NAF Five Star Winter Championships 22: day five
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Five days of Easter excitement came to a thrilling climax as the NAF Five Star Winter Championships are over for another year...and what a final day we all enjoyed!
PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Silver
Winner: Jade Whitelaw with Late Night, 74.10%
An early start paid off for Late Night with PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Silver winning jockey Jade Whitelaw holding on to her early lead as the first rider to set hoof in the NAF Five Star Arena on the final day at the 2022 championships. Their winning score was a magnificent 74.10% in front of Jane Critchley, Felicity Scott and Heather Ashley topping the podium ahead of fellow youth rider Sophia Marston and E-mail in second position with showing supremo Sam Roberts on board Moelview Prince Consort completing the top three.
"He was a bit wild so I didn’t have very much expectation," Jade told us after her celebratory lap of the NAF Five Star Arena before talking us through her test, 'in the warm up and going around the outside there was a bit of reversing and things but he seems to think he’s safe in the white boards. He felt a little bit anxious but his canter was good. I think sometimes you come out and over analyse it – I guess I’m super critical of myself. I was happy everything came off – but it was a little bit of a surprise the score."
Jade's presentation party included none other than British Dressage patron and PDS Saddles ambassador Carl Hester: "It was really cool, and a bit of a shock, getting my prize from Carl. It makes it a memorable one, a mounted prize giving is always memorable but I’ll definitely remember this one!"
Whilst it's not Jade's first time making the mammoth journey from Scotland to Gloucestershire for this premier event, it was Late Night's first time in the Hartpury spotlight, "my other horse has been here quite a few times but it’s Late Night’s first time and I didn’t have much expectation for him because he’s a bit wired, a bit of a monkey."
"I was looking for another horse and we went to Holland. We looked at 17 horses in two days with Rebecca Dudley and he was one they took out at the very end – which made us smile that he’s named Late Night, and they said ‘here’s your late night surprise’! He was just backed and ridden six times, they explained that they don’t normally show horses like that to clients but thought I’d like him. As soon as we saw him, we really liked him. There were three that I liked and with him I had to decide if I could handle a just backed three year old." Jade's partnership with the bright chestnut gelding may be in its youth but the pair have tasted success before with a win at last year's inaugural edition of the Petplan Equine Area Festival Summer Championships.
Speaking about her talented dancing partner's character she said, "he was tricky, he got me off a lot when he was three! And he’s been a bit tricky at shows to start with but I’ve really noticed in the last six months or so that he can still be a bit wild but he copes better now. He’s still got more growing up to do and maybe if he was a bit more confident, he could do a better test, which is exciting. He’s a nice horse."
Sport challenges us to work through hard times to become our best and today's win for Jade was true evidence of hard work paying off as she explained about a rollercoaster journey with her young star: "I’ve been having a bit of a confidence crisis with him – thinking can I handle that strength and power but I’ve just got to keep working away."
Away from her time in the saddle Jade is a Process Engineer for an oil and gas operator in Aberdeen, successfully managing to work full time whilst finding time to ride three horses...and qualify for championships! “I don’t have much time, the horses are my life,” Jade admitted, but with another title under her belt and a presentation from a dressage legend, her hard work and effort are justly rewarded.
Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Gold
Winner: Nikki Barker with Dan Icarus, 74.38%
Never has the adage ‘like father, like son’ been more apt. Five years on from winning the Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Gold with Viv Gleave’s stallion Durable, Nikki Barker has regained this prestigious freestyle title with Durable’s nine-year-old son, Dan Icarus (Durable x Negro). Amongst a strong field boasting many high-class combinations, Nikki and Dan Icarus (Reuben), who Nikki co-owns with Becky Harrow, delivered a stunning performance to take the crown a second time in five years for the Newmarket-based rider.
Long-time leaders Sara Gallop and Rock That Tango led from the front on a cracking score of 73.72% but it wasn’t quite enough to keep Nikki and Reuben at bay. A score of 74.38% on the board from the panel of Sue McMahon, Caroline Tupling and Sue Staines propelled the winning pair to the top of the leader board, and there they were to remain.
Nikki has a great track record here at Hartpury. Many will remember her brilliant Superflex Inter I Freestyle victory with Durable (Danny) in 2019, and it’s great to see her back in the winners’ enclosure once more, especially partnered by one of Danny’s eldest offspring. For the regionals at Easton College, Nikki used her Kung Fu Panda programme originally commissioned for Durable (Danny) when he was at Advanced Medium, but 2022 was the year for Reuben to have his own.
