Day four - LeMieux National Championships 2022
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It's been a Super Sunday to remember at the LeMieux National Championships - what a fantastic way to sign off this year's competition! He's come close the last two years but finally Gareth Hughes can add the title British National Champion to his CV! We also saw Charlotte Dujardin add another title to her list plus the future generation of athletes were on show in both equine and human form in the U21 classes and KBIS Young Horse Championships.
Kudos Grand Prix Freestyle Gold Champion
Winner: Gareth Hughes and Sintano Van Hof Olympia, 79.87%
LeMieux National Champion – Gareth Hughes and Sintano Van Hof Olympia
In a determined bid to claim the title that had eluded his illustrious career so far, Gareth Hughes secured his first ever LeMieux National Champion title this afternoon with a spellbinding freestyle performance aboard his own and Judy Firmston-Williams' Sintano Van Hof Olympia (Sandro Hit x Silvano). The LeMieux National Champion title is awarded to the highest combined score from the LeMieux Grand Prix and the Kudos Grand Prix Freestyle, and after a slightly tense Grand Prix yesterday, for third place, Gareth, last to go, had to score over 77.08% to take the crown. And that, he did, rounding off what has been a phenomenal year for the Warwickshire rider who helped Great Britain to team silver at last month’s World Championships in Herning.
This afternoon’s thrilling finale was a fitting way to bring the curtain down on four fantastic days of competition with the top two podium positions going right down to the wire. Daniel Sherriff set the early pace with an enjoyable programme aboard new kid on the block - the nine-year-old I’m Bayford Hall Incognito (Voice x Ferro). This young horse, bursting with potential as he starts his Grand Prix career, rocketed into the lead on 76.10%, to be later relegated to provisional second by yesterday’s LeMieux Grand Prix winner, Kathleen Kroencke with K&N Stables’ super-talented San Royal 3 (San Remo x Grand Royal M). A beautifully presented and uplifting programme showing a magic mix of power and elegance from the 15-year-old Oldenburg gelding, earned the British-based German duo a score of 79.55%.
Andrew Gould put up an impressive challenge with Tatiana Milne-Skillman's gifted young stallion, Indigro. Nine-year-old Indigro (Negro x Jazz) shows incredible highlights in the piaffe and passage work, and is without doubt a very exciting prospect for the West Sussex-based rider. They accumulated a plethora of eights, plus two nines for ‘music and interpretation of the music’, earning a final mark of 77.95% - plenty enough to put them in the running for a podium place.
Could Kathleen hold on to her Kudos Grand Prix Freestyle lead, or would the final combination up the centre line, Gareth Hughes and Sintano Van Hof Olympia, do enough to topple her off the top spot? As the performance unfolded, showing harmonious riding and the horse answering every question asked, it became evident that we were witnessing something special. Riding to Classic Briolinca’s World Championships Madonna compilation, Sintano Van Hof Olympia showed super softness and elasticity throughout. The score sheets were awash with eights and the canter pirouettes and half passes had the judges reaching for the nine button. Pulling out all the stops, Gareth rode his piaffe on the final centre line one-handed into the final halt. The judges panel comprising Stephen Clarke (E), Fiona Wilson (H), Peter Storr (C), Nick Burton (M) and Isobel Wessels (B) awarded a final score total of 79.87% for the well-executed and crowd-pleasing ride.
Certainly a touch of the Herning magic had made its way to Somerford, with a number of spectators getting behind the riders, clapping along to the music and feeling the championship vibes.
“It’s like I said in the prize-giving - I’ve been really lucky, and I’ve probably achieved every ambition I’ve set out for,” said Gareth afterwards, clearly delighted. "I’ve been on championship teams, I’ve won medals, I’ve won championships here before, but at the lower levels... but to become National Champion - it’s so nice to have that on the shelf at home.
“I’d noticed the scores for the first half, and I knew with Sintano that he finds it quite difficult here because everything is so close, so he gets quite nervous. The test that I decided to ride was the test that I rode out at the World Championships with my mare [Classic Briolinca]. It was the hardest test he’s ever done. I thought, you’ve just got to go for it so we did. He pulled out all the stops and tried so hard to stay with me. I couldn’t be more proud of him."
