NAF Five Star Winter Championships 23: day one
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It's always magical to return to the NAF Five Star Winter Championships, and the competition on day one was as spectacular as ever, with nine new champions crowned and the Magic Prix St Georges Gold a stellar feature class.
HorseHage Preliminary Gold Winter Championship
Winner: Mark Forrest with Iviici RMD, 76.72%
Mark Forrest opened the 2023 NAF Five Star Winter Championships in style claiming the first title of the week, the HorseHage Preliminary Gold Championships, on board Rosie Moreton-Deakin's Iviici RMD. The five year old gelding by Asgards Ibiza and out of a Don Schufro mare oozed class in front of judges Janet Surr, Fiona Wilson, Susie Cumine to score 76.72%.
Speaking about his test and the qualities of his winning ride Mark said, “he knows that when he goes into a test he needs to focus and he was really good, he concentrated and stayed with me the whole time. He had highlights in trot and has an outstanding canter, his work ethic is super – he's the whole package. He’s so athletic and finds everything so easy, he’s so good through his body and his contact.”
“He thinks everything is perfect in Ian’s world,” he continued, jesting about the playful nature of ‘Ian’ at home, “he doesn’t worry about anything and just has a nice time, he thinks it’s all fun! When it counts he knuckles down and gets it done, which is what you really want. He was so successful last year, and he comes into the arena, no matter how much he’s having a laugh in the warm up – he focuses, ears go forward, neck goes out and that’s what we want.”
“First class first day! It’s my first National title too, it’s always good to get a rug and I was just so pleased with him, he was a star.”
The striking black Hanoverian enjoyed much success in his first BD season as a four year old, winning the qualification round in the KBIS Young Dressage Horse Championships for his age group, before placing third in the rider judge final. “We took him slowly last year after placing as reserve at the LeMieux Nationals and winning the NexGen finals. The only reason we ended up here was because we did two Prelims before the Nationals, we thought we’d take him to the regionals as just a trip out after he had some quiet time. He won so we thought we’d best take him to the Winters too! He ticks along and has a nice time.”
Speaking about the future for the duo, who’ve been a partnership for three years with Mark backing and producing the talented gelding, he concluded “If he learns everything he’ll be a Grand Prix horse, he’s lush, he’s got all the mechanics that you want and he’s got a super temperament too.”
Kirstie Clark and her own Nureno placed second with 75.23%, whilst Charlie Simonian’s Nacho van’t Zuyderbosch completed the podium scoring 74.60% with Richard Black in the saddle.
Petplan Equine Medium Silver Area Festival Championship
Winner: George Chalmers-Grey with Jekaterina, 69.61%
The first Petplan Equine Winter Area Festival Championships went the way of the well-travelled George Chalmers-Grey, who made the long journey from Scotland more than worthwhile with victory in the Medium Silver title. On board her mother Rebecca’s Jekaterina George scored 69.61% to pip Claire Deuten and Lord Flashheart to second place by a thrilling narrow margin of half a mark.
“She had already done the Elementary about an hour or so before and warming up for the Medium I felt she was a bit tired and obviously she had travelled down yesterday,” George told after her prize giving, “she was also a bit stressed in the stable. However she went up the centre line and it was really smooth, she had one little blip in a downwards transition but other than that she was lovely. All we ever hope for is a smooth test without any dramas.”
“She can be wonderful and then the next minute she can be very quick,” she continued talking about what her elegant nine year old has been like to work with on their journey together, “She was at the Scottish Championships a few years ago and the first test she got over 70% and the second it was 48% so she can be very hot. But getting her out consistently has helped give her the experience of going up the centre line. She’s so lovely at home, she’s a nice person, great to train - we go hacking and we have a jump at home too to just broaden her education. She’s so quick, you teach her something and the next day she’s like I've got this.”
George and her family found the KWPN mare by Davino VOD in Holland as a four year old, proud owner and parent Rebecca added, “she's been very hot! She was brought for myself but I couldn’t ride one side of her, so Georgina luckily took over the ride for me and has had some serious ups and downs. A lot of times she wouldn’t go up the centre line and we live in Perthshire in Scotland so getting out has been quite tricky. My daughter has kept plugging away and doing all the homework at home. She trains with me and we both train with Harry Payne, and it’s his faith that’s kind of kept us going. We weren’t even going to go to the Area Festivals and he said don’t be ridiculous!”.