“Lovely Ros Emery-Kay did my music – it was from ‘The Last Samurai’,” explained Nikki. “We’d used Danny’s at the Regionals so I said to Ros, ‘as we’re going to the Winters, can you quickly knock one out?’. Ros had a bit of a frantic phone call on Thursday to say I’d tried riding to it and couldn’t make it fit so she did a tweak here and there, changed this and that, and sorted it all out.
“It wasn’t quite the floor plan Ros wrote the music to match but we made it all work,” continued Nikki. “It wasn’t a complicated floorplan, a bit of counter canter, extended into counter canter, big sweeping half passes, that’s what dad (Durable) does, which are quite impressive on those bigger lines. He’s done his first few PSGs so we could link a few of the changes together which adds to the degree of difficulty.”
Describing Reuben ‘the person’ Nikki said, “He has been a dream. He backed in minutes, was so easy, and every year he comes and wins me a title! He’s like Mr Reliable, he’s a little dude.
“He isn’t quite as brave as Danny, even as a foal he was a bit timid, but he never lets you down, and never starts spooking. He just holds himself a little, whereas Danny is a show off. He’s the spit of him to look at, the paces are the same with that wonderful hind leg in the canter, rhythmical and with great scope. They’re really similar to ride.
“All of Danny’s babies are really friendly and easy-going as foals. People kept saying to me how placid my foals are and did I handle them a lot. They’re all very elastic, they all look like him, 75% are boys, they’re bay and most have two white socks at the back. He really stamps them. When people ask ‘should I use him for my mare’ I say, well, if you like him, that’s what you’re going to get! Temperament-wise they’re very easy, not spooky, they’re not sharp.”
So, what’s next for Reuben? “I’d like to do the young horse PSG class here in July and then crack on with some Premier Leagues,” said Nikki. “He’s always been so easy, you know, if you were tight for time he’d get left. I decided it was ridiculous, I have the most talented horse in the world and he keeps getting shoved to the bottom of the pile – there was a bit of time out too for me – so now he can crack on.”
“And I need to start competing Danny again. I haven’t done anything over the winter and need to get him out, plus he needs to start his stud work again. He’s so easy though, he can collect [semen] and then I can take him to a show. He’s aiming for the Premier Leagues.”
Rounding off the top three were Sara Gallop and Rock That Tango, who took a well-deserved second spot on 73.72%, with Dannie Morgan and Breit Fantastic in third (71.33%).
HorseLight Medium Gold
Winner: Charlotte Dujardin with Times Kismet, 77.61%
Today’s curtain-call final class was certainly a case of saving the best until last as the HorseLight Medium Gold Championship was a treat of dressage prowess with the top nine combinations all scoring over 70%. A high-class entry came in front of Harry Payne, Helen Clark and Sue Petty and it was Jezz Palmer riding Tiny Dancer who set the early benchmark of 71.39% with Davy Harvey close behind with his first ride, Hercules III just a whisker behind on 71.21%.
And so it remained as the class went on until a determined Charlotte Dujardin trotted in with Peter Belshaw’s Times Kismet. Buoyed by their win in yesterday’s Equitex Advanced Medium championship, Charlotte was clearly going to use the drop down in level to give the KWPN mare by Ampere a confidence boosting round and giving it everything to claim a second title in as many days.
It was, as ever, a masterful display in test riding and the sole noticeable flaw was a rushed rein back but the rest flowed beautifully with class to burn…it was good, but just how good? 77.61% good!
Afterwards, it was clear the delight this mare gives her rider; “Really good today. After riding yesterday in the arena I was a little bit more brave to push her more. She’s definitely more established at Medium level so for me I felt I could rider her a bit more, push her that bit more and see what happens, I didn’t want to play nice today,” she said with a wry smile.
Afforded the ‘luxury’ of being able to ride with the handbrake off, Charlotte enjoyed her ride; “It’s good fun, I thought if a mistake happens, it happens. It’s interesting to know what you need to feel in there and where you can and can’t go. I felt she was just on all cylinders today to be honest. Obviously my biggest thing was my rein back – it was a bit flying backwards but apart from that I was absolutely thrilled with her. She’s phenomenal to ride; she has so much swing, the half passes feel absolutely amazing. I’m absolutely over the moon.”
Other riders may have decided to withdraw having performed well the previous day but Charlotte sees every test as an opportunity. “It's a learning curve for her. To go back in there, especially after doing a prizegiving. Some horses go back in there and are terrified as then know what’s coming up. Yesterday she went in there blind, she didn’t really know. They can be a bit shell shocked but the second time they’re a bit ‘oh, I know what’s coming’,” she said.
