LeMieux Nationals 2023: day one
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An early rainstorm cleared the way for a bright day one at the LeMieux National Championships, where ten new champions were crowned at the flagship event in the BD calendar.
Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships
Grade I: Mari Durward-Akhurst and Athene Lindebjerg, 72.36%
The opening day of competition in the LeMieux Arena was set in motion with the Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships, where the five grades rode their respective FEI Grand Prix B test in front of judges Sharon Butterworth (E), Sarah Leitch (C) and Mary-Anne Horn (M).
Buckinghamshire rider Mari Durward-Akhurst (29), a team silver medallist at the 2019 FEI European Championships, claimed the first title of the week with a decisive victory in the Equissage Pulse Para Gold Grade I, riding Di Redfern’s British team star Athene Lindebjerg (Gribaldi Diamant).
Fresh from a win at the inaugural Summer Para Freestyle Championships, Mari piloted the beautiful 16-year-old mare to lay down a winning 72.36% and take the title ahead of runner-up Susanna Wade with Zaire LH (66.73%), while Elan Williams and Brandini took third on 64.44%.
“Yeah, it's really good,” said Mari, when asked what today meant to her. “I haven't had the best run up to this as I only came out of hospital last Tuesday, I was in there for 10 days, so I've only ridden Athene two times before coming here. Just to get through today’s test was today’s achievement. She was such a good girl.”
During their partnership of just seven months, Mari and Athene, a horse who won triple gold in Rio with Sophie Christiansen and triple gold with Julie Payne at the 2017 Europeans, have formed an exciting partnership together. Alongside their successes in domestic competition, the duo enjoyed earned three podium places at Hartpury CPEDI in July.
Speaking about her journey to get to this point in her career, Mari said; “I started riding when I was about three with my local RDA because the physio at the time suggested it. And then, when I was 11, I got talent spotted and competed in Para Dressage.
In 2016, I got reclassified to Grade I because my condition deteriorated and that's kind of where my journey started. My dream came true in 2019 when I went to the Europeans in Rotterdam and we got a team silver medal. Tokyo was a year too late, as I had to retire Sky O’Hara. So, then we got another horse, Damo (Quaikin Guaranteed Good), but he's a bit cheeky in the arena. He did come here last year and win it, but to have the ride on Athene, it's just incredible. She's already won nine gold medals so we’re hoping we can add to that.”
And what’s Athene like back home? “We call her the duck. She's really well-behaved to do everything with, but she likes her time. She always has to have carrots at the end, because we say they’re her wages, but in the arena, she just knows her job. The minute she goes into the white boards, she's like, yeah, okay - pretty relaxed.”
Grade II: Georgia Wilson and Faside Got the Love, 69.38%
British multi-medallist Georgia Wilson (27), from Conwy in Wales, achieved a winning performance to secure the 2023 Grade II Gold title this morning. Partnered by her up-and-coming ride, Faside Got the Love (Grey Flanell x San Amour), owned by Georgia together with her parents, Geoff and Julie Wilson, she posted a solid 69.38% to take the 2023 Grade II Championship in style.
Just last week, Georgia was in Riesenbeck where she won Individual and Freestyle silver, together with helping the British secure a team bronze medal. While her European Championships partner, Sakura, is enjoying some well-earned downtime at home, Georgia presented seven-year-old bay gelding Faside Got the Love to defend the title she won last year with Midnight II.
Natasha Adkinson and her San Remo mare, Sweet Caledonia finished close second earning 69.27%.
Grade III: Erin Orford and Dragons Fire, 70.61%
Following a week in the commentary box for ClipMyHorse.TV, covering the FEI Para Dressage European Championships in Riesenbeck, Erin Orford was herself back inside the white boards. A cracking test aboard the seven-year-old gelding, Dragons Fire (De Niro x EH Hohenstein), with whom she was selected as a Reserve for the European Championships, earned the winning score of 70.61%.
Owned by Neil and Jackie Walker and Sophie Wells, British-bred Dragons Fire has shown good form all year including wins at Hickstead and Hartpury CPEDIs.
Grade IV: Laura Gulliver and Hermitage de Jeu, 72.02%
Buckinghamshire rider Laura Gulliver shone bright to take a competitive Grade IV Championship. Partnered by Chelsea Tolhurst’s 11-year-old KWPN gelding Hermitage de Jeu (Chagall D&R x Prince Thatch), a relatively new ride for her, the 28-year-old from Milton Keynes delivered a winning score of 72.02%. Completing the top three was Diana Man riding Horatio VGC and Fiona Maynard with Denver IX on scores of 69.18% and 68.33% respectively.
