Both new and established partnerships excel at Equissage Pulse Para Winter Championships

  • Written By: Helen Triggs | British Dressage
  • Published: Mon, 04 Mar 2024 11:10 GMT

The Equissage Pulse Para Winter Championship at Myerscough College in Lancashire (23 - 25 February 2024) is the first major para event of the year and the competition was hot for those coveted titles. While some well-established famous partnerships performed well, there were also some first-time champions in the mix.

Sophie Wells and Egebjerggards Samoa

Gold Glory
Most of the winners in the gold section were familiar as campaigns for the Paralympics get underway. Paralympian medallist Sophie Wells was crowned champion in Grade V with her 2023 European Championships ride, LJT Egebjerggards Samoa (St Schufro x Gribaldi), pictured above, who won a bronze medal in the Freestyle at the Euros in Riesenbeck.

Since Riesenbeck the pair have been training over the winter and Sophie had planned to start the season with two smaller shows. “But that didn’t happen!” she recalled. “I was pleased with her consistency, though she could have been more relaxed. She’s got stronger over the winter.”

Sophie’s Tokyo Paralympics partner and last year’s Grade V Gold title winner, Don Cara M, was also at the show for some training. He had a successful series of international wins in the early part of 2023 and hasn’t competed since July. Sophie will be easing him back into competition mode over the next few months and both he and Samoa will be aimed at Paralympic selection.

Heather Bennett

Heather Bennett (Grade IV), pictured with Lily Wakefield of Equissage, has notched up a run of 12 wins out of 14 tests with her Championship ride Quincy M (Quaterback x Donnerhall). “It’s the first big show for a while and there was only a smidgen between him and my second horse Venus Gemini DHI,” commented Heather. “I’ve been training with Tracey Woodhead for the last 12 months and she helped me in the warm-up. Both horses are really big – over 18 hands so they always go a bit better outside.”

Both horses will be competing next at Addington CPEDI in March.

Erin Orford and OFS Dragon's Fire

Erin Orford and OFS Dragons Fire (De Niro x E. H. Hohenstern), pictured above, repeated last year’s success to take the Grade III title. Dragon is owned by Sophie Wells, Jackie Walker and Valerie Woodford and in between his para outings with Erin, he is competed in able-bodied classes by Sophie.

“He feels a lot stronger and better balanced than last year,” commented Erin. “There were a few mistakes on my part but it was a good preparation for Addington. Competing at Medium in able-bodied is good for him as it is then a step down to the para tests.”

Erin also rode Sophie’s Paralympic horse C Fatal Attraction in a non-qualifying class. “It helps me with my riding as he’s more advanced than Dragon. He’s fun to ride as he’s got massive energy and he’s loving being out at shows again.”

Georgia Wilson and Sakura

It was also the first show out after silver medal success at the Europeans for Georgia Wilson and 10-year-old Sakura (Supertramp x Rockstar), so worth the long journey from Anglesey. The pair, pictured above, improved on their third place in last year’s Championship. For the last year Georgia has been training with Nicky Lickley.

“She was a bit hot on the first day and I probably over-cooked her a bit on the second day,” commented Georgia. “It’s good to get the first show of the year out of the way. It was a bit of a light bulb weekend – a reminder to get back at it and get rid of the ring rustiness.”

Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau

Honours in Grade I went to Gabriella Blake and her dancing partner of five years, Strong Beau (by Spinway Blackthorne), pictured above. Since placing in the top five at the Europeans, Gabriella has had a revision to her hip replacement so was out of the saddle for three months.

“I only got back on the 3rd of January,” said Gabriella. “My mum Estelle kept him ticking over. I was very happy with him. I was a bit nervous the first day but he looked after me and I didn’t have to worry.”

Dancing Golds
In the Grade I Gold Freestyle, 14-year-old Elan Williams clinched the title on BKS Brandini with some very useful warm-up mentoring from Paralympian gold medallist, Sophie Christiansen. The pair, pictured below, also were reserve champions in the Grade I Silver Championship.

Elan Williams and BKS Brandini

Brandini is a 17-year-old chestnut gelding by Hilkens Black Delight and according to Elan’s mother Cerys, he has really come into himself over the last few months. “He’s realised what’s expected of him as a para pony,” she said. “Their music is an extravaganza of Neil Diamond which was put together by Equidance. Elan was really pleased with him and he really enjoys his music. He got better every day at the show and is closing the gap between his performance in training and competition.” Elan has been selected for the Addington CPEDI with both Brandini and WSH Something Borrowed.