About Sintano, Gareth said; “Sintano...he loves to eat, loves to eat and then eats again. In the stable he’s a sweetheart, the girls call him Piglet because he loves to eat. Outside, he’s a real talented horse, though sometimes his nerves get the better of him. But he’s getting better, and better, and better. He’s been on a European Championship team last year where we got a medal and he’s sort of starting to learn to hold it together on a big occasion. You can go down to a small show and give him a run before you come to these, but these are very different. You need something really special, and they’ve got to pull it out of the bag - and he did that today.
“He’ll have a little break now and we’ll see what happens through the winter. We’ll try and do a World Cup show, maybe London Excel, but we won’t be doing the World Cup circuit. Before we know it we’re into next year and we start again, there’s a Europeans in 2023 and that’s always the aim.”
Andrews Bowen Advanced Medium Gold Champion
Winner: Charlotte Dujardin and Times Kismet, 80.00%
The Andrews Bowen Advanced Medium Gold Championship was billed as one of the showdowns of the Nationals with a wealth of talent ridden by a who’s who of dressage coming forward under the experienced judging panel of Richard Baldwin (E ), Harry Payne (H), Mary Robbins (C ), Kirsty Mepham (M) and Andrea Smith (B).
Thirty one starters came forward with the first one up the centerline a 07.55. It was Rob Barker riding Christine Kirk’s Herbstrot who was first to break the 70% barrier, 71.60% to be exact but not long afterwards, in came Charlotte Dujardin and Hawtins San Floriana, whom she owns with Carl Hester, and this duo has already been in the ribbons this week so are in form. And is showed, a light harmonious performance produced a massive score of 75.52%, taking the lead by nearly four percent.
Katie Bailey then conjured a fabulous test from Heather Bryson’s 2018 Five Year Old National Champion, Izonik (Zonik x Jazz) which earned 75.52% which separated Charlotte and Robert. But Charlotte Dujardin had a final ride, and it was a good one, in the form of Times Kismet, the leggy bay Ampere mare she owns with Peter Belshaw. This duo are no strangers to the winner’s enclosure having taken the Novice and Elementary titles at the 2021 NAF Five Star Championships and then another double this year in the Medium and Advanced Medium but this was the seven year old’s first trip to the Nationals.
The duo were simply majestic. The mare oozes talent and has Grand Prix written all over her and the judges rewarded some really special work with a majority of eights with a number of nines and two tens to arrive at a final score of 80.00% - more the type of mark we’d associate with a Freestyle, but this was a straight class. This is one special mare and Charlotte summed it up with only a few words, “This mare is ‘simply the best’!”. We don’t doubt that for one second!
TopSpec Medium Silver Champion
Winner: Georgie Nicholls and Briarwood Notorious, 70.86%
2021 dual title winner Georgie Nicolls stepped up in level and class taking home a one-two in the TopSpec Medium Silver, with her own Briarwood Notorious enjoying the total limelight with a winning score of 70.865%. Katie Haigh’s seven year old mare Woodcroft Kika Quina (Johnson & Piqui), her winning ride from twelve months prior, was just a fraction behind on 70.757%.
“It’s just the most incredible feeling,” Georgie said after enjoying the prize giving for her eighth National title, “it happened here last year and I felt there was a bit of an expectation this year. Both horses give me the most amazing feeling – and they’re so different to ride.”
Speaking about Briarwood Notorious, known as ‘Zilas’ at home, she continued “I was really pleased with his test, we did one on Friday which didn’t quite go to plan so we weren’t entirely sure how today would go but he came out and was so much better for having been here all week.
“I’ve had him for three years now, got him from Briarwood Stud, he’s such a character. It’s actually taken quite a lot of work behind the scenes to get him to this stage as he gets quite hot and buzzy in the arena so we’ve got a routine where we ride him for a bit before the class and then we put him away and then bring him back out which seems to be really working.”
Whilst Zilas stole the show today, ‘Luna’ was just a fraction behind and Georgie was proud of her efforts “her nickname is Miss Perfect as she always tries 100% - they’re polar opposites. She gave me a lovely ride – I’m just so pleased with them both.
“It’s the most amazing feeling every time – I never get bored of it,” Georgie said about the latest trophy in her cabinet. “We only did the Medium as Alice put pressure on her to – didn’t feel he was ready. I thought I’d come and be last!”
