NAF Five Star Winter Championships 23: day two
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From first-timers and birthday horses, to super stallions and familiar faces in the form of their lives, day two at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships enjoyed a spectacular set of classes with nine more titles claimed in glorious spring sunshine.
Petplan Equine Intermediate I Bronze Area Festival Championship
Winner: Christiane Oakley and Keystone Walente, 69.31%
As the sun shone on day two at Hartpury, the Petplan Equine Inter I Bronze Championship got underway as the first class in the Petplan Equine Arena 1. With 19 riders competing for the coveted first place position, it was Christiane Oakley who took the top spot, with her own Keystone Walente, scoring a personal best at this level of 69.31%.
Talking of her win after the prize giving, Hampshire-based Christiane said she felt, “Amazing! I’m in shock. I’m so pleased, I love her so much.”
“That’s the best test, I couldn’t have asked for anymore. The canter pirouettes are hard for us and they could have definitely been better. She gets into it and she sort of takes over and it’s hard to correct it without messing it up so I just went with that. Her extended trots were great today and two and three time tempi changes were really good. We had an early change in her extended canter so I really went for it and she was like, well I know what’s coming and did an early change. It's the best she’s done, it’s a personal best at this level. I honestly thought we’d got 65% and I came out and saw it was 69!”
“She’s not established at Inter I, we’d only done two before and you just go there thinking I’ve got no idea how it’s going to go, but she was really good.”
On the 18 year old chestnut mare, she said “most of the time she’s really good. Her only quirk is to turn out, she’s nutty! She has to go out every day but no one likes turning her out because she’s off before you’ve got to the field. She's 18 years old now, I don’t think she’s going to change, so we just let it happen. She's great with my three-and-a-half-year-old who leads her and rides her.”
This isn’t the combination’s first experience of a Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships, nor is it their first time in the top spot, as in 2022 they won the Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Bronze Championships. When talking of the Area Festivals and why she chooses to compete in the ever popular series, Christiane said: “the atmosphere is so good, I enjoy it so much more, it’s less pressure and everyone is having a really good time and I’ve loved it.”
In second place was Claire Ackerman with Woodcroft Heinrich scoring 67.26%. Sophie Watkins scored 66.52% to complete the top three with Inca Spirit.
Prestige Novice Gold Winter Championship
Winner: Dannie Morgan with Fever Tree, 80.49%
Dannie Morgan’s champagne sparkling week continued on the second day of competition, as he and Fever Tree secured their second 2023 title in the Prestige Novice Gold Winter Championship. The 25-strong class was judged by Janet Surr, Fiona Wilson, Susie Cumine who rewarded the winners no less than 80.49%, the highest score recorded at the championships to this point.
“Gordon was a super start today,” Dannie said about his rising star on today’s winning performance, “he came into the arena more relaxed than yesterday and my aim was to try and have a clean test, show nice transitions and have a nice way of going. He was a superstar, I really couldn’t have asked any more of him, at five years old he is really special.”
The Prestige Novice Gold Championships is consistently one of the most competitive listings and this year’s edition was no different, with no fewer than 18 combinations reaching about 70%: “I saw the scores earlier and Henry’s on an amazing horse and he had a score of 77%, so I knew I had a bit to do. Actually I came out and at five years old you can’t really ask any more and I am over the moon with him.”
Hampshire-based Dannie has an impeccable Winter Championships record, with nine titles to his name since making a debut at Hartpury in 2012, and today marks a new achievement as he recorded his first plus 80% score at the event. “I was actually a bit emotional when the score come through, as I couldn’t believe the score, there is a really special feeling when the horse does give you their all. I have known him right from when he was a baby and I rode his mom, it is very special. It’s a massive achievement for my friends at Bow Lake Equestrian, David and Colin who bread him, he’s their first horse and it's amazing for them.”
When asked to compare his winning freestyle and standard routines, Dannie responded “yesterday we did really well but it is a bit more relaxed in the music because with freestyle if they are a bit nervous you can adapt your program or test if it doesn’t quite go to plan. It is also nice for them to get into the arena and it’s not too testy, so it was nice for him to get in there and see the arena and he went back in today more relaxed, so it was great to have been able to do that.”
Warwickshire-based Henry Boswell placed second with Kristina Rausing’s elegant Belinski, scoring 77.10%, followed by Lucy Amy on board her own six year old Millenium Falcon (75.00%).