Julie Payne and Divinity

Julie Payne and Divinity (by Don Federico), pictured above, were reserve champions in the Grade II Championship but moved up to first place in the Grade II Freestyle. “He was the most rideable he’s ever been,” commented Julie. “I’m pleased with his progress. I don’t remember much of the freestyle test as I had been ill overnight when my insulin pump packed up. I don’t know how I managed to ride it! I had to make a few adjustments to the music as I rode it as he really needs a new programme now as he’s developed and got stronger.

“In the Championship straight test he was really trying. Normally he takes over a bit in the arena but he allowed me to correct him throughout the test.”

Isabella Benfield & Cookies and Cream

Isabella Benfield and Cookies and Cream competed in the Silver and Bronze sections last year. This year they made the move up to the Gold and were crowned Grade III Freestyle Champions.

Grade IV Champion Sara Bates debuted a completely new programme with 15-year-old Tango VII, pictured below. Her floorplan was put together with fellow para rider Katie Radzik and Equidance created her Charlie and the Chocolate Factory music programme.

Sara Bates and Tango VI

“I left it all a bit to the last minute. I rode it the day before in the [non-Championship] qualifier for the first time,” admitted Sara who, with her husband John, runs a ‘B&B’ for Thoroughbred mares visiting local stallions. “It was fun to ride to and it’s all about fun. Tango’s brilliant, she does a bit of everything, including trail laying. It keeps her happy. She’s probably a bit too fit and sassy at the moment – she definitely thought she knew it all on Championship day!”

Successful Silvers
Alice Begg, who runs an equestrian centre in Essex, won the Grade V Silver Championship with Gluckauf (by Grand Cru) and the Grade V Bronze Championship with Nalique. In the silver section Alice took the first three places with Gluckauf, Nalique and J’adore II. Gluckauf is the current Summer Champion at Bronze and Silver.

Alice Begg and Gluckauf

“Gluckauf’s a super horse. He shows off so the bigger the atmosphere the better,” explained Alice who now he is rising 15 has retired him from able-bodied competition to concentrate on his para career.

Welsh cob Wynmelyn Aderyn Du (Trefedw Cymro x Abercippyn Jake) and Ellie Hamilton, pictured below, only joined the para dressage family in 2023 and had a win at the Summer Championships. Nicknamed ‘Piggy’ for the funny noises he makes, Ellie has had him for nine years and he is her first pony.

Ellie Hamilton and Wynmelyn Aderyn Du

“He had time off in the New Year as he wasn’t feeling himself,” explained Ellie who undertook five weeks of hand walking to keep him ticking over. The 18-year-old bounced back with a good win in the Grade IV Silver class. “I’ve just started training with Sophie Wells who I met at a BD Academy competition. She’s really improved my riding.”

Jessica Pritchard and Cochrane

Jessica Pritchard and Cochrane, pictured above, won the Grade III Championship and were second in the Freestyle Championship. “He’s 19 years old but he gives everything,” she commented. “The judges love him because he has a lovely presence. He’s owned by Lucinda Freedman and I’ve been riding him for five years.

“I was gobsmacked to do so well as we beat other riders with more experience who we look up to. My Tom Hunt music programme features Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl and Bridgerton theme music.”

Jess is based in Chester and has help from Nicky Maynard, Sarah Morland and Sarah Jones-Williams.

Leonie Saffy and Forrests Black Diamond

Leonie Saffy and dark bay Appaloosa Forrests Black Diamond (Moorhey Tomahawk x Indoctro), pictured above, racked up five wins in a row on their way to the Grade II Silver Championship title. She has owned eight-year-old Tia for three years but a bad accident kept her out of the saddle for two years.

“My coach Anna Brown has brought her on and I got back on last year. Tia hadn’t competed before I got her,” explained Leonie. “She’s a bit of a princess but is very genuine and always works with you. She couldn’t have been any better in the test. She’s never done anything like this before so I was expecting more tension. She took it all in her stride. It was a big step up for her with three judges and a busy warm-up.

“This year has all been about getting experience of bigger atmospheres and I’m aiming her at the Summer Championships.”

Victoria Smith and Firenze VII

Victoria Smith has owned her Grade I Champion eight-year-old Firenze VII, pictured above, for less than two years. “On the warm-up day he got a bit spooked by the flower pots!” explained Victoria who works for her family’s business. “On the Saturday he wasn’t as distracted, listened really well and was trying to please me. It felt good.”

Victoria is keen to be selected for an international show. “We need a bit more time to establish the partnership and build on our scores to show what he’s really capable of.” Firenze is based with Debbie Powell at Cotswold RDA who takes him hacking, while Victoria visits four times a week.

