Day one: LeMieux National Championships
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Warm September sun shone on a breezy Stoneleigh Park today for the opening day of the LeMieux National Championships 2019 as competitors and spectators alike enjoyed a packed programme of first rate competition. The first five champions of the week were crowned, and inspirational stories and exciting combinations for the future revealed.
Equine Construction Advanced Medium Silver
The first title of the 2019 LeMieux National Championships provided a story befitting of the occasion. It was Taylor Denness riding her own 14 year old Negro son Amaro O (pictured) who took the spoils in the Equine Construction Advanced Medium. Watching the proud pair take their lap of honour it just looked like two great friends enjoying their day out but when you get to meet Taylor, you soon realise there’s much more to the duo.
At just 22, Taylor, from Didmarton in Gloucestershire, is still quite new to the higher levels and she’s climbed the ladder with Timmy as he was her 12th birthday present when he was just four. It’s not been a smooth journey as he was born with a condition which means he has just 70% vision both eyes which means there’s a great deal of trust between them.
“I’m still in shock! Things like this just don’t happen to me! I was really pleased with my test as he’s is quite difficult to ride but he’s so genuine and always gives 110%. It was an amazing test – almost like a fairytale; it was one of those tests where I was happy and the mark didn’t matter. He has so many quirks but today he was a gentleman, not a Tasmanian Devil!” Taylor said afterwards.
It wasn’t a great start as on arrival yesterday ‘Timmy’ was quite wild and not really listening so Taylor’s hopes for today’s test were not high; “I just wanted to get round really!” she exclaimed. “He has a judge’s box phobia as he can’t see them properly and add the sound of the tannoy, the wind, the marquees, it was a lot for him to take in. He’s been so difficult all his career. When he was younger, I had List 1 judges who said I should give up with him or give him to someone else which was quite hard as a teenager but I held my nerve.” Today, all that hard work and dedication paid off.
It’s not just Timmy’s quirks that Taylor has to manage. She has Chronic Fibromyalgia and a secondary condition which leads to hypermobility of the joints so they’re prone to dislocating. “It’s quite restricting for me – I actually fell down the stairs last week and have a few good bruises!,” said Taylor.
The decade old pairing qualified on a wild card after finishing third at the Regional so, coupled with the training difficulties, health issues for both horse and rider and others telling her to give up, Taylor and Timmy are proof never to give up on your dreams. Even if he still won’t have a rosette on his bridle!
BackinAction Preliminary Silver
Oxfordshire event rider and Nationals first-timer Chloe Arnold rode to a resounding victory in the BackinAction Preliminary Silver Championship aboard Caroline Bell’s exciting young prospect Full House. Their winning test earned a mark of 72.356%.
“It’ll take a while to sink in as it’s quite an achievement!” said Chloe after her lap of honour aboard the gorgeous chestnut seven year old in front of the Thursday afternoon crowd.
Chloe is based with Full House’s owner Caroline Bell who she works for, and is starting the Florencio I x Falkland gelding’s education in preparation for Caroline’s daughter Rebecca Bell to take over the ride. She trains with Caron Roberts. “It’s a lot of thanks to Caron Roberts and her training that got be me here today.”
“We brought Otto [Full House] here for the experience and it’s all gone rather well.” said Chloe. “I was really pleased with the test. He kept calm, he listened and was really focused on me. I couldn’t be any happier.”
Chloe modesty said, “I just need to focus on keeping him looking like a dressage horse, but I can pull it off when I need to pull it off. Dressage is definitely different and there’s a lot of bling involved, but I’m really enjoying it. I do have to go and do the odd event though just to get keep my feet off the ground! But no, I do enjoy the dressage.”
“She [Chloe] doesn’t give herself enough credit,” chipped in Otto’s future partner, Rebecca. “She really does a brilliant job with the young horses.”
Childéric Saddles Elementary Silver
With just two marks in it, the Childéric Saddles Elementary Silver marked an emphatic victory for Mount St John Stud as resident rider Aimee Gascoigne took the top spoils with the talented mare Mount St John Diva Dannabrog. The duo’s supreme test warranted 71.87% from the panel of judges – John Robinson, Richard Baldwin and Pat Watts.
