first time with a historic victory for their region.
Runners up were last year’s winners North West’s Rumba, with Southern’s Elegance team placed third.

Twenty-one-year-old winning team captain Hannah Knight from Gravesend, Essex, who described the event as an “ amazing weekend to remember”, was justly proud of her team mates; 18-year-old Phoebe Osborn, 16-year-old Maisie Hodge and 12-year-old Betsey Smetham, who were all placed in the top 10 over the two days.

“Taking part was a huge experience for us all, but winning made us feel so incredibly proud, I’ve had this warm feeling in my stomach ever since,” said Hannah, who rode her own Dutch-bred mare Knight Parnashe, winning their medium test on the second day with 69.7%.

“The pressure was on us from the start as we all desperately wanted to do well for our RDO Sharon Walker – she’s a very special lady and we all feel we owe her so much. We knew that our region hadn’t won the title before, so we decided to really go for it and give it our best shot.

“Being overnight leaders, we did our best to keep calm and focussed -- our team were incredible and so supportive to each other which really helped us all raise our game on the second day.”

Hannah, who has Type 1 diabetes, has ridden since the age of two and been an active member of BYRDS since she was nine years old. Although she was placed sixth in the PDS Saddles Elementary Restricted Freestyle at this year’s NAF Five Star Winter Championships at Hartpury, and fifth in the Petplan Equine Area Festival finals at Medium Restricted level, this was her first time riding at the Home International and Hannah admits that initially she was a bit unsure what to expect. However, with unending encouragement from team members, loyal supporters and families, as well as invaluable help from Southern regional trainers Emma Mc Gurk and Southern BYRDS regional rep Sam Osborn, every rider rode confidently into the arena.

“I’ve never been great at handling competition nerves and because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I sometimes let nerves get the better of me, but my team mates were fantastic in helping to keep me calm throughout and together we made sure we all enjoyed ourselves and made the most of this memorable occasion,” said Hannah. “The Home International is a highly competitive, but super-friendly championships and I’d love to do it all over again next year!”

Winning RDO Sharon Walker summed up the excitement of the wining weekend: “I can’t begin to express how happy and proud I am of them all,” she said. “We have been chasing a Home International cup for all of the six years I have been in post and up until now, it has always been a win that eluded us. This time they did it and I have never been more proud of a group of riders!”

Sharon also paid tribute to the standard and quality of combinations from every region taking part, which continues to go from strength to strength and this year was certainly no exception.

“In selecting our teams, we always look at every available combination in an effort to not only put together a successful group, but select young riders who are going to support and encourage each other, and from the outset our riders showed a maturity and grace that belied their young years!”, she explained.

“I have always said that it isn’t just about winning, but in all sorts of ways it is. Team Rhythm brought home the winner’s cup and for that I am ‘busting at the seams’ proud, but other things happened at Sparsholt too this weekend that also showed what an amazing spirit and sense of determination our riders have.

“A couple of moments this weekend will always stay with me -- Catherine Peck and Imogen McMurray both had disasters in their tests, but they remained positive, supportive and determined - I know senior riders that would have been a blubbering mess!

“Rachel Hawkins turned things around with 12% difference in scores and will become legendary in Southern tales of triumphs past!

“Merlie Latimer Smith, I will always see you on the naughty Dotty, but this weekend you were an elegant, talented young rider. Jess Whitehead pulled back a test that went wrong and I was amazed how calm and collected she was and Anna Dalrymple has had real challenges, but they should all look at what they have achieved, how very far they have come and how far they will go.

“Southern BYRDS are all talented, amazing riders with many more cups and successes to come. On Sunday night I said Polos and carrots for the ponies, wine for the over 18s and for the rest, my heartfelt thanks for making this weekend one of the happiest team weekends ever!”

• BYRDS is the British Young Riders Dressage scheme, and is open to every young person under the age of 25 who would like to be involved in Regional training, competitions and camps. It is also a great way to meet new friends learn more about the sport.
To find out more visit

1, Southern Rhythm: Hannah Knight, Phoebe Osborn, Maisie Hodge, Betsey Smetham
2, North West Rumba: Lauren Sweetland, Emily Watts, Maddy Whelan, Emily Pugh
3, Southern Elegance: Holly Colgate Hardaway, Merlyn Latimer Smith, Bonnie Bourne, Harriet McCentee

For full results - click here