Day one - LeMieux National Championships 2022
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Day one at the 2022 LeMieux National Championships was a fabulous start to four days of top-flight dressage action hosted by premier Cheshire venue, Somerford Park.
Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championship
Grade I: Diane Green with The Scout and Mari Durward-Akhurst with Quaikin Guaranteed Good, 69.07%
Launching the first day of competition in the LeMieux Arena was the Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships, with four titles on offer across the grades, in front of judges Sarah Rodger, Mary-Anne Horn and Jane McGarel-Groves.
The Grade I title went to a tie between Diane Green and Mari Durward-Akhurst after a recalculation of the scores saw both on 69.074%. Diane Green, a consultant in the world of hospitality, and disability expert, is based in Gloucestershire. She was delighted with her performance today aboard Jo Whitworth's striking 22-year-old tobiano gelding, The Scout.
“He (The Scout) was really good,” enthused Diane afterwards. “He’s never seen an environment like this before, but he was great and ‘with me’ the whole time.
“For me, riding Scout was a bit of a therapy after an operation earlier this year. The other horses we have at home aren’t quite ready and are a bit bigger-moving. He just gelled with me, so we took him to Wellington [Festival of Para Dressage] where he qualified at the grand old age of 22 and this is his first Nationals!
“He was a late starter, but he loves it though,” continued Diane. “He thought he’d won the Olympics with the National Anthem playing [for the minute’s silence]. He’s a real character, but Jo has owned him for 17 years so knows every side of him.
“We’re bringing the other horses on to get them qualified for Keysoe CPEDI next March,” said Diane about her future plans. “I have two lovely big girls and a super gelding. Scout will be coming out too to act as wing man to them all!"
Owner Jo added; “He came to me for rehabilitation as he used to flip himself over backwards! I just loved him, and his brain, so I kept him, and 17 years on, here we are. I thought it would be good to keep Di riding while we get the others up and going.”
Mari Durward-Akhurst (pictured above), a team silver medalist at the 2019 FEI European Championships, laid down a fantastic performance with her 11-year-old gelding, Quaikin Guaranteed Good, to match the winning score of 69.07%. Quaikin Guaranteed Good (by Grafenstolz), known at home as 'Damo' has a huge, ground-covering walk, which attracted plenty of the higher marks.
"It was such a big atmosphere, the biggest environment he's been in, but he (Damo) ignored all distractions and just kept on walking," commented Mari about partner of just 18 months. "I was delighted with him."
Mari, who is based in Rickmansworth and trains with Rob Waine, has done a huge amount of groundwork with Damo to gain his confidence - a tactic which has clearly paid off with wins at the Winter Para Championships, the Gold Semi Finals and then here at Somerford added to the CV of this promising new partnership.
Mari spotted Damo's potential in his sales video. "He was advertised in the British Dressage classifieds, and I thought 'wow, that's a good walk!' so we viewed him as soon as possible. I think it was fate. It's hard to find a walk like that, but he has it, and he's quite laid back most of the time. He's a lovely horse."
Tegan Vincent-Cooke and Stolen Kiss completed the podium with their strong score of 68.393%.
Grade II: Georgia Wilson and Midnight II, 74.70%
Straight off the back of bringing home the Grade II Freestyle bronze medal at the FEI World Para Dressage Championships, with Sakura, Georgia Wilson was back in action, this time with her 2019 European Championship partner, Midnight II. The duo posted the highest score across all grades, taking the win on an outstanding 74.406%.
“She [Midnight] was a good girl,” said a delighted Georgia afterwards. “She was really good in the test today, and my walk was better so that was good. My sister, Sophie, has been riding her while I’ve been at Herning, but I soon got back to it and felt well-prepared coming here. Though she feels like a pony compared to Suki (Sakura)!”
Midnight II won’t be travelling home to Wales quite yet, as she has a busy weekend ahead competing in the Elementary and Medium Silver classes with Sophie Wilson having qualified at Port Royal Summer Regional Championships. Next stop for Georgia will be Keysoe CPEDI in October.
Ashleigh-Rose Turner and Soensmindes Sylvester also delivered a fantastic test to earn 71.986% for second place, with Julie Payne and Divinity rounding off the top three on 66.912%.
