NAF Five Star Winter Championships 22: day one
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A fabulous day one was had here at Hartpury for the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships with the much welcome return of tradestands, spectators and socialising. A few spring showers couldn't dampen bright spirits on a day where nine champions were crowned.
KBIS Preliminary Gold
Winner: Jessica Wade with Maclaren II, 72.93%
It’s lights out and away we go at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships and taking pole position in the first class of a packed week was Jessica Wade on board Nicola Hunt’s Maclaren II. Their slick performance in the KBIS Preliminary Gold Championship was rewarded with 72.93% by the judges panel of Frances Turner, Debbie Wardle and Kim Ratcliffe.
Five year old Maclaren II excelled in his first Winter Regional Championships to qualify for the KBIS Preliminary Gold final with a second place spot at Prestige Equestrian earlier this year. Going one better at the Championships was the icing on the cake for proud rider Jessica, “I was really delighted with him as it’s his first championship just weeks after his fifth birthday. He did everything I wanted which is as much as you can ask. I’m so happy I could do him justice today,” said Jess with a proud tear in her eye.”
Sourced in the Netherlands as a two year old, Jessica fell in love with the eye catching black gelding and struck gold as owner Nicola Hunt was searching for a horse. The match was made and Nicola placed Maclaren in training with Jess who’s sympathetically produced him with light competition to start his BD career with a long future in mind.
“Nicola took a risk putting him in my stables really but he’s been a dream. I put pressure on myself to make sure I did him justice. He has so much talent and lots of character. I know what he’s thinking and feeling and he just wants to please.”
25 year old Jessica has trained with multi-medallist and BD golden girl Charlotte Dujardin for seven years and runs her own yard producing dressage horses in Oxfordshire.
With a strike on day one, Jessica returns to the NAF Five Star Arena on day two at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships with Maclaren lining up in the Prestige Italia Novice Gold.
In a competitive opener plaudits go to the runner up combinations who joined Jessica in the mounted prize giving; Kirsty Imm and her exquisite mare Dancini T and Sarah Turner with Abbotsvale Rhumour.
Petplan Equine Medium Silver
Winner: Sarah Edmonson with Kyaro, 69.90%
Lancaster rider Sara Edmondson and her Dutch bred seven-year-old Kyaro finished top of the pops in the Petplan Equine Area Festival Medium Silver with a near 1% victory. Drawn in the last third of the 29-strong class, the duo put up a demonstration of correctness front of the judging panel of Janet Surr, Judith Harris and Pat Watts to score 69.90% - the test reduced trainer Katie Owens to tears.
Afterwards, Sara revealed her plan; "I really tried to present it and thought I'm going to show you how a centre line is ridden and I'm going to show you how half pass is ridden, and I think it worked! He was so good and he just flowed through from one movement to another and was so relaxed. Afterwards my trainer Katie was crying so I thought we must have done quite a good test."
Sara clearly thinks a lot of her Firestone-sired partner; "He really wants to learn, he's actually very sensitive and I just have such a good partnership with him. I think that's come from Katie being there as regular help - she teaches me every week even though she has to travel miles. We've got a partnership where he really trusts me, and I really trust him so that's how it works."
At home, Sara and Katie put in the hours and today their hard work paid off: "I've worked on a lot of exercises that I can do to get him around my leg, he's quite a big horse so to have him soft through his rib cage and working with me is the goal. Sometimes I get really nervous, and I override him - I think I do that a lot and put too much pressure on myself to do well for Katie and the horse so I tend to I over manage him - so it's about really sitting back and letting him do it."
Sarah is busy at home and is working on her next superstar: "I have a few horses on livery at home, so I look after them and I have another four-year-old horse that Katie rode at the last Premier League and won. We're just taking it slowly with hacking now and bringing him along and hopefully there's big things for him on the horizon too. I have my daughter too and we have a nice happy family."
Second spot went to Brendon Tegg with Scott Gregory’s Haybrook Lucia on a score of 68.87% while Jennifer Harkenss and her own Cascara completed the podium with 68.14%.
