NAF Five Star Winter Championships 22: day two
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Another busy day across the three arenas at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships, another nine champions crowned and another great day in the history of the highlight of the winter season here at Hartpury.
Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold
Winner: Alice Oppenheimer with Headmore Dionysus, 77.95%
The 2022 edition of the Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold Championship cast a spell on Hartpury this afternoon as 14 PSG combinations came forward for this hotly contested freestyle finale in front of judges Isobel Wessels, Kirsty Mepham and Sarah Kingwells.
As the class played out, long-time leaders Fenella Quinn and Empire B proved to be the ones to beat, having earlier performed a stunning test for 75.20%. Elder Klatzko and Dior VIII almost, but not quite, caught the leading pair with their super 75.12%. Then followed the defending title holder, Alice Oppenheimer, fresh from her win yesterday in the Novice Freestyle Gold with one of her younger rides.
Returning to the Hartpury Arena, this time with Amanda Radford’s powerful, 11-year-old ‘pocket rocket’ Headmore Dionysus (Dimaggio x Rubinstein), Alice presented a programme full of energy and conviction, accompanied by music from ‘Cats’, to earn a fantastic PB score of 77.95% propelling them to the top of the leader board. Much praise for ‘Dillon’ at the end of their test, and a broad smile from Alice, said it all.
“Dillon was amazing today,” said Alice afterwards. “Actually, he’s been going okay at home but I didn’t quite feel like I’d managed to peak him quite how I’d like for a show like this. He warmed up really well today and I was taking him around the edge and he felt good. I stuck my hand up and the music started, I just felt him grow underneath me; I trotted out of the first halt and I just knew this was going to be banging.
“He gave me this feeling of confidence and he was literally like ‘that’s my music and I’m here to show off and I LOVE it!’ she smiled. “I loved it, he loved it. I had fun, he had fun and I was buzzing. I think we both had a big grin on our face for the whole test.
“The feeling for the second extended trot, he knows it’s coming. I was laughing at him because he was just showing off – he was having the best time of his life. It was amazing to get a ride like that - he’s a real showman and he loved it in there today.
On planning her Winters campaign with Dillon, Alice explained, “He had qualified for yesterday’s Magic Prix St Georges too but four tests at Small Tour is quite a lot and I love doing freestyles, so we chose to do this one and the Intermediate I, and today he felt fresh and ready to go. It’s the first time I think I’ve retained a title, having won this last year with Bella Ruby. To have a half-sibling out of our amazing Rubinstein mare again (she really is something else) is really special. They just keep delivering the goods. They’re really special horses with amazing temperaments that just perform when it really matters. You can’t ask for any more than that really.”
The Headmore Stud’s foundation mare, Rubinsteena (by Rubinstein), really has left a remarkable legacy as Alice explains; “We’re starting to get some grandchildren of hers now, which is really exciting. Davina has a super four-year-old and Bella’s first one is three this year. What’s super exciting is that we have lots of fillies to carry on the mare line. I get on really well with the mares and we have Dillon too. We call him ‘Uncle Dillon’ as of course he can’t have any of his own but he’s got lots of nieces and nephews at home too! It’s lovely having them all together and bringing them on.”
Dionysis in mythology is the Greek god of wine and merriment - “I’m hoping that whilst I’m doing this everyone else is buying the champagne! I’ll go for my interviews and I’m not on tomorrow so we can have a little fun tonight...but it isn’t a freestyle so I can't go the wrong way and make it up!”
Petplan Equine Intermediate I Bronze
Winner: Georgina Tapner with Bugatti II, 68.77%
No strangers to success in the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championship arena, Georgina Tapner and Bugatti II once again reached top gear to claim the Petplan Equine Intermediate I Bronze with a winning score of 68.77%. Drawn last to go in the first class of day two at Hartpury College, Georgina clinched a late victory from second placed rider Bridget Tate by five and a half marks.
The duo previously tasted success in 2019 where they took home the Petplan Equine Medium Silver Area Festival, their progression through the levels has taken them to further Petplan Equine Area Festivals and Area Festival Championships and the judges duly rewarded their test today. Speaking about her winning performance Georgina said, “it was one of those moments when you run out of breath and there’s so many things going through your head but on the whole, he was brilliant. He can be a little under confident in the main arenas but he seeks to me for confidence and listens to what I say. I made one little mistake which I wasn’t aware of, I was happily smiling away. It didn’t matter too much and I was really pleased with him.”
