Riding to the Olympics in Rio… via Blenheim Palace Horse Trials

Aoife Clark

Aoife Clark - Credit: Archant

Oxfordshire-based eventer Aoife Clark is hoping to return to Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials for its 25th Anniversary year

Aoife Clark with Fenyas Elegance during the cross country phase of the CCI*** three-day event at Ble

Aoife Clark with Fenyas Elegance during the cross country phase of the CCI*** three-day event at Blenheim in 2013 - Credit: Archant

The Cotswolds are something of an epicentre of equestrian sport. Among the famous riders based here are the Olympic gold medallists Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin and Laura Tomlinson – but it isn’t just British champions it attracts.

Aoife Clark, who runs a competition yard in Middle Barton, Oxfordshire, achieved Ireland’s highest-ever individual placing in eventing at the London Olympics, finishing seventh individually on Master Crusoe. The following year she scored her first major international win at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials – her local event – and hopes to return there this year with two exciting young horses.

“Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials is incredibly special to me,” says the pretty blonde 34-year-old. “I first competed there in 2009 on ‘Paddy’, who went on to take me to the Olympics, in the CIC3* class for eight-and-nine-year-old horses. The following year we were sixth in the main CCI3* class. That was one of my first really big results.

“And because I live just a few miles away, it’s lovely to have lots of local support. When I won the CCI3* in 2013 on Fenyas Elegance, I got huge cheers because I was a local rider. I’d had a proper taste of the ‘big time’ the year before at the Olympics, but to win at Blenheim really franked the form I had shown at London.”

The week before this year’s Blenheim (September 17-20), Aoife will be competing at the European Championships at Blair Castle on Henrietta, Duchess of Bedford’s ex-racehorse Vaguely North – with whom she finished eighth at Badminton this year. It will be a quick turnaround but, Aoife says, one of the joys of Blenheim is that it is just down the road.

Aoife and her husband Simon moved to the Cotswolds in 2009 because of Simon’s job as a freelance commercial helicopter pilot – he recently flew David Cameron around during the pre-election campaign – and bought Sycamore Farm in 2010.

Aoife Clark with her husband Simon

Aoife Clark with her husband Simon - Credit: Archant

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“We are very happily settled here,” says Aoife with a smile. “I’ve got a great team of horses and owners – although I am always looking to develop the business further. It’s lovely to have local owners who want to be part of this exciting sport.”

She is aiming the talented nine-year-old Fernhill Adventure, winner of the silver medal at the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers in France in 2013 and owned by Richard Last, who lives in Great Tew, at Blenheim’s CCI3*.

“I’m really excited about taking him – I think he’s the best horse I’ve ridden and the one who could take me to the Rio Olympics next year,” says Aoife. “And I’d like to take Wasting Light, owned by Cressida and Henry Legge and John Ford, to Blenheim’s eight-and-nine-year-old class. He looks like a four-star horse of the future and I think a lot of him, although he’s still quite inexperienced at this level.”

Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials – which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – will form an important part of many of the world’s top riders’ preparations for Rio, and has attracted a strong international field.

“Form at Blenheim is always a great marker for the future,” says Aoife. “It’s a proper, testing three-star track – you know when your horse goes well there that they should be able to step up to four-star. It’s a true challenge and always gets a high-quality field.”

Despite Aoife’s Irish roots – she grew up in Co Kildare – she and Simon are firmly established in the Cotswolds.

“It’s a stunning part of the world and we have made great friends here,” she says. “We got married in Great Tew [in February 2010] and the Falkland Arms in Great Tew is one of our favourite pubs. All my team are from the area, and it has been great to have a local young rider, Charlotte Bacon, who comes from Shipton-under-Wychwood, as my stable jockey this year. I really enjoy training younger riders – it’s very satisfying to see them improve – and I’m delighted that Charlotte won a team bronze medal at the Junior European Championships in August.”

The road for all top athletes leads to Rio – and Aoife is galloping determinedly along it.

Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials

September 17-20

As well as the chance to see the world’s best horses and riders in action, there is also superb shopping, a wide range of attractions including a cookery theatre - featuring demonstrations by top local chefs, the popular high-jump competition and a variety of demonstrations.

For more information and to book tickets, visit www.blenheimhorse.co.uk

For more information about Aoife Clark, visit www.aoifeclarkeventing.com