“It was great that I could go in there and have such an incredible feeling and ride like I could ride – just go get it. She was definitely more confident, and I felt more confident to push for a bit more as I knew what to expect from yesterday,” she finished.
This championships has proven we can expect big things from Times Kismet, watch this space.
Petplan Equine Prelim Bronze
Winner: Jane Hendy with Cefnbangor Rob Roy, 71.66%
Welsh wonder pony Cefnbangor Rob Roy would be the final pintsized powerhouse to don a Petplan Equine rug and sash on the ultimate day at the Petplan Equine Winter Area Festival Championships after his winning most rider Jane Hendy did a super job in the saddle for 71.66%.
Jane told us about her performance on a bluebird day in the Petplan arena, "he actually doesn’t deal with humidity very well so he was a bit sluggish in the warm up but it went really well and I was really pleased with him when I came out. I normally really struggle with my halt at the end but actually halted nice and still and square today so I was pleased with that."
The combination were wildcard winners at Hartpury having gained their qualification ticket via wildcard after a placing at Prestige Equestian: "At the Area Festivals he did an absolutely lovely test, I was so chuffed but at the end, he halted, crossed his front legs and bowed at the judge! So that probably threw away my direct qualification, he knows what he did! I got the phone call from BD and the lovely lady on the end of the phone said I was about the sixth person she’d rung and everyone would have sad voice mails as I got the wildcard because I answered. So it was completely by chance I got here!"
"I absolutely had no expectations coming here. I said to my boy friend Dan on the way here I’d seen a girl I’m friends with on Facebook had won the Prelim Silver and I’d love one of those Petplan rugs. I never expected to win though. I was happy when I came out but didn’t think I’d win." Sometimes things are just meant to be.
This year's Prelim Bronze winner may have future generations to carry on his title, "he’s 15 now and was used as a stallion until he was six – he’s actually now got grandkids! He was a show horse all his life until last year when we took up dressage in July – it’s our first year of BD." "He’s called King Kevin at home," Jane said about the punchy bay with bags of character, "he is the king of the yard and he definitely knows he’s better than everybody else. He’s a just a super, lovely horse to have around at home, easy, low maintenance, I ride him about twice a week. He is perfect."
It's horses, horses and more horses for Jane who told of her daily life away from the winners circle, "I run a livery yard of 49 horses at home and I have ex-racers in to retrain, but he’s my only cob – he lives with a load of thoroughbreds! But he’s my rock horse, my favourite." The pair will now aim for the Petplan Equine Summer Area Festivals at Novice level with a view to having a go at the Native and Veteran Associated Championships in the autumn as well. After a great start to 2022, the dressage world is their oyster.
Petplan Equine Advanced Medium Bronze
Winner: Charlotte Neal with Walter's Fable, 69.18%
The Staffordshire combination of Charlotte Neal and Walter’s Fable has today claimed the Petplan Equine Advanced Medium Bronze Area Festival Championship on the concluding day of competition here at Hartpury. This 30-strong competitive finale was a close-fought affair that went down to the wire, showing the strength of competitors coming through the Area Festival ranks.
Youth rider Charlotte and her 17-year-old British-bred ride, Walter’s Fable (Walentino x Joli Coeur), delivered a super test to take the early lead on 69.18% in front of judges Sarah Leitch, Patt Watts and Sharon Butterworth. After a four-hour wait and much anticipation, they were delighted to be declared the 2022 title holders.
"I was really pleased with it, but I was also a bit disappointed that I was pleased with it because usually when I'm pleased, it doesn't go as well as we thought!” laughed Charlotte. “Altogether I felt that his way of going and all the things we've been working on came together.
“We train with Patsy Bartram and have been working on our way of going on the run up to coming here, so I’m really happy that it’s paid off.”
Walter’s Fable is affectionately known at home as Jeff. “Jeff’s 17, we've had him for four and a half years - I think he's feeling really well at the moment, he's loving life," said Charlotte. “He’s a former ride of Angus Corrie-Deane. We saw him at Sheepgate U25s and his previous owner was here today to see him, which was really nice. He fit us perfectly and he's been a really great horse."
Aspiring lawyer Charlotte (18) is currently studying for her A-levels and hopes to start university in September. Talking about her Championships experience she said, “It comes at a good time for us. It's always great fun and we always aim for it as part of our calendar. We had a little go at the PSG in the week which didn't go quite as well but hopefully next year we'll come back with more confidence at that level."