Georgina and ‘Bug’s’ winning relationship has spanned the years and the strength of their relationship shows with their way of going and results: “I’ve had him since he was four and we’ve done the Petplans all the way up and it’s not our first time winning her either. He’s great fun to ride because you know what you’re going to get in the arena – it’s just if I remember to carry on breathing…and go the right way!”
Hailing from evening, Georgina spoke about her future hopes for her time in the sport, “we’ll just keep plugging away. He’s my first dressage horse and I don’t have much idea what I’m doing. I spend a lot of time having to decipher what the words mean and the tests mean but we just see how we go.”
In the run up to the Championships, it’s been full focus on the basics, execution of movements and work on position for Georgina who was quick to credit the coaches helping her behind the scenes: “I’ve had three trainers, Amy Woodhead who guided me up to Medium but she then moved north so I then had lessons with Charlie Hutton, who was a massive influence on straightness. Then he moved north too! I now train with Sarah Wilkinson who’s from New Zealand and she’s a real stickler for correctly executing things and my riding, she’s really brought me on. I couldn’t have done it without the three of them.”
The Petplan Equine Area Festival classes are a celebration of all horses and the relationship between horse and rider, it’s clear to see how ‘Bug’ and Georgina earn success in the arena. and the Wiltshire based rider concluded by telling us about her winning ride’s life back in the stable. “He’s just really lovely, he’s cheeky! I don’t hack him, I’m terrified of him out hacking. My husband used to hack him but following an injury, he doesn’t now. He just thinks hacking is very exciting and I come back shaking and white – it’s the only thing he’s naughty about. He’s like a pet and mortified if he does anything wrong. He’s a lovely boy. We call him ‘Bug’ in the stable, well, Mr Bug actually but maybe now he can be Lord Bug!”
Second and third place in a close content saw Daltrey and Bridget Tate score 68.23% in the runners up spot, whilst Sarah Colborn and Furst Love 1 – another former Petplan Equine winning combination – completed the top three with 68.03%.
Prestige Italia Novice Gold
Winner: Charlotte Dujardin with Times Mon Amour, 77.53%
Our first champions of the day, taking centre stage in the NAF Five Star arena was the five year old gelding Times Mon Amour, ridden by Charlotte Dujardin in the Prestige Italia Novice Gold.
Owned by Peter Belshaw and Charlotte, this young star already has the four year old British Dressage Young Horse Championship title under its belt. With comments about the horses natural hindleg given by David Hunt and Erik Theilgaard in the Young Horse classes, Times Mon Amour brought that athletic movement today to score 77.53%.
Charlotte talked through her test, “I was really pleased because he’s never been in that sort of environment before. He’s only five years old and it’s quite a ‘twisty turny stoppy starty’ test – for a five year old to do ten metre circles into medium trot is quite a test of balance. It was mistake free but it was quite hot so I just sat and tried to ride what I had and give him confidence. He always wants to please and tries to get it right so come out and do this here, I was really, really pleased.”
This up and coming youngster bred from Martinez x De Niro and Magic Dream JB (by Governor x Swarovski) has potential for the future with Charlotte, “he's really matured and is much stronger in the body. He’s a big horse, he’s quite deceiving, you get off and realise he’s quite tall! But he’s amazing to ride, I think he has to be one of my favourites.”
“There’s so much energy, so much power and at the moment it’s working how to contain it. His balance is a bit all over the place but he’s developing his trot, he’s starting to get suspension, his canter is all about managing the power. You do a medium canter and really feel the hind leg coming right underneath you, he’s phenomenal, a very special horse.” Charlottes glows about Times Mon Amour and goes on to say, “The walk is funny, he bounces away and feels like he’s ready to piaffe. It’s like in the [Grand Prix] Special where you walk and touch the reins into piaffe, that’s what he feels like! When he gets to Grand Prix, that’s when he’ll really shine.”
