Day two: LeMieux National Championships
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Though unlucky for some, Friday 13 treated the knowledgeable crowd at Stoneleigh to a day of top-notch dressage in fine weather on day two of the LeMieux National Championships.
Saracen Horse Feeds Inter I Gold Championship
It had to happen sooner or later…and today was the day. Gareth Hughes scored a resounding victory in the Saracen Horse Feeds Inter I Gold Championship riding Judy Firmston Williams and his own Sandro Hit sired Sintano Van Hof Olympia with an athletic performance to score 75.21%.
Probably what you’d expect from the Warwickshire rider brimming with confidence after his rides in Rotterdam a matter of weeks ago but it’s the fact that he beat none other than Charlotte Dujardin to take the title and spoil her Nationals strike rate. In yesterday’s Fairfax Saddles PSG, it was Charlotte who took the honours with Mount St John Valencia but today, the expressive mare was on her toes with a few costly mistakes while Gareth and Sintano Van Hof Olympia were on song and well settled to the task at hand. The nine year old, discovered in the Netherlands by Rebecca when set the task to ‘find something really special’ by Judy, really impressed yesterday but today took it to the next level.
“He’s pretty nice, isn’t he?!” joked Gareth. “Today he felt like a Grand Prix horse in there. He has all the talent but now just needs the patience. He’s quite like Classic Briolinca to ride; the harder you work them, the more they love it but they’re super sensitive. I’m thrilled for his owner Judy who bought him as a six year old, we’re so excited by him. The Grand Prix will really suit him as it’ll close him up more but for now it’s a case of building confidence, strength and security.
Para super star Sophie Wells earned her place on the podium today with Charlotte Hogg's C Fatal Attraction after fourth in the PSG yesterday.
Gareth will take Sintano Van Hof Olympia to Keysoe CDI in October and on to his first Eruopean trip in France before taking the Winter to consolidate his work before coming out at Inter II next spring with a view to a Grand Prix debut later in the year – something everyone will be eagerly awaiting.
Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships
A sunny Friday morning set the scene for the 2019 Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships at Stoneleigh Park as leading UK para dressage riders went head to head for the national finals of all five grades in front of judges Mary Ann Horn (E), Sarah Leitch (C) and John Robinson (M).
Fresh from a victory in the Equissage Pulse Para Silver Championships, the year-long partnership of Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau (by Spinway Blakethorn) continued their good form with a 68.155% victory in the Grade I division ahead of second placed Mari Durward-Akhurst with Lebensfreunde (67.738%).
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Gabriella told us after the prize-giving. “I wasn’t expecting this as I was riding against the best, but he was as good as gold. I couldn’t have asked for anything better today, I really couldn’t have. It’s the biggest atmosphere I’ve ridden in.
“I was really pleased with my halts. It can be difficult to halt, and stay halted every time I ask him, but he was very good.”
Describing Strong Beau ‘the person’, Gabriella said, “He can be cheeky. Not ridden – he’s good ridden, but he can be bolshie from the ground. He definitely knows he’s the main man! But to ride, he knows when I’m on. He looks after me.”
Georgia Wilson and Midnight, who recently brought Freestyle Gold back from the FEI Para Dressage European Championships in Rotterdam, won the Grade II Championship with an exciting personal best score of 77.843%
“We definitely had more power today – now I need to learn to sit to it! She [Midnight] tried her best, I just needed to ride a bit better,” said Georgia in the same self-critical way that we so often see in her trainer Sophie Wells. “When I get that trot from her, I can back off and be a passenger; we’re working on using my seat and core more.”
Talking about upcoming competition plans for the Hilkens Black Delight x Cassander 10 year old, Georgia said, “After Rotterdam, I thought she’d be tired but she’s recovered really quickly and after today’s performance we’ve decided to definitely go to Keysoe CPEDI in October for more practice.”
2017 European Team Gold and reigning World Team Silver medallist Erin Orford claimed the Grade III with Dior UKH on a score of 70.098% - a great prep for Keysoe CPEDI in two weeks’ time. Erin and the 16 year old chestnut Dimaggio x Hitchcock mare, who is owned by Annabel Whittet, scored 70.098% ahead of Amanda Shirtcliffe who filled second and third New Princess and Remi II respectively.