“It's a great atmosphere here, and I was very happy with our test,” commented Laura after the prize-giving. “His medium trot is his party piece, so they came off today.
“He’s quite a chilled customer all the time and he’s really easy on the ground, but when you get in the arena he becomes like a pocket rocket,” continued Laura who has been riding the talented Dutch-bred gelding since November last year. Although it’s early days in their partnership, the duo has shown much promise and good results including top-three place in the Grade IV Grand Prix A at Hickstead CPEDI in May.
“He’s a lot smaller than the horses I'm used to, which are big, huge horses, so it's taken me some time to get to know him. He’s owned by Chelsea Tolhurst, who rode him from a youngster until she gave me the opportunity to take the ride on, so I've had to really find her button, and the horse has had to get used to my ways.”
Talking about her journey so far in Para Dressage, Laura says; “I started off doing a lot of showing, and I competed at Horse of the Year Show when I was seven years old. I then became a para rider when I was doing my apprenticeship for Judy Harvey, who I actually train with, and it was in that time then I went down the para route.
“I’ve had National titles in the past... it’s actually been an emotionally challenging week as I found out a week ago that Woodcroft Garuda K, who I won this title on in 2019, has passed away. It’s nice to get a win on another horse - it’s like it’s for him.”
Grade V: Hope Hayward and Cadeau K, 68.81%
Hope Hayward, who hails from Glastonbury in Somerset, impressed to take the 2023 Equissage Pulse Para Gold Grade V title. Although an uncontested win with them being the sole combination forward, Hope and Cadeau K presented a super test showing consistency and style to earn a super score of 68.81% on the big stage of the LeMieux Arena.
“He was a little bit insecure here last year, but he was more confident this year,” commented a delighted Hope after the prize-giving. “He warmed up really nicely and when we were ready to go in, he went through the arch as if to say, “Yeah, I've got this mom - it's okay. He just did this really lovely, consistent test. It just felt almost effortless at times, it was so close to being fault free, so to come away with that and know there’s still more to come is great."
Hope and her 16-year-old Dutch-bred Cadeau K (Sir Donnerhall x Wolfgang) are in their sixth year of competing together, so know each other well. “He’s like a giant Labrador! He's in everybody's pockets, he wants to be everybody's friend - there's no personal space with him. He just has to be attached to you all the time! But there's not a bad bone in him. He just constantly has to lick you or groom you... or rob you for treats. He's always in a pocket! He's a lovely character.
“I started riding when I was about four,” explained Hope about her early riding career. “I was in the Pony Club and I just did a little bit of everything. I didn't really start specialising until I was early teens. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 11, and then became a para and was classified when I was 18. And then that started my para career. It was just an amazing opportunity to be able to compete, have the support and just really feel like I belonged somewhere.
“When we started off, I had a mare that I competed up to CPEDI2*. Cadeau is the first horse I’ve taken to CPEDI3*, so he’s really quite a special horse. We’re competing internationally together and just hoping to start building up the scores and keep going because he absolutely loves competing – he's really one of those horses that just wants to go up the centre line.”
Speaking about the National Championships experience, Hope added; “Somerford is always like a super favourite competition of mine. The venue's beautiful - it's immaculate here. It's got such an atmosphere and you know that you've got the highest of the highest here, so you can stop and watch some of the top riders working-in. You get to see so much and it's just beautiful new arenas - gorgeous. And then one of the most exciting things is having the big TV as well, which just adds that extra special touch to it and makes it feel like a really big championship.”
The Centre Line Preliminary Silver
Winner: Tom Carter and Newton Despina, 72.18%
Young rider, Tom Carter enjoyed a decisive win in today’s The Centre Line Preliminary Silver. Nineteen-year-old Tom, a rider at Elite Dressage in Devon, piloted Newton Despina to earn an aggregate score of 72.18% from judges Fiona Lace (E), Debbie Wardle (C) and Alison Duck (M), to take the top spot in convincing style.
Newton Despina (Danone x Grand Galaxy), a four-year-old mare owned by Beth Bainbridge, showed huge maturity on the big stage to produce a winning round despite her youth. The duo paved their way to the Nationals by winning the Prelim Silver Regional Championships at Bicton Arena in July.
