Freestyle festival at Hartpury's CDI
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It was billed to be the battle of Britain’s dressage heavyweight and the action didn’t disappoint. With places in Team GBR’s senior team for the Rotterdam Euros at stake and the long awaited debut of Charlotte Dujardin’s new music with Mount St John Freestyle it was a treat for spectators, judges and riders alike.
In the Big Tour ranks Charlotte Dujardin continued her 2019 form with Emma and Jill Blundell’s 10 year old Mount St John Freestyle with a new personal best in Friday’s Hazelwoods Grand Prix for 81.89% for the win. There was just a blip with the flying change at the end of the extended canter but the rest of the test showed increased maturity in just a month since their last outing at Bolesworth.
Charlotte said afterwards; “I’m getting there! My aim was to do a clear round and I was just so close! I was a bit bolder than normal in the extended canter and just didn’t get her back in time which hurried the transition – it just didn’t happen in time. A case of ‘slap the rider, pat the horse’! It was annoying but I couldn’t dwell as the zig zag comes up next. The piaffe passage work felt good – she’s getting so much stronger and confident in the arena. Sometimes she sits so much [in the piaffe] she gets stuck coming out.”
In her post performance chat it came out that she still hadn’t received her final music from composer Tom Hunt to debut the next evening… So a frantic download session in the lorry followed for the sound check!
Second spot in the Grand Prix went to Charlotte’s mentor Carl Hester with his own, Lady Anne Evans and Ann Cory’s Hawtins Delicato. With a place on the team all but assured, Carl was searching for that big score as proof of the 11 year old British bred’s talent and quality. Largely it was there but a missed first change in the line of ones and some uncertainty in the piaffe to just pin some marks back but 76.54% is still astounding and bodes well for Rotterdam.
“They were probably the best pirouettes he’s done – we really nailed them today. But those ones will be the death of me! I think I’m not going to get them in and then I over ride,” Carl said. “Normally my second piaffe is the good one but today he just got a bit funny in the contact but then then he picks it up again. That’s the nice thing, the maturity I’ve got in him this year. I just need to get the one big test in the bag – I should be getting about two percent more and I will be by the time the Euros come. I’ve got to be happy with today.”
Third spot went to Gareth Hughes and the Trento B mare Classic Briolinca, whom he jointly owns with wife Rebecca and Julia Hornig. The duo again showed their class and that they’re ready for their first senior team appearance together with some impressive work to score 75.92%.
Saturday’s Superflex Grand Prix Freestyle was a grand occasion as a packed International Arena at Hartpury was treated to a great display of music and dressage alongside the Elite Stallions Young Horse Prix St Georges (see the Premier League report) plus a hugely entertaining masterclass from Anna Ross. It was the chance many had been waiting for to see Charlotte’s newest freestyle creation when Hurricane Florence intervened in proceedings at the World Equestrian Games. There has been some tweaking since and it was the first time Charlotte and ‘Freebie’ had actually ridden to the music together. It also had an air of expectation back to 2012 when Charlotte used Hartpury to debut her music with Valegro which went on to be one of the sport’s most iconic freestyle routines.
The music was inspired by Disney’s global hit Frozen but with that unique Tom Hunt take and Charlotte didn’t hold back on the difficulty of the floorplan – it was technical, it was tricky, it was full on and together it combined to bring a performance which for seven minutes, captivated the audience with everyone holding their breath as they sailed down the final centre line in the mare’s characteristic and breath taking extended trot but there was a moment when it looked like they might just join judge Eddie de Wolff van Westerode at his table at C but they came to an abrupt halt, saluted and the crowd erupted. They knew they’d seen something remarkable, momentous and truly special. The final score came through as 87.6% with two judges giving 89%. Not quite yet at the dizzy heights of Valegro who scored 92% that same night in 2012 but nonetheless it’s clear there’s much more to come with fine tuning and a bit more practice!
“I’m just thrilled!” she said afterwards. “That test has an immense degree of difficulty and there’s no room for error. She’s done around seven Grands Prix and to pull off a test like that just makes me want to cry. The music is magical and tells such a story – it gave me goosebumps after my first extended trot!”
It was an extra special occasion for Charlotte who proudly declared she had “ridden for Roy” in the arena as earlier in the day it was the memorial service for long term supporter Roy Burek of Charles Owen hats who died suddenly in April.
Second place went to 2017 British National Champions Hayley Watson-Greaves and Rubins Nite who were back out competing after an enforced break when ‘Squeaks’ slipped over and fell on concrete at Doha CDI in April. This duo know each other inside and out and rode with great harmony to their dramatic music set to a high degree of difficulty floorplan and returned a new personal best of 77.96%.
It was third again for Gareth Hughes, this time with his newest GP star, KK Woodstock, owned by the Kroll family whose string and piano music earned 75.92%, just a fraction behind Hayley.