Equi-Trek Elementary Silver
Winner: Tracey Lawson with Q.T, 73.39%
Flying onto the top of podium in the Equi-Trek Elementary Silver was Tracey Lawson riding the nine year old gelding Q.T with an impressive 73.39%. Making this their first Championship appearance after only coming together as a pair in 2019, Tracey was pleased with her test, “he was super and really relaxed which is what I was hoping for, to have a relaxed correct accurate test.”
Coming into the Championships with a determination to do well, Tracey talks about her journey to get here, “I was a bit disappointed with how I rode the regionals, so when I watched the regionals test, I thought he was calm and relaxed but lacking a bit of true power and engagement. So, today I just put a bit more in, but still try to keep him calm and relaxed and build his confidence for sort of his first year at regionals and now first year at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships.”
Q.T is very new to dressage only starting his career as a seven year old Tracey says, “I’ve had him for six years but I was waiting for my older horse, my Gelderlander to retire, but he decided he didn’t want to retire and just kept going so Q.T although he’s nine he’s only been in work now for two years.”
Based in Hampshire, Tracey has the experience to give him the best start in his career being a freelance dressage coach. “His training is coming along beautifully but he’s still green in experience. He’s not been out and about a lot, but he’s catching up. I would have liked to have been working at a higher level than what he’s doing now, he’s Medium going Advanced Medium, hopefully he will get to Prix St Geoges soon as he’s strong enough,” Tracy goes on to say.
The pair will be back later in the week to compete in the Prestige Italia Novice Silver, “Fingers crossed it goes well, he’s (Q.T) been obsessed with looking at the shops all the time he was warming up in the arena, so fingers crossed he won't be worried by the shops and he will be confident, and point his toes again.”
Baileys Horse Feeds Novice Freestyle Gold
Winner: Alice Oppenheimer with Headmore Flintstone, 72.50%
Alice Oppenheimer has a fantastic track record at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships and 2022 is proving to be no exception. Starting as she means to go on, the Hampshire rider today achieved a one-two on her Headmore-bred seven-year-olds in the first freestyle class of the week, the hotly contested Baileys Horse Feeds Novice Freestyle Gold.
Her winning ride Headmore Flintsone (Flawless x Rubinstein), owned by Sarah Oppenheimer, was awarded 73.80% from the judging panel of Nick Burton, Sarah Leitch and Susie Cumine. Alice also rode into second place with 72.50% aboard Flintstone’s half-sister, Headmore Valentina.
"I was really pleased with Fred (Headmore Flintstone) today,” said a delighted Alive afterwards. “For both of them this is their first season competing - so you don't really know what you're going to get when you take them into the Hartpury Arena. There's such a buzz with having all the trade stands back this year, it's so lovely as a rider to go in there and it feels like we're back to pre-covid. It's an amazing feeling to ride in their but it's a big ask for the horses.
“Fred felt a bit nervous at the start and I could feel him looking at people walking up and down,” she explained. “But he stayed with me and the more the test went on the more I felt I got."
"The regionals was not easy for us!” continued Alice. “We didn't have much luck actually; Fred threw a splint mid-January and it took a while to settle down, luckily for me. I think I'm the only person who was grateful for Storm Eunice damage as it meant our local regional, Merrist Wood, had to be postponed, which gave us enough time for Fred's splint to settle. It's quite a nice story and maybe fate is a thing!
It didn't end there for Alice as second placed ride 'Val' threw a shoe on the day of her regionals. A bit of last-minute fixing and padding did the trick and she made it up the centre line to qualify. "I was just pleased to have them both here this time, it so easily could've not gone our way and we could have had both not qualified. I was keen to just enjoy riding them in there, took the pressure off and actually sometimes you have more fun and do better for it!"
Describing Fred vs Val, Alice said, "They're polar opposites. Fred and Val have the same mother – they’re both out of our really good Rubinstein mare, Rubinsteena. Fred is by a German stallion called Flawless (Fürstenball x Deniro) and Val is by a Dutch stallion Vilancio (Vitalis x Lancet) - Val is very Dutch and Fred is very German! They’re like chalk and cheese.