Grade IV: Nicola Naylor and Del Piero V, 68.69%
Nicola Naylor, the winner of last year’s Equissage Pulse Para Gold Grade IV with Humberto L, has retained her title at this year’s Championships, albeit with another horse - her 14-year-old son of Flemmingh, Del Piero V.
“It’s been a good day,” commented Nicola who delivered a super test for 68.699%. “If there’s one horse who’s always on his best behaviour, it’s ‘Pierre’! I didn’t have the best start to the test because I didn’t hear the bell, so it wasn’t our most glorious moment and that has a knock-on effect, so it took us a few movements to get back into the groove. But once we were, his canter today was his highlight. Normally his trot work is the most expressive but because of the start, he got better and better in the canter.
“It's been the most amazing year for me, but a year of huge change and that’s taken a lot of courage. But I’m really glad I’ve taken risks. Today, Julie (Riches) called for me and it’s only the second time she’s ever done it, but we’re taking those risks and it’s paying off.
Reflecting on a year that has seen her selected onto the reserve list for the World Championships with Humberto L, Nicola says; “It’s been a phenomenal year, on both horses actually - I couldn’t ask for more. Sometimes you just have to make changes and play around. You can’t get any better without risk and trying something different.
About her plans for 2023, Nicola said; “I’d really hope to get to the Europeans on one of them next year and that would be a dream come true. We’ll campaign with that in mind and get to some internationals." Nicola, who is a blind rider, also competes in able-bodied competition and with Pierre achieved fifth in the PSG and a top-ten place in the Inter I at the recent Bury Farm High Profile Show.
Laura Scott and her Australian thoroughbred gelding, Koko Pop (Blackfriars x Grosvenor), a former ride of William Fox-Pitt, impressed to claim the runner-up spot on 68.659%, with Marcelle Ward and Dornroeschen taking third (67.927%).
Grade V: Sophie Wells and Don Cara, 72.81%
Sophie Wells and Don Cara M, part of the British quartet that secured Paris 2024 qualification a few short weeks ago at the FEI World Para Dressage Championships in Herning, brought their magic to Somerford with a convincing win in the Equissage Pulse Para Gold Grade V Championship. Sophie and the elegantly powerful Don Jovi son, owned by Rowland and Maria Kinch, delivered a winning test awarded 72.818% to round off their summer season in emphatic style.
Fresh from their individual silver and freestyle bronze in Denmark, Sophie and Donnie, as the 13-year-old gelding is known, took the win ahead of Charlotte Cundall, who clinched the runner-up spot with LJT Simply Red (69.683%), and Hope Hayward who took podium third scoring 65.079% aboard Cadeau K.
Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Gold Championship
Winner: Charlotte Dujardin and Hilus MHB, 74.00%
Charlotte Dujardin has retained the Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Gold title won last year with Imhotep, with a fantastic victory this afternoon aboard Sarah Pidgley’s Hilus MHB. Charlotte and the 10-year-old Johnson x Don Primero gelding, who’ve competed together this year with much success, scored 74.000% from the judging panel comprising Richard Baldwin (E), Debby Lush (H), Nick Burton (C) Andrea Smith (M) and Jenny Ward (B).
The victory concludes a super summer for this partnership, which has enjoyed double wins this season at both Hickstead Premier League and Wellington CDI. Not only did she win, but Charlotte, who is expecting her first child, claimed second spot with her young mare Alive and Kicking (73.647%) and fifth with her own and Carl Hester’s Hawtins San Floriana (72.412%).
“I’ve had Hilus for this year just to bring him on a bit more and bring him up the levels,” explained Charlotte. “He’s working towards Inter II at home. He’s a really exciting horse and would be the most experienced of the three in this class.
“He’s quite a nervous horse believe it or not - he’s nervous of everything,” continued Charlotte. “He’s the sort of horse that feels like I’ve got to give him confidence all the way through – hold his hand a little bit and tell him he can do it. I was really pleased with his test today, as everything’s quite close in there.
“Before, his eyes would have been on stalks, but today I felt he stayed with me. So, I was really pleased with his test, and he’s got the Inter I tomorrow to build on.”
