The first class to get underway in Hickstead’s iconic Longines International Arena couldn’t have gone to a more local rider – with Ireland’s Shane Breen claiming the top honours in the Astore & Sons 1.35m Open Championship.
Although Shane rides under the Irish flag, he has been based at Hickstead since 2007, and is married to Chloe, the daughter of Hickstead’s late founder, Douglas Bunn.
He might be able to hack to the prestigious venue, but he points out there isn’t much of a home advantage. “It’s interesting, because we’re here every day, walking the horses around the roads, though obviously, we’re not allowed in the rings.
“The horses are used to seeing this place, but when the shows start, they come in the gate and they see a whole different set-up. It’s a bit daunting, because it’s not what they’re used to. You have horses that you take to other major shows and they go into the main arena and rise to the occasion, and they know what they’re there for and act accordingly, but my horses come here and they’re like, ‘what’s happening?!’ They’re a bit shell-shocked.”
Riding Quintella, Shane got the better of eleven other horse and rider combinations in the Astore & Sons 1.35m Open Championship jump-off to claim the win. His own eleven-year-old Polish Sport Horse mare Quintella delivered the quickest of just five double-clears. They stopped the clock in 35.82 seconds, nearly three seconds faster than second-placed Bryony Crippen and Cacharel Z.
This result is a promising early effort in what is a new partnership between horse and rider, with Quintella joining Breen’s string earlier this spring after suffering a bit of a crisis of confidence.
“I’m hoping she’ll come back to being very competitive, and jump the speed classes at five-star level,” he says. “We’re rebuilding a little bit, and it’s going the right way. She’s super careful, and very smart, and I think we’re starting to get that bond and connection, and that trust. As that grows, I think she’ll reach her full potential and we’ll hit those targets.”
Breen will be contesting a number of classes this week, including the showpiece Al Shira’aa Derby class, for which he’s considered a hot favourite to usurp reigning champion William Funnell’s claim to the title. As the home representative, does he feel the pressure to finally scoop the win?
“Pressure,” he says with a wry grin, “is for tyres. At the end of the day, when we go into the arena, we’re alone with our horses. We’ve done the homework, we’ve built the relationship, and all we can do is our best. If it happens, you’re elated – and if it doesn’t, you get back to work and you try again.”