“Fred is a bit simple, the sweetest kindest person - he's laid back and wants to please whereas Val is a real chestnut mare - she's a proper firecracker - she questions everything but she has a heart of gold. They're both super talented, they're great fun to train and ride and it's really rewarding working with both of them. I was quote emotional with Val in particular today with all the things we've had to figure out with her, it's been quite something.
Summing up what it’s like to be back at Hartpury, Alice commented, "We were so lucky to have these Championships in 2020 and 2021 but there's something about that arena with the trade stands and the buzz - it's amazing to be back.
"I never expected today in a million years!" she added, with a smile. " I don't think I've got any pictures of me in a winner’s rug on a bay one [horse]! I'm going to have to buy one!"
Completing the top three was Lucy Palmer and six-year-old grey gelding, Let’s Dance M (Dundee M x Gribaldi), known at home as ‘Mr Insta’ due to his photogenic good looks!
Magic Prix St Georges Gold
Winner: Becky Moody with Jagerbomb, 76.07%
Becky Moody and her homebred Jagerbomb (Dante Weltino x Jazz) lead from start to finish to add the Magic Prix St Georges to their ever-expanding list of championship titles. The pairing came out in determined mood to set the arena alight from the get go and all three judges duly responded with an astounding but thoroughly deserved 76.07% The gauntlet was firmly thrown down but none could match the Yorkshire duo.
‘Bomber’ has clearly wintered well and spent time building strength and growing into his near 18hh frame. “He’s still a baby really. It’s been a case of getting him stronger. He is a big horse, he’s only eight. He did the PSG at the Nationals as a seven year old and he was young doing that but things like the canter pirouettes are better, the things that require sit and engagement as he has the strength to do that now. And his extensions are better, I don’t have to help quite so much He’s a bit easier now in that work. He’s a very trainable horse – he’s on point!” explained Becky.
And did going first impact Becky’s game plan? “Not going to lie, first to go is never your favourite spot but you just have to seize it and go for it. Mum gave me a few words of advice at home yesterday as she said ‘you are going to let his nose out a bit more tomorrow aren’t you?’.” Thanks Mummy Moody, that pearl of wisdom did the job.
Bomber is a yard favourite; “Everyone hacks him at home – even when he was four he was the nanny for the young ones. He was quite boring then too and I very nearly sold him! I said to Hannah [her sister] ‘this one really is quite dull!’ but luckily I failed to sell him. He’s a real example that a horse with a good engine and a good brain but not exceptional movement can be trained to be exceptional.”
Becky has the future mapped for the horse who clearly has a huge place in her heart; “He’s qualified for the Inter I at this summer’s Nationals and is very close to doing an Inter II, maybe here at Hartpury in the Premier League.” However, we’ll be seeing them in action in the Superflex Inter I and Freestyle later this week.
Lisa Anne Hopkins and Liss La Belle, owned by Christian Landolt, came closest to Becky on 72.75% while Michael Eilberg was just 0.74 adrift with his rising star MSJ Dante VX, who he owns with Nicky Hannam.
Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Bronze
Winner: Christiana Oakley with Keystone Walente, 68.97%
Winchester-based Christiane Oakley today secured a win in the close-fought Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Bronze Area Festival Championship. With her winning ride, the 17-year-old British-bred mare Keystone Walente (by Walentino), she posted the top score just shy of 69% from the panel of Islay Auty, Fiona Wilson and Richard Baldwin.
"I can't believe it's actually happening right now!" said a delighted Christiane after the prize-giving where Keystone Walente lapped up the atmosphere of the Hartpury Arena.
Talking about her winning test, she said; "The walk went really well! It's always our hardest thing as she gets a little tense, and the walk pirouettes are usually always ruined. As I was riding the walk I thought 'this is almost too good' - her pirouettes were great. Her flying changes in a test are really reliable, so I was very pleased with those. The canter pirouettes too have been a work in progress for us, but they were the best we've ridden in an arena - I was chuffed to bits!"