So what’s next for the Hampshire-superstar? “Plan A is to try and qualify both horses for Advanced Medium for the Winter Championships and then we’ll re-evaluate after that.”
Today’s win was even more poignant for Georgie, who suffered a car accident in the winter and broke her neck and back in four places – “I traumtised the whole of Headmore! But I got unlimited chocolate and my horses schooled by Alice so was happy.”
Proud trainer Alice was on hand to join the celebrations and commend Georgie’s effort and comeback, she concluded “it’s been a turbulent year for her so it’s really amazing she’s come back the way she has with two horses today. It was a rather stressful few months!”
Kirstie Clarke was the best of the rest, taking the final podium place with Rachel Wolfenden’s Powered By Furst Impression – their score was a highly creditable 70.675% in a high scoring class.
Equitop Elementary Gold Champion
Winner: Sonnar Murray-Brown and Stolen Secret, 76.53%
It was a whistle stop tour to Somerford Park for Gloucestershire rider Sonnar Murray-Brown with Michelle Dawson’s Stolen Secret but it proved to be a very fruitful one. With just one horse in one class, Sonnar wisely travelled up this morning to do the arena walk, put the Uthopia x Riccio mare in a day box, he admitted to taking a small nap, and then competed in the Equitop Elementary Gold Championship and casually smashed out a 76.53%.
It was a mammoth class of 39 which was overseen by a five strong judging panel, Sarah Leitch (E), Penelope Lang (H), Debby Lush (C), Sue McMahon (M) and Jane Critchley (B) and Scottish rider Jo Barry set the early pace with Lady Hope and her own Karisma II on 73.844%. Some four hours later the in-form Becky Moody posted a superb 76.03% with Jo Coopers Governor x Swarovski five year old Magic Dream to take over the lead – and it looked like a winning score.
However, such is the class of the bay mare which as also bred by owner Michelle, they edged ahead – no marks lower than seven and a half and plenty of nines throughout the test across the judges.
Sonnar has had her since she was three when he broke her in, and she’s stayed training with him ever since. The duo did the Winters as a novice but this was their first trip to Somerford.
A delighted Sonnar said; “She’s great, she’s a real professional. She’s always professional in her mind, she’s no different from home to shows – she’s just great. She’s a real sweetheart, very intelligent and a girly girl!
“I was so pleased how relaxed she was as the Freestyle had started and it seemed to get louder and louder and I wondered how she might react because it’s only natural for her to but she was just so professional and really relaxed. I thought ‘just give her your aids and she’ll answer’ and I just sat back and let her cruise around, she was a joy. It felt really nice and she was more relaxed in the trot work than she was at the Regionals so I was really pleased with that. She gets better and better every time and it’s really nice she can come and perform in an atmosphere and cope with it – that’s such a joy for the future.
“I didn’t really look at the scores so I didn’t know what I needed to do. I don’t like to do that – I just go in to do the best I can do and if that’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. I was super pleased and proud that they rewarded her – it was great to get such a big score. Becky’s horse is amazing and she’s a great rider as is Jo so being in good company makes it even better,” he beamed.
He reflected on his first trip to the new Nationals venue, “I didn’t come last year so it’s the first time I’ve been for the Nationals and its great. The facilities are really great, it’s a nice atmosphere, good crowds and the surfaces are great,” he said.
So what’s next for 2021 British Breeding Equine Bridge winners? “She’ll train at home and aim for the Elementary and Medium at the Winters, we’ll see how she feels as let her decide if she’s ready for Medium or not. I’m really lucky that I get to train with Carl [Hester] as much as possible and he’s such a great help. As long as she keeps progressing and enjoying it, we’ll continue. Once she’s finished qualifying for the winter regionals, she’ll have a little eight week holiday like she did last year to give her a little rest and then we’ll pick her pick her up ready for next year,” he concluded.
So it was silver for Becky Moody and bronze for Jo Barry but this class is almost like an extension of the young horse classes and take note of the names of their partners for we shall be seeing them in the future.
