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Bodiam, Covid-19 and Virtual Western Shows

Most of you will know Bodiam with all the hustle and bustle of a horse show in full swing.  However, most of the time the yard has a quiet and peaceful air about it – though nothing prepared us for the Covid-19 lockdown that was to descend upon us this Spring. Never before have we had to stop owners coming to see, let alone ride their own horses, and never before have our horses enjoyed such a long and relaxing summer, with horse show after horse show postponed or cancelled. Many hours were spent on the phones hoping and praying, organising and reorganising, planning and un-planning ways in which we just might be able to go ahead and hold our International Festival of Western Riding.  Sadly as May drew ever closer it became clear that no amount of hope was going to enable us to run the event….the first time it has been cancelled since its inception over 25 years ago.


As the months moved on, restrictions eased and people finally started trickling back on to the yard – one by one with their tack wiped down and left for them by their stables. With no offers of tea and cake (a staple for one and all here at Sterling!) and hand sanitiser everywhere, it became clear that people were itching to do something and so the GOE Virtual Show idea was born.


These events proved quite a hit, with Doug Allen roped in to judge like he has never judged before (though we feel it has got him well prepared for the AQHA World Show that he will be judging later on this year). It was with a lot of trial and a little bit of error that we got the ball rolling on what was to be a series of 5 virtual shows ,where people could film their patterns from the comfort of their own home, arena, field or woodland (for anyone who hasn’t viewed Sue Alexanders freestyle trail pattern on our GOE Virtual Horse Show Facebook page I highly recommend you watch all the way to the end!) and  allowed people the chance to focus on their horses and have something to aim for. With prize money and rosettes on offer we had classes for every level and ability, and it was lovely to see some faces who have not been able to make it to GOE shows in the past, with entries as far afield as Ireland and Germany.


The Ranch Horse classes throughout these virtual shows proved so popular that we decided to put on a Versatility Ranch Horse clinic with Doug and the demand was astounding. What started as a single clinic weekend has turned into 5 full clinics with 2 still to run as I type. Despite not being able to host spectators and limiting numbers to allow us to stick to the specified groups of 6, everyone has been having huge amounts of fun, learning to correctly dally and drag logs, rope steer and improve in all aspects of the VRH Trail and Ranch Riding classes. These clinics have been attended by a wide variety of riders from trainers to amateurs, quarter horses to Andalusians and even English riders in their English saddles….they really have been open to and enjoyed by one and all.


We are very much hoping to be able to hold some shows and events later on this year, however for those of you who are not able to travel, the GOE Virtual Shows will be making a return over the winter – just keep an eye on our Facebook page.

Rain, Snow and Sunshine for our 2018/2019 Dressage Championships

All the seasons came at once for our last show of the 2018/2019 Winter Unaffiliated Dressage Championship but that didn't stop a fabulous turnout in what a became a hotly contested show all round.

We have been incredibly lucky to have had the most amazing bunch of competitors and sponsors this year who have made our events a joy to run. Wealden Saddlery in Hurst Green donated gorgeous embroidered Le Mieux Thermo Cool rugs for the Hi-Point winner in each of our categories over the series. These were won by Ann Davey and Nantwood Unique in the Intro, Jane Miles and Teenando in the Prelim, Nicola Peters and Vampi in the Novice and Nicole White and Timmo in the Elementary.


The Champion and Reserve Champion titles in each class were fought out and a huge congratulations go to Rachael Lloyd with Democrat Darcy who were the champions in our Intro class with Tracy Knott and Falcon in reserve, Liam Cornford with Cuffstown Gent (Champion) and Hazel Jabbitt with Lexi (Reserve) in the Prelim, Liam Cornford with American Agenda (Champion) and Sarah Vinall with Silverlea Sambuca (Reserve) in the Novice and finally

Channons Country Store and Sarah Mitchell Horse Rug Washing have also been loyal sponsors throughout this, and previous series, with many of you winning their kindly donated prizes each month.

We can't end this series without saying a big thank you to Andy on the gate - come rain or shine he is there with his watch ensuring that we are always running to time, Max in the cafe with her famous sausage rolls and Issy for spending countless hours calling tests that I am sure she must know off by heart. The final total she has raised for charity this series is £451.23 and this will be split between Friends of Hurstwood Park and Sussex Cancer Fund.


And last but not least Mary, the smooth running of these shows is testament to the hours of work she puts into ensuring everything goes to plan - and pretending not to panic when it doesn't!


We have had a great series and look forward to seeing you all on the 12th October.

Regular BIA Competitor invited to Ladies Day Parade!