“We actually worked really hard to get to the Area Festivals,” explained Christiane. “I hadn't long been doing PSG at all - we'd maybe done two full tests, but we qualified so we went! On the day [of the Area Festival] she was a bit behind my leg but did a really good test, so I was pleased with that. To be honest, in between we haven't done loads. We had a little bit of a holiday, and this is our first show back! I'm really pleased we did what we did!"
"She's gorgeous, I don't even know how to describe her. She's so loving and kind - she's a bit quirky when she wants to be but she's forward thinking and loves to do the job," said Christiane, who plans to work on a PSG freestyle next before working through the levels.
Sarah Ansty is mother-in-law and trainer, and spoke proudly of her daughter-in-law; "Christiane actually came to work for me as a groom and married my step son! She's been with me for about fifteen years, we've worked together and I've trained her through the levels. I'm over the moon for her, she so deserves it as she works really hard. We're a great team, we work really well together and we're really supporting of each other which is just fabulous!”
Proud breeder Jon Pavitt, who together with his wife Fiona bred the winning horse, was watching on from the sidelines too and was quick to praise Christiane's beautiful riding.
Nipping at Christiane’s heels was U21 International Pathway rider, India Durman-Mills (17) with her FEI Junior ride, Escade, who finished on 68.87%, whilst Angela Fenn and her part-bred Welsh mare, Dun-lin, completed the podium on 67.40%.
Petplan Equine Medium Bronze
Winner: Melissa O'Brien Shawcross with Rubatino ML, 69.60%
The final Petplan Equine Area Festival championship on day one was a close affair with only 0.54% separating the podium riders in the Medium Bronze. It was Warwickshire Freelance rider and coach Melissa O’Brien-Shawcross who came out on top in the 35-strong class. Riding Denise and Suzanne Clayton’s eyecatching stallion with a temperament to die for, Rubatino ML, or Artie to his friends, Melissa crafted a super test to score 69.60% from the judging panel of Cherry Elvin, Pam Bushell and Alison Duck.
Melissa explained; “He’s 15 nowand owned by Denise and Suzanne Clayton. I started him off in his career – he was destined to be an event horse, but he said ‘no thank you’ even though his breeding, warmblood cross Thoroughbred, suggests he should be. I took the ride back about four years ago and he’s just gone better and better really.”
The partnership has had happy times at Hartpury previously having placed fourth in the Covid- impacted 2020 edition in the Petplan Equine Elementary Silver Area Festival Championship but today’s progression up a level brought them the coveted Petplan Equine rug and sash.
I was really pleased today, he tried really hard and let me ride him. There were a few little mistakes which I was kicking myself about but now I know they didn’t really matter,” said Melissa. “I’ve recently had two lessons with Henry Boswell and it’s safe to say he’d done wonders with us. He’s very good at getting to know a horse and how to get the best out of horse and rider. I really, really like to win and he knows that too! It was all Artie today, he was brilliant.”
Artie clearly enjoyed the attention of his winner’s spotlight and took it all in in a most relaxed manner, not what you’d expect from an entire. “We’ve never treated him as a stallion, he has the best temperament. He’s stabled next to mares, he goes out in the field in sight of mares. He’s got two foals but he may have to have a few more now!” exclaimed Melissa.
Second spot belonged to Tina Phillips and DHI Classical Dancer on 69.11% with Hayley Ford and Crimson Gold a smidge behind with 69.06% in third.
Spillers Medium Freestyle Gold
Winner: Jezz Palmer with Ketcher B, 74.88%
A busy week for the JLP Dressage team saw the best possible start for one half of dancing dressage duo Jezz and Lucy Palmer, with Jezz claiming the first and third spots in the SPILLERS Medium Freestyle Gold Championship. On board the smart breeding stallion Ketcher B, Jezz produced a polished test in front of Richard Baldwin, Fiona Wilson and Islay Auty to top a competitive closing fixture on day one.
Speaking about his expectations and 74.88% winning performance Jezz told us, "he didn't do an arena walk so I wondered if he would go in and be a bit looky - but he had his professional head on and was like 'let's get this done'. We were both extremely focused! I had three in the class and with him [Ketcher B] being my last one I wanted to really go for it, which I did. He stepped up to the occasion and held his own!"
The NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships are a highlight in the calendar for fans of freestyle to music and the SPILLERS Medium Freestyle produced some outstanding programmes, including that of our winning combination. "I rode to probably my most favourite music, put together by Equidance," Jezz praised music maestro Tony Hobden for his part in today's win, "the music was Sia's Unstoppable in the canter. The way he's put it together is just amazing, even when I ride it at home it gives me goosepimples - I'm not usually that sort of person and I'm usually very emotionless. For that to happen to me it must be good!"
Whilst excelling in his sports career, winning horse Ketcher B is also an active covering stallion with 15 foals on the ground after a busy season in 2022. Speaking about 'Max's' ideal temperament Jezz said, "you would never know he's a covering stallion - you can drag him out to the field and then drag them back in, he loves having a roll and has a great set routine. You get on him and he's very laid back, but with enough energy! You can always make him a bit hotter, which is actually better and he stays hot. He's taken a long time to get strong but now he's turning seven he's come into his own.
Hartpury has seen success through the levels for countless horses and when asked if the future looks like Grand Prix for Max the answer from Jezz was a resounding, 'yes definitely!'. "He, like typical Negro offspring that have so much power behind and a touch on the shoulder to start, now he's starting to bring his shoulders up and learning to hold the lift he's amazing. He can piaffe really well already so we're very excited!" The future is bright for the latest winners of the SPILLERS title and victors' spoils.
Second place belonged to Sara-Jane Lanning with Hawtins Lirica just a whisker behind on 74.66%, whilst Jezz's second podium place saw early ride Tiny Dancer rewarded for a great effort as the first horse into the final class on day one, his 74.55% good enough to hold third position.
Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Silver
Winner: Rhiannon Hinton with Quakin Horatio, 68.52%
Rhiannon Hinton has taken this afternoon’s Petplan Equine Area Festival Prix St Georges Silver title in impressive style with her home-produced British-bred Oldenburg gelding, Quaikin Horatio.
The working mum of two boys, who combines a corporate career with pursuing her dressage ambitions, posted the winning score 68.52% with her talented Hotline x Dimaggio nine-year-old, who she bought directly from his breeder when he was turning two and is known at home as Bob.
Winners here at Hartpury in 2020 when they were Elementary Silver Area Festival Champions, and runners-up in the Medium Silver at the Nationals last September, they’re now shining bright at the Small Tour levels, as was clear to see this afternoon.
“I was very happy with him today,” said a delighted Rhiannon afterwards. "He got a bit hot on the box coming here and we were a bit worried he was going to be tired! But actually, when went in the warm-up, he got a bit hot so I had to just crack on and get him going.
“When they're like that the worst thing you can do is stop! But he came through and he's done what he's done. He knows his job and he lights up in the right way- he feels amazing."
"I've been working on ongoing suppleness and straightness and increasing the degree of angle on things - lots of stretching and supplying too."
“He's just my big pet and he's an absolute pleasure to train,” she continued. “He's very talented but he's very sensitive. You just have to be very quiet with him and not upset him. It's probably only his sixth or seventh PSG today and we're back tomorrow for the Inter I Bronze.
Cleverly juggling motherhood, career and dressage, Rhiannon’s dedication is a key ingredient in her recipe for success. "I work for BT and I have two young boys - Austin and Evan - and I do a bit of coaching. I love horses - it's hard work working full-time and following my passion but I'm an amateur rider giving it her best shot."
Rhiannon produces Bob from her Shropshire base. "I have him at home, we have a small holding...but the downside is we flood! I work from home with a little commuting, so it's a case of early mornings and late-night finishes. The kids are six and ten, they're getting a bit more independent, and they're not interested in ponies, but motorbikes! That suits me fine!"
Within touching distance of the winning duo was Lucy Swinden with her tobiano gelding, Odwigs Echo, who scored 68.43%, whilst Sally Walker and Wilton completed the top three on 67.157%.