Brits shine at inaugural Wellington CDI3*/1*/U25
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The inaugural Wellington CDI (11 – 16 May 2021), the first ever international dressage competition at the Hampshire venue, proved a huge success attracting up-and-coming combinations as well as those in contention for Tokyo.
The six-day CDI opened on Tuesday with a 32-strong Prix St Georges class, sponsored by Nirvana Spa, which was a quality affair. Former European Pony Champion Nikolas Kröncke made his first international appearance after 17 years away from the arena a winning one. Nikolas left his equestrian career in Germany behind when he travelled to the US to study and a career in banking soon followed and since 2010, he’s been based in London.
His wife Kathleen Keller is an avid competitor from their UK base since 2020, The Cotswold Club Equestrian and she’s the regular rider of his Wellington partner, the 10 year old chestnut stallion Flanell. But time in lockdown spent working from home and not commuting to London has given Nikolas more time in the saddle and he’s formed a great partnership which showed at Wellington.
Drawn in the first half of the field, Nikolas and Flannell posted 73.627% in a round which never scored below 6.5 under judges Mary Robins, Isobel Wessels and Susanne Baarup. Sarah Millis riding her own eight year old Impressive VDC matched the score exactly but Nikolas was deemed the winner with a higher median score of 74.265%.
Third spot went to prolific breeder and owner Emma Blundell who has reignited her passion for competing with a partnership with Mount St John VIP, who was formerly competed by Charlotte Dujardin. In only their fourth show together and first attempt at an international, they scored 70.981%.
Day two featured the Inter I, sponsored by Wellington Riding, and this time it was Sarah and ‘Ed’ (pictured above) who took the advantage to score an impressive 75.049% with all three judges having the combination to win. The win may go some way to making up for the duo missing the World Breeding Championships last year when COVID stole their chance of contesting the seven year old championships.
Nikolas and Flanell, owned by K&N Stables, were second on 72.206% while there was a new name on the podium this time, Andrew Gould and his own Genie I edged out Emma and VIP with a score of 70.833%.
On Facebook Sarah decreed; “Wow…my little Ed is a star – this horse just keeps on giving. So proud of him at his first international and only eight years old, showing maturity in his work and enjoying himself. Thank you to my amazing team at home, without you I couldn’t get away to do this.”
On to the Big Tour classes and securing Olympic qualification status for Wellington’s CDI3* brought a truly elite British entry out in force. Notable absentees were Spencer Wilton and Jen Goodman’s Super Nova and Gareth Hughes’ 2019 Euros partner Classic Briolinca, who he owns with wife Rebecca and Julia Hornig.
Spencer was forced to withdraw due to his ongoing back issues. Under the guidance of World Class Programme human sport science team members Pippa Bennett and Ashleigh Wallace, Spencer has been receiving ongoing treatment including injections which have helped considerably but he’s presently experiencing cramp in his leg whilst riding so just needs more time.
Gareth announced that Briolinca would be out of Tokyo contention due to minor injury but he brought two more than able stand-ins to Wellington…read on.
The 31-strong Horse & Country Grand Prix class start list read like a who’s who of British dressage and gave those watching via livestream a thrilling display of sport. Charlotte Dujardin set the early benchmark with her WEG individual bronze medallist Mount St John Freestyle, owned by Emma Blundell. It wasn’t the test many were perhaps expecting as the mare put in a most uncharacteristic spook at a Wellington-branded arena board which dragged their score down considerably with a series of four movements suffering, including a double scoring piaffe, with scores pegged back to fours, threes and twos. The test showed plenty of outstanding work too, including a total of five tens in the final two movements between the five judges and 77.935% was still the score.
It gave her second ride, Gio (pictured above), a chance to shine as he often finishes behind his more established stablemate and sparkle he did. A mistake in the one time changes was the only major blip in a test which otherwise oozed potential from the ten year old. Danish judge at C, Susanne Baarup was clearly impressed by the ‘pocket rocket’ son of Apache and awarded five tens. The final score was 79.130% which gave ‘Pumpkin’ victory and second for Freestyle.