About Alive and Kicking, or ‘Audrey’ as she’s known at home, Charlotte said, “She’s just a sassy little minx – she’s so much fun though. I was really pleased with her, it was just a shame with the changes. I missed the last change in my fours, and in the threes I just lost the canter a little bit and didn’t keep the momentum – she probably would have won otherwise. She thought she’d let Hilus win today!
I’ve done two Premier League PSGs on her, that’s all. I’ve let Charlotte McDowall do Young Riders on her so now I need to get going. She’s a definite Grand Prix horse, she has so much talent, I’m really excited about her future.
Talking about Hawtins San Floriana, Charlotte said, “I love that horse – she’s absolutely incredible to ride – out of the three, she’s the nicest to ride of them all. She’s got so much scope, so much ability but is so green. She’s done two shows this year, this is her second PSG ever so I can’t complain. She has hot, green moments and is very onward bound!
“She’s one for Grand Prix because one thing’s for sure, I’m never going to tire her out, she’ll go to the bitter end. By the Freestyle, she’ll still have energy. She gives you the most incredible ride and I’m so proud of her, and to come here and get a respectable score is great. I’m really, really happy with all three horses today."
Andrews Bowen Advanced Medium Silver Championship
Winner: Alex Ingoe-Topham and Seagry Donna Diva, 70.81%
In a class of 38 combinations it was Alex Ingoe–Topham and Seagry Donna Diva (Don Fredric x My Delight) who had the edge and took the title for this year's Andrews Bowen Advanced Medium Silver Championships.
An impressive score of 70.816% was achieved by this dynamic duo today in the Kudos Arena here at Somerford Park. Their extended walk wowed the judges with three out of five scoring the pair 8s for the movement. The judging panel consisted of Sarah Kingswells (E), Caroline Tupling (H), Sue McMahon (C), Penelope Lang (M), Sarah Leitch (B).
Seagry Donna Diva, is a nine-year-old Oldenburger Verband mare, stood at 17 hands tall, owned by Louise Heatherington, and bred by Seagry Stud. Alex laughed as she said, “she’s known as ‘Diva’ at home – and she is a Diva!”. When asked how she is in the stable Alex said, “she’ll happily give you a nibble or a swish of the tail, but she loves her work, and she loves being on side – so that’s the positive.”
Alex and Diva came together two years ago when she came to Alex’s yard for her now-husband to event. Alex explained “He evented her for a season or two and then COVID-19 hit, he doesn’t see the point in riding if he hasn’t got a competition in focus.”. Alex kept Diva going and built up a rapport with her and ever since have been competing together up until now Advanced Medium at the National Championships.
First-time nationals winners, Alex and Diva, discussed her test as “the most fluent test ridden on her in the Advanced Medium level.”. “She likes to do things her own way, you cannot push her, she’s a mare and you have to work with her not against her. But she was definitely on side today!” When asked where the two aim to go in the future, Alex expressed “I’m definitely keen to step her up to PSG and work on that level over the winter, let’s hope to maybe be back here next year.”
Alex was joined on site today by Diva’s owners Louise Hetherington and her mum, as well as her husband Nathan at “a very rare outing to a dressage competition.” We would like to congratulate Debbie Halsted and Iladorijke for coming second place (69.947%) and Sara Squires and Laetitius C for coming third (69.763%) as well as all of those who competed.
Stübben Intermediate II Gold Championship
Winner: Annabella Pidgley and Gio, 79.11%
New Intermediate II Gold Championship sponsors Stübben were given a huge treat for their inaugural class with a high scoring affair packed full of quality performances in the Kudos Arena. British based German rider Kathleen Kroencke set the pace on her first ride, Kiriakos TSG with 71.58%. It was the turn of one of the most exciting young combinations in dressage, 2022 triple Junior medalist Annabella Pidgley and 2021 double Olympic and European medalist, Gio, formerly ridden by Charlotte Dujardin. Annabella and ‘Pumpkin’ have had a great debut year together – just six tests but all with wins on 70%+ scores so the omens were positive.