Francesca Bratt-Martin and Sandhill Sam

Silver Dancers
Francesca Bratt-Martin and Sandhill Sam, pictured above, were uncontested winners of the Grade I Freestyle while Lacey O’Hara took the first two places in Grade II with Blue Diamond and Lyndhurst Soldier. Blue Diamond (by Comberton Cadet), pictured below, started competing with Lacey in November 2023 and quickly notched up six wins in a row. She originally had him on loan before buying the 17-year-old in December.

Lacey O'Hara and Blue Diamond

“Lacey was really ill with Covid and flu in December and January,” explained her mum Nichola. “She managed to compete despite being absolutely shattered. Skippy’s an absolute gentleman and looks after her. Lacey wanted happy music and her programme has Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I am what I am’ and tunes by Ed Sheeran and Lizzo.

“Their scores are steadily improving and Lacey had a huge smile on her face. Skippy is loving his new job and his previous owner Deb Oldham came to watch him and was so proud.”

The pair also won the Bronze Grade II Championship.

Jan Cummings and Rhonderful Dorrells

Jan Cummings and her 14-year-old Rhondeo gelding, Rhonderful Dorrells, pictured above, won the Grade III Freestyle and were placed third in the Grade III Gold Championship. ‘Ronnie’ competed with Heather Bennett in Grade IV before moving to Jan in October 2022.

“This winter has been challenging. It’s not been easy to get him out [competing] and we’ve not done as much as I wanted. I was pleased with him as we’re about two weeks behind in our training,” commented Jan who regularly makes the 100 mile journey to train with Paul and Bobby Hayler. Her score of 73.87% was not only a personal best but it was the highest score of the Championships.

Her music programme was produced by Tom Hunt and the pair had only ridden the test three times before the Championships. “The music really suits him and he dances along to it. I’m looking forward to performing it at the Addington international show.”

Lesley McNaughton and Roandale Saxon

Lesley McNaughton-Wells, pictured above, was one of only three double winners. With Roandale Saxon, a part-Dales and part-Gypsy Cob by Roandale Bobby, she won the Grade IV Silver Freestyle and Grade IV Bronze Championship.

“I only started riding him six weeks before the Summer Championships last year,” said Lesley, who bought him as a foal. “He’s really obliging and eager to learn.”

Lesley’s programme was a feast of rock classics, featuring Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac and Don Henley. “It’s happy listening! He’s really good with music as I’ve shown him ridden and he’s got used to music in the background. I made my own floorplan and picked the music and then Sapphire Sounds put it together.”

Lesley, who is based in Perthshire, is an IT engineer.

Brilliant Bronzes
Another double winner was Alice Begg who took the Grade V Championship title with six-year-old Nalique (Ferdeaux x Serano Gold), pictured below. “She’s absolutely brilliant and has a really good head on her,” said Alice who trains with Kim Ratcliffe, Nikki Barker and Alex Hardwick. “I bought her from Holland last year and she’s qualified for the able-bodied regionals at Novice and Elementary. She takes everything in her stride and just goes in the arena and does her job. She’s definitely a keeper.”

Alice Begg and Nalique

The Grade III Championship went to Anna Morris with veteran para star, Godington Toccata (by Muschamp Maestro), pictured below. Twenty-three-year-old Toccata was campaigned until 2021 by Julie Payne and returned to competition with Anna who was new to para dressage in 2023.

Anna Morris and Godington Toccata

Anna had ridden until she was 23, doing pony club and eventing, ‘until work and life took over’. Five years ago she woke up with transverse myelitis. “It was quite traumatic and dramatic at the time,” she recalled. “My friend Ashley Rossiter of MirrorMe PR suggested I should ride for the physio benefits. I realised I still have lots of muscle memory and I loved it. It took me a year to get classified. I was introduced to Julie and started riding ‘Sammy’ in June last year.

“Julie is a perfectionist and a wonderful coach. When I get on a horse I forget everything else! Sammy has been fantastic for teaching me. If I ride well, she goes well.”

Alisha Robbins and Fransham Fella

It may have been Alisha Robbins and Fransham Fella’s first time at the Championships but they didn’t let that stop them from securing the Grade I Bronze winner’s sash. Alisha got ‘Seth’, a 10-year-old 17.1hh Shire x Thoroughbred, pictured above, in 2023 and started competing in August last year.

“He’s like a giant Labrador!” said Alisha who is studying Equine Management and Business at Hartpury. “I went to see another horse and although Seth was a bit bigger than I was looking for, I fell in love. I got him vetted the next day and he came home the same week. He’s got a lovely nature and we just clicked.

