Equissage Festival welcomes para action back
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Para competition was back with a bang for the two days of the Equissage Pulse Summer Para Festival at Solihull over the Bank Holiday weekend. After months of no competition and no face to face contact, competitors met the call for action with a resounding ‘yes’ to running the show with record entries across 40 classes with a mixture of qualifiers for next year’s Equissage Pulse Winter Championships and special festival classes in each section and grade in lieu of the cancelled summer championships.
The gold sections were a hotbed of competition with a number of riders keen to put their lockdown training to the test under the watchful eyes of two of the top judges in the UK. In the Grade I division, Gabriella Blake shone through with her smart grey Connemara Strong Beau with 72.85%. The duo won the Grade I Gold title at Stoneleigh last year and will keep the title for a bonus year. “It all went really well today, I’m just so pleased with him. Lockdown was a good thing for us as I’ve managed to work with him and build our partnership. I think it went well in there, he felt really confident the whole way round. I’ve been working hard on my accuracy as my space perception isn’t that good and I’m finally figuring out how to figure it all out!” said Gabby at the prize giving.
Jemima Green made the journey up from Somerset a worthwhile one with a great weekend’s work in the Grade II ranks with four tests yielding four wins over the two days with her partner Elrite (pictured above). In the festival class, she and ‘Echo’ were the only +70% score of the Grade II to win on 72.79% under judge Sarah Leitch.
The ever developing partnership of Erin Orford and LJT Diamond Crusador took another giant leap forward when they powered to the win in the Grade III class with 72.35%. At just seven, the Diamond Hit-sired ‘Loki’ is still learning his way in para but he looks every inch a further team prospect to come out of support of the Lady Joseph Trust. “I was really pleased. It feels like it’s been a long time since our last outing at the para Winters. It was quite busy in the warm up and he took it all in and kept his concentration. He’s only seven and changing all the time. We’ve been playing with his power and balance in the trot to find where he’s happy and now it’s putting it all into practice. He’s constantly throwing new things at me so I’m having to adapt and adjust all the time. This show was part of our preparation for this year’s goal, competing at the CPEDI at Keysoe in October,” said Erin.
After spending over 100 days in a tent shielding at her yard with regular food parcels from mum, Laura Gulliver was probably one of the riders who enjoyed her weekend the most. Riding Tim Harris’s evergreen stallion Woodcroft Garuda K, Laura impressed newly promoted 5* judge John Robinson to take a busy Grade IV class with 68.78%. Laura said; “It was a safe test today, he’s an absolute pro. He knows his job but this is our first test out since February so I wanted to play safe. I’ve kept him ticking along in lockdown and started building towards doing Keysoe in October. I’m so grateful to Woodcroft Stud for trusting me with their precious boy and he’s teaching me so much. I’m also so grateful to the help I get from Clive Milkins and Judy Harvey – I just couldn’t do it without them.”
Sophie Wells took on Rowland Kinch’s Don Cara M in February and they seem to be gelling well with a successful two days. By Don Jovi, the 11 year old was formerly ridden by Amy Woodhead before the reins passed to Sophie who’s largely competed him in para classes with the exception of qualifying for the Theraplate Medium Championships at the Winters but she opted for a trip to Solihull over Hartpury. Victory in the Grade V festival class with 69.04% confirmed it was a wise choice. “I was pleased with his relaxation today, he was a good boy. We’ve been working on his self-carriage in lockdown as he’s got all power but he needs to learn how to use his body better. I’m working on building a relationship with him as he’s secure in the environment but anxious in himself,” Sophie explained.
Cornish rider Dr Claire Tregaskis partnered the veteran Stefania II to win the Grade I section on a score of 66.50%. Claire is a regular RDA competitor and this was just her second BD show with the Romanian-bred grey mare whom she shares with fellow rider Neve Mclennan who also claimed a class over the weekend.