The Centre Line Preliminary Gold Champion
Winner: Sarah Wilkinson and Nicolass B, 76.03%
Youthful talent rose to the top in the first class of the final day at the LeMieux National Championships as four year old Nicolaas B claimed The Centre Line Preliminary Gold for Sarah Wilkinson.
Under the watchful eyes of Alison Duck (E), Susie Cumine (C) and Cherry Elvin (M), the duo scored 76.035% to top a class of immense talent, where no less than 17 horses scored about 70%. “He’s a four year old,” Sarah began talking of her gifted gelding by Ibiza x Vivaldi, “me and his owner brought him over from Holland off a video as a two and a half year old. When he arrived he was bigger than we thought and when we started breaking him in we thought you're a big boy if you're going to be naughty but he was so good. I backed him myself and started with him as a three year old.
“This year we have started competing him in the young horse classes as well as some Prelim's and Novice,” she continued about, “he has been amazing, every single show he doesn't put a foot wrong and he's so easy in every way.”
Their test today in the Vector Arena was standout, a stunning performance in a stunning setting, “I was really happy with it, he did not do anything wrong, keep a great rhythm, so it was fantastic . We also had the young horse classes but didn't do so well, so was a bit disappointed. He has a great walk, to be honest all three paces are amazing, he just needs to build strength as he is a bit big and gangly. So once he fills into his body he will be quite phenomenal.”
Nicolaas B is owned by Lucie Stokoe, who’s due to take back the reins with the persuasion of Sarah: “I am trying to get her to ride him but she's holding back, but she does ride him quite a lot at home and he's fantastic for her as well.” Lucie also had her say on what’s next for her champion, “Yes, I can't wait to get on him, It's been so great watch Sarah on him she is just amazing. The atmosphere here has been great and as he's so young it's been a great experience for him.”
Jayne Turney scored 73.506% with Shirley Rixon’s five year old Penhaligon Freigesit to place second, whilst Gloucestershire-based Darren Hicks completed the top three with Debbie Stibbe’s Mischievous Me (73.33%).
British Dressage Under 21 Champions
Children on Horses Winner: Crystal Robinson Long and Evita Ronia, 77.47%
Kent-based young rider Crystal Robinson-Long (14) claimed this morning’s British Dressage Children on Horses Championship title with her talented KWPN mare Evita Ronia (Westpoint x Oscar). The duo, who represented Great Britain as individuals at the FEI Children on Horses European Championships last month, posted a fantastic score of 77.47% to take the win.
“It [the performance] felt incredible today,” said Crystal. “I didn’t have the best warm-up, but she was incredible for my last Children test. I just went for it and it paid off!"
About the relative newness of their partnership, Crystal said; “Fran Newman found her for me in February, so we’ve not been together for very long. It has definitely been a big journey in a short time - I’ll put it that way! Her trot work was amazing today - it felt incredible - and she always tries her best. There were some mistakes but it’s a very good way to end the season, I’m very proud.”
Also impressive were the performances of Natasha McDonald with her Welsh gelding Sauvey Golden Condor and Evie Head with Brouwershaven’s Evie who completed the top three on scores of 72.82% and 72.65% respectively.
Pony Winner: Sofia Games and Next Black Magic, 69.85%
Just weeks on from their successful debut FEI Pony European Championships appearance at Strzegom in Poland, Sofia Games and Next Black Magic (Nabucco R x FS Pour L’Amour) claimed this morning’s British Dressage Pony Championship in convincing style. The duo rode a stylish test awarded a score just shy of 70% from the judges panel of Claire Senior (E), Islay Auty (C) and Felicity Scott (M).
“I thought he was amazing today – he was probably the most adjustable I’ve ever had him,” said Sofia after the prize-giving. “It’s great to continue after the Europeans and end the season on a high.
“Our partnership feels much stronger since we’ve been to the Europeans,” continued Sofia. “We’ll head into next year feeling good!”
Next Black Magic, or Totti as he is known at home, was sourced from Holland and was part of the Dutch Pony team last year. “He was a bit of a spontaneous buy,” explains Sofia. “We met him, and he was perfect. He’s such a character – he’s quite sweet, but VERY sassy!”
Lauren Geraghty and WS Jackson, who also flew the flag for Great Britain in Strzegom, claimed second place this morning on 67.38%, while Beatrice Butterworth and Non Plus Ultra completed the top three (67.00%).