Telling us about the next steps Charlotte wants to give him a break before the LeMieux National Championships, “I think I’ll tuck him away now. I’m not really sure I’ll do young horse classes with him, it’s time to give him a break anyway. He’s already qualified for Novice and Elementary Regionals so probably a break and see what happens.”
Charlotte will be back at the weekend with her other ride seven year old Kismet whom she is looking forward to riding, “she won here as a Novice and missed doing Elementary with the Olympics last year so it’s good to have her back. She’s still a bit green at Advanced Medium – the changes are a bit hit or miss but I’m really looking forward to riding her at the weekend.”
Petplan Equine Elementary Bronze
Winner: Victoria Homden and Olly, 70.53%
Ten months on from taking the Petplan Equine Novice Bronze title, Hampshire duo Victoria Homden and her own Olly were back in the winners’ circle with the Elementary Bronze title to add to their growing trophy cabinet.
Fourth to go in front of the judging panel of Alison Duck, Jenny Ward and Alison Duck, riding instructor Victoria blew the judges away with her well-presented test aboard the 14hh Olly, a Welsh Cob cross traditional cob. What he makes up for in height, he certainly makes up for in presence with his striking colour and expressive paces, accentuated by a set of fabulous flowing four white feathers. Their score of 70.53% set the benchmark for the remaining competitors but it couldn’t be bettered, and it was a second Petplan sash for the well-matched duo.
A delighted Victoria said of her performance; “It was really good, nice and relaxed – he tried every movement the best he could and he took it all in his stride. He just gave it, so I took it! He loves medium canter and pinging off the floor! He also probably loves looking this handsome to be fair!”
Victoria likes to keep the cheeky stallion’s work varied but admits she can mother him a bit; “I’ve been trying to get a couple lessons a week and trying to keep his work varied so he doesn’t become stale. I like to hack him out a couple of days a week mixed with a couple of lessons, a few lunges. I’ve had him since a foal, from six months old to now. He was really, really naughty on the ground as a young horse. He’s always been cheeky, he’s actually named Olly after Olly Murs. Ridden wise he’s always been fantastic, but he’s just been cheeky on the ground. We have to make sure everything is Olly proofed before we anything!”
Balancing a hectic equine career which says means ‘there’s no day off, it’s horses, horses, horses and no social life’, she will try and make the most of Olly’s potential under the guidance of coach Katharine Lewis; “I want to take him as high up the levels as I can and just aim to keep doing the best I can until we say he can’t do any more.”
The gorgeous pairing are back in action tomorrow in the Petplan Equine Novice Silver Championships – not many would bet against them making it a Petplan hattrick of titles.
Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Silver
Winner: Abbie Newbury and Seagry Firstamour, 70.22%
Taking centre stage this afternoon in the Hartpury Arena, three captivating music classes took place, starting with the Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Silver. Nineteen combinations came forward in front of judges Pamela Bushell, Nick Burton and Leanne Wall, but it was young Wiltshire rider Abbie Newbury who was take the winner’s crown in front of a fantastic crowd.
Partnered by owner-breeder Keith Taylor’s beautiful British-bred Seagry Firstamour (For Romance x Stedinger), she rode a super test for a winning 70.22% - a lovely present for Abbie who celebrated her birthday on Tuesday.
Talking about her performance with the eight-year-old mare who she’s partnered and produced for the past four years, Abbie said, “I was absolutely thrilled with her to be honest; I was very very happy. I was just so pleased that she was so relaxed and just stayed with me, she’s never been in an atmosphere like that so I’m really happy. Her highlights are her lateral work, and her half passes are gorgeous to ride. Her trot work is just super.”
Abbie and Seagry Firstamour, who’s known at home as Amy, sealed their golden ticket to Hartpury following a winning appearance at Prestige Equestrian regionals in early March. About their future plans, she says, “We’re going to press on for Prix St Georges now and get to some premier leagues - that’s the plan really.”
Abbie, who holds her UKCC Level 2 coaching qualification and is working towards her Level 3, runs a livery and training yard at home near Chippenham and also works as a rider at Seagry Stud. “We have lots of horses coming up there also, which is exciting.”