“He was a happy hacker when I bought him but he’s turned his hoof to para dressage and just got better and better.”

Emma Saul and Quadriga III CH

In the Freestyle Championship, both Grade IV Emma Saul and Quadriga III CH, pictured above, and Grade V Claire Nowicka-Price and Florentina S, pictured below, were the sole competitors, scoring 62% and 63.83% respectively.

Claire Nowicka-Price and Florentina S

Congratulations to Myerscough for running a super show and thanks to all the judges, stewards, scorers and helpers who made it a great experience for competitors.

Results (top three)
Grade I
1. Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau, 71.88%
2. Mari Durward-Akhurst and Quaikin Guaranteed Good, 67.50%
3. Elan Williams and BKS Brandini, 66.74%

Grade II
1. Georgia Wilson and Sakura, 68.89%
2. Julie Payne and Divinity, 68.61%
3. Georgia Wilson and Faside Got The Love, 66.89%

Grade III
1. Erin Orford and OFS Dragons Fire, 68.39%
2. Rosanne Knox and With Love JM, 66.55%
3. Jan Cummings and Rhonderfull Dorrells, 65.33%

Grade IV
1. Heather Bennett and Quincy M, 67.79%
2. Heather Bennett and Venus Gemini DHI, 67.43%
3. Izzy Palmer and Last Gift, 67.39%

Grade V
1. Sophie Wells and Egebjerggards Samoa, 72.07%

Freestyle Gold
Grade I
1. Elan Williams and BKS Brandini, 71.44%
2. Elan Williams and WSH Something Borrowed, 67.67%

Grade II
1. Julie Payne and Divinity, 68.33%

Grade III
1. Isabella Benfield and Cookies and Cream 63.94%

Grade IV
1. Sara Bates and Tango VII, 68.83%

Grade I
1. Victoria Smith and Firenze VII, 68.12%
2. Elan Williams and BKS Brandini, 67.92%
3. Elan Williams and WSH Something Borrowed, 66.88%

Grade II
1. Leonie Saffy and Forrests Black Diamond, 68.68%
2. Jason Inchley and Rubin Ryella, 63.95%

Grade III
1. Jessica Pritchard and Cochrane, 68.10%
2. Anna Morris and Godington Toccata, 67.38%
3. Laura Tennant and Legato II 67.30%

Grade IV
1. Ellie Hamilton and Wynmelyn Aderyn Du, 67.73%
2. Ursula Treadgold and M.Y. Ruby, 65.93%
3. Jane Thomson and Lord Blesse van’t Molhem, 63.60%

Grade V
1. Alice Begg and Gluckauf, 70.42%
2. Alice Begg and Nalique, 69.29%
3. Alice Begg and J’adore II, 66.55%

Freestyle Silver
Grade I
1. Francesca Bratt-Martin and Sandhill Sam, 59.50%

Grade II
1. Lacey O’Hara and Blue Diamond, 67.50%
2. Lacey O’Hara and Lyndhurst Soldier, 65.10%
3. Jason Inchley and Rubin Ryella, 64.50%

Grade III
1. Jan Cummings and Rhonderful Dorrells, 73.87%
2. Jessica Pritchard and Cochrane, 69.47%
3. Jessica Pritchard and Redemption Ground, 63.97%

Grade IV
1. Lesley McNaughton-Wells and Roandale Saxon, 66.83%
2. Emma Saul and Quadrigo III Ch, 57.5%

Grade V
1. Claire Nowicka-Price and Florentina S, 67.00%

Grade I
1. Alisha Robbins and Fransham Fella, 68.49%
2. Margaret Lupton and Domino I, 66.32%
3. Francesca Bratt-Martin and Sandhill Sam, 61.40%

Grade II
1. Lacey O’Hara and Blue Diamond, 68.33%
2. Lacey O’Hara and Lyndhurst Soldier, 63.57%
3. Millie Boo Smith and Coldbeck George, 60.95%

Grade III
1. Anna Morris and Godington Toccata, 65.75%

Grade IV
1. Lesley McNaughton-Wells and Roandale Saxon, 68.97%
2. Frankie Buxton and It’s Ava, 68.49%
3. Frankie Buxton and Hera, 65.24%

Grade V
1. Alice Begg and Nalique, 73.78%
2. Helen Geddes and Her Ladyship, 67.88%
3. Karen Hale and Fun For Two, 63.91%

Freestyle Bronze
Grade IV
1. Emma Saul and Quadriga III CH, 62.00%

Grade V
1. Claire Nowicka-Price and Florentina S, 63.83%


Photos © Kevin Sparrow Photography