Sophie Fox’s former racehorse happily didn’t live up to his name at the EQUITANA Australian Open Exhibition Eventing in Melbourne.
Mr Pig headed home a 16-strong field in the CNC1* coming from sixth in the dressage to nab the win.
The title came right down to the wire with a couple of fences really giving the leaderboard a shakeup. Dressage leader Sarah May and Charlie Bean didn’t have the best of days in the jumping phase and finished in 11th place. Sophie and Mr Pig pulled through to take the title on 49 penalty points...
Coming into the jumping there was just a single rail between the top 10. Seven of the 16 combinations tried the joker – where riders risked adding eight penalty points to their score or being rewarded with four faults off. It proved a real bogey fence for many, with just Erin Callahan and Danson Lincoln successfully clearing it. Georgina Birrell and Marlborough View were the only ones to finish without jumping penalties, but no-one made time. A related line between two skinny brushes mid-field proved very influential, claiming half the field, with an upright off a corner early in the course was also problematic.
“I looked at all the trouble on the course but Mr Pig is a careful jumper and I knew he would leave the rails up . . . I just had to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes! The skinny brushes caused a lot of trouble but I balanced him and wrestled him for three (strides). We were going into the sun and it was a bit ugly but it definitely paid off.”
Her plan was simple – to ride forward and keep him bowling along. “A lot were getting a bit stuck and caught up in the atmosphere.”
Sophie opted not to jump the joker. “I didn’t see any point – when I went no-one had jumped clear.” By her own admission, she got a little excited heading into the last. “We galloped in and completely missed it.” They picked up four jumping penalties and 10 for time. “I would have been kicking myself it is had cost us the win.”
Twenty-year-old Sophie was given Mr Pig in 2016. The nine-year-old is by Commands out of Depeche (by Octagonal). “He had come back from four years racing in Hong Kong and was just sitting in a paddock doing nothing so I tried him, liked him and took him,” she said.
Sophie gave him a few weeks work before turning him back out. His Hong Kong brand was P169 and when he arrived at Sophie’s she didn’t have a name for him. “The brand kind of looked like pig and it stuck. It does kind of suit him though he has a lovely nature but is a bit of a grommet and always grubby in the paddock . . . and he does eat like a pig!”
But she clearly loves him. “He thinks he is human and is just one of those horses. I couldn’t part with him, he is definitely part of the family.”
In a couple of weeks they’ll line up in the 1* at Wallaby Hill near Sydney and next season she’s eyeing 2* in both Melbourne and Adelaide. “He has gone up (the grades) quite quickly because he is such a jumping machine.”
Sophie has evented all her life and competed at 2* level before. She has not long given away her vet nurse studies to concentrate full time on riding.
“I really enjoy the exhibition eventing format and it’s a great atmosphere here at EQUITANA. Us eventers don’t usually get that until we go to Adelaide or Melbourne and then it is too late for the greener horses to deal with it, so it is good training for them and a lot of fun. It is great that the crowd get so involved here.”
Sophie has been to EQUITANA before as a spectator but this was her first foray into the competition arena. Her event was capped off when she was chosen to be in Chris Burton’s education session. “It was so helpful for getting horses on the aids and listening. I have never trained with him before but I was at Aachen when he won and have followed him ever since.”
It was the first time EQUITANA Melbourne has run the exhibition eventing at 1* level.
EQUITANA Australian Open Exhibition Eventing: Sophie Fox, Mr Pig 49 1; Georgina Birrell, Marlborough View 50.6 2; Benjamin Tyson, Chilli Class 55.8 3; Erin Callahan, Danson Lincoln 60.6 4; Daniel Draft, Mount Anakie Crescendo 65 5; Charlotte Sheldon, Townshend LS 67.2 6.