In the Grade II, Somerset’s Jason Inchley capped an outstanding weekend with victory in the festival test. Two 70% scores on Saturday to win both his classes were topped with 73.26%, the highest score of the festival classes, with the British-bred ten year old by Royal Edition, known at home as ‘Ella’. “Absolutely fantastic, very happy!” exclaimed Jason. “My trot work really improved from yesterday which I’m happy with, I really wanted to get it perfect.”
Isabel Slack piloted her charming Connemara Mallmore Ardrahan Lad (pictured below) to a win in the Grade III classification with John Robinson awarding 69%. The Cheshire rider has partnered Rynn Richard-sired 19 year old for two years. “Today went really well. I wasn’t expecting anything going in so was really relaxed. I took it one step at a time, one movement at a time and it really paid off. I’ve worked on breaking the test down into building blocks and it went well in there,” Isabel said.
West Country rider Laura Scott has continued her rise in the para ranks and a win on 68.27% in the Grade IV with former event horse Koko Pop confirmed lockdown has benefited the duo. “I’m really pleased with him. I feel we’ve both improved a lot during lockdown having time to train rather than focus on competitions. Every competition we’ve done since he’s been really good, we’re really working as a partnership now as we’ve got to know each other better,” explained Laura. Just the week before, they placed fifth in a highly competitive Elementary Bronze Petplan Equine Area Festival Championship at the revised NAF Five Star Winter Championships. “I’m so lucky to have a horse like him to ride!” she concluded.
The Grade IV winner’s prize went the way of BD Para Director Julie Frizzell. She’s lovingly retrained ex-racer Namibian from straight line speedster into elegant dressage horse and ‘Barney’ continues to answer every question. They scored 67.50% to take the honours under 5* judge Sarah Leitch.
With no riders coming forward for the Grade I contest, it was Grade II winner Lily Hughes who took the first class. Riding Nikita (Annie), who she’s ridden for Lorna Higgins since October last year, Lily, from Cheshire, posted 67.65% in their first post-lockdown outing together. “It went well today. I felt like I rode really well and Nicky was brilliant! I got my halts which I’ve been working hard on,” said a delighted Lily.
It was great to see Craig Harrison’s name on the entry list as at his last competition, the Equissage Pulse Para Winter Championships in February, the Merseyside rider disclosed he was due to start treatment for anal cancer the very next day. Craig faced his challenge and was delighted to be back riding in time to travel to Solihull. Riding the absolutely charming Thomas X, he didn’t disappoint in the Grade III to post a winning score of 67.5%. "I've had such an amazing weekend - I didn't even expect to be here. Almost six months to the day I started my treatment, I'm back riding, I'm feeling good. I decided at the last minute I'd do the Silver test and I felt that's the best I've ever ridden. It's been such a great weekend; great scores, great feedback from the judges, amazing sponsors and the staff who've managed to get this Festival on in the circumstances has been really good. Thanks to everyone involved," said Craig.
In the Grade IV, it was a second appearance on the winner’s rostrum for grey mare Stefania but this time with rider Neve Mclennan in the saddle for owner Claire Tregaskis, who rode the Grade I Silver. The duo were on song to dominate the class with a five percent margin of victory on 72.50% despite it being Neve’s first full BD competition. “I arrived hoping to have some fun and yesterday I achieved a qualifying score so I thought I don’t need to ride really competitively today, just enjoy it but I came out with a score I was really really happy with. She was amazing today, I put my leg on she was just like ‘let’s go’!” Neve, pictured above with Equissage's Sally Prichard, commented.
Teal Anthony impressed with the San Schufro-sired Summer Night City, or ‘Suzie’, in the Grade V and took the win with 68.33%. After their victory, Teal said; “This is our first away show together and I sometimes struggle with tension with her so I was so happy with her today.” Teal trains with Hayley Watson-Greaves and she’s taken Suzie from a Novice horse to the brink of making their Prix St Georges debut in less than a year despite missing a number of competitions due to lockdown.
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