For the second consecutive year Exmoor pony stallion Hawkwell Versuvius and his owner Dawn Westcott, of the Holtball Exmoor Pony Stud, have won the International Horse Agility (HA) Club Worldwide OHLA League.
Competitors from across the globe compete directly against each other through set courses by video entry, judged by HA Club founder, Vanessa Bee, author of the Horse Agility Handbook and DVD. They accumulate League Points throughout the year which determines the end-of-year winners. This year, Dawn and her eight-year-old stallion, known as Bear at home, finished with 774 points to take the World Championship with a 102-point lead. They competed in 21 classes – 11 on the line, seven at Liberty (where the horse is loose) and three at Wild Agility. The Reserve world champions, Beth Smith and Desi from Canada achieved 672 points, and in third place with 448 points were Sue Engle and Sherbert from the USA.
There is growing enthusiasm in the sport of Horse Agility with a strong international league of competitors producing large Starter classes. There is also a Real-Time Competition League, where competitors compete in local competitions, with local trainers and judges, and their accumulated points determine an International League winner at the end of the year. This year, the Champions with 257 points were Susan Randall and Adios of British Columbia, Canada, and Reserve Champions were Ted Garrott and Murphy from Worcestershire with 177 points.
So why did Dawn and Bear choose the Worldwide OHLA (video) competition? "I've enjoyed the challenge of competing in the same classes as our counterparts from Canada, USA, Australia and the rest of the world," said Dawn. "The standard is high and it's good that we are all completing exactly the same course format, with the same judging panel assessing us. It's been fascinating to see everyone improving this year – we learn from each other and there is great camaraderie amongst the international competitors," she added.
"The HA Forum on Equine Tourism and the Horse Agility Club website have helped us to stay connected and produce some interesting discussions. This year, Bear has improved his ability to work at Liberty, particularly in Wild Agility where he navigates natural obstacles in wide open spaces and seems to really enjoy it."
After competing in Horse Agility for two years, with two world championships under their belt, what does the future hold now for Dawn and Bear?
"Horse Agility is all about improving horsemanship and trying to promote interest in a new sport. We've competed for two solid years now with the competition spanning the full 12 months and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Now it's time for us to move on from actively competing ourselves and this year, I'd like to explore the 'connection' we're developing with Liberty work – particularly out in open, wilder spaces. We also need to concentrate on Bear's ridden development and I'm working with groups of ponies together and seeing where that takes us. I see local horse people like Emma Massingale working with a herd at Liberty, in the style of the Pignon's, and I'm inspired by that."
Dawn added: "I very much hope that, through the Bear's achievements in Horse Agility, we're helping to raise the profile of the Exmoor pony breed, the closest relatives to the North West European prehistoric horse, and their immense intelligence and trainability."
Dawn says she hopes to progress that work through activities including pony agility in the new Exmoor Pony Club. "The 'equine internet competition' has well and truly arrived and gives ordinary horse owners the opportunity to connect and compete in an international arena. We will be harnessing these opportunities for Exmoor ponies and launching an internet video showing competition in 2013, as well as running demos and workshops in agility, horse behaviour and positive, trust-based horsemanship on Exmoor. With their ancient wisdom, Exmoor ponies can teach us a lot about horsemanship which can benefit horse and pony owners across all spheres."
For more information about training and activities visit www.exmoorponyclub.co.uk or for Horse Agility www.thehorseagilityclub.com