Britain’s Paralympians out in force at Wellington Festival of Para Dressage
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Wellington Riding put on an excellent show (June 7-12), combining their Festival of Para Dressage and Gold Semi-Final with the CDI3* and Premier League. As campaigning for the World Championships gets underway, Britain’s top para combinations were keen to show off their progress.
Sophie Wells’ Don Cara M (pictured above) is on great form scoring over 77% in all three Grade V tests. The 13-year-old Don Jovi gelding is owned by Rowland Kinch and was Sophie’s silver medal winner at the Tokyo Olympics.
“Don was amazing,” said Sophie. “He felt more confident on the first day than he has at previous shows and got better and better as the show went on. It was lovely to get those scores for the straight tests. There are still things to build on which shows he’s got even more scope for the future.”
Her second horse Classic Jillz Geuzenhof came second twice to Don. “He still needs a bit more exposure to bigger shows but that’s part of his plan,” commented Sophie.
Sir Lee Pearson has been a stalwart of British para teams for years and his 11-year-old homebred, Breezer III (pictured above), has Grade II Olympic gold medals to his credit already. Lee was very proud of Breezer’s performance at Wellington as he can get nervous. To encourage Breezer to relax, Lee has taken part in a number of displays and demonstrations recently to get him used to busy atmospheres, clapping and spectators moving about.
“He seems to be growing up said,” said Lee who experimented by changing between the snaffle and double bridles during the competition. “Doing the displays has really helped his confidence.”
Natasha Baker and Keystone Dawn Chorus (pictured above) have not competed since Tokyo. Natasha has been a little busy with a major event of her own – becoming Mrs Jaconelli in April.
‘Lottie’ was kept going with a combination of Lisa Hopkins, Claire Gallimore and mum Lorraine providing riding and groundwork support. The fact that Natasha was able to come out and achieve 75%+ scores in all three Grade III tests is a testament to their hard work.
“I felt a bit rusty on the first day,” admitted Natasha. “I came back from honeymoon and dived straight into squad training and I think I’m 85% back to my previous fitness.
“Lottie felt fab, she’s come on al lot since Tokyo and is much more balanced and confident. She’s much fitter and I was really pleased with her overall way of going and that she was consistently more uphill.”
The pair had the highest para score of the show, with 79.41% in the freestyle. On the third day Natasha rode hors concours in the Gold Semi-Final as she had not qualified for the competition which allowed Erin Orford and LJT Diamond Crusador (pictured above) to take the honours and qualification for the National Championships. Erin had taken second to Natasha in the two previous tests with very good scores, all over 72%.
Erin later posted on social media that she was happy with her scores, with lots of 8s despite some expensive mistakes. She was really pleased with the nine-year-old Diamond Hit gelding’s way of going.
Nicola Naylor had a clean sweep of the very well-supported Grade IV tests with Humberto L and Del Piero. She and Humberto (pictured above) are the current Grade IV National Champions. “We’ve progressed very quickly since January,” explained Nicola. “It’s a combination of training and home management. I joined the World Class programme and moved the horses to Sarah Millis’s yard and it’s made such a difference having all the support in place.”
Nicola bought Humberto from Italy in 2020 when he was an un-tested eight-year-old and the pair has made rapid progress since. They were Grade IV Para Gold National Champions in 2021.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, with Nicola recalling the grim determination needed to even get him in the ring at Hickstead last year. “He’s learned to find his feet in the big environments,” she said.
Humberto came third to his stablemate Del Piero in the Semi-Final after a spook meant that Nicola, who is blind, lost her perception of the arena. “I have a visual image of the arena in my head and when it gets dislodged by a spook I don’t know where I am. We went into the next movement and fluffed it as I’d taken my leg off. Actually, he did incredibly well to keep it together – without the spook we would’ve finished on 74%.”
Our final winner was Grade I victor, Gabriella Blake with her 14-year-old Strong Beau (pictured above). The pair is having a good year, with second places at Deauville and Keysoe internationals. “We got him from a dealer who said he would never make a para horse!” said Gabriella. “He’s proved everybody wrong. He was spooky and angry when I got him and it took a lot of work. You have to be calm and kind around him and he’s a lovely horse now.
“Our freestyle score of 76.3% was a personal best. He was an absolute superstar and didn’t put a foot wrong.” Unfortunately, elimination in the Semi-Final prevented Gabriella from a clean sweep. Rushing from the warm-up a boot was left on so her 73% score didn’t count. “I won’t make that mistake again,” said a rueful Gabriella.
Congratulations to all the competitors and thanks to the organisers for making this show such a fantastic showcase for para dressage.
Festival of Para Dressage
Equissage Pulse Freestyle
1. Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau, 76.37%
2. Mari Durward-Akhurst and Quaikin Guaranteed Good, 72.44%
3. Tegan Vincent-Cooke and Stolen Kiss, 64.74%
1. Sir Lee Pearson and Breezer III, 78.98%
2. Georgia Wilson and Sakura, 76.41%
3. Georgia Wilson and Midnight II, 74.88%
1. Natasha Baker and Keystone Dawn Chorus, 79.41%
2. Erin Orford and LJT Diamond Crusador, 74.61%
1. Nicola Naylor and Humberto L, 76.45%
2. Nicola Naylor and Del Piero, 72.00%
3. Katie Radzik and Showkia, 70.65%
1. Sophie Wells and Don Cara M, 77.80%
2. Sophie Wells and Classic Jillz Geuzenhof, 76.45%
3. Charlotte Cundall and F J Veyron, 73.38%
Equissage Pulse Team Test
1. Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau, 72.85%
2. Mari Durward-Akhurst and Quaikin Guaranteed Good, 69.76%
3. Susanna Wade and Zaire LH, 63.86%
1. Sir Lee Pearson and Breezer III, 75.70%
2. Georgia Wilson and Sakura, 72.92%
3. Natasha Adkinson and Sweet Caledonia, 69.89%
1. Natasha Baker and Keystone Dawn Chorus, 75.93%
2. Erin Orford and LJT Diamond Crusador, 72.74%
1. Nicola Naylor and Humberto L, 73.20%
2. Nicola Naylor and Del Piero, 70.58%
3. Laura Gulliver and Farok V Singing, 69.58%
1. Sophie Wells and Don Cara M, 77.13%
2. Charlotte Cundall and FJ Veyron, 71.16%
3. Charlotte Cundall and LJT Simply Red, 70.11%
Equissage Pulse Para Gold Semi Final
1. Mari Durward-Akehurst and Quaikin Guaranteed Good, 70.77%
2. Diane Green and The Scout, 67.97%
3. Caitlyn Saddington and Nirvana Morroko, 66.90%
1. Sir Lee Pearson and Breezer III, 75.39%
2. Georgia Wilson and Sakura, 74.41%
3. Georgia Wilson and Midnight II, 73.18%
1. Erin Orford and LJT Diamond Crusador, 73.18%
2. Amanda Shirtcliffe and New Princess, 67.05%
1. Nicola Naylor and Del Piero, 71.46%
2. Laura Gulliver and Farok V Singing, 70.24%
3. Nicola Naylor and Humberto L, 69.14%
1. Sophie Wells and Don Cara M, 77.38%
2. Sophie Wells and Classic Jillz Geuzenhof, 72.61%
3. Charlotte Cundall and F J Veyron, 70.83%
Photo © Kevin Sparrow
Words: Helen Triggs