Their test was assured and polished – with the strength of the partnership really beginning to build. It was a strong start with two nines straight off for the halt and the eights then flowed throughout the test with Apache x Tango gelding building to a fantastic end with the final passage tour getting three nines and a ten and a square halt. It was a fine performance and certainly looked worthy of 80% but what did the judges think? The confirmed score was 79.11% - so near to that magic barrier.
Becky Moody and the super consistent Jagerbomb always give their all in every performance and today was no different, the Dante Weltino x Udysee eight year all tried his best for his rider. The test earned 75.11% which would have been enough to take the coveted Stubben title in past years but today it would be enough for second spot. Third went to longtime leader Kathleen Kroencke but on her second ride, Uniteds Maerchen, with 72.76%. She was eventual fifth with her first horse with Lewis Carrier and Diego V separating them on a score of 72.17%.
After the prize giving, Annabella explained; “I was really pleased with him today, we took a small break from competing just to really focus on the details and fine tune everything and I think today it really paid off. I was really pleased with him especially in his passage as we got ourselves a 10! He just really gives me everything. I am so pleased with how we have continued to grow and improve.
Of course, I always hope to well but I hadn’t competed him for a while, so I wasn’t sure if we’d be a bit rusty. As Inter II is still quite a new level for me, I just practiced it at home plenty and he felt amazing today.
The Berkshire rider was quick to pay tribute to her trainer and mentor, Charlotte Dujardin, “I couldn’t do it without her, she’s been with me through every step of the way with Pumpkin. I just love having her support and improving under her guidance. We might be stepping up to Grand Prix but we’re just seeing how it goes, I would love to make that jump but it’s a big jump and it’s a new level for me, so we’ll just train at home and see.”
She may still be in youth teams, but Annabella has been to a few Nationals now but loves Somerford as a venue; “I think they have stepped up the show really nicely, obviously we were in one of the smaller arenas but the atmosphere was so amazing having everyone around supporting. It’s always nice being on home ground like the Europeans, having everyone supporting and it makes it more fun.”
So what would be one of her tips for taking on a championship test? “I always stick to the same process whether it is a small show or a big Championship like this I always try and be prepared as I can be and I like to watch my training videos so that I can really learn from my training, not only when I am training but also afterwards. Making sure to appreciate every moment and every up, and medal and every win and just making the most of it because it’s not every day you win at the Nationals,” she explained. Well, such is the talent of this youngster, it’s almost a certainty that we’ll be seeing the name Annabella Pidgley on the winners roster for many more Nationals to come.
The Centre Line Preliminary Silver Championship
Winner: Virginie de Senneville and Fire Kracka, 74.94%
The Centre Line Preliminary Silver Championship in the Vector Arena was won in impressive style, on the opening day of the LeMieux National Championships, by Virginie de Senneville and the exciting young Hanoverian stallion Fire Kracka.
Five-year-old Fire Kracka (Fidertanz x Diamond Hit), co-owned by Henry Boswell and Claire Wyatt of Bromson Stud in Warwickshire, nailed his championship debut scoring 74.943% to take the title after qualifying at Keysoe Regionals Championships where they also won the Novice Silver regional title.
“He’s owned by Henry Boswell and Claire Wyatt – she's had him since he was a yearling,” explained Virginie. “I started riding him in about February/March time this year, we train with Henry, and he gets on him too. The test was good, but it was a little flat compared to what he can really give! But there were no mistakes, and it was straightforward. I was very happy with him.
“I got a ten for a circle!” she enthused. “I thought I’d nailed it but Henry said it was a bit small, we got a 10 anyway! He was super-focused, though, as I said, a little flat. In the warm-up, he was really forward and flashy, he just got a bit shy and in his shell when he left all the other horses, but he still got a ten.
Talking about the liver chestnut breeding stallion’s temperament, Virginie said, “He’s super sweet, so good. He never spooks, and if he does anything it’s nothing major. He travels so well, gets on with the job and is the same at home. He never spooks, never looks at everything. There’s loads of mares and he’ll have a little look but he’s just so good with it. He’s a super easy horse.”
Completing the top three were Lauren Thorpe with For Alondra (73.506%) and Alice Lamburn with Linde WS (72.816%) who took second and third place respectively.
© Kevin Sparrow Photography