Junior Winner: Annabella Pidgley and Espe, 76.11%
Adding to her fantastic win on Thursday when she claimed the Stübben Intermediate II title with Gio, and concluding her outstanding 2022 season in style, leading British youth rider Annabella Pidgley enjoyed an emphatic win in this morning’s British Dressage Junior Championship.
With Sarah Pidgley’s exceptional young mare Espe (Escolar x Dimaggio), the 17-year-old from Windsor posted a brilliant new PB of 76.11% for a performance showing all the expression and balletic power that earned them a brace of individual medals during the European Championships at Hartpury in July.
“She [Espe] was amazing – she really performed for me today,” enthused Annabella. “It’s a sad moment because this is our last Junior test before I step up to Young Riders, but it’s a new personal best so it’s more than I could have asked for as a big finish. I’m excited to be moving up to Young Riders and learning new things with her. She’s only eight, so we’re learning together - it’s an exciting new journey.
“She surprised me in the prize-giving, and in the test she was quite hot, but she was excited and felt good following a little break after the Europeans,” continued Annabella. “We’ll do a few more shows but I love that she’s feeling so happy and just wants to show her big trot off to everyone.”
Myles Graham, also part of the bronze medal-winning team at Hartpury, achieved second place on a score just shy of 71% with his European Championships partner, Caroline Bell’s Nibeley Union Hit, while Isobel Lickley and Mount St John Furstin Fugger impressed to finish third on 70.70%.
Young Rider Winner: Charlotte Mcdowall and Alive and Kicking, 72.35%
Alive and Kicking, second in the Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Gold on Thursday with owner, Charlotte Dujardin, made a return to the arena today under Charlotte McDowall to claim the 2022 British Dressage Young Rider Championship in great style on a fantastic new PB of 72.35%.
The eight-year-old All at Once x Fürst Piccolo mare has been campaigned this year by Young Rider Charlotte, achieving promising results. Today’s end-of-season win was the icing on the cake for this young partnership whose successes include top-three spots at Premier League Shows and a super second place in the Young Rider Individual test at Wellington CDI in June.
“I’m the luckiest girl alive!” was Charlotte’s reaction following the lap of honour.
Friday’s Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Silver winners, Jessie McConkey and Wilson Stensvang took the runner-up position on a score of 70.53%, while Chloe Hill and Fort Knoxx completed the Young Rider podium on 67.05%.
KBIS Young Horse Championships
The much-anticipated final judging of the British Dressage Young Horse Championships is always a highlight on the concluding day of competition at the LeMieux National Championships. This year’s three finals, for the first time under the sponsorship KBIS British Equestrian Insurance, drew the crowds as the top four in each age category went before the panel of David Hunt, Ulf Möller and test rider Leonie Richter who selected our three outstanding winners, with Peter Storr in place of David Hunt for the judging of the five-year-olds.
KBIS Young Horse 6 Year Old Champion
Winner: Sarah Roger and Full Moon II
The final group of horses to come forward for judging were six-year-olds Full Moon II (Fürstenball x Gribaldi), Forest Hill (Fürstenlook x United), Total Impact II (Top Gear x Foundation) and MSJ Gold Standard (Governor x Fürstenball). All four showed much potential, but it was Ursula Bechtolsheimer and Laura Tomlinson’s Full Moon II who was declared the 2022 KBIS 6YO Champion.
David Hunt remarked on how all four horses were impressive, well-matched, and all in good self-carriage. Ulf Möller pointed out the big influence of the stallion Fürstenball on the breeding of all four horses in the arena, citing the rideability that he gives to his offspring.
Ursula Bechtolsheimer and Laura Tomlinson’s Full Moon II (Fürstenball x Gribaldi), bred by the late Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer, was the first horse to come forward for the test ride, after which, Leonie praised the way the horse has been produced; “I’m really happy, he’s a well-trained horse, and I have a really good feeling in all three gaits.” David Hunt commented on what a well-balanced, elegant horse he is, with good swing in the trot.
“Today, I was really pleased with him,” said Sarah. “I feel that every time I get on that horse, I am super-pleased with him! He gave a really good feeling in there, and I’m just really pleased that the test rider also had a super feeling and could feel our correct training, and that he’s a talented horse for the future.