We were delighted to hear the news that regular BIA unaffiliated dressage competitor Jane Miles and her wonderful Thoroughbred Teenando were invited to attend the Retrained Racehorse (RoR) Awareness Parade at Brighton Racecourse Ladies Day on Thursday 9th August 2018.

Jane said 'Nando and I were invited to take part because we did so well in your last Season's Dressage League and accumulated lots of points for the RoR Racehorse to Dressage Horse Unaffiliated League, in which he came 10th, which was amazing and I am so proud of him. Nando is 18 years old and had a long and successful Steeplechasing career, before I bought him 4 years ago.  He is an amazing intelligent and athletic horse, and has really enjoyed taking up Dressage in his later years'.

Jane and Nando have been regulars at all of our winter dressage shows and accumulated many of their points here with us. We look forward to welcoming them back to our first show of the season on the 13th October. If you have a retrained racehorse and would like a venue that can offer you the chance to gain those coveted points for the RoR unaffiliated dressage Horse league then why not come along and find out why Bodiam is one of the most popular dressage venues in the South East

Fantastic results at our Unaffiliated Dressage Championships

The sun shone and there were Easter Eggs a plenty for our Unaffiliated Dressage Championships on the 31st March.

Our first class of the day – Intro B, was won by Caroline Stannard and her 12 year old mare Poppy. They rode a beautiful test to win the Championship title with a score of 69.13% and were presented with their trophy, sash and rosette by judge Muriel Ambler. Caroline and Poppy also took home a lycra suit, courtesy of our wonderful sponsors Maxima Equestrian and some chocolate Easter goodies! The reserve title, sash and Maxima Equestrian fleece rug went to Stephany Skinner and her young horse Miss P who were only just piped to the post. This pair have come on leaps and bounds throughout our winter series and we can’t wait to see what the future has in store for them.

Liam Cornford and the gorgeous Teddy (owned by Julie Benson) were the clear winners of our Prelim Championship, storming home on a score of 74.04% with Kathryn Ovenden and Whiz ‘N’ Quik taking the reserve title on 69.04%. Liam also went on to win the Elementary title on his own Di Maggio Chills Dino with the reserve going to Sarah Vinall and Sam.

Our Novice title was won by Kathryn Bottomley and the fabulous Starry Joe who took the trophy and wide array of prizes with a score of 69.42%, presented by judge Jane Bwye. Gill Applegate and Alhudaydah, who have been working hard throughout the series, took our reserve sash and prizes with 67.50%.

Throughout our Winter series Issy Le Pla has been calling test and holding a raffle to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness and local charity Children with Cancer Fund – Polegate. Both of these amazing charities have been a huge support personally to people here at the Bodiam International Arena and we are all incredibly grateful for the hours Issy has put in to raise money for these fabulous causes. From the generosity of our competitors she has managed to raise a tremendous £805 this season which will be split between these two deserving causes.

All that remains is to say thank you to everyone who has competed with us this season – we have had over 350 horses and riders compete through the series, many of whom have won prizes donated by our wonderful sponsors – Maxima Equestrian, Martyn Channons Country Store and Sarah Mitchell Rug Washing and Repairs. Finally we have to thank Max in our café (if it wasn’t for her famous sausage rolls I’m not sure we would have made it through this particularly cold series!), Andy who spends hours on the gate at every show and all of our judges and scribes.

We look forward to seeing you all again in October!

Photographs courtesy of Photo Events UK

15th Anniversary International Show a Great Success!

From small acorns grow great oaks, is a phrase that might seem to fit the Garden of England International horse show. In 2002 Francesca Sternberg a keen NRHA and AQHA member had a thought and rang Jane Muir,  an experienced show secretary about holding a small one day show. Summer in England in July brought about thoughts of strawberries and cream and Pimms and with this in mind three sponsors were lured onto a sofa beneath an oak tree to watch a small but delightful show take place. It was judged by Doug Allen, Francesca’s husband, Francesca was the ring steward, and it was over in time for tea at 3.30pm.


Over the next few years Francesca and Jane continued to egg each other on to have bigger and better ideas, always with cries of  “it is ALL your fault”  The show grew in to firstly a two day show, then three, then five and now two large International events. Francesca says she can’t quite believe how it all unfolded. Jane said it was Francesca’s doing, and Mary La Pla, who runs Francesca’s office, just sighs and can only barely be seen underneath the pile of export licenses, health papers and ferry bookings needed to get the foreign riders on and most importantly off the island.  Strawberries and cream have morphed in to a sumptuous sponsor’s cream team with champagne, and the prize money has over the years been high enough to make or break many world champion titles.