“We’re having a really good year and she’s been very consistent in her performances. She’s won all the national stuff, and then we had the three wins at Hartpury CPEDI, so this win is a really nice way to finish the national season,” commented Erin. “She felt very fresh today so we had some moments of brilliance, and a couple of little mistakes because of that, but it’s great knowing what’s in there. She has so much scope in her paces and gives a really great feeling.
“She [Dior] hasn’t been back here for a couple of years. It’s a really good atmosphere here at Stoneleigh, it’s a great show. It’s so busy and the horses can feel it, even early this morning.”
Laura Gulliver and the well-known small tour stallion Woodcroft Garuda K earned a decisive victory in the Grade IV division. The 18 year old Trakehner son of Münchhausen and his young rider earned a score of 68.862%.
“I’m thrilled to bits,” said Laura. “I got the ride on him in November and it’s big thanks to the Woodcroft Stud who own him for giving me this opportunity. He’s a very loveable stallion, he has a super temperament and he’s really adapted to the paras with me. He’s meant to have a quieter life, but clearly he’s loving the occasion. He loves the atmosphere – the bigger the show the better for him.
“We now go on to Keysoe CPEDI3* in two weeks,” said Laura, who trains with Judy Harvey and has mentoring from Clive Milkins. “This is only my seventh show, so it’s still early days really. It’s very exciting.”
Charlotte Cundall and the lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Simply Red, the sole competitors in the Grade V, rode an expressive test for 69.524% despite a handful of mistakes.
“It’s a bit difficult when you’re the only one competing but I decided to use it as a training opportunity in the atmosphere under top judges,” explained Charlotte. “I tried pushing different buttons and experimenting which resulted in a few mistakes but I’m happy. Paul Hayler warmed me up which was great and we’ve been working on injecting the power while keeping him in balance and it was very positive today. I’d like to thank Equissage for their support, both of the class and me personally – Red loves his Pulse!”
Dodson & Horrell Novice Gold
After an early start to the day, Victoria Maw and her own six year old Benito Dorato topped a highly competitive Dodson & Horrell Novice Gold with 73.29%. The starting line-up oozed class and the standard proved high as the top ten each rode to plus 70% scores.
Speaking about her test with the home-produced Benny an elated Victoria said, “I was really pleased, he had really good balance the whole way through and he felt so fluent. It just went really nicely! He stayed nicely connected the whole way, there were no major mistakes perhaps just a small loss of balance in the second medium trot just before the canter transition.”
“His party piece is the medium canter,” she continued, “There are so many layers, you put your leg on and he keeps going up the gears – you feel like a kid in a sweet shop riding him!”
Benny has been owned by Victoria from the age of just three days old, after she purchased him as a foal in Germany. He spent three years growing up in his home country before moving back to the Lincolnshire based rider who’s sympathetically produced him with a varied approach to working: “He likes jumping, and he does a bit of everything at home. He hacks, goes on the treadmill – he does a little bit of everything to keep him happy!”
Rider and BDCC Level 3 coach Victoria brought a winning mind-set to her test today setting three goals before the test to help focus her performance, “It helps to take away the pressure and be realistic about the results. Anything above the goals set are a bonus - He’s been producing consistent scores but I was still a bit shocked to get that score. He’s not seen anything like this, he was so confident today and when he went inside those boards he did everything I asked, it was such a nice feeling.”
Victoria paid credit to long-time coach Tracy Woodhead who warmed her up for today’s test describing the day as an emotional occasion, “I was on edge the whole time waiting for the class to finish!”
“It’s a very special place to compete,” Victoria added about her trip to Stoneleigh, “You don’t get to compete here for regular shows so it’s a big occasion to ride in that arena for the National Championships.”
Completing the top three were Nikki Barker on board Dan Icarus and Alex Hardwick with Joie De Vivre Prins.