Danielle Balsdon and Lord Lennox impressed to finish second by a whisker on 69.14% whilst Megan Field and Bright Time FST completed the leading trio with 67.94%.
Petplan Equine Novice Bronze U21
Winner: Imogen Casely with Parvadean Estelle, 70.34%
Thirteen year old Imogen Casely kept up an excellent strike rate for the Scottish contingent at Hartpury in winning the Petplan Equine Area Festivals Novice Bronze U21 Championship. Riding mum Shona’s Parvadean Estelle, she suitably impressed the judging panel of Andrea Smith, Sue Carson and Harry Payne to score 70.34%, the only combination to break the magic barrier in the 16-strong class.
“I thought it [my test] was good yeah, there are some bits to work on, I'm excited to get the sheet back to see what else we can work on,” commented Imogen.
Imogen and Estelle have been a partnership for two and a half years and discovered dressage during lockdown in 2020 at local shows and even online having previously shown. They’ve made it a successful transition and were fourth at last year’s Petplan Equine Summer Area Festivals at Prelim level and took part in the Winter Regionals this spring, also at Prelim.
The duo travelled down to Hartpury from near Edinburgh and Imogen is loving the experience; “It feels really surreal, it’s a real dream come true to canter in the arena. It’s our first time here and it’s been a great experience. It’s been amazing to be here and see Charlotte Dujardin and everyone, and all the big guns riding. To be there in the same arena is really cool!” she exclaimed.
At just 13hh Estelle is a little pocket rocket and she’s had three foals in the past and is now a grandmother, but Isobel knows the way to her heart; “She’s the quietest person, she's all about food! She just loves her job.” They now plan to make the jump to Elementary.
Liam Wattrus and Fürstenvae were runners up on 69.23% while a score of 68.61% from Tara Faulds secured third with Godrics Decoy.
Petplan Equine Novice Silver U21
Winner: Manon Roberts with Siglan Hector, 69.51%
Fresh from her seventh place in yesterday’s KBIS Preliminary Silver, Manon Roberts, from Conwy in Wales, this morning sealed a fantastic victory in the Petplan Equine Novice Silver U21. With the delightful Welsh section D gelding, Siglan Hector (by Trevallion Demetrius), who she’s ridden for owner Marion Owen for a mere eight months, she achieved the winning score of 69.51% in front of judges Andrea Smith, Nicky Du Plessis and Helen Clark.
Sixteen-year-old Manon left school last July and has since started an apprenticeship on Greg Sims' yard, where she works full-time with lots of riding, and is immersed in the perfect environment to learn her craft. Siglan Hector is owned by Marion Owen and had done mainly hacking, with a little dressage six years ago, until Manon took over the reins last summer. “When I started riding him, we went to the Pony Club Championships, and he won that! We said why not do a little BD with him for a bit of fun and it led up here!
“I’m so happy with him today, it went really well,” said Manon, reflecting on her win here at Hartpury with her diminutive yet super-smart dressage star. “He was a little unsettled - he whinnied when we went around the outside of the arena - but I said to myself let's just enjoy it. He stayed with me and was really good. His canter is a highlight, he's got lovely action and the judges seem to like it.”
Describing her successful home training schedule with 15-year-old Siglan Hector, she said, “He gets schooled twice a week and I have lessons with Greg. He hacks with his owner and has lessons with her too, he does a bit of everything!”
“It's been really good!” was Manon’s enthusiastic response when asked about her Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships experience. “It's all been easy. It was a little overwhelming, but it was fine when I thought about it. Everything has run really smoothly.
“We only came to British Dressage in October last year, so we only properly started dressage this year! People always said it's a bit scary with all the people out there, but everyone has been really nice! We might aim for the Home International with BD representing Wales.”
Sophie Simpson and Fashionista were close and worthy runners-up on 69.23%, whilst Natasha Worsick and Shannondale Shagosha achieved 68.88% to take third place on the podium.
Petplan Equine Medium Bronze U21
Winner: Sophia Marston with E-mail, 68.82%
BD Youth rider Sophia Marston started her Easter Sunday with a super second in the PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Silver but went one better in her second class of the day, claiming the Petplan Equine Medium Bronze U21 title on board her electric E-mail. The exciting partnership earned 68.82% to add a handful of marks onto second placed rider Abigail Gray's score of 68.48% with the British bred pony stallion Godrics Campeggio. Multi-talented eventing and dressage youth rider Abi Scott placed third with Camarnaint Rambler scoring 67.35%, next up for this combination is a visit to the Royal Windsor Horse Show with the Pony Club.
