JUST CHAMPION: Helen Kirby rides Mallaghdrin Echo to first place at Aintree
JUST CHAMPION: Helen Kirby rides Mallaghdrin Echo to first place at Aintree

A DALE horsewoman says she couldn’t believe it after riding to victory in a “champion of champions” competition.

Helen Kirby and eight-year-old Mullaghdrin Echo beat off competition from 49 others to take the Riding Club Horse title at the Show Teams and Rising Stars (STARS) champion of champions event at Aintree Equestrian Centre.

STARS was established last year to provide a championship specifically for riding and Pony Club members.

Ms Kirby, 34, from Hamsterley, is a member of Barnard Castle and Teesdale Riding Club and qualified for the Aintree competition after success at an event at West Park Equestrian Centre, Tow Law, earlier in the year.

“I qualified for the senior equitation class and the riding club horse class and competed in both at Aintree,” she explained.

“The riding club horse class involved doing a jump. Then I had to strip the horse and lead him up and down.

“The judge is looking for body shape and how he walks.”

She added: “It aims to show that your horse is a good all-rounder and can do a bit of everything.

“I was up against 49 others from all over the country and thought I did not have a chance.

“But I thought we had done well. The horse went really really well, it was just that there were so many in the class.”

Ms Kirby impressed, scoring 43 out of 50 points in the riding section before being awarded 41 out of 50 from the confirmation judge.

Her total of 84 was good enough for victory by three points.

“This is the biggest event I have ever won. It is a showing class and I am a novice at showing.

“I entered it for the horse to gain more confidence in arenas and among other horses. Going to Aintree was a bit nerve-wracking.”

She added: “It was totally unexpected.

“Echo did a foot-perfect show and didn’t bat an eyelid at anything.”

She dedicated the win to her late father, who passed away earlier this year.

“I believe he was watching, keeping us both calm.”

Ms Kirby, who works as a fundraiser for Butterwick Hospice, said she had received a lot of help from Clare Merrigan Martin and her daughter Charlotte, who organised a showing clinic for her in the run-up to Aintree.

Buoyed by her success, Ms Kirby, who is mum to 14-month-old Emily, is now looking forward to a winter of dressage and some show jumping in local competitions.