Still a relatively new partnership, for Aimee the occasion was one to remember! Having joined the Mount St John team in May with a view to taking up a grooming position, Aimee has successfully contested her first Premier League, Summer Regionals and now the National Championships with a win at each. Speaking about her partnership with Diva she said, “Emma’s given me an amazing opportunity to ride this horse, she’s awesome and she loves it when she goes in there! The test was really good after a really good warm up from Paul Fielder. I went the right way, with no mistakes and I remembered the give and retake!”
Diva, a former World Equestrian Games medallist for Para Dressage star Natasha Baker, enjoyed another moment in the spotlight: “She’s very laid back at home and was a bit more awake here in the bigger atmosphere, but she’s such a professional horse she takes it all in her stride!”
Proud owner Emma Blundell is looking ahead to the Winter Championships where they’ll look to step up to Medium level and perhaps have a go at Freestyle to Music classes. “Aimee does a lot with the young horses at home but I think it’s important for her to have something a bit older to ride to develop for the younger ones, at the moment she’s backing our three year olds.” Aimee added, “It makes it worthwhile, getting on the young ones one day and then going around the prize giving at the Nationals the next!”
The win marks a successful start to another busy week for Emma and the Mount St John team as five of their horses vie for the titles, as well as a host of more home-breds contesting the championships for several other yards, owners and riders.
Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Gold
Charlotte Dujardin and relatively new ride Mount St John Valencia claimed the Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Gold on the opening day of the LeMieux National Championships. Always a Nationals highlight, the class again featured a star-studded line up 30 with the top ten all above the 70% mark.
Gareth Hughes, Sophie Wells, Katie Bailey and Luis Principe all put up a good fight but it was Dujardin and super talent Mount St John Valencia who enjoyed a decisive victory with a score of 75.447% from the judging panel of Andrea Smith, Peter Storr, Nick Burton, Sarah Leitch and Clive Halsall.
“She’s still quite new to me,” said Charlotte. “I did a couple of Advanced Mediums to start, just to get my bearings really. She did her first PSG at Hartpury, then Somerford Park followed by Hartpury Premier League [where they won the Small Tour double], and this was her fourth one. So she’s very low mileage.”
“I was really pleased, because in the warm up it didn’t feel very windy, then I went into that arena and I swear to God, it is the windiest arena ever and as you’re coming towards those tents and marquees, the noise is phenomenal and you don’t appreciate it until you’re in there. We had a blip in the canter transition at the end of the walk, the walk was a bit on edge, but it was the first time we got the changes in the test. I was really really pleased with her, especially for her fourth one [PSG], and to get that score even with a few errors.”
“She’s so cool and so elastic,” enthused Charlotte. “She’s hot and fiery and she loves to work. She’s a mare that if you give her confidence, she’ll do anything. She lacks a bit of self-confidence, but when you’re there and almost hold her hand she just does it. When I first saw her, I knew she was my type of horse.”
Cavalor Intermediate II Gold
At just 16hh, the diminutive Gio proved that talent and heart outweigh height in the Cavalor Inter II as Charlotte Dujardin piloted her own talented son of the late Apache to victory with no less than 78.34%.
Speaking about her season with eight year old Gio Charlotte commented, “He’s so talented at piaffe and passage so I thought I’d keep him at home for a while and then aim to ride an Inter II at Hartpury, we went, gave it a go, he got 78% - not bad for a first attempt! It’s all so natural for him.”
“He’s the bravest little horse, he’s so genuine and he never changes – I couldn’t have asked for a better test,” she continued about their performance in today’s Cavalor showdown. ”He has a heart of gold – he’s gone from Advanced Medium this time last year to Inter II this year. I don’t want to rush him so we’ll go home and he’ll have a little holiday. He’ll definitely be a Tokyo contender – why not!”
“There’s no show like it,” Charlotte added about returning to the Nationals at Stoneleigh. “The two arenas, the banners, the flags! It’s really good to be back.”
Charlotte makes at least two more appearances this week with a ride in tomorrow’s Saracen Horse Feeds Inter I on her second winner on day one, Mount St John Valencia, before Hawtins San Floriana has a shot at the Equine Construction Advanced Medium Gold on Sunday morning.
Second place went to the Kroll family’s KK Dominant in the experienced hands of Team GBR’s Gareth Hughes, whilst Vicky Thompson Winfield and the stunning palomino Artist claimed third.
Photo c Kevin Sparrow