Petplan Equine Elementary Bronze Area Festival Championship
Winner: Ben James & Clapton Banks Primadonna, 71.08%
It was more than just the glorious sunshine at Hartpury that put a smile on Ben James’ face today as he and Clapton Banks Primadonna won at their first Area Festival Winter Championships with a brilliant score of 71.08%. Talking about his win after the prize giving Ben was full of surprise and it wasn’t until people began to congratulate him that the result truly sunk in, “I couldn’t quite believe it, because I didn’t believe it could be me! I needed to wait until it had been announced, but then I was getting well done messages online and I thought it must be true!”
Ben’s beautiful black mare rode wonderfully in her test, “It went really well, as soon as she went into the arena she felt ready today. She just loves it, she loves being in the limelight and I’m really pleased with her.” When asked about her personality Ben had a smile on his face while describing his winning ride, “at home she is called Diva and she is a Diva. Putting her in the field and bringing her in she throws the most amazing shapes! One end of the arena is traumatising and nothing has ever scared her, it’s just her. She’s got to be so expressive about life but she makes us laugh everyday!”
Their partnership has so many qualities, Ben describing himself as a “quite quiet and soft” rider which he explains, “I think that works well especially with her, she does have a bit about her and I work with her as a partnership and I believe that’s the way it should be anyway. She’s always on my side.”
Although their fifteen-month partnership has been on a very positive trajectory, Ben originally brought Diva as a “potential broodmare” but she has helped Ben make the transition from Show jumping to Dressage, “I’ve been doing dressage about two and a half years. I’ve had Diva for about fifteen months and have an Irish Sports Horse called Dorothy, we brought her as a broodmare as well. I just love them both to bits."
Ben, a former showjumper with experience up to international level, is a newcomer to the sport having only set foot inside the white boards for the first time in 2020. "I had done a bit of international show jumping but I rode a dressage horse for someone and that was it, I was converted, and I have not looked back. I have really enjoyed it!” Ben’s favourite part of his newfound love for dressage is the bling, saying “I can wear really shiny things with glitter, and I really love that, it’s all bling and I love it!”
The pair from Somerset have had an exciting journey to the Petplan Equine Winter Area Festival Championships, “she was a very late starter and she’s still quite weak for her age and I’m still very new to it! We’re learning together, to qualify and get here was fantastic, let alone do so well today, it’s a massive achievement.”
Ben gushed about the eleven-year-old showing, “more talent every week” and his journey with her through the Area Festivals have only inspired him further. “It’s been really good, you’re always checking your points and you go out and work a bit harder because you might need to do well at that qualifier. I have learnt there is so much to qualify for which I never realised. It’s a massive learning curve still and there’s so much more to learn that I don’t know yet!”
Talking about his plans for the future Ben commented, “The results from today and even at my Area Festival gives me the drive to do better. You see other people too, I watched some of the harder tests today and I thought ‘wow-I want to be like them’ it’s a great show to work towards. I would like to keep riding at a higher level, it would be amazing to go to Grand Prix but I’ve got so much to learn before I’d be anywhere near that but as a dream, that would be incredible.”
The runner up was Leigh Pain riding Desert Gold II with a 68.87% and in Third Place was Gemma Jones and Quartermiro with a score of 68.53%.
Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Silver Championship
Winner: Kirstie Clarke and Ghita Fille de Zita S, 73.06%
Kirstie Clarke (23), who is based near Leyland in Lancashire, maintained an early lead to land a win in today’s Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Championship. Drawn second to go, in the NAF Five Star Arena, Kirstie piloted Fenella Quinn’s Ghita Fille de Zita S to earn 73.06% from the judging panel of Jane Peberdy, Andrea Smith and Christian Llandolt. The score, remaining unequalled for the remainder of the class, earned Kirstie and the Lord Loxley-sired 12-year-old a sought-after place on the 2023 NAF Five Star Winter Championships roll of honour.
“I was delighted with her today,” commented Kirstie afterwards. “The highlight always for her is the extended trot - she loves that, it’s her party piece. The changes were good too and the half passes were good, we generally just had a nice time riding around. There wasn’t really anything that I didn’t like today, it was a nice test.”
Kirstie took over the reins from owner Fenella Quinn just seven months ago and gained her qualifying ticket for Hartpury, along with four further tickets on two other rides, at Myerscough Winter Regional Championships. “I’ve now got the ride on Ