The showjumping section at the Royal Highland show always attracts spectators, even those with no knowledge of horses who enjoy the thrills and spills getting behind each rider and at times proving highly vocal when supporting their favourites.

This year, for the jumping the showground was slightly eerie, with no visitors, no trade stands, no cattle or sheep, vast open grassy empty areas and just a frame of a grandstand.

Whilst it was significantly much quieter, the showjumping ring had a buzz of its own, with competitors delighted to be back out again, jumping in this fabulous arena.

Everyone was grateful to the organisers, the sponsors and the RHASS team for allowing the section to go ahead and classes were well filled and no less competitive, making for fantastic viewing on this year’s innovative Live Feed.

One young lady who has now experienced a win under both circumstances, in front of thousands of spectators in previous years and this year under Covid-19 restrictions was Annabelle Shields, whose Grand Prix victory was no less sweet or thrilling.

Twenty-five came forward to walk Mark McGowan’s Highland Showcase £4000 to the winner class and he didn’t disappoint, building big and beefy, carefully placing the 12 fences to use the whole arena and keep riders and horses on their toes from start to finish This offered up lines such as the oxer leaving the entrance on a forward six, or steady seven to a double, followed by a five to another square oxer, with all up to height.

Many thought Mark was ambitious predicting he’d finish with eight or nine first round clears, but exactly nine found the course to their liking, with a further five only touching one pole.

Of the nine through against the clock, eight remained clear all the way with the time playing biggest part. Jumping in the order of their first-round times with the fastest going last the battle for the winner’s purse really hotted up at the final three riders to go.

Holly Smith riding the big, scopey stallion, Fruselli, which had made himself at home already in this arena with a win the previous day, turned tight to the planks, kept moving in the long distances and kicked to the last oxer returning a very stylish but super effective clear in 37.51.

Simon Buckley watched this round and knew he couldn’t beat it, so just settled into a pace that suited his horse, Elia, taking an identical route to Holly to stop the clock in 40.10.

Just when everyone thought the class had been won Annabelle entered on her faithful partner, Wet Wet Wet. This 18-year-old grey was full of enthusiasm for the job, kept his ears pricked and just galloped between fences with both he and his jockey taking on the challenge managing to fly to the last, glancing at the clock as they landed taking a second to realise their time of 37.34 had done enough to win them the title for the second time.

From Co Durham, Annabelle used to ride all the novice horses for her father, Robert’s Hamilton Horses stable, learning her trade before acquiring and producing some more experienced horses building her confidence round the bigger classes.

Wet Wet Wet, with which she has forged a fabulous partnership with, is one of her favourites and only a week earlier they won the Grand Prix at Keysoe.

Cumbrian Simon Buckley was not disappointed with his third place, having headed the previous day’s International Stairway class again on the Wizzard-sired 12-year-old, Elia.

Shaun Sands was the course designer responsible for this test which Simon described as ‘fair’ but ‘not super tough’. It did prove tough enough when only four returned clears being joined by a four-faulter for the jump-off.

The jump-off track was long and this maybe played a part in some fences falling. Drawn first, Simon opted to just keep the pace up from start to finish and this tactic paid off when he and Elia took the back bar of an oxer under the judges’ box but still posted a strong time of 55.05.

Adrian Speight also hit the same back bar then moved forward but his time on Millfield Baloney of 57.94 dropped him into second, leaving Stephen Lohoar, having a great show on Delius F (double clear in the Grand Prix) in third, with the only other four fault round.

Simon tried to buy Elia as a four-year-old but had to wait a few years during which the horse was produced by Carla Bolam, before being purchased as an eight-year-old. They now will have the choice of shows to head to with South View being their next target before Bolesworth.

Loughborough-based Holly Smith has had plenty of invitations to jump abroad recently with her Tokyo-shortlisted Denver, but she chose to head to Scotland which was a move that would keep her owners very happy when she landed another Horse Of The Year show Grade C qualifier.

Eighteen came forward for this jump-off, but Holly once again rode such smooth and easy turns it was hard to see just how and where she had been so fast with her rides, Anne Bondi’s Avalon Sunset B and Dean Vernon’s Billy Sarafina finishing first and second.

Adam Botham came close to splitting Holly’s two when he steered Harvey III into third by just 0.01s down.

Claire Leitch is already through to HOYS with Incredibola in the Talent Seekers, but sitting in fourth place she was just one off the qualifying positions.

Only when they read the results did they realise that Holly had already qualified Billy Sarafina at Norfolk and Claire find out that she too picked up a qualifying ticket.

One of the most exciting classes was the Andrew Black Haulage and Storage open championship which is run as a Table C, where riders don’t collect faults they just add time. The fastest three from the first round then go head-to-head over the same course with the chance of winning double their place money.

In this class, the arena looked only half full of fences but with jumps on the centre line and on angles it made for some entertaining jumping when riders tried hard to find the quickest route.

The top three were all speed merchants, but finished in the same order after their second round. Normally, run in the grass arena but this year on the very well-maintained surface, riders were inclined to take more chances pushing even quicker.

James Smith stayed in third with Twix De La Roque, Mark Edwards was so unlucky to take one pole adding an extra four seconds with Tinkers Tale leaving Robert Murphy to take double his £700 first prize home on Elan V.

The lovely Elan V and Robert were also crowned Young Masters champion for 2021 this time relegating Red Morgan on True Blue II and leading Scottish ride of the show, Emma Crawford, who was there or thereabouts the whole show with her team of horses, third in this class on Ferragamo.

Jonathan Dixon and his father, David, were generous sponsors this year but did win their share of the money back thanks to the consistency of the speedy, careful Fireball. This 14-year-old Wittinger VDL son won two classes outright but was placed in others and along with stablemate Bahamas Courage ensured that Jonathan also took home the leading rider title.

The Equikro Classic was a popular 1.2m class giving a few more than normal the chance to jump in this fabulous arena. A few cricket scores were had but the final result was no surprise with two of Scotland’s and one of England’s most competitive ladies standing in the top three.

Ayrshire’s Lucy Stewart has now won almost every title possible with the incredible Cancun, a former HOYS champion which once again tried his heart out at a gallop to win the rug, sash and trophy up for grabs.

Claire Leitch gave chase with Warhol Wulfselection Z half a second slower with Hannah Barker on Cartouche II, just fractions of a second in arrears.

Morris Grand Prix winner, Douglas Duffin, on Katie McArdle’s Imperium RJ, managed to outpace Mark Edwards, Ede Peasy and Jonathan on Fireball to claim the £500 first prize making theirs a profitable month.

The Andrew Hamilton Novice Championship saw 33 start but find the course just tricky enough with only seven surviving to go against the clock.

Charlotte Geddes, Celeste RBF Z and Laura Hutt, Lavannah had to settle for second and third, respectively, when Robert Smith, who used to be a regular visitor to this show returned with the eight-year-old Nonante to win by over a second and take this Scottish title home with him.

Thirty-five came forward to contest the busiest junior class of the show, the Liz Fox JC Championship. There was no qualifying criteria this year, entries were opened up allowing some riders who maybe wouldn’t have otherwise have had the chance to jump at the Highland to take part.

There were a few cricket scores with the first fence, an innocuous upright catching out quite a few then a combination running downhill out of a corner taking its fair share of victims.

Five jumped clear for the five jump-off places. Fergal Holohan opened with a very nice round on board his mother Fiona’s Little Flexible. Coached outside the ring by Alex Barr and with Fiona jumping as high as the pony from the side lines this pair covered the ground using Little Flexible’s big, open stride to set the first target of 40.47.

Isabella Armstrong took a flyer to the last in an otherwise polished round on Rhencullen Tommy Tucker in 43.57 then Poppy Deakin steered Orchids Arisha round in 42.37.

Sophie Wicks was in next on the gorgeous dun pony Korado to overtake Fergal by cutting the corners back to the oxer in the middle before steadying for the last two parts of the combination. A check to the last was to prove costly when their time of 39.64 was beaten by the last in, Sophie Anderson on Beezies Topic.

Lanarkshire based Sophie, in her final year in juniors, is having a good run with Beezies Topic, a pony which had a confidence crisis and has taken Sophie lots of work and patience to overcome.

They came to this show well prepared following a win in the Scottish outdoor JC Championship at Blue Ridge the previous weekend and this confidence showed when they galloped to the last taking a stride out.

The Archibald family, from Dumfries, did not get out of lockdown as quickly as some, so felt they may have lacked match practice and felt a bit rusty, despite trips to Keysoe and Weston Lawns, recently.

Twelve-year-old Eleanor, having her final year in 128cm and the gorgeous 23-year old My Little Sweetheart, kept their cool to return the only first round clear then rode a determined jump off round with Eleanor growling at the pony into the double to make sure they kept going forward.

This determination paid off when they left all the fences up to be crowned 128cm champions, leaving Micheal McColm in second and third on Waterborn Bertina and Tynebank Royal Jubilee.

David Lawson said he was given the best father’s day present ever when daughter, Millie, galloped to victory in the 138cm section.

Charlotte Gaw carried four faults through from the first round on Take A Chance, rubbing out another in the jump-off for fifth place. Millie was next in on the beautiful palomino novice, Jimdone, which also carried four. They produced a clear in this timed section to stay in fourth place.

Charlotte came forward again this time on Coltstown Dun Cruiser to jump a lovely clear to add to their earlier four, leaving them in third overall.

Next in was Sophie Wicks, this time on the chestnut Welsh pony, Icarus. A lovely balanced ride with a very neat turn back to an oxer in the centre of the arena put them up on the clock before they set up for the last fence to record the first double clear in 41.04 with just one to go.

Millie Lawson has already qualified Noah’s Lady for HOYS and RIHS this season and helped by Sandra Low Mitchell at this show she headed into the ring meaning business.

Taking the same route as Sophie, they were fractionally up on the clock over the oxer but their winning tactic was to just keep kicking to the last, taking a flyer, dropping the time down to 39.07 to leave the title back in Scotland.

The 148cm class saw a 1.25m track proved a little much for most with eight either being eliminated or retiring then another six having three fences or more on the floor.

Madelaine Archibald and Bay Friend came forward for the jump-off with a score of 12 faults but they redeemed themselves by jumping a faultless jump off clear.

Amy Morris had four faults in the first round but added another eight in the jump off to stay in fourth with Tobar King.

Rachel Proudley had jumped the first first round clear making it look far easier than it was on the lovey, scopey grey Robin Hood Lad. Opting to go steady in this round didn’t quite go to plan when they rolled a pole for a slower four faults.

Drew Ross had some helpful hints from John Aird before entering the ring, riding a super clear on Kengarth Sally Anne in a faster time than Rachel to move her up to runner up spot.

It was all down to the Poppy Deakin on Armene Du Costilg to jump. Having just returned from junior squad duties in Wierden, Holland where the GB team won gold, Poppy, coached by Paul Barker set off to jump a clear and made it look easy, staying calm to record the third slowest time but leaving all the fences standing to take the rug, sash, rosettes and title back with her to Newcastle.

In the sport horse classes, the four-year old champion was Murchacko Quatro, owned by Nicola Wood and ridden by David Harland. By Goodyear VDL, this bay gelding scored eights and nines throughout impressing the judges with his bascule, power and rideability.

Five-year-old champion was Clare Weightman's lovely grey gelding, Quantas R ridden by Alice Weightman. This pair were in top form at Keysoe recently where they jumped double clear in the young horse sections.


Show jumping

The John Deere Highland Challenge – 1, Jonathan Dixon (Fireball); 2, Mark Edwards (Flying Tinker II); 3, Lucy Guild (Hugana Vant Heike).

British Horse feeds speedi-beet horse of the year show grade C championship qualifier – 1, Holly Smith (Avalon Sunset B); 2, Holly Smith (Billy Sarafina); 3, Adam Botham (Harvey II).

Roma Ristorante A and B stakes – 1, Holly Smith (Fruselli); 2, Annabel Jane Shields (Carnoneybridge Challenger); 3, Adrian Phillip Speight (Happy Boy).

Lochleven equine practice young horse style and performance (four-years-old) – 1, Nicola Wood (Murchacko Quatro); 2, RD Sprots Horses UK (Quandro); 3, Donryn Dewar (Mykey Sr).

Balcormo stud young horse style and performance (five-years-old) – 1, Clare Weightman (Quantas R); 2, Gary Charlish (HHS Leap Year) and Lynsey Thompson (Lex II).

QC sportshorses national 1.30m open – 1, Jonathan Dixon (Fireball); 2, Mark Edwards (Flying Tinker II); 3, Adrian Philip Speight (Happy Boy).

Andrew Black haulage and storage open championship – 1, Robert Murphy (Elan V); 2, Mark Edwards (Tinkers Tale); 3, James Smith (Twix De La Roque).

The William Sheret MBE grade B and C championship – 1, Christopher Smith (Filandria); 2, Emma Alice Crawford (Gina Gold); 3, Holly Smith (Cevann IV).

Harbro Country stores 1.40m open – 1, Robert Murphy (High Quality III); 2, Holly Smith (Billy Sarafina); 3, Mark Edwards (Flying Tinker II).

The Andrew Hamilton novice championship – 1, Robert Smith (Nonante); 2, Charlotte Geddes (Celeste RBF Z); 3, Laura Hutt (Lavannah).

Highland Showcase grand prix – 1, Annabel Jane Shields (Wet Wet Wet); 2, Holly Smith (Fruselli); 3, Simon Buckley (Elia).

Equikro classic championship – 1, Lucinda Elizabeth Stewart (Cancun II); 2, Claire Leitch (Warhol Wulfselection Z); 3, Hannah Barker (Cartouche II).

Norbrook outdoor open Scottish championship – 1, Douglas Duffin (Imperium RJ); 2, Mark Edwards (EDE Peasy); 3, Jonathan Dixon (Fireball).

The Sign Company/Danny’s Snacks 128cm championship – 1, Eleanor Archibald (My Little Sweetheart); 2, Michael McColm (Waterborn Bertina); 3, Michael McColm (Tynebank Royal Jubilee).

The Sign Company/Danny’s Snacks 138cm championship – 1, Millie Lawson (Noahs Lady); 2, Sophie Wicks (Icaris W); 3, Charlotte Gaw (Coltstown Dun Cruiser).

The Sign Company/Danny’s Snacks 148cm Championship – 148cm championship ¬– 1, Poppy Deakin (Armene Du Costilg); 2, Drew Ross (Kengarth Sally Anne); 3, Rachel Proudley (Robin Hood Lad).