Keen each year to keep raising the bar, and finding new unique angles ,the show has introduced elements such as Live steaming, a first for the UK, with hits as far afield as Japan and Australia, let alone the USA, Canada, and across Europe, clicking on to see the quintessential British Horse show set against the back drop of the fabulous Bodiam Castle. In 2012 the show became the first category A show in the UK with $50,000 added prize money. Along the way CRI’s were added in to allow British riders to qualify for World Equestrian Games (WEG),but soon the Europeans were flooding in to gain their star ratings and also qualify for FEI competitions in Europe and the WEG. World Class judges from around the world fly in to join commentator, Boris Kook from Germany who introduces riders in their own native language. Roland Hahn also from Germany organizes all the cables and wifi so the show can be viewed worldwide and  Dirk Buttner bedecked in cameras captures the images in his unique and amazing way.


Whilst there is the serious competing there is also huge amounts of fun to be had. The show is a firm fixture on the calendar with families attending for the week to camp against the backdrop of the Castle and have fun with their children. “Small Fry” classes were held and many of the graduates can now be seen competing Nationally and Internationally. As Francesca said, “we have seen people grow up here at the show over the years and many are riding horses that are the produce of their original show horses, or even grand children of them. It is amazing to see.  Some are still riding the same horses that thy started in some fifteen years ago and there is a memorable “win “ picture of the schoolmasters with their riders, five horses whose ages added up to over 100 years and with records so long that they would need to be printed on toilet rolls! It is about celebrating the old as well as the new in the case of this show!

The show always raises funds for a local charity as well as the Macmillan, a support group who provide nurses and support for cancer sufferers and their families at a very difficult time of their lives. 


This year marked the fifteenth year of what started out as a fun “Pony Party” It has helped Reining become a firm fixture on the British Equestrian calendar and raise the profile of a sport that has become much loved by many. As Francesca says  “We realize and appreciate that many of our competitors give up a large proportion of their holiday time to come to Bodiam to show and for that we are very grateful . We love welcoming back the familiar faces year after year, watching the children grow up and as well as greeting new people just starting out. 

Photographs courtesy of LRG Photography and LUX Company.

Para riders raise the roof over the May bank holiday at the first EVER Para Reining competition in the UK.

Riding horses they hardly knew, in a new discipline in front of a huge crowd, the riders demonstrated their exceptional skills producing fluent and accurate patterns. On day one Fiona Durston, a 3* Dressage rider from Kent, who is registered blind, took the top place ahead of former Team GBR Dressage member and individual Paralympic Silver medalist Ricky Balshaw.

A delighted Fiona said “ I have had a whirlwind week, a crash course in a new sport and I have loved every second of it! I could never have imagined winning on the first day, and am really excited to be trying to qualify for Holland. I can’t wait to see what the future might bring”!

Balshaw, back in the saddle for the first time after retiring from Dressage exactly a year ago, placed second, after just two days of practice. Sir Lee Pearson, 11 time Paralympic Gold medalist came in third, finding the change of saddles to be quite the challenge, whilst swapping 17 hand Olympic Champion Zion to a 15 hand quarter horse mare. Pearson said, “What a wonderful introduction to the Para Reining! Great atmosphere, great competition, and most of all great horses.”

Day 2 and the challenge was on, not just for the riders to beat each other but also to post high enough scores to qualify for the Para Reining World Championships in Holland this July. With only 4 days left before the entry dead line the riders had no room for error. This time it was Pearson who set the bar, pulling an exceptional run out of the bag on a new horse, Smart Like Valentino. Balshaw, providing the audience with an exceptional sliding stop was a mere ½ point behind, the smallest margin in a competition judged by three International Judges. Durston banked a safe run on Big Step Moonlight, ensuring her qualification for Holland. Balshaw said, “I feel privileged and honoured to have been part of the first ever Para Reining Competition in the UK. I am very excited to be qualified for the World Para Reining in Holland and can’t wait to compete in another World Championship in a new sport”.

Organiser, Francesca Sternberg was completely delighted at the success of the event, noting the large crowd that it attracted, as well as an overwhelming interest online and through out the social media network. “These riders have showcased their exceptional talents in an outstanding demonstration that proves Reining and horses can open doors for so many people with disabilities. I look forward to seeing the competition at the Para World Reining event in 5 weeks and feel confident that our riders will be very competitive and as always a huge credit to Great Britain”.

Photographs courtesy of LRG Photography

© 2017 by the Bodiam International Arena                                              

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