Carl Hester is in just his second season with Charlotte’s quirky but talented En Vogue (pictured above), an 11 year old son of Jazz but they grow as a partnership in each outing and the work becoming more secure. A blight in the ones was the most obvious error but there was plenty to admire with some stunning piaffe and passage tours and the canter pirouettes were on point for a final score of 77.500% to complete the top three.
Gareth Hughes impressed with Judy Firmston-Williams’s 11 year old Sintano Van Hof Olympia in fourth. This was only their second international GP start and the nervy but uber talented bay is already easing his way into Championship selection contention. There were green moments but there’s clearly much more to come and 73.783% left them fourth.
Completing the top five was Emile Faurie with Theodora Livanos’s Dono di Maggio. The duo were robbed of their first CDI outing of 2021 due to a administrative error at Dover docks en route to Opglabbeek in Belgium which forced them to return home as French authorities wouldn’t allow them to enter so Wellington was their first start. Dono was clearly feeling fresh and well and Emile manged the Dimaggio 14 year old’s exuberance well. They broke in the first extended trot but this horse has a passage to die for. They put the error behind them and the marks reflected a confident test to produce a final score of 72.391%.
On to the Special, sponsored by Wellington Riding, the following day for 15 riders and it was another win for Pumpkin and Charlotte at only their second attempt at the Special, and a first internationally. The ten year old just looks to want to please his rider and gives his all in between the boards and with a score of 81.426% shows that although still a novice at this level, he’s a more than able deputy for an Olympic call up should it be required.
Gareth and Sintano Van Hof Olympia (pictured above) continued their good form to finish as runners up. Despite a nervy first halt, a score of 75.298% was a notable improvement on his last international just a few weeks ago in Belgium where 72.404% left the duo in third and if the pairing continue on this upward trend, who knows what lays ahead of them.
Emile Faurie had ‘the ride of a lifetime’ on Dono di Maggio for a podium place. It was a test that was just a joy to watch. Mistake free, athletic and harmonious. The final score was 75.192%, just a shade off their personal best but with some more ring time, that score must be at risk of being beaten as Emile campaigns for a spot on one of the two teams on offer this year.
It was an out of character arena performance for Carl Hester but it was a prime example that partnerships take time to form at this level. The addition of a couple of amorous pheasants didn’t help, even though the horses at Hester Towers are well used to avian arena additions. En Vogue was on edge and the test started with a break to canter in the first trot extensions, but some smooth passage work ensued, and the marks began to rise. As the 12 year old rounded the corner to piaffe at ‘I’, he spooked in exactly the same spot as his yard mate Freestyle the previous day. Ever the professional, Carl began the movement again and the Dutch-bred gelding duly obliged as if nothing had happened but the marks ranging between one and five had already been awarded for the first attempt. The duo were soon back in the swing and plenty of eights and nines notched up to finish on a score of 73.596% and fourth spot.
Fifth went to Sonnar Murray-Brown and his lovely Trakehner, Erlentanz. A few ring-rusty mistakes in the Grand Prix the previous day left them ninth but today they looked more confident and at home with the score sheet boasting plenty of eights and nines for a final score of 73.447%.
The Wellington Riding Grand Prix Freestyle for once featured…Freestyle, Mount St John Freestyle that is with Charlotte (pictured above) electing to bring the mare forward to ride their little-used floorplan set to music from Disney’s Frozen. The pheasants were back with a vengeance but Freestyle held steadfast as she headed towards one on her line of one time tempi changes, completing them without fault – indeed the marks reflected it with nothing less than 8.5. The impressive display continued and the final mark was 88.345% for a commanding victory.
Second place went to Gareth Hughes and his ‘fourth’ string Grand Prix ride, KK Dominant (pictured below), owned by the Kroll family. The handsome and compact Oldenburg stallion is anything but fourth rate and it was a welcome return to competition as he’d spent some time out of the arena while Gareth focussed on other horses in the limited competition opportunities afforded by COVID. ‘Danny’ blew the cobwebs away with seventh in the Grand Prix and today put his best hooves forward to their floorplan set to an upbeat pop medley with a great number of eights from the five judges yielding a final score of 77.080%.
