Harbury coach Lisa Davis believes Warwickshire Hunt Pony Club can justify their favourites tag at the Mounted Games Championships, which reach their conclusion at the Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham this weekend.
Warwickshire’s under-16 team finished second last year after reaching the finals for the first time and will be battling it out for the Prince Philip Cup with five other rivals from an original field of more than 250.
The Mounted Games Championship was launched in 1957 by the Duke of Edinburgh who aimed to create an event in which children with ‘ordinary’ ponies could compete on equal terms with the more privileged.
A format based on cavalry skills was used, designed to enhance rider skills and teamwork.
The combination of explosive speed, dexterity and acrobatic vaulting skills - plus occasional temperamental displays from over-excited ponies quickly made it one of the Horse of the Year Show’s most popular events.
The games on show at the NEC will include old gymkhana favourites like the Bending and Flag and Mug, as well as newer and lesser known ones, such as The Tack Shop, Beanbag and The Pony Club Pole.
After qualifying for the Horse of the Year Show by winning the Zone final at Moreton Morrell in June, Warwickshire also snatched victory at the Royal Bath and West show and Davis says they are confident of going one better than 2013.
“Our side are outstanding,” said Davis, “and it’s because of their superb teamwork and camaraderie through competing together for so long, rather than having just one or two superstar riders.
“It’s a tough physical sport: our youngsters train at running and vaulting as well as just roaring about on their ponies and we have to practise more than a dozen possible games.
“The riders have to be adaptable as the organisers always throw in one or two surprise games to test how quick on the uptake they and their ponies are.
“I suppose our real strengths are the vaulting games where you have to leap back on your pony as it’s cantering along and the final game of the championships which is always ‘Big Sack’.
“This takes amazing teamwork as the entire side ends up racing for the line, jumping in unison inside a gigantic sack and it always brings the house down as it’s so easy for everyone to get out of step and fall in a heap.
“It’ll be a real battle as the slightest slip can make all the difference - but I’d say the smart money’s on us to win the Prince Philip Cup as this is one of the strongest sides we’ve ever produced.”
Lisa’s daughter Kelly, 23, who as a teenager represented Britain at Mounted Games, is acting as groom and mentor for the week, while Hampton Lucy rider Ella Clark, 14, will be one of the five-strong team.
“I love the excitement and the friendliness of it - and the speed of the races,” said Clark who will be riding her striking grey pony Marble.
“It’s a big commitment to do all the training sessions and travelling away to shows but we’ve got a great training team and our parents are really supportive, driving us all over the country.”