LeMieux Nationals 2021: day one
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The 2021 edition of the LeMieux National Championships got underway in resplendent style today in their new home, Somerford Park. It was a busy first day nine champions crowned in the early autumn sunshine.
Equissage Para Gold Championships
Winners Grade I: Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau, 74.167%
Launching the first day of action in the LeMieux Arena was the Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships, with five titles on offer across the grades, in front of judges Pamela Bushell, John Robinson and Sarah Leitch.
Fresh from a clean sweep of the Grade I classes at Bishop Burton CPEDI last month, Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau (by Spinway Blakethorn) have maintained their form to win today’s Equissage Pulse Para Gold Grade I. Gabriella (28) from Newark and the 12-year-old grey posted a winning score of 74.16% - the highest score across all grades.
"I couldn't have asked for any more today, he gave me everything,” said Gabriella afterwards. “He's [Strong Beau] a Connemara x Irish Sport Horse, I've had him for three years. He has his moments like all horses do - they're not machines, but he's given me everything I could've asked for."
In his early years Strong Beau may not have been an obvious choice for a para horse; however, Gabriella believed in him from day one; “I got him from a sales dealer because nobody wanted him as he was very badly spooky. He was at a hacking home and they couldn't handle him so my mum and dad didn't want me to have him. But I was determined that I wanted him.
“Nobody can believe the horse he's turned out to be,” she continued. “We have such a great bond, he knows what I want and he looks after me. He's my freedom."
Speaking about her preparation for Somerford, Gabriella says, "I have spacial awareness problems so I've been working really hard on my accuracy. It really came off today. I've been working so hard, everything is very hard for me - what I see as a straight line to you may not be, that's a big thing for me."
Gabriella credits trainer Sophie Wells with playing a big part in her para dressage journey; "Sophie inspires me every time I watch her. I was in tears watching her in Tokyo, she's basically my hero." On the future, she says, "I'm trying to campaign for the World Equestrian Games, that's my aim and then on to Paris!"
The runner-up spot went to the high-scoring duo of Jamie Winduss and Day and Night (73.09%).
Winners Grade II: Julie Payne and Divinity, 67.01%
Julie Payne and Divinity, owned by Cornelia Cook, claimed the Grade II ahead of championship runner-up Jemima Green with Elrite and Natasha Adkinson with Sweet Caledonia who completed the podium in third.
Julie, a triple gold medallist at the 2017 European Championships, and eight-year-old British Hanoverian, Divinity (by Don Frederico) posted the winning score of 67.01% despite having to face the call of nature during their test.
“It didn’t exactly go to plan today,” said Julie. “He warmed up really well and I was pleased with him, but as soon as we went into the arena he needed to do a dropping, so it was about managing him through it.
“He did the dropping and I thought it would be fine,” she continued. “But he still didn’t feel quite right and was actually desperate for a wee! So I’m quite amazed to be in the position I’m in today, but I’m really pleased with him. Four or five weeks ago he was quite poorly in the vets and was out of action, so to be back where he is now, I’m over the moon with him to be honest.
Speaking about Divinity she said, “He was very green when I got him and the first year I was planning to get him out and about but we couldn’t so I feel he’s 18 months behind where he should be really. He’s very quickly had to step up as I’ve retired my other horse but I’m impressed with how well he is doing.
“We’re off to Keysoe [CPEDI] so hopefully by then he’ll be a little bit fitter and stronger. Hopefully the problems we’ve had today will be ironed out by then and I can get the test I know he’s capable of.”
Winners Grade III: Erin Orford and LJT Diamond Crusador
As the first combination of the week to ride down the centreline of the LeMieux Arena, Tokyo reserves, Erin Orford and LJT Diamond Crusador (by Diamond Hit), impressed with a strong score of 69.51% in the Grade III.
Erin, a double European medallist, and eight-year-old ‘Loki’ are an exciting partnership on the up.