Second place went to Rupert Byam-Cook with Nicola Byam-Cook's ultimate family pony, palomino gelding Twyford Salamander (71.14%), while Vania Pickles and her own Sienna claimed third place on 70.74%.
Bret Willson Dressage International Advanced Medium Silver
Winner: Holly Kerslake and Totil Platinum, 70.89%
Holly Kerslake, winner of the Advanced Medium on the lovely Totil Platinum. The combination scored an amazing 70.89%, with Daryl Ware and Furst Crusador in second place on 69.55% and Junior rider Myles Graham with Jon Bon Jovi with 69.50%.
The champion partnership are a fairly new one, “I’ve been riding for his owner for a while now since I was seven or eight, and he came to me two years ago and ever since then, our partnership has just grown.” Despite gaining a brilliant score from the judges, “we did have one mistake, which is a bit frustrating” Holly explains. “But at the end of the day, he went in there and behaved and was a really good boy and really listened to me.”
The black gelding owned by Louise Davies, is new to the championship atmosphere and behaved admirably on their championship debut, “I am so proud of him, he has never been in an atmosphere like this. He went in there and he was an absolute pro!”
Talking about her experience on the first day of the 2023 National Championships Holly described her feelings following her test, “I think that’s all you can ask for, you can go in there and do your best and that is good enough.” But going in there and winning “is a really proud moment, I’m so very happy.”
12-year-old Totil Platinum is known for being “quite a cheeky chap” Holly explained how his amazing personality has helped their partnership, “he is the sort of horse that loves one rider, I think because we’ve built such a strong connection together, he really responds to me now.” Their close partnership carried over into the ring, “he went in there and was like, oh this is different but I just patted him and you could feel him breath out, it’s like we held hands and went in there together.”
Looking towards the future there is lots more to come from the two of them, Holly informed us of her plans to, “continue training for the winter and do some high profiles and do some more competitions. Because you can’t create that atmosphere at home and as much as you train you have got to get out to the shows.” Further Holly is looking to advance to PSG next year for Young Riders.
Fairfax Saddles Prix St Georges Gold
Winner: Charlotte Dujardin and Times Kismet, 78.52%
Off the back of her Europeans success Charlotte Dujardin topped the podium with her eight year old mare Times Kismet (by Ampere). “Obviously I've had very little preparation coming here," Charlotte reflected on her success," I've done two days of preparation to be in fact." Times Kismet was a winner here at the National Championships in 2023 securing the Advanced Medium title and has been lightly competed since, fitting in around Charlotte's busy international calendar and mum duties, "she’s done a handful of tests since then including Somerford and Wellington Premier League as well as heading over to Europe for Aachen two months ago".
“Kismet was amazing, just amazing to ride. We had an error in the three-time changes, which was my fault, not hers but otherwise absolutely amazing. I was so happy with her.”
The judges panel of Claire Ballantyne, Sue McMahon, Clive Halsall, Christine Prip and Jane Peberdy awarded them 78.529% in the main arena which drew quite the crowd. The always in-form Becky Moody took second and third placings with her handsome stallion James Bond II and nine year old gelding Jack Diamond, the duo only split by just a handful of marks.
Stübben Intermediate II Gold
Winner: Charlotte Dujardin and Hawtins San Floriana, 77.88%
It was a double day one victory for Charlotte, who went on to claim the Stuebben Intermediate II with Hawtins San Floriana, whilst taking the second spot with Alive and Kicking on 76.471%. "So, to be honest, I'm really happy with all the horses today," Charlotte said, "I mean, Alive and Kicking as well, they both did nice tests. Things could be a bit better but that's what happens when you have that extra week of just tuning them. I think that’s Flo’s third Inter II and Alive and Kicking’s second Inter II. So I was really happy with both of them. I’ve just got to get them out and get them in the competition arena and do a bit more."
Following a super quick turnaround from the FEI European Championships, Charlotte was delighted to be back on home soil and presenting her string of up and coming horses at the LeMieux Nationals. "It's great to be here supporting British Dressage and it's just a great experience and exposure for my horses, these sort of atmospheres you can't repeat."
Hawtins San Floriana is a former Young Horse winner at the Nationals and is a fine example of great British breeding, hailing from Hawtins Stud in Gloucestershire: "It’s lovely obviously having a British Bred mare and some offspring competing here as well so it’s great to see that generation come through. I’m just so excited to be able to have such a fantastic mare."
Third place belonged to Anders Dahl with Tophojs Zackira scoring 72.441%.