Charlotte Dujardin reclaims HOYS crown

  • Written By: British Dressage | Joanna Bowns
  • Published: Fri, 06 Oct 2023 15:27

Charlotte Dujardin and Times Kismet wowed the judges and the NEC crowd with an outstanding performance in the Dressage Future Elite Championship at the Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham (04 – 08 October 2023).

With Carl Hester and Peter Belshaw’s Times Kismet (Ampere x Lord Leatherdale), Charlotte Dujardin posted 83.75% to seal the coveted HOYS victory. The duo, fresh from taking the Saracen Horse Feeds Supreme Championship at last month’s LeMieux National Championships, impressed in the Andrews Bowen International Arena with a beautifully executed performance at last night’s 2023 edition of this showcase class.

The competition for up-and-coming horses (aged eight to ten years old at the time of qualifying), launched in 2013 with one year missed (2020) due to the pandemic, provides a unique opportunity to expose young horses to the big occasion, as well as serving as a shop window for our sport at an event which is famed for showjumping and showing. This is an invitational class, based on rankings from High Profile, Premier Leagues and CDI shows on average percentage in Small Tour classes. The top ranked combinations are then invited to take part in this Intermediate I Freestyle competition under the lights of the Resorts World Arena at The NEC in Birmingham.

Eight competitors came forward last night under a top judging panel of Andrew Gardner (H), Sandy Phillips (C) and Stephen Clarke (M), who afterwards took it in turn to sum up each performance.

Pathfinder Jessica Dunn with Jennifer Whittaker’s 10-year-old gelding Dan Its Carston (Durable x Clearway), who will shortly be travelling to France to compete at Le Mans CDI, provided a very good start to the eight-strong class. Moving off from the first halt into three-time changes on the centre line to sounds from The Greatest Showman, a confident and focused beginning showed super, expressive canter work with just a little loss of rhythm in the pirouettes proving costly. Cadenced trot work with power and regularity, to Children by Robert Miles, showed the Durable son’s qualities for a bright future. They were awarded 70.50% by the panel.

“At this level, we want horses that fill the eye, so we want presence, and presence comes from correctness in the way of training but also expression and power, and we saw that with this combination - powerful paces,” commented the judge at H, Andrew Gardner. “It was a very nice start to the test – immediately into canter, immediately into the flying changes, which gave a very nice impression.”

Davy Harvey followed with Judy Peploe’s 10-year-old Don Frederic-sired gelding Diamond Blue – a combination that won the Advanced Medium Gold and was fourth in PSG Freestyle at this year’s Nationals. The beautiful black gelding has so much athleticism and quality but was a little overwhelmed by the occasion - the biggest stage of his career so far - resulting in some costly distractions that affected his performance. Nonetheless, the potential of the horse is clear as he was tactfully nursed by 29-year-old Davy to show exciting highlights accompanied by a vibrant compilation of recent pop and rock hits.

“That’s a very, very elegant horse and he would have come on so much being here tonight, because there’s a lot of atmosphere” commented the judge at C, Sandy Phillips. “There’s a lot of potential there so I’m sure we’ll see him in the future a lot more calm and relaxed.”

Next up was Worcestershire-based Rowan Bryson with Heather Bryson’s 10-year-old gelding Izonik (Zonik x Jazz) – a combination that achieved top-three placings at Hartpury CDI this summer. Riding to a superhero-themed music programme, they performed their floorplan with fluency and expression, including easy uphill sequence changes, though an interruption of rhythm into the pirouette right proved expensive, for a final score of 72.17%.

When asked how did that test compare to the first horse, Stephen Clarke commented; “I think probably they were fairly close. This horse also was really elegant and had some lovely moments. There was the odd bit of tension here and there, which you would expect, but the extended walk was one of the highlights. She did a good job.”

Alex Harrison-West, who has represented Great Britain at European Championship level in U25s, followed with his own Kickback (Galaxie x Florencio), an eight-year-old gelding with whom he came third in the PSG at Wellington CDI earlier this year. The duo earned a score of 71.75%. Riding to instrumental versions of Annie Lennox (Sweet Dreams), Sia (Cheap Thrills) and Katy Perry (Chained to the Rhythm), Alex and Kickback rode a punchy, high-energy test full of expression, seamlessly riding a line three-time changes into two-time changes towards the end of the test.

“It’s amazing isn’t it… eight, and it looked very fluent," said Andrew Gardener, referring to Kickback's young age. "There weren’t really any issues. The horse coped well with the requirements and coped well with the environment.”

Talking about the Inter I level freestyle, Andrew added; “It’s always nice to see the changes because very often the riders pick up the changes to the rhythm of the music, and people can appreciate that it’s a more difficult requirement of the test. Also, the pirouettes, because you sometimes get the change in the mood and phrasing of the music to match that presentation.

“It’s challenging because at this level, compared to the prior level of Prix St Georges, they do full pirouettes and two-tempi changes, which both feature in the Grand Prix. Then [for Grand Prix] we just have to hope that they can do piaffe and passage.”

When asked her thoughts on the competition so far, Sandy Phillips said; “Well, it’s hotting up, as we say. I think we’ve seen some fabulous horses and I’m looking forward to what’s coming. There’s no horse that I haven’t liked. They’ve been coping differently with the tension in the arena, but I’m sure we’ll see them all in the future at bigger competitions.”

