Orwell Park dominate riding scene

PUPILS from Ipswich's Orwell Park School are dominating the county's junior cross-country horse riding scene more than two centuries after the art of steeplechase first began just a stones throw away from their school.

Stuart Watson

PUPILS from Ipswich's Orwell Park School are dominating the county's junior cross-country horse riding scene more than two centuries after the art of steeplechase first began just a stones throw away from their school.

According to documents held within Nacton's St Martin's Church, the tower there - or steeple - was the objective in what is believed to have been the first steeplechase in England.

The story is that, during the emergency of the threatened Napoleonic invasion in 1803, a cavalry regiment of the British Army were stationed at the Ipswich Horse Barracks which were based where Barrack Lane, off Norwich Road is today.

One officer was boasting of his horse's qualities and challenged others to race him over the four and a half mile gallop from Ipswich to Nacton.

Being a moonlit night the officers were ready for a lively diversion and before long seven or eight had committed themselves to the challenge, agreeing to wear white night caps and night shirts over the uniform to make themselves more visible.

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And so, according to legend, the steeplechase was born, these events illustrated by artist H. Alken in the Sporting Review of January 1839 and subsequently becoming available as a set of four colour prints.

Fast forward 205 years later and four pupils from Orwell Park School, situated just metres away from St Martin's Church, are taking the county's cross-country horse riding scene by storm.

The school entered a number of teams into the Inter Schools Hunter Trials at Woodbridge's Poplar Park recently, an event which saw entrants compete over 16 fences up to 2ft 3ins high, as well as water and Coffin obstacles.

Orwell Park put three teams into the Pre Novice (13 years and under) class and, of the 22 teams competing, Orwell's team of Lydia Chapman, Jemima Erith, Jessica West, Molly McGuckian came out on top to take the title.

There was also further success for Erith who beat off the competition of 95 others in her field to be named individual champion.

Kirsten Jamie, the teacher at Orwell Park who runs the horse riding activity, said: “I was absolutely thrilled that the girls did so well in this prestigious event. There are definitely some promising riders here.

“Usually they would just compete for their pony clubs, but we feel that inter-school competition provides them with another good opportunity to test themselves.

“In the end they competed in some basic Orwell Park rugby tops, but they just love being part of a team.”

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