A beaming Sophia told us about her test with E-mail, "I was in the outdoor arena this time so he was much less spooky. He was a bit tired in the warm up because I went straight from my previous test but he was foot perfect with most of it! We made one small mistake but he felt brilliant and I was really pleased with how he coped with the atmosphere." Practice makes perfect in preparation for this duo who've been putting in the hours ahead of the Championship, ""we've been training with Michael Eilberg and Sarah Cheetham - we find that in his trot he's really bouncy so we're trying to get the flow super nice. He feels a lot better so we've been trying to work on keeping a good rhythm and balance, and keeping him through."
Whilst all smiles today, Sophia and her family have had an emotional build up for the Petplan Festivals as long-term ride Solitaire recently broke a leg in an unfortunate field accident, the prognosis is promising but the emotions were running high for Sophia's first test of the day in the PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle contest as the family confessed, "there were tears before the test and there were tears after the test.
When asked whether she expected to hold on to her lead for the class, the Midlands based talent said, "it was still quite a surprise! I thought it was a lovely test but I thought someone might do a foot perfect test, obviously when he did he nice movements they were good enough and I was really really pleased with everything he did today. "
"I've had email for about four or five months now," she continued discussing her latest partner and winning steed, "Imogen Murray and the O'Neills family own him and they've kindly sent him on loan for me to teach me a little bit and grow together. He's such a character, he's by Jazz - he's a big character at home and he's full of beans. I've done lots of competing with my other horse but it's been really nice to have another one to go through the levels with, he's a little more advanced and a bit older so he knows a few more tricks - he's teaching me and it's great to get more feel from a different horse."
Those who follow British Dressage closely may recognise Sophia from placing in various BD competitions, from Combined Training and Area Festivals to youth events: "I love BD, especially BD Youth with all the camps, home internationals and all that it's brilliant for riders to get a team feel and experience, I'll definitely be staying with BD!" Sophia also hopes to go to Royal Windsor next to take up her place on the Pony Club teams but wisely recognises the challenge in balancing her education with horses as she thoughtfully concluded, "it's a busy year for me with GCSEs so it's a quiet one for me until after my exams, I'm hoping to maybe have a little go at Premier Leagues and see where it takes us."
Petplan Equine Medium Silver U21
Winner: Megan Austin with Kingcarra Carrick Cruise, 66.61%
It was touch and go if East Sussex teenager Megan Austin would even make it to Harpury to compete due to the emergency removal of her appendix just four weeks ago. But thanks to help and support from mum Rachel and trainer Shelley Beattie, she and her handsome Kingcarra Carrick Cruise not only got here but duly won the Petplan Equine Area Festival Medium Silver U21 title, with a score of 66.61%.
Megan said of her test; “It was really good, we had no major mistakes – just a tiny few things that could have been better. I’m over the moon with him. His trot work flowed a lot better and his general way of going was good, he’s finding Medium level a lot easier now.”
Having come together four years ago, the talented duo has been doing medium about a year - “we’re just getting to grips with it all now” she said. Bertie had done a bit of everything before they came together but it’s only recently there’s been a dressage focus; “he’s young for his age” explained Megan. She clearly adores her dancing partner; “He’s got good paces and a very sensible head, he loves it – loves his job! We just want to go as high as we can but I have no expectations, he’s already exceeded expectations.”
She then explained about her setback; “I was surprised to actually even get here really, I had my appendix out four weeks ago! I fell ill at the Regionals. I had a stomach ache all day quite high up but put that down to nerves then it moved lower for my second test and I was quite ill on the way home so it was a trip to A&E.
“Today is the first time I’ve actually done sitting trot so he’s really carried me around! A lot of me getting here is down to Shelley Beaton, my trainer, and my mum who have kept him going. I’ve only had a couple of weeks back in action so I just generally chuffed just to be here.
Megan is in the last year of studying A levels in English Literature and Business and hopes to make a career of horses but has a bookkeeper as her alternative future.
The judging panel of Sue Carson, Nicky DuPlessis and Heather Ashely unanimously declared Megan the winner while Lily Hughes Bell was second with her Yarty Welsh Jack on 63.33% with Ella Glennon slotting into third aboard Amedijcks Orlando with 62.99%.
And so the 2022 edition of the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships comes to a close. It’s been a fantastic five days, particularly with the very welcome return of spectators, full tradestands and of course our loyal sponsors to present their awards. Thank you to everyone who makes these remarkable championships possible.
Photos C Kevin Sparrow