“Over the last few months we’ve been working on building the power, cadence and expression and getting him to develop those areas,” says Erin. “Coming here was the first step to bringing that to the into the arena. This is my first competition since Hartpury [in July] and he was probably just holding himself a little bit. We had a few mistakes on my part but the gap has helped me to feel how much different he is and how much stronger he is – and how much he’s come on too.
“We’re not quite where we’re aiming for but this is a good building block – I can really feel we’re heading in the right direction,” she added. “I was so pleased with him – he goes in any atmosphere - he just loves it. There are not many horses you can do that with and as a rider that gives you so much confidence. He’s so expressive and it’s just getting him to learn how to use it in the arena – it’s exciting.”
Winners Grade IV: Nicola Naylor and Humberto L, 70.894%
In the hotly contested Grade IV division, Nicola Naylor and Humberto L took top honours on a score of 70.89%. Nicola, from Ashford in Kent, is blind and also competes successfully in able-bodied competition up to Small Tour such is her talent and trust in her horses. Humberto L (Cachet x Haarlem) is a nine-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Nicola.
“I thought he was super today – he really settled,” she said afterwards, talking about Humberto with whom she’s been competing for just five months. “It’s his first season out with me and it’s been a work in progress really.
“He started off really immature and he’s just getting more confident with every outing which is lovely - he just gets better and better each time out. Today I thought he felt good in his own skin. It’s great experience for him.
Talking about her future plans with Humberto, Nicola says, “We’re off to Keysoe [CPEDI] next and then will spend the winter just training to progress all the time. I’m really pleased – he’s learnt so much this season.”
Second place belonged to Izzy Palmer with Je Suis Adiva on 70.00%, and Nicola also took third place partnered by Del Piero (69.67%).
Winners Grade V: Charlotte Cundall and FJ Veyron, 70.317%
Tokyo reserve rider Charlotte Cundall triumphed this morning winning the Grade V title with the The Veyron Partnership’s FJ Veyron (by Vivaldi) on 70.31%. She also took second partnered by The Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Simply Red (69.24%) with third place on the podium going to Joanne Dagley-Cleworth and her own Uptimistic (66.11%).
"I was really thrilled - we're just all so grateful to be here at Somerford in an amazing setting,” said Charlotte. “The arena has quite an atmosphere as it's all quite close together, and I was thrilled with the way he went in there, handled the atmosphere and really let me ride him.
“He's got so much power to start with and now we've got the harmony, I can start injecting the power again to then get those extra marks. His extensions were a highlight today, he was really obedient in his simple changes and those are double marks in our tests so you've really got to nail them. I was absolutely thrilled."
Talking about FJ Veyron she says, "He's a sweetheart. I took on the ride just over a year ago, he was bought by a partnership called the Veyron partnership - one of his owners is here today, it's so great that she can be here to see him.
“We're really just getting to know each other. With Covid, on one side it was really helpful with a new horse as we had time to get to know each other in private, on the other we've been together for a year and we're still getting into these new environments now."
Speaking about her Nationals experience, Charlotte continued, "It's incredible, from the moment you drive in you know you're at a championship. Have you ever seen temporary stables like this! It's amazing, I haven't yet ventured into the shopping village, but it's second to none and I hope we're here for a very long time."
Looking ahead, she says, "It's a World Championship year next year, Europeans the year after that and then on to Paris. I have two beautiful horses, they're both immensely talented so I just have to work as hard as I can to be the best that I can, and let's see what the future holds."
Mobiliser Prelim Silver
Winners: Anna Burns and Magic Dream, 72.816%
A field of 45 combinations rode before the Mobiliser Preliminary Silver judging panel of Sarah Kingwells (E), Caroline Tupling (C) and Karen Barker (M). On a score of 72.81% and winner of the class was Nationals first-timer Anna Burns (21) from Tyne and Wear with Becky Moody’s Dutch-bred four-year-old, Magic Dream.