It was third for Louise Bell and her multi-discipline star Into the Blue, who she owns with John & Alison Walton and William & Tonya Wood. Their country and western medley is well known and always a crowd pleaser and today it was polished and well presented for 72.990%. Fourth went to Jess Dunn and Jennifer Whittaker’s Alicante Valley with 72.550% – a hard earned result for the duo who are still relatively new to the level while Lisa Marriott and Valucio , or Rocket, put day one nerves (and an inherent fear of flowers) behind them to score 71.765% which gave them fifth spot.
We caught up with Charlotte Dujardin after her tests and she gave us a debrief; “The Grand Prix was certainly a learning curve with Freestyle – having done Hagen and been in arenas all around the world and done a lot of shows, I didn’t do the arena walk. Out of nowhere she decided going towards a board was quite scary. As we turned, she clocked it, hesitated and I managed to send her forward but she was just like ‘no thanks’. That is so unlike her, I can honestly say I’ve never worried about her going in an arena and spooking before – it just so out of character for her. The general feeling in the arena was just brilliant – everything I wanted to correct from Hagen she did. The spook was just very unfortunate! I had the full range of marks in the test but I’ve learned that I’ll always do the arena walk. I learnt from it – I’d rather it happened here and not a big championship! But to get a 77% score with the issues is still pleasing. I wanted 85% and without that, I’d have got it.
“And my little Pumpkin – such a legend. After what happened with Freestyle I probably overrode him – I wanted to get it right and he doesn’t have that experience in the arena yet. He still needs a lot more help than Freestyle does – she’s two years ahead of him. I just overrode him in some parts and he got a bit tight but all in all, I just can’t ask more from him. I messed up the ones, that was my fault, a case of overriding. He’s an amazing little horse and I was over the moon with him.
“The Special was a real test for him and today I just felt I needed to do less – I kept thinking ‘less is more’. I just focused on getting a clear round and we did – to get 81% with those five judges is amazing.
“With Freestyle in the music I had a blip in extended, again it was a case of me just being over keen but it was another learning curve. I don’t do the freestyle often – I felt rusty when I rode it in December at the Grand Prix Championships and today was similar but normally we’d be competing more and you’d ride it more. Today was like a schooling round and I know what mistakes I need to go away and work on so for the next championships I can be more polished. Pheasants – thank god we have birds at home! I knew that wouldn’t bother her! Peacocks, Guinea fowl and chickens she has to deal with at home – I knew she’d run it down given the chance!”
Gareth also filled us in on his four tests; “I’m so pleased with Sintano in only his second CDI and his first was just a few weeks ago in Belgium. He started the year as second string behind Briolinca but she’s now out so he’s had to step up – and step up he has! He’s quite a hot headed anxious little horse and not so easy outside the arena but he’s such a trier in the arena. You get between those board and he tries his heart out. Unfortunately in the GP we had a few mistakes which cost us marks but in his second special we had one mistake where we cantered out of the first halt but that was it. He’s a big athletic horse and was a good small tour horse but it’s such leap to Grand Prix where everything is so much more technical but that’s actually calmed his head and slowed his thinking. He get so much security from the tests, I’m really really pleased. We’ll aim him at Le Mans now.
“KK Dominant was super. He’s had a bit of time away from competition as the other horses took priority but he’s now come out like an old pro. He’s such a little gentleman in the arena – that was probably his fifth test at his level over two years. He’s not an in your face flash type but really has something about him. I’m hoping to get a place at Le Mans with him too.”
A great entry of 11 came forward for the U25 CDI with a few riders making their international debut in the age group. World Class Programme rider Lewis Carrier took the Inter II with his ever-faithful Speilberg sired Diego V (pictured above) with a consistent test with scores between 6.5 and eight to yield an overall score of 70.294%. Less than one percent behind was Alex Harrison and Diamond Hill on 69.412% - a stunning effort by the rider who was suffering with the after affects of the removal of three wisdom teeth! Jersey rider Lucy Amy completed the podium with Rudy, who she’s produced from Prelim with 68.33%.
After a rest day, U25 Grand Prix top three was all change. Having had good night’s sleep and the swelling beginning to recede, Alex Harrison was back to his bubbly self and piloted ‘Damo’ (pictured below) to victory with all three judges awarding 70+% scores. The class was the final one to run at the end of the day and resourceful Alex used his morning well and studiously watched the warm up for the Grand Prix Special and Freestyle, taking in what the senior riders were doing and the inspiration clearly paid off. Second spot went to Ellie McCarthy riding her latest star, GB Londero V. Worrenberg, owned by her dad, Spencer McCarthy who made full use of having her trainer Charlotte Dujardin in attendance to assist with the warm up. Two judges had Ellie to win but Alex just edged her out in the end. The Inter II victors Lewis Carrier and Diego were relegated to third with an expensive error in the one time changes – as a double score it really does hit the final tally hard.
GP winner Alex explained an eventful few days; “We broke down getting here and I had three wisdom teeth removed so it wasn’t the best start. On Monday night, I didn’t have the best night’s sleep as the mechanic turned up to fix the lorry at 11pm, tilted the cab up not realizing I was asleep so had to spend two hours in there until 1am! But managed a good night’s sleep on Wednesday for the Grand Prix. He felt much more confident in the ring today and I rode much better. I watched the warm up this morning for the Senior Grand Prix and noticed how decisive they were in their approach so I tried to ride the same and it really gave us both confidence. Plus, I’ve found a more efficient way of riding him to get him into the rein and take the bit forward.”
Lewis Carrier added; “Diego felt really good in the Inter II, no mistakes and good energy, it was certainly one of the best tests I’ve ridden on him. I’m really aiming for mistake-free tests now as we’re experienced at the level. In today’s Grand Prix he felt great again, almost too much energy so he was a bit energetic in his tempis. I really feel we’re established at GP now, I ask for piaffe and passage, I get them, not just hoping it happens which gives me such confidence.”
CDI1* Prix St Georges
1. Nikolas Kröncke with Flanell (GER), 73.627%
2. Sarah Millis with Impressive VDC (GBR), 73.627%
3. Emma Blundell with Mount St John VIP (GBR), 70.981%
CDI1* Intermediate I
1. Sarah Millis with Impressive VDC (GBR), 75.049%
2. Nikolas Kröncke with Flanell (GER), 72.206%
3. Andrew Gould with Genie I (GBR), 70.833%
CDI3* Grand Prix
1. Charlotte Dujardin with Gio (GBR), 79.130%
2. Charlotte Dujardin with Mount St John Freestyle (GBR), 77.935%
3. Carl Hester with En Vogue (GBR), 77.500%
CDI3* Grand Prix Special
1. Charlotte Dujardin with Gio (GBR), 81.426%
2. Gareth Hughes with Sintano Van Hof Olympia (GBR), 75.298%
3. Emile Faurie with Dono di Maggio (GBR), 75.192%
CDI3* Grand Prix Freestyle
1. Charlotte Dujardin with Mount St John Freestyle (GBR), 88.345%
2. Gareth Hughes with KK Dominant (GBR), 77.080%
3. Louise Bell with Into the Blue (GBR), 72.990%
CDIU25 Intermediate II
1. Lewis Carrier with Diego V (GBR), 70.294%
2. Alexander Harrison with Diamond Hill (GBR), 69.412%
3. Lucy Amy with Rudy (GBR), 68.333%
CDIU25 Grand Prix
1. Alexander Harrison with Diamond Hill (GBR), 71.068%
2. Ellie McCarthy with GB Londero V. Worrenberg (GBR), 70.898%
3. Lewis Carrier with Diego V (GBR), 68.162%
Young Rider, Junior, Children and Pony report to follow.
Photo © Kevin Sparrow: Gio, En Vogue, Mount St John Freestyle, Impressive VDC, Sintano Van Hof Olympia, KK Dominant, Diamond Hill
Photo © Łukasz Kowalski: Diego V