Sitting a whisker behind in the runners-up spot was Fiona Heath with Sarah Heath’s Feuertanz (70.00%) with the top three completed by Gracie Catling and Julia Gatling’s stunning Friesian gelding, Tsjebe Fan ‘e Vesta Hoeve (69.44%).
Equitex Advanced Medium Silver
Winner: Jessica McConkey and Wilson Stensvang, 72.19%
With the FEI Youth European Championships heading to NAF Five Star Winter Championships host venue Hartpury in the summer, it could be a lucky postcode for long listed young rider Jessica McConkey who scored success in today’s Equitex Advanced Medium Silver. On board the Danish sourced Wilson Stensvang, Jessie claimed the title with 72.19%, showing flying form at the start of her season’s campaign.
Jessie was really pleased with her twelve her year old for his winning effort, “he was so relaxed, he hasn’t done that many big shows and each time he goes out he’s getting more confident. I was really pleased with his changes, I’m always happy with them as they’re such a highlight.” Going on to say, “the biggest focus today was giving him a positive experience. He’s currently training at Prix St Georges as we’re campaigning for selection for the Young Riders [European Championships] so to bring him here and do an easier test to give him a relaxed time with no pressure was ideal.
The McConkey family found their latest superstar in Denmark two years ago but this is the gelding’s first major title, having only competed lightly with Jessie last year and attended his first international show at Keysoe in March. Jessie has only recently made a return to home turf too having spent time based in the Netherlands, where she’s been training with Anne Van Olst and British Olympic medallist Lottie Fry.
“I’m now putting all that amazing training with them into good use alongside new coach, Paul Fielder. Paul has a more relaxed approach which has suited him [Wilson] and made a difference as he can be himself. I just try to give him positive experiences each time…and he’s doing quite well,” Jessie said looking admiringly at her Equitex rug and sash.
Jessie concluded by talking about her 2019 European ride Lady Gaga, who competed in the Magic Prix St Georges Gold yesterday, “I think he might challenge her [Lady Gaga] for a team spot in a year or so but I love my Lady Gagirl!” Next up for this bright young rider is a trip to Le Mans with Lady Gaga in a few weeks, all while campaigning Wilson at Prix St Georges level for the domestic Premier League season. Jessie also plans on setting up her own coaching business, “I’ve just set up at home in Oxfordshire…and it is tough! I’m giving it a good go and building up a client base.”
Petplan Equine Elementary Silver
Winner: Laura Hill with Kensington I, 69.85%
The Petplan Equine Area Festival Elementary Silver Championship was a spicey affair with less than one percent separating the top six, so the judging panel of Jane Critchley, Felicity Scott and Claire Deithrick had a tough afternoon. It was Leicestershire rider Laura Hill who just edged ahead with Kensington I with a score of 69.85% to take the title.
“The test was good! It was a clear round which is the main thing with him because he can be quite explosive. We can do medium trot across the diagonal plus a 360-degree spin! We had a couple of things that could’ve gone better but I was really pleased with him,” beamed Laura who also thanked her supporters watching on, "Kensington I is co owned by Janice Robson and myself, the Robson family are extremely supportive and did a six hour round trip to watch our test!"
It was one of those days when the hard work at home clearly paid off, “The medium canters were really good as were the leg yields. We’ve been working on the medium canter to collected canter transitions, they were really good today. His medium trots could’ve been a lot better, but he was a touch tense, and the rhythm just went a touch. But the walk was good!” she explained.
Mum of three, a six-year-old and two-year-old twins, Laura and Kensington have been together for a few years now, “So I’ve had him since he was three rising four, he’s been to Hartpury before to do the four year old young horse semi-final...he was a little bit naughty in that too and didn’t qualify! But I’ve had twins in the meantime, so in the start of his sixth year. So it’s been getting him going again!”
However, while she was successful getting him back to form, their preparation for Hartpury hasn’t been smooth. “Between qualifying and the championship, he actually had about four or five weeks off after banging his leg. We’ve kind of written this off, so just to be here and actually doing it off the back of being back in work ten days is amazing,” she said. “My vets and farrier have done some work and said it’s not out of the question, they said they’d do everything they can. But we haven’t had any shows before today and that’s probably why he’s been quite so excited! We usually do a test three days before his big show just for match practice!”