The pair qualified with an outstanding win at Port Royal Regional Championships and also placed second in the Shearwater semi-final at Hartpury in July. Speaking about her first Nationals after winning at Port Royal, Anna said, "I’m delighted. With it being a bigger atmosphere and there being so much going on I just wanted to give her a good experience as it's her first big show as well as my first Nationals. We just wanted to have a good time!
"She [Magic Dream] kept really calm, and it was stress free which was all I really wanted for a four-year-old. I was really happy with her," she said.
Describing the mare, Anna says, "Jo [Cooper] and Becky bought her last year and it's been all about developing her slowly. She's only done six or seven shows - so that speaks for itself. She's amazing, whether you're riding her or not she's an absolute sweetheart. Riding her is a huge bonus, you could sit on her all day and not move!"
Anna rides for Moody Dressage but started life as a show jumper: "I used to work for Samantha Brown at Godrics Stud, bringing on their young pony stallions. It was through Sam that I came to the Moodys’ - the job was kind of there and I couldn't say no to the opportunity.
"I think I've taken over stickiness, the ability to deal with any wildness and excitement is helpful! People always ask which I prefer, the thrill you get is so different, but I'm probably converted already."
Anna brings forward 'Shroom' for the Shearwater Insurance Young Horse 4YO age class later this week: "We'll be able to show off her gears a lot more in that class, we're really looking forward to it."
Completing the podium were Virginie De Senneville and Eastwood V in second on 72.24% and third-placed Ella Horner with Valencia II (71.55%).
Andrews Bowen Advanced Medium Silver
Winners: Angharad Harries and Classic Bee Gee, 72.579%
First time National Championship competitor, Angharad Harries won the Advanced Medium Silver with Nancy Scott’ Classic Bee Gee on 72.579%. Head rider at Olympic medallist Gareth Hughes’ yard, Angharah spoke about her test, “He was a really good boy and I really enjoyed it, he was really rideable. He was great.” Sharing the ride with Ruby Hughes, she only took on the ride, at this level, a few months ago, after being at the yard for seven years, “This is my first National Championships, I did the NAF Five Star Winter Championships a couple of years ago, it’s really exciting being my first time here.”
For her first Nationals’ she took it all in her stride at our new venue, “the whole show so far has been brilliant; the arenas are gorgeous and everything is really easy and it’s been great.” Having a string of horses under her belt, her first National title came in 2018 at the Winters, since then she has continued her training by winning various shows across the country. Having previously won the NAF Five Star Winter Championships, with Ruby Hughes in the elementary freestyle silver, Angharad spoke about her plans with Classic Bee Gee, “I’m going to see how things go with the other horses I’ve got and move up the levels from there”. The fifteen-year-old gelding will be back later this week with Ruby Hughes to try their hand at another title.
Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Gold
Winner: Charlotte Dujardin with Imhotep, 77.81%
The feature class in the LeMieux Arena on day one at the LeMieux National Championships, the Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges, saw Charlotte Dujardin take centre stage fresh from her return from two immensely successful major championships in a packed summer programme for British Dressage’s leading lady.
On board Carl Hester and Coral Ingham’s eye-catching chestnut Imhotep, Charlotte produced a stellar test piloting the eight year old to 77.81%, impressing the judges panel of Andrea Smith, Leanne Wall, Anne Keen, Clive Halsall, Jo Graham. “Pete”, a Dutch bred gelding by the Van Olst’s Olympic and European medallist Everdale, showed his potential in front of a sunbathed Somerford audience with Charlotte now at the helm, having previously been campaigned by Hester stable jockey Sadie Smith.
After spending her summer gathering airmiles, medals and history making results, Charlotte spoke about her team effort turnaround to make it to the Nationals, “we got home, turned around and off with the next lot…packing, unpacking, washing and doing all of that, that’s all we’ve done! I’ve ridden him for three days, luckily Sadie Smith and the girls at home have kept him ticking along for me at home so he stayed fit. We’ve had three days to prepare to come here, try and think of some music to use…standard that I do!”
“I’m really really happy with him,” she continued on switching her focus from Pumpkin to Pete, “I’ve only been back three days so I’ve had three days to prepare. He’s not been out since Hartpury Premier League so very happy, we didn’t do an arena walk just went straight in there.
“I was pleased with it all, he’s not done a great deal – a few Premier Leagues this year – but he takes everything in his stride.” Charlotte spoke enthusiastically about her latest champion and his bright future in the sport: “He’s absolutely incredible to ride, he’s like the bounciest, springiest horse I’ve ever ridden. He feels like he’s on springs, the Grand Prix stuff is all there and I’m excited to hopefully have him for the Big Tour next year. He’s so good in the arena, I can’t really ask for much more from him.” Carl Hester, co-owner of the powerful talent, has also been tipped for a spot in the saddle; “Carl says he gets as much pleasure watching,” Charlotte continued whilst explaining that Carl has the option to take the ride if he’d like to.
No stranger to LeMieux National Championship success Charlotte praised the new look and feel for the return of the biggest Championship in the British Dressage calendar, “It’s amazing! It’s a better set up all-round, we’ve got proper warm ups, proper training facilities, they’ve used the space well and it’s brilliant, really really good.”
Charlotte returns with Shearwater Insurance Young Horse hopeful Mon Amour in what’s set to be a thrilling four year old championship, bringing this audience favourite title clash back in style.
Haygain Intermediate II Gold
Winners: Amy Woodhead and Mount St John Kom Fairyale, 71.86%
Taking centre stage the Arika Arena this afternoon was a thrilling Haygain Intermediate II Championship. The class was a close fought battle between two chestnut mares with Amy Woodhead and Emma Blundell’s talented Mount St John Kom Fairytale (71.86%) winning by a whisker ahead of Anna Ross and the lovely Newton Domino on 71.81%. Third spot on the podium belonged to Lewis Carrier and Diego V, fresh from the FEI U25 European Championships in Hagen. Hot on the heels of top two, they scored a super 70.73%.
Amy and Mount St John Kom Fairytale impressed the judging panel of Peter Storr, David Trott, Claire Ballantyne, Sophie Dickinson and Harry Payne, giving them the winning edge to lift the 2021 title in style.
"It was really good, she was really with me and I'd say that it's one of our better tests that we've done,” said a delighted Amy. “There's still room for improvement as there always is for dressage, but I was really pleased with her - there weren't any major mistakes. I haven't even done an arena walk with her. It felt nice and easy, and apparently it was really easy to watch!"
About her partnership with Fairytale, she says, "I got the ride on her at the beginning of last year, my first show was Myerscough Premier League and then due to Covid we went straight to the Grand Prix championships at the end of the year! This has been our first full season so we've had to iron out a few things. The majority of our shows had been indoor so we came outdoors and I learnt a bit more about her. Usually as the show goes on she gains even more confidence but she came out today and was really good.
"The shows fit in with what we're doing at home, we compete once a week or every other week,” says Amy about her preparation and training routine. “We try our best to prepare the horses as best as we can with plenty of variety of work"
This will be a busy week for Amy but it couldn’t have got off to a better start for the young rider from Grimsby. "Not including people I teach, within the team we have 12 horses here! Today I actually started riding at 7am and she [Fairytale] was my last ride of the day. We've got everything from four year olds to Grand Prix. And Jenny who rides for me, it's her first Nationals season and she's qualified five which I'm super proud of. Emma has VIP and I'm on a few as well...it's looking pretty busy!"
"I love it!" Amy concluded about finally being able to return to the Nationals, "I love the venue, I always enjoyed going to Stoneleigh but here we can hack out, we've got grazing for them and it's a really beautiful venue, AND the sun is shining!"
Photos: © Kevin Sparrow