Stephen Clarke added; “I think it’s great. The level is high, the quality of the horses and the riding is very high, so it will be very interesting to see what’s to come next.”

Next forward was Sadie Smith and her bright star, eight-year-old mare Swanmore Dantina (Dante Weltino OLD x Charatan W). A magical performance to their Curse of the Ice Queen programme, created by Equidance, showcased the horse’s supple and light-footed way of going, though an expensive error in the three-time changes kept their mark in check at 74.34%.

“I thought there were great parts to it and she took a lot of risks,” said Stephen Clarke. “The horse is full of impulsion and very expressive in its movements. She did have an interesting technical mistake in the three-time changes, which was a pity. She tried to repeat them to bring up the score, but she only did four instead of five, so it still didn’t come off. The improvisation she did at the end was very clever, it just didn’t quite come off.”

Third in the Saracen Horse Feeds Inter I Freestyle Gold at the Nationals last month, Michael Eilberg and MSJ Encore were another combination to watch coming into this competition, and they lived up to every expectation scoring 74.96% for a powerful performance set to dramatic yet elegant music. MSJ Encore won the National 7YO title in 2022 and stepped up to the small tour levels this year.

“It’s a huge horse, and looks very mature,” commented Andrew Gardner about the Escolar x Caprimond gelding owned by Nicky Hannam. “But of course, he’s not just huge in his size, he’s got huge movement as well, particularly in the canter – I like the canter very much. It’s an enormous canter, very rhythmical and very uphill. And to go with the power, you need correct riding, which we’ve seen with Michael – he’s a master at it. Big movement needs a lot of organising, and it was well organised. The horse is on a journey but showing a lot of potential at this stage.”

The penultimate rider forward, Becky Moody won this title last year with Jagerbomb. Back this time with Jo Cooper’s eight-year-old stallion James Bond 2 (Desperado x Fidertanz), with whom she won the Fairfax Saddles PSG Supreme Champion title a few short weeks ago, she delivered a brilliantly executed, intricate floorplan to music from the Netflix series, Wednesday. Their impressive performance earned 77.84% to send them into the provisional lead.

“Becky is well known for her fabulous music, and that was certainly living up to all of our expectations,” commented Sandy Phillips. “What a horse and what a combination for the future.”

About the selection of music for freestyle, Sandy added; “You have to know your horse. The riders pick music they like, and the horses relax into it. So you develop their love of what they’re doing, and the expression, and it shows with a test like that that had so much expression and power. There’s a lot to come for the future.”

The final rider of the night, fresh from team gold at the European Championships with Imhotep, was Charlotte Dujardin with up-and-coming ride Times Kismet (Ampere x Lord Leatherdale), an eight-year-old mare owned by Peter Belshaw. This pairing, who won the Saracen Horse Feeds Intermediate I Supreme title at Somerford, enthralled the crowd in the Andrews Bowen International Arena with a balletic, elegant performance displaying super balance throughout.

Having held the title for five consecutive years, until a break in 2022 when she was expecting her daughter Isabella, Charlotte was back under the HOYS winners’ spotlight with a fantastic 83.75%.

“It’s just unbelievable isn’t it really. The best rider in the world producing yet another top-class horse - how lucky are we to see that,” commented Stephen Clarke. “I thought it was fabulous."

Summing up the competition, Stephen added; “I think the best thing about these competitions is to have this chance to expose the horses to this type of atmosphere and environment, because this is what they have to get used to. You could see that some of the younger or less experienced ones had a few spooks and tension, but they have to go through that and get used to performing in front of huge audiences. For me, this is the best competition for that.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled with my performance tonight,” commented Charlotte. “She’s only eight-years-old and she’s done a handful of shows. I always think this is such a good experience for the young horses here at HOYS. You can’t re-create these arenas and this atmosphere, so I thought it would be good for her.

“We did Achen and she won there, then we went to the Nationals and she won there. They are both outdoor shows though, so it’s great to see what they are like indoors. She just took it like a real pro and for me that’s all you can ask.

“She’s a very tall mare, and at four years old she was just all legs. We’ve been taking our time with her to build up her strength. She’s like the supermodel of the dressage world. We didn’t really know what we had until I started training her and her brain is brilliant. She just goes into the arena and takes it all in her stride like she’s done it all before.”

Charlotte added: “Being a mum has really opened my eyes. I love what I do and it is an incredible sport, but it is only a game and there is always another day. I have discovered another side to myself that I have never known before. The love I have for Isabella is so special and I think in some ways I enjoy riding more because I have taken the pressure off myself.”

1. Charlotte Dujardin and Times Kismet, 83.75%
2. Becky Moody and James Bond 2, 77.84%
3. Michael Eilberg and MSJ Encore, 74.96%
4. Sadie Smith and Swanmore Dantina, 74.34%
5. Rowan Bryson and Izonik, 72.17%
6. Alexander Harrison-West and Kickback, 71.75%
7. Jessica Dunn and Dan Its Carston, 70.50%
8. Davy Harvey and Diamond Blue, 63.50%

Full interview with Charlotte courtesy of HOYS/LloydBell Productions

Photo © 1st Class Images