About the positive comments from judges, Sarah said; “It is so rewarding, especially when you’ve ridden the horse since three years old and he’s a home-bred. It’s rewarding when you feel them develop, particularly when it’s a horse that has so much potential and quality. He’s just such a joy to ride.
“He’s got a very special presence – even in the stable,” continued Sarah. “It’s impossible to walk by him without him drawing you in. He’s just got something very special. He’s got a very kind heart and is my boy – I love him.
“He’s showing already great potential for the canter pirouettes, the changes and lateral work. He’s also showing huge quality in collection, but we’re also taking our time with him as he’s such a big horse. We just want to give him the time to develop correctly.”
Another to impress was Emile Faurie’s Total Impact II (Top Gear x Foundation), ridden by Christian Lovell into second place. The rain started to fall at the beginning of the test ride, resulting in a small misunderstanding between horse and rider. “That that is absolutely acceptable,” commented Ulf. “We want sensitive horses, so we have to accept sensitive horses.”
“He has a lot of potential for the future in the trot and canter,” said Leonie after dismounting. “He’s sensitive, but in the end, he was with me, and I could feel the potential.”
Forest Hill (Fürstenlook x United), who followed ridden by Lara Butler, was awarded third place. The bay gelding, another bred by the late Dr Wilfried Bechtolsheimer, is a lovely type with a lot of natural swing and energy. “He is a really well-trained horse,” commented Leonie. “He is comfortable and gave a really nice feeling.”
Holly Woodhead presented chestnut mare MSJ Gold Standard (Governor x Fürstenball) to take fourth place. Bred and owned by Emma Blundell of Mount St John Stud, the mare allowed Leonie to ‘access’ her straight away. “It speaks for the training that the horse allows the rider in straight away,” commented Ulf, “and the horse developed even more cadence and freedom after the canter.”
KBIS Young Horse 5 Year Old Champion
Winner: Tom Goode and Iceland Girl PS
The middle group of young talents into the LeMieux Arena were five-year-olds Iceland Girl PS (Ierland x Londonderry), Hawtins Sarocco (Sezuan x Belissimo M), Magic Dream (Governor x Swarovski) and My Pride (Toto JNR x Dayano).
The winner for the panel, comprising Peter Storr, Ulf Möller and Leonie Richter, was Deborah Cunningham’s beautiful black mare Iceland Girl PS (Ierland x Londonderry). Bred at Gestüt Lewitz in Germay, and ridden by Tom Goode, head rider for Emile Faurie, the horse has a super uphill tendency and an outstanding canter.
“We like the horse a lot,” commented Peter Storr. “She is very impressive - a very nice mare – she is supple, elastic and rhythmic.”
“She was really nice to ride,” reported Leonie. “I could feel she has a lot of potential for everything. She is easy to collect, and, in the canter, she gives the feeling that you could ride a pirouette now. The trot is great too and she really tries her best.”
“She’s owned by Deborah Cunningham, and we’ve had her a year,” said Tom. “She came to us a week before the Nationals last year. We fell in love with her as soon as we saw her when we tried her in Germany. She has a good brain, she loves to show off, and she’s so easy to train at home. It’s inbuilt in her. Everything you ask of her, she just does it really naturally and gives an amazing feeling.
“She shows all the attributes to make a really top Grand Prix horse,” concluded Tom. “She finds the collection really easy, and she just has so much power and athleticism.”
Judith Davis’s Hawtins Sarocco (Sezuan x Belissimo M) made an impression for second place. The elegant dark bay gelding, working in a lovely frame, showed his undoubted potential with Hawtins Stud rider Lucinda Elliott and also under Leonie Richter.
Jo Cooper’s chestnut mare Magic Dream (Governor s Swarovski), ridden by Becky Moody, took third place. “I really liked the horse,” commented Leonie. “She was lovely to ride. First, she was a little strong in the contact, but it became much better. I felt that she wants to try for the rider.”
Fourth place was awarded to Elite Dressage’s Dutch-bred bay gelding My Pride (Toto JNR x Dayano). “I really like this type of horse,” said Leonie. “He needs to learn to swing more through the body in the trot, however, the walk and canter both give a good feeling.”