“We are a very small yard we only have 8 horses and ponies, she’s very special” she concluded before George spoke about an inspiring family effort, perfectly capturing the Area Festival community spirit, “it's a team effort, my dad is a farrier and everyone really supports us. The stabling and the travelling have been a bit tricky but we’ve turned a corner and now we both enjoy doing the job. Mum is there everyday helping me with her.”
Baileys Horse Feeds Novice Freestyle Gold Championship
Winner: Dannie Morgan and Fever Tree, 78.70%
The Hampshire combination of Dannie Morgan and his bright young talent, Fever Tree (Foundation x Dayano) led a competitive field of 20 finalists to win the first freestyle class on day one of the 2023 NAF Five Star Championships. Five-year-old ‘Gordon’, as Fever Tree is aptly known, was piloted by Dannie to an Equidance-produced compilation of music from the Disney film Dinosaur to top the tables on a winning score of 78.70%.
In front of judges Judith Harris, Jane Peberdy and Christian Landolt, Dannie also rode into second place aboard Karen Vere-Hodge's six-year-old KWPN gelding Monsieur Frederique (Franklin x Dreamcatcher) on plus-75%. Taking third, on 74.44%, was Rose Hugh-Smith with her six-year-old Oldenburg mare, Quintana 1 (Quantensprung x Sandro Hit).
Following feedback from one of the judges at the regionals, suggesting his music could be more powerful, Dannie changed his freestyle just last week. “It’s from a Disney film called Dinosaur, which is not a well-known, popular one that people would know, but I’m a bit of a geek and I like the film!” said Dannie. “I always try and find some music that’s a bit different, as sometimes you hear a lot of the same tracks. I found a canter track that I really love and then I messaged Tony (Hobden) at Equidance and said, “I don’t know if you could do something last minute for me?” I’ve got a good ear for canter music but not so much the trot, so he found a track that went with it and we had one run-through before today.
About his floorplan, Dannie said: “Because it’s Novice level I try and make it a little bit interesting but not too difficult, particularly the canter. I thought I could show off his really nice balance and self-carriage, so we did some 10 metre loops in the canter and then some give-and-retakes of the rein, so I think it just shows a nice way of going. The horse has a lot of natural quality so if I can just go in there and present him in a nice way then generally the judges like him.
“He has beautiful trot work – he’s a lovely mover,” continued Dannie. “He’s got a lovely loose way of going, so I tried to show him off in a nice, relaxed way for Novice level. He was a little bit tight at the start of my test, but improved as it went on. He's got so much quality it’s really trying to show him off at his best.”
Bred by David Stone of Bow Lake Equestrian, Fever Tree has certainly made an impression with his exemplary record in young horse classes. He competed in KBIS Young Horse four-year-old series last year, winning the semi-final at Hartpury, before going on to fourth place in the Final at the Nationals.
The NAF Five Star Winter Championships marks the first indoor championship for Fever Tree, though he gained invaluable experience starring in masterclasses with Charlotte Dujardin and Daniel Bachmann Andersen. “He does have some experience of going into an indoor with atmosphere and a crowd,” explained Dannie. “I was quite confident I could come here and he would be reliable because he generally is.”
On coming first and second, and the differences between the two horses, Dannie commented: “Freddie (Monsieur Frederique) is a year older. He’s by Franklin. He’s a very talented horse and he can be a bit more of a character at times, just to get him to concentrate and stay with me in a test. I was really pleased with him actually - to go early on today and get that score. He’s a year ahead so I tried to show off some interesting lines in the canter, but again just show a nice way of going really, and relaxation, and I was really pleased with how relaxed he was in the test.”
Fever Tree, who was a double winner at the Wellington Winter Regional Championships, will contest the Prestige Italia Novice Gold Championship on Thursday morning. About his plans for the rest of the week, Danny said: “I’ve got five young horses competing this year, all very talented horses, and my groom is also competing in the Novice Silver on Saturday, so we’ve got a good team of horses up here.”
Equi-Trek Elementary Silver Winter Championship
Winner: Virginie de Senneville with Fire Kracka, 71.20%
Claire Wyatt’s Hanoverian breeding stallion Fire Kracka has been a rising star on the circuit since his test debut in early 2022 and today the six year old added another title to his resume as Virginie de Senneville piloted him to 71.20% in the Equi-Trek Elementary Silver Winter Championship.
“He went really well,” French rider Virginie began, debriefing on her winning test, “the warm up was brilliant – he always feels amazing in the warm up and then I just rode the test one step at a time and tried not to forget anything!”
The combination are no stranger to success having taken home a duo of titles at the 2022 LeMieux National Championships, excelling at Prelim and Novice level. A winter of training with Gareth Hughes and Carl Hester and a step up in level led to two titles at the Winter Regional Championships, continuing an immaculate record. Speaking about Kracka’s progression to Elementary Virginia continued, “It’s been quite interesting but he’s just amazing to work with, he takes the information and tries his hardest every time. You ask to do something and he just does, we have the Novice on Saturday as well as the step up to Elementary today.”
The Fidertanz stallion looks more than set for a bright future in the sport and received high praise from his rider, ““I’m super proud of him, he’s only six years old and he’s just giving his best every single time. I really have nothing to say, he’s just amazing – and he’s a stallion, as soon as I get on he’s so focused, he’s fully there and he never looks at anything.” The combination are aiming to qualify for the Summer Regionals at Elementary and Medium level, and in the short term return for the Prestige Novice Silver Winter Championship.
Second placed George Chalmers-Gray was just a handful of marks away from completing a double on day one after her earlier win in the Petplan Equine Medium Silver Area Festival Championship, whilst Nicola Morris and Headmore Bugatti completed the podium in a competitive fixture with six combinations scoring over the 70% barrier.
Magic Prix St Georges Gold Winter Championship
Winner: Sadie Smith and Swanmore Dantina, 77.06%
Fresh from an international Small Tour hat-trick at last month’s Addington CDI, Sadie Smith and Swanmore Dantina powered to a commanding victory this afternoon in the Magic Prix St Georges Gold Championship. Drawn last to go in the competitive 19-strong class, Sadie and the elegantly powerful mare presented a super test to earn a new PB of 77.06% from the judging panel of Leanne Wall, Andrea Smith and Fiona Wilson.
Eight-year-old Swanmore Dantina (Dante Weltino OLD x Charatan W) placed fifth in the 7YO Final at last year’s Longines FEI WBFSH Dressage World Breeding Championships in Ermelo, where she was also the highest placed mare. She has expression in spades and clearly a great partnership with Sadie, who has produced her since a three-year-old with help from Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin.
“I haven’t competed here at the Winters for a couple of years – it’s two years since I've been here with her,” commented Sadie. “Obviously, there’s a lot going on in there and it’s quite close, but she always rises to the occasion.
“Whatever show I go to, she is just an amazing horse and an amazing person,” reflected Sadie. “Every show I have done with her, she just goes in and is always the same - she just gets on with the job. If I was critical, some of the trot work could have been more supple, but I had a clear round. She’s only eight years old and that’s only her third or fourth PSG, so I can’t ask for much more. How lucky I am to have a horse like that!”
“I always love coming to Hartpury,” continued Sadie. “I used to work for Carl and Charlotte so this was a local venue to us. It’s great to have the Winters here, and everything going on around the edge (of the arena) gives it a buzzy atmosphere. The people are nice, and the facilities suit well - it’s really good.”
About her future plans, Sadie continued: “She (Swanmore Dantina) did her first international at Addington where she did the Small Tour and won. This year I might do Hickstead CDI. I don’t want to over-campaign her, she’s just so good. I just want to train her now and aim for Grand Prix next year, maybe if she’s ready. I’ll just wait, as I’m so lucky to have a horse like that. I don’t want to overdo it and spoil her - we’ll just see how it goes.”
Second place on the podium went to Becky Moody with Jo Cooper’s exciting talent, the Desaperado x Fidertanz stallion James Bond 2 (72.16%), while Ros Collins with Hassa Mohammed’s 10-year-old gelding Filligran completed the top three, just behind Becky, on a cracking score of 72.01%.
Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Bronze Area Festival Championship
Winner: Sara Squires and Laetitius C 69.80%
Sara Squires, with her own Laetitius C, was crowned the Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Bronze Area Festival Champion in the second to last Petplan Equine class of day one of the Championships, scoring 69.80%.
Gloucestershire based Sara, who also events and breeds horses, described her win today as feeling “amazing! I can’t stop smiling!”
Talking of today’s test, Sara said “I was pleased he did a relatively clean round, some of it was really good, like the walk pirouettes were really good and he was relaxed in his walk today. I got all of my changes, which I struggle with the timing teaching myself ten piece, the second pirouette was good as well. It’s all coming together and it is a learning curve our dressage. He warmed up beautifully, I think it is just getting that in the arena. On the whole I am very pleased with him, he is becoming a super consistent horse for me.”
On talking of her ten year old winning partner, Sara said “He’s a lovely horse to do, he’s really easy and he does have a really trainable brain, actually he is better with the higher level stuff than trotting round in circles. As a young horse he would spook quite a lot and I didn’t really push him, so he is a horse I think when you push him and really engage him, he works for you and gets better and better. Teaching him the more advanced stuff, made him a better horse, because he is quite sharp, he doesn’t want to get you off, he can just spook and be the other side of the arena, which I had warming up today!”
Sara is no stranger to a British Dressage Championships, having previously competed at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships and the LeMieux National Championships, however this is her first time competing in the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships. When asked about her journey to these Championships, Sara said “I have never done Petplan, I have always done regionals but because I hadn’t ridden at this level before I thought I would put myself in contention. I’m really pleased that it's given me this title and it’s amazing. It’s been a great journey, we qualified at Summerhouse, where we won the regional and then to come here and win as well is a great feeling.”
In second place was Lucyanna Westaway with AHI O’Malley scoring 68.19%, with Alice Begg and Gluckauf coming in third with a score of 66.13%.
Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Silver Area Festival Championship
Winner: Lily Kelly with High Boy Van De C, 69.46%
Irish young rider and Hartpury student Lily Kelly made it a home victory with High Boy Van De C, taking a win in the Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Silver Area Festival Championships on a score of 69.46%.
Speaking about the 11 year old son of Jazz known at home as ‘Coco’, Lily commented “I’ve been riding him for about a year now, he belongs to my trainer Sara Gallop and I’ve been really lucky to get the opportunity to ride him and gain more experience. The most obvious thing about him is his height, he’s 18.3hh, he’s big but he’s a gentle giant. I forget about his height when I’m on him but getting on him at a show is definitely a bit difficult! He’s been amazing for my riding, he’s helped me so much.”
“I was really happy with him," she continued, reviewing her winning test, "he was relaxed which is the main thing. He had a look at everything when we went in but once I patted him he relaxed, it was all a bit of a blur! I love riding the pirouettes on him, he finds them quite easy and he always scores quite high in them. Overall it’s the best test we’ve done. This is also my final show on him, I’m really glad to finish it on a high.”
“I’m based with Sara in Gloucester but I’m originally from Ireland, I moved over to go to university at Hartpury," the 21 year old final year Equestrian Sport Science student explained, "I only intended to go there [Prestige Equestrian] for two weeks, because of covid to come over early but I ended up staying for three years!"
“People at home that I knew had come over, had such a good time and learnt a lot. There’s so much going on over here for dressage with so many shows, and the Petplan series is such a good opportunity for confidence. I’ve gone to some bigger shows but not done as well, and I feel like to be a bit more competitive is really good for your confidence. Even when you make a small improvement you feel a lot better about it.”
The Championships may be Lily and Coco's final show together but it's clear that the learning experience has been invaluable, with a Petplan title the cherry on top. When asked what she has learnt from her dedicated mentor Sara throughout her time on board Coco Lily explained, “mainly to not give up, because usually when I’m faced with a challenge I back off, she’s really taught me to get on with it and not be afraid to learn from mistakes.”
Gracie Catling and Tsjebe Fan ‘e Vesta Hoeve were worthy runners up just a handful of marks behind Lily on 69.17%, followed by Julie Hyslop with her own Rubin Star Lioness in third place.
Petplan Equine Medium Bronze Area Festival Championship
Winner: Flora Hayes and Machno Excalibur, 70.00%
Young Cambridgeshire rider, Flora Hayes (15) took the win in this afternoon’s Petplan Equine Medium Bronze Area Festival Championship. Riding Hetty Sclater’s 11-year-old British-bred Oldenburg/Welsh pony, Machno Excalibur, Flora achieved a winning 70.00% to head the leader board of 31 finalists.
Flora has ridden 11-year-old Machno Excalibur (Rossgold Sunstar x Llansantffraed Seracen), known at home as ‘Scally’, since September 2021, and the duo were on the winning South & East team at the 2022 BD Youth Home International.
“It felt really excellent - he (Machno Excalibur) felt like he was really listening to me and helping me ride it,” said a delighted Flora about her winning performance. “We’re very new to Medium - we’ve only been riding at the level for six months, so it’s definitely a big step up, but he’s stepped up to the challenge and is now becoming more established.
“His medium trots are a highlight for sure - he loves his medium trots,” she continued. “It took us a while to teach him the movement, but he’s loved them ever since - he just clicked with them.
“In preparation for the Championships we’ve been working a lot on my accuracy and getting him a bit more uphill in the contact and stepping more forwards,” said Flora, who trains with Helen Babbington-Smith, Jackie Campbell and Nikki Barker.
Reflecting on what it feels like to win here at Hartpury, Flora said: “It’s amazing, I’ve always wanted to do a prize-giving, I’ve never done one before, and it’s amazing to do it on Scally. I never expected to win here. It was a massive class, but he’s really taken to the level and he loves the atmosphere.”
Flora won’t be travelling home quite yet, as the has the Elementary Freestyle at the weekend to look forward to. “I’ve got the Elementary music on Sunday. We're going to continue working on our training to get those higher marks and see what else we can do.”
About her future in dressage, Flora says: “I do really want to do horses in my future, but I do want to carry on with my education as a back-up. I’d really like horses to be in my future because I love them so much and I don’t know what would happen without them.”
About the Petplan Equine Area Festival series, Flora added: “I find them really helpful. It’s so nice to compete at a championship at this level without having to be with all the gold riders. Everyone’s so friendly at all the Petplans I’ve been to - it’s always a really nice competition experience.
“Scally is so special to me,” concluded Flora. “I’ve got such a close bond with him. He’s such a friendly character - he’s just so special and I feel like I could trust him with a lot of things. He’s just such a good boy.”
Gill Peckham and Hero (Huroos), winner of the Petplan Equine Elementary Bronze here in 2021, took close second on 69.95%, followed by Victoria Homden and Olly (68.97%). Victoria and Olly are also no strangers to Hartpury having been double Area Festival Championship winners in 2021, and winners of the Elementary Bronze her last year.
Spillers Medium Freestyle Gold Championship
Winner: Jezz Palmer and Romanno Weltino, 75.56%
Jezz Palmer has won this afternoon’s Spillers Medium Freestyle Gold title with Melanie Morris’s exciting prospect, Romanno Weltino. Jezz and the seven-year-old Dante Weltino x Donnerhall mare showed their class posting a winning 75.56% to take the title, ahead of Eilidh Grant and Charming Duke (73.39%) in second, and Lauren Geraghty with her 2022 Pony European Championship team partner, WS Jackson, in third (72.94%).
“Her highlights for me were her half passes,” commented Jezz. “She’s always had these amazing hind legs and now she’s able to hold the lift more in front from getting stronger over the years with taking our time. Now we’re able to add more expression to them and they’re so much fun to sit on! You just touch and go and she’s flying around - you have to calm her down all the time. I’m very lucky to have a horse like that.”
About Romanno Weltino ‘the person’, Jezz says: “She’s an absolute pain! Her name is Princess and she lives up to that name. These last few months I’d say she’s calmed down from a three-year-old! She’s destroyed stables because she’s kicked them so much. She’ll kick them at 2am – we'll come out to check her thinking she’s cast and it’s fine! She kicks her door every morning and night, I put up with all that because she’s very good and she absolutely loves her work - she always has done and I love her for what she is. If a vet walks in they just leave her to me... a vaccination is like World War III!”
Jezz’s music was created by Tony Hobden of Equidance: “It was actually for another horse of mine called Tiny Dancer. I rode Romanno Weltino to it at a few times and thought it actually really works and suits her. I was a bit ahead today so I ended up adding a circle, but Tony did a great job of the music. The judges always love it so I thought I had to do it!”
Jezz and his wife Lucy recently welcomed their first child, a daughter named Ella Jane. “We’re very lucky. The biggest question we get asked is if we’re very tired, and no we’re not! She sleeps already seven hours a night, she’s incredible, and Lucy is amazing – she has her all day and Lucy’s parents help so much too. We’ve been able to carry on with normality in that Ella fits in with our lives, she comes to the yard, and if it’s cold we’ve got a hut by the school with a heater. This will be her life and that’s how she’ll learn I guess!”
Looking ahead to the rest of the week, Jezz said: “I’ve got another one tomorrow - Lucy’s horse. I stole him for the season, as much as she probably won’t like that! She’s definitely watching me, thinking ‘why can’t I be on’, but obviously she’s had our baby. She did question whether she could do regionals – I said ‘absolutely not! It’s two weeks after you’ve given birth via c-section please don’t do that!’ But three weeks in she got on to have a walk around, I turned around and she’s cantering. She’s back on now and flying so I’m sure she’ll be back next season.
“I’ve also got two stallions at the weekend, Ketcher B who won this class last year and Totillah - both doing the Advanced Medium.”
“This is always my favourite show!” concluded Jezz. “Driving in I said to Mollie – our groom who I have to say has been unbelievable, I’ve not worried about a thing – this is my favourite place. Stoneleigh was always good and Somerford too, but Winters will always be the favourite.”