Laura has just recently started training with Gareth Hughes who she says has made a ‘big difference’ with Kensington. By Glamourdale, Laura says he’s got a lot to live up to, “he’s talented but quirky, he shows me all the moves at home. He’s got all the talent but it’s just getting his brain on side!”
Showing supremo Sam Roberts was second with the gorgeous grey Welsh Section B Longhalves Renior, owned by Jo Filmer, on 69.55% while just behind was Annie Ho with Calling Card with 69.41%.
PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Gold
Winner: Anne-Marie Cowan and Lumière L, 75.12%
Anne-Marie Cowan and her bright prospect, Lumière L, aced their freestyle this afternoon to win the closing class of the day, the PDS saddles Elementary Gold Championship, in emphatic style. Her winning ride, performed to a compilation of hits by Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child, and compiled by Gaynor Colbourn, was awarded a score of 75.12% to take the title by a convincing margin.
A matter of weeks ago, the Hartlepool-based combination of Anne-Marie and the gorgeous Lumière L were triple winners at Bishop Burton’s Winter Regional Championships, giving them three shots at winning a title, and they for sure grasped the opportunity today.
“Do you know, I was absolutely thrilled with him – this horse is something else!” said Ann-Marie, talking about the Guardian S x Highline six-year-old who she owns together with her mum, Lesley Perry. “He just goes in the arena and turns it on. I’m so lucky to have a horse like this,” she beamed.
“Today was like he’d been here before and read the book,” she continued. “I just put my leg on and he goes. In the Novice Gold yesterday the atmosphere got to him, but he learned and today took his confidence from it - he was like a machine and was amazing.”
Talking about the unexpected turn of fate that united the pair, she said, “I got him in a swap! And a very lucky swap it was! I had a big Dutch mare that I bought and she just grew too big for me – plus she was incredibly hot to ride and she wasn’t my type of horse. So I sent her to my friend in Holland to sell and she rang me to say she’d fallen in love with her but she had a three-year-old that might suit me in return. And the rest, as they say is history!”
Also taking a well-deserved place on the podium were runners-up Bridget Tate and Dancing Magic who impressed to score 73.20%, whilst Jezz Palmer continued his successful week with third spot aboard Romanno Weltino (72.88%).
Petplan Equine Intermediate I Silver
Winner: Sally Walker with Wilton, 67.79%
The last class of the day in the Petplan Equine arenas saw small tour take centre stage in the afternoon sunshine with the Petplan Equine Winter Intermediate I Silver playing out in front of an early Easter weekend crowd. The judges panel of Pam Bushell, Andrea Smith and Fiona Wilson rewarded the win to Sally Walker with Wilton, who topped the field with 67.79%.
“I felt it went quite well,” Sally said after enjoying her prize giving moment in the spotlight, with prizes presented by Rosie Bee of Petplan Equine, “I was quite early on in the class so I did wonder the whole time, I really thought someone would beat my score. I went on the massage beds to pass some of the time!”
Speaking about her preparation for the big trip to Hartpury Sally continued, “I train with Anne-Marie Cowan and we work hard on getting him through the back which can be quite difficult, he’s a Gelderlander cross Hackney. He’s brilliant in the extended paces though.”
Fifteen year old came to Sally by a stroke of fate and the duo have excelled together since their fascinating start, “I bought him by accident, he got sent to me to break as a four year old and I was eventing at the time and I took him cross country schooling and it was then that I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to buy this horse’. That was ten years ago now! He came to be wild from the field, herded into a wagon, chased into a stable and now got him to this level since I broke him in.”
Having left the Fire Service as a Fire Fighter Crew Manager last November after 15 years to pursue a career in horses, it’s hard work paying off for UKCC Level 2 coach Sally. “I’m working towards Inter II now which I hope to get to some Premier Leagues and it’d be great to get to Grand Prix. I’ve actually got his half brother competing in the Advanced Medium Gold Music on Sunday but he’s a complete different kettle of fish to this one!”
The prize givings were back to back for Sally and her trainer Anne-Marie Cowan, who won the PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Gold, so they could share their special victories together and walk back to the stables to reflect on a good day at the office for them both.
Photos © Kevin Sparrow
Full results with judges breakdown: