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The Saracen Horse Feeds Houghton International is coming to Houghton Hall

PUBLISHED: 10:41 25 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:41 25 April 2019

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel preparing to compete in the Houghton International (photo: Ian Burt)

Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel preparing to compete in the Houghton International (photo: Ian Burt)

Archant 2017

Exhilarating world class equestrian competition comes to Norfolk in May at the stately Houghton Hall

Attracting top competitors from across the globe, the Houghton International Horse Trials is considered one of top events on the equestrian calendar.

Since gaining international status 12 years ago, the event held in the spectacular grounds of Houghton Hall now welcomes more than 700 horses and hosts the only British leg of the FEI Eventing Nation's Cup, where teams from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand battle it out to top the table come the final event in Holland in October.

Current eventing world champion Ros Canter, who grew up, and is based in neighbouring county Lincolnshire, has competed at Houghton many times, and says it has become a hugely important part of international competition.

“Houghton is a beautiful setting so getting to spend a few days staying in the park is special in itself. The competition is also very competitive so it is a great chance to see how you are doing against international competitors and normally the weather is just starting to warm up which always makes it lovely.”

Competitors at the Houghton International Horse Trials (photo: Ian Burt)Competitors at the Houghton International Horse Trials (photo: Ian Burt)

For those who don't know what to expect during the weekend, Ros says there are three very different, but equally compelling, phases of eventing

“The dressage is the first phase. The riders have a set routine to ride with movements being marked out of 10. Dressage should look elegant and effortless and the lowest score from this phase takes the lead. The next phase is the cross country. This is a combination of speed, endurance and bravery of both horse and rider and it is exciting and adrenaline-filled.

“One mistake can knock you right of the competition and here you will see lots of action including the odd tumble! The showjumping phase comes last. This is another jumping challenge but here the jumps knock down, so the need for precision is great. The challenge is made more difficult because the cross country phase the day before might have taken a lot out of the horse and the competitors will go in reverse order making the pressure tough at the top! The combination with the lowest finishing score wins overall.”

This year Ros is pregnant with her first baby, due in July, so she will be there in a different role – watching her horses compete rather than riding them.

British eventing rider Kelly Aldous at the Houghton International Horse Trials (photo: Ian Burt)British eventing rider Kelly Aldous at the Houghton International Horse Trials (photo: Ian Burt)

“I know I will be itching to get going again though! The plan is to get back to give Olympic selection a go next year.”

Last year, she won a place at the World Equestrian Games in America where she won both the team and individual gold medals on her horse Allstar B.

“We spend years gearing up for a big win, but you can't plan for it, and the whole experience was surreal and amazing,” she says.

Training for major events is hugely demanding – and, running her own stables in Hallington means that there are many strands to the preparation and work.

“Our season runs from March to October and during this time life is pretty full-on. Unlike other sports we have numerous athletes to look after, because whilst we might be preparing our top horses for their major events or championships, we are also trying to bring on the younger horses for the future.

“A professional rider will train up to 15 horses a day, and a top horse will do fitness work every four days, with more specialised training for the different phases in between.”

The whole weekend at Houghton is a celebration of all things equestrian and as well as international competition, there is entertainment, shopping at the 70 or so trade stands, food and drink, children's circus workshops and, running alongside the international events, a variety of other riding competitions in three other arenas.

The Saracen Horse Feeds Houghton International is on May 23 – 26. For tickets and more information see musketeer.co.uk

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