Sunday’s Baileys Horse Feeds Grand Prix Special stuck to the script with a win for Carl and Hawtins Delicato but some variation in the judges marks left some scratching their head. There was again some amazing work from the Diamond Hit gelding – moments of brilliance even – only some trepidation in the piaffe appeared to be the sole negative. Three judges awarded 77% plus scores but there was surprisingly a 71% which brought the overall percentage down to 75.89%. Carl told Horse & Hound; “I’m not one to complain about judging, but I am disappointed. There were a couple of errors but it felt like a 77% or 78% test. He felt nice in the hand and was in lovely self-carriage. I just can’t wait for that breakthrough day but I’ve got to be patient. It’s so lovely to still be getting scores like that when it’s not perfect.”
We have to remember this horse is just 11 and has never scored less than 75% in his international career to date.
Gareth and Classic Briolinca went second with 73.55%. They weren’t quite on song with some tension in the piaffe but this mare’s positive outlook and willingness to please always shine through and Gareth was far from disappointed.
Portugal’s newest star duo João Miguel Torrao and 10 year old Lusitano stallion Equador finished third with 70.72% and won many new fans over the week. They’re spending the summer based with Carl which João says ‘is a dream come true’ in a bid to secure a place on the Portuguese squad for Rotterdam.
In the small tour ranks, it was Gareth Hughes who set the competition alight in the first class, the Freeflex Prix St Georges with his own and Judy Firmston-William’s Sintano van hof Olympia, the nine year old’s first international start. The Sandro Hit gelding is full of promise with impressive elastic qualities, abundant candence and a great outlook and has Grand Prix written all over him; 72.32% was the winning score. Hot on his heels was British based Portugese rider Luis Principe riding Vanessa Worthington’s RS Raphael with 72.23% and Katie Bailey completed the podium with Leslie Forlee’s Boccelli 6 on 70.14.
In the Classic Dressage Inter I, the honours were reversed as Luis finished on top, the only rider to break the 73% barrier in the class. R.S. Raphael is by the renowned stallion Blue Hors Romanov and at 18.2hh is a big horse to navigate around the arena but at 6’2”, Luis looks right at home. They had a costly mistake in their two time changes and then missed their final transition into trot but were pleased with 73.64% and the win.
“He doesn’t tend to make mistakes so it’s frustrating and very uncharacteristic for him – they were two stupid mistakes to lose points on but I’m happy. I owe it to the owners who also bred him; they’ve been my clients for 18 years and this was their daughter’s horse. I took the ride over in December when I came back from breaking my ankle and we’ve just cracked on. He’s a super horse with a great character and is getting better and better. We have high hopes for him and he’s already doing the majority of the Grand Prix work,” explained Luis.
The duo will probably do one more show at Small Tour before tackling Grand Prix. “I’d like to do Olympia with him in December which I think is achievable as he’s quite quick to learn,” he added.
Gareth and ‘Piglet’ scored just less than in the PSG at 72.2% for second and third went to Jess Dunn with Jennifer Whittaker’s Alicante Valley with 71.73% to add a further top placing to their impressive international tally so far this season.
In the Equikro Inter I on Sunday, Luis made the class his own again with a stunning score of 77.25% while Jess was third on 73.15% and it was a new name on the podium in the form of Hong Kong rider Jacquline Wing Ying Sui riding Jockey Club Fuerst on Tour who scored 72.05%.
Where combination's name is linked - click to see the video of the winning test
Freeflex Prix St Georges
1st Gareth Hughes with Sintano van hof Olympia, 72.32% (GBR)
2nd Luis Principe with R.S. Raphael, 72.23% (POR)
3rd Katie Bailey with Boccelli 6, 70.14% (GBR)
Classic Dressage Inter I
1st Luis Principe with R.S. Raphael, 73.64% (POR)
2nd Gareth Hughes with Sintano van hof Olympia, 72.2% (GBR)
3rd Jess Dunn with Alicante Valley, 71.73% (GBR)
Equikro Inter I Freestyle
1st Luis Principe with R.S. Raphael, 77.25% (POR)
2nd Jess Dunn with Alicante Valley, 73.15% (GBR)
3rd Jacqueline Wing Ying Siu with Jockey Club Fuerst on Tour, 72.05% (HKG)
Hazelwoods Grand Prix
1st Charlotte Dujardin with Mount St John Freestyle, 81.89% (GBR)
2nd Carl Hester with Hawtins Delicato, 76.54% (GBR)
3rd Gareth Hughes with Classic Briolinca, 75.69% (GBR)
Superflex Grand Prix Freestyle
1st Charlotte Dujardin with Mount St John Freestyle, 87.6% (GBR)
2nd Hayley Watson-Greaves with Rubins Nite, 77.96% (GBR)
3rd Gareth Hughes with KK Woodstock, 75.92%
Baileys Horse Feeds Grand Prix Special
1st Carl Hester with Hawtins Delicato, 75.89% (GBR)
2nd Gareth Hughes with Classic Briolinca, 73.55% (GBR)
3rd João Miguel Torrao with Equador, 70.72% (POR)