KBIS Young Horse 4 Year Old Champion
Winner: Holly Woodhead and MSJ Viva Dannebrog
The four-year-old horses got the 2022 KBIS Young Dressage Horse Championships underway with four outstanding contenders in Ivicii RMD (Asgard’s Ibiza x Don Schufro), Fever Tree (Foundation x Dayano), MSJ Viva Dannebrog (Vitalis x Don Schufro) and Nightrider (Secret x Sandreo).
Test rider Leonie Richter (GER), who rides for Helgstrand Dressage, took time with each horse and carefully considered their attributes before reporting back to fellow judges David Hunt (GBR) and Ulf Möller (GER). The winner for the panel was MSJ Viva Dannebrog (Vitalis x Don Schufro), presented by Holly Woodhead and owned and bred by Emma Blundell of Mount St John Equestrian LLP. Ulf Möller summed up the panel’s winner after the announcement of the final placings; “It was the rideability that gave us the decision. They were close together, and any could have been a winner, but the rideability made the decision for us.
“She was so with me, but really electric and waiting for every aid,” commented Leonie after dismounting from her test ride, praising the chestnut mare’s willingness and trainability. “For the rider, she responds so well. She is doing everything really easily, and I really like her.”
“I haven’t done pure dressage for a very long time,” smiled Holly, who is caretaker rider for MSJ Viva Dannebrog while sister Amy Woodhead awaits the arrival of her first child. “I last did it when we were in Ponies – that was a long time ago. I’m ever so grateful for one, my sister being pregnant so I get the ride, and two, to Emma [Blundell] for allowing me to ride these amazing mares.
“I’ve ridden her (MSJ Viva Dannebrog) for the whole of this year now. When I first rode her, she was petrified of everything, but she’s amazing – I'm really proud of her. I’ve been spending the majority of my time getting to know her. We’ve been jumping and we do a lot of cantering around the field. I think that being a ‘normal’ horse has brought out the best in her.
“She’s very on side, and she wants to please,” continued Holly. “She will never give up, she just gives and she gives, and that’s why I haven’t overdone it with her this year. To hear the judges’ comments means a lot, because I like the horses to feel good in themselves. I like them easy enough, so they are always with you, but happy with their work - I think that is so important. I was also in awe of Leonie riding her.”
MSJ Viva Dannebrog is out of Mount St John Diva Dannebrog and by Vitalis, as Emma Blundell explains; “We chose Vitalis because Diva Dannebrog is an amazing mare, one of the best mares, but she could be a little bit old-fashioned, so we wanted something that was a bit more up through the shoulder, and that’s something Vitalis brings.
“All of Diva’s family are very uncomplicated, and she’s the same. She’s very trainable, as you could see with the test rider, and the rest is just training now, but at least you’ve started with something that’s a solid base. I was delighted with the feedback form the judges. When you’ve seen a horse be born and see it going like that with someone who has never sat on it before, it’s a very proud moment for any breeder.”
Second place was awarded to Mark Forrest and the talented British-bred black gelding Ivicii RMD (Asgard’s Ibiza x Don Schufro), owned and bred by Rosie Moreton-Deakin. Carl Hester, watching on from the commentary box alongside the Radio Nationals duo of Kim Ratcliffe and John Bowen, remarked on how short-coupled the horse is, with the hind legs already in the right place.
At the start of the test ride, it started to rain heavily, and the horse became a little unsettled. “He was a little confused, but towards the end of the ride, he was good,” commented Leonie. “He’s a lovely horse, a hot horse, a really nice horse.”
Nightrider (Secret x Sandreo), an impressive Dutch gelding owned by Heather Bryson and Rowan Bryson, and presented by Katie Bailey, was awarded third place. Leonie was impressed with the horse’s ability to concentrate and focus on his rider. She also explained that he feels very safe, but that you don’t feel that you have to push him.
Fourth place was awarded to Fever Tree (Foundation x Dayano), a super gelding bred by David Stone and owned and presented by Dannie Morgan. Carl Hester was impressed with the horse’s biomechanics, and Leonie found him ‘much fun to ride’. “There was a little tension at the start of the test ride; however, he relaxed, allowed me to put my leg on and gave me a great feeling in the end.”
Photo © Kevin Sparrow