Durable dances to Superflex win
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In an action packed night at the final Gala Performance of this year’s NAF Five Star Winter Championship which witnessed plenty of drama, inspiring performances and a touch of artistry, Newmarket rider Nikki Barker took the Superflex Inter I Freestyle Gold title.
Riding her own and Viv Gleave’s stunning Spielberg sired stallion Durable, Nikki put a mishap with her music when ready to start behind her to then pull off a stunning 74.04% test to overtake pathfinders Hannah Biggs and Don Caledonia. Friday night’s Magic PSG Champions, Katie Bailey and Eagle Nouvelle finished third.
First down the centre line was Hannah Biggs and Don Caledonia, owned by Angela Biggs. Moving off from halt into a walk pirouette, to canter, to the unmistakeable sound of Tinie Tempah, they provided the best start to the evening. Super canter half passes, two-tempis on a curve, half pass right into a pirouette right, and ‘Archie’ showing brilliant extended canter on the centre line – the audience was loving the performance of this very able pair. The extended walk was super with the horse taking the contact forward, and the shoulder-ins fluent and light. The extended trot, in great balance, finished the test to big applause from the Hartpury crowd.
Guest commentator Isobel Wessels, who gave a precis of each performance, commented; “This was a really good way to start the evening. It was a lovely secure test, there were no mistakes and I do think the music fitted him very well. The steep half passes and tempi changes on a curve were very good. Overall it was a very pleasing test to very good, fitting music.” The judging panel of Sandy Phillips (E), Austria’s Claudia Thaller (C) and Nick Burton (M) awarded them 72.50%.
Sharon Edwards did a good job of containing Rivaal’s exuberance. Their routine, featuring Supertramp’s Just Look at My Girlfriend and Bob Marley & the Wailers' I Shot the Sheriff, showed some good work but with some losses of rhythm and a bit of tension. The smart combination had a loss of engagement in the left pirouette, but the right was better. The extended canter was confident, there was a mistake in the two-tempis on a curve, but the three-tempis on a curve were clean. Isobel commented, “It’s not an easy arena. Sharon did a good job. He [Rivaal] could have done the Grand National on the way here – that would have calmed him down!” she quipped. “Sadly there were a few too many mistakes tonight, but he’s still a lovely horse.” The jury awarded them 61.87%.
Sarah Khairallah and Keystone Darling make an elegant combination. Tonight they delivered a performance full of positivity but not without mistake. The beautiful mare, a 19-year-old by Dimaggio, was enthusiastic but a little strong in the hand at times. The extended trot was regular, the extended canter bold. There was a lot to like but a mistake in the two-tempis was expensive. “Nineteen years young is the right description,” said Isobel. “She was just bursting out. Sarah rode a nice test. The horse had a bit too much go tonight, and the balance was lost at times, but it’s lovely to see a young rider on a British bred horse having a go.” The panel awarded their efforts with 65.91%.
Seasoned competitor Louise Davison and her 13-year-old Desperados son, De Galles, an imposing, powerful gelding, rode an equally powerful test. The half passes covered great ground. An error in the two-tempis was costly, the music, elements of which included Coldplay, was powerful and emotive. “This is a lovely and very elegant horse and a well-known rider,” commented Isobel. “He had a few little things, but the music was very nice. I would suggest the changes of pace are done to the change in music, but overall Louise did a very nice test. There were a few little mistakes but he’s a beautiful horse.” Louise and De Galles were awarded 65.87%.
The next combination in was Georgie Roden and LHH Incroyable, her attractive 11-year-old son of Jazz. Moving off to Calvin Harris and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, unfortunately for the pair, the bell was later rung. “It’s the worst thing, for the judge to have to ring the bell,” said Isobel. “Welfare is always the priority and full respect for anyone who has to make that decision.”
Eilidh Grant and the charming mare Eranda Retto acquitted themselves well in the super Saturday atmosphere, riding a freestyle to a rousing Scottish soundtrack. Moving off into canter half passes both ways. They rode extended canter to pirouettes, the one to the left the mare broke and walked. The two-time changes were clean, the extended trot a little deep in the frame. The trot half pass right was lovely and regular, extended trot from the diagonal to centre line to finish. “It was really nice to get some Scottish pipes from a lady north of the border,” said Isobel. “Unfortunately, the pirouette mistakes were expensive as it’s a double mark. The canter could have had more jump but once they got going there were some lovely parts. Overall it was a lovely test to watch.” Eilidh earned a score of 63.79%.
Friday night’s Magic PSG Freestyle Champions Katie Bailey and Eagle Nouvelle followed. The elegant pair’s trot half passes, both ways, were so elastic, the walk ground-covering and relaxed. The extended canter was perhaps a little reserved but the pirouettes accurate, the tempi-changes clean and assured and the extended trot supple. The test, to an adaptation of music from the animated film Frozen, had the crowd captivated. “That was a lovely, lovely test,” said Isobel, in praise of the local pair’s performance. “There were no mistakes, Katie did a great job. The horse could have been a bit more engaged, but he has such an impression of lightness and ease. The harmony mark will be good I’m sure.” 70.66% was their score.
Next up was Imogen Chant and Dirty Dancing, a tall 13-year-old Don Frederico son. Entering in canter, a little abrupt to halt, the pair moved off to powerful, emotive music. The trot tour was full of power, it was rhythmical and secure. The walk relaxed, covering much ground, the canter pirouette left lost rhythm but otherwise, the canter sections were clean and equally full of oomph. The horse was maybe a little unsettled in the mouth at times. “Well done, what a lovely horse and lovely riding!” said Isobel. “They create a very nice picture. Overall, it was very stirring music for a big horse. It could perhaps have been a bit more uphill, but he’s a lovely horse and Imogen has a super way of riding.” The score for the pair was 67.16%.