Dodson & Horrell Novice Silver
The Dodson & Horrell Novice Silver Championship proved a battle of future para horsepower talent – and what a great battle it was. Paralympic Gold Medalist Natasha Baker took the lead when about half way down the running order with her newest star Keystone Dawn Chorus, a British bred mare by Dimaggio, with a great 72.77%. This pairing is very much in the early stages but there was plenty of potential on show today.
It was an agonizing wait as combinations tried to topple Tash and Lottie and they held their lead right up to the last competitor, Louise Robson riding her own and Amanda Ratcliffe’s Remi II. It was a second trip around the arena for ‘Kevin’ today having done the Grade III Championship with Amanda to finish third. Louise, who's well known in the dressage world for her talents in transorming race horses in to dressage diva, trains Amanda and they’ve built quite a formidable relationship in the para world and Kevin has very much been a project for them as he’s not been straightforward so their expectations of today weren’t too high. However, Kevin, British bred by Desert Moon took it all in his stride and surpassed all expectations for a 73.02% score and the Novice Silver title on Louise's debut in the hallowed arena at Stoneleigh.
“My aim really was to keep him in the warm up and get round! He came here with another rider to do the Trailblazers and was…interesting. I did think a few days ago I might actually be safer on one of my race horses!” explained a jubilant Louise.
She continued, “Plus, he’d gone really well for Amanda earlier in the para championships but I can’t carry a whip or use my voice! Amanda and I work well together – normally it’s me feeding back how he feels but today, she could give me the advice.
“I’ve been riding him to give him arena experience and get him forward off the leg to help Amanda bring him on as a para horse. He’s got huge paces and I think as a result he did a lot as a young horse and just became a bit angry with riders. We use a lot positive reinforcement! He can be lazy but you have to ride him positively and his heart is ruled by his stomach!”
The win marks a huge step in progress towards the Louise and Amanda’s end goal, a place on Team GBR. “Today really felt like we’ve started his Tokyo campaign. He really held his own and we know there’s so much more to come and that’s exciting. Taking him to Doha CEPDI was a risk but it made him – he came back a dressage horse. To achieve this on him is really special. We’ve taken so much time with him, worked hard and come so far…to win is just reward,” said Louise.
“It has been a great day here at the Dodson & Horrell Novice Silver and Gold Championships and we have watched some very competitive tests. Congratulations to all the horse and rider combinations that have taken part, especially to the deserving winners Louise and Victori." Anna Horrell, Director at Dodson & Horrell, summed up.
TopSpec Medium Silver
Rob Barker, a rider with a superb LeMieux National Championships record, continued his winning ways taking a third title in three consecutive years. This time it was victory in the TopSpec Medium Silver in the concluding hours of day two of the championships on board Charlotte Dujardin’s River Rise Isabella, the tall six year old daughter of Don Frederic impressing the judges panel to earn 70.37%.
“She’s an amazing horse,” Rob enthused about his winning ride, “she’s still getting used to the bigger atmospheres and she’s a lot more used to the local shows but she gets better and better every time. I’ve done quite a lot with her but I’ve had a lot of help from Charlotte. She has no weakness it’s just experience!”
About his test today Rob continued, “last year she didn’t walk when she came here but I got my walk today which I was really pleased with. We take it step by step with her to produce her as a horse for the future, I kept a lid on it today and it was good fun. Her walk, trot and canter is amazing it’s just about steering her and making sure I do the right thing!”
As winning owner Charlotte walked into another prize giving in the LeMieux arena, Rob was quick to praise her as a great support and coach. “Charlotte doesn’t put any pressure on but I put a lot on myself. She helps me a lot and I want to do well because she gives a lot of time to me so I want to give it back in a way.”
Charlotte will make the decisions on what’s next for the super talented mare, Rob concluded “I’m so lucky to be able to ride her and every time I sit on her I’m grateful, we just take it day by day.”
Second place belonged to Maria Collins who scored 69.56% with her Dorothy Taylor’s Exclusive Gem, whilst Maisie Hodge and her own Garant H completed the top three with 68.56%. A special mention goes to fourth placed horse Floris, who scored 68.45% with Cath Creemer in the saddle, for being a stellar prize giving stand in for an excited River Rise Isabellla.
Photos c Kevin Sparrow