Popular combination Nathalie Kayal and DHI Cleverboy were next to take to the floor. Ridden in a snaffle bridle, the contact was lovely throughout. The impression was of lightness and elegance, a lovely expression on the horse’s face. The trot half passes were uphill and fluent in the changes of direction. The canter tour to emotive music was super, with two-tempis on a curve and centred pirouettes. “That was a really lovely freestyle,” commented Isobel. “It was very secure, the movements balanced and the pattern symmetrical. It’s a freestyle that you can sit down and enjoy each movement. He’s very expressive, a very good horse and it was really well ridden.” The talented pair earned a mark of 69.66%.
Elder Klatzko and Woodlander Little Richard made a bold start, moving off in three-tempis on the centre line to emotive music. A little affected by the Hartpury atmosphere, the horse had a spook early on, but the walk was nice, canter half passes to canter pirouettes, both ways, were well executed. There was a mistake in the two-tempis on a circle, but ridden on the final centre line they were expressive and clean. “That was very stirring, atmospheric music. The overall impression was that the horse was very nervous in the corners. He put the brakes on, well done Elder for bringing him back. It’s never easy when that happens as it affects the harmony, but it was still very nice music and it was nice to watch.” The judges’ score was 66.83%
Next on the start list was Nikki Barker and the much-admired stallion Durable. As she raised her hand to signal the start of the music, it was evident that something was amiss. It was an old freestyle of Nikki’s. Head judge at C, Claudia Thaller, gave her permission for Nikki to come back at the end of the class, in the best interests of the sport.
In the final group of riders, after Adam kemp and Matt Frost’s demo, was Katie Lister and World Exclusive, a combination who did so well at Nice CDI3* last October. Ridden to David Guetta’s Titanium, the trot work was smooth, secure and in a good frame, the canter section to Beyonce’s Crazy in love, was expressive and energetic. They completed their routine with trot half passes both ways towards the judges. “The overall impression was one of a lovely partnership,” said Isobel. “He’s a lovely big horse. The half passes were fluent and it was a lovely way to finish off. In the canter there were some mistakes and some nervousness, but Kate did a great job. They gave a nice impression.”
For the next partnership, Alice Oppenheimer and Headmore Davina, the bell was also rung when bit of pink was spotted on the horse’s mouth. Winners of the Superflex Inter I title, this pair were one of the favourites. “This is a girl on top of her game, but that’s horses – it’s very sad,” said Isobel. Leaving the arena with a smile and pointing to her horse, it’s clear how much Alice thinks of this wonderful horse.
Sarah Higgins and Alfranco delivered a super performance. Upbeat Disney music suited the horse’s confident, well-executed and happy performance. The horse, another ridden in snaffle, was lovely in the contact. The trot was expressive, the walk relaxed and the canter tour fun to watch with centred pirouettes and secure, expressive changes. Alfranco, a former international Grand Prix ride of Gill Davison, looked very at home in front of the crowd. “It was very jolly music, a very fun test, and very accomplished,” commented Isobel. “There were no mistakes, he’s an experienced horse and it was a competent ride by Sarah. Theirs were the best pirouettes of the night so far and the changes were super. Well done Sarah!” 69.58% was their score.
The penultimate rider of the evening was Becky Moody with Full Fusion BS, a nine-year-old mare by Blue Hors Zack. Riding to music from the TV series Sherlock, the pair showed quality half passes. A mistake in the three-tempis was expensive, the two-tempis came off well, the canter pirouettes were well positioned. There was a little tension and greenness but the potential is clear to see. “There’s a lot going on – our investigation will be going on a bit longer!” joked Isobel in reference to Sherlock. “It was a very stirring freestyle. Goosebump music. The floorplan was interesting. It was a really special test. It’s a horse we’ll be seeing a lot more of.” The verdict was 70% exactly.
In a remarkable feat of horsemanship, Nikki Barker returned the arena after a one-hour hiatus following the earlier music mishap. All eyes were on Durable, an imposing bay stallion who is simply too handsome for words. Riding to their fascinating Kill Bill soundtrack, a compilation by Ros Emery-Kay, the trot work was oh-so elastic and powerful. The half passes devoured the ground. The canter was powerful and expressive through all movements, yet with control and excellent placement of the pirouettes. Extended trot on the diagonal to the centre line concluded their performance to rapturous applause from the knowledgeable crowd.
“I’m very glad they had the opportunity to come back,” said Isobel. “What a fabulous horse. He looks like a big elastic band; rubbery, soft energy and every part of his body moves. He’s huge; Nikki’s small; the music’s unusual. I love the half passes. The balance may not always be perfect, but the expression is incredible. It’s magical.” 74.04% was the score, taking the pair deservedly to the top of the leaderboard.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to win this class tonight, especially considering what happened with the music,” said Nikki after the prize-giving ceremony. “The music started and I didn’t even recognise it! I now know it was a very old Advanced Medium. He felt fab and ready to go but then that. I spoke to judge Sandy Phillips at E as asked what would happen and she said that either the head judge would make me go or I could go later. I thought, well, if I have to go, I’ll just well and truly freestyle it! Thankfully the judge at C Claudia Thaller gave me permission to go later.
“He’s so talented and his balance is getting better and better so the power is coming,” said Nikki about 11-year-old Durable who is known at home as ‘Danny’. “We’ve been working on the Grand Prix and the tricks are in place but just need some more work. He’s so easy and trainable. He’s usually been like a big cuddly Labrador but now, as he does more, he gets excited and it’s lovely to see.”
“I have ten fab young horses and two foals from Danny due soon, one from my lovely mare Pasoa which is really exciting. I’m even planning a ‘foal shower’! We also had an engagement in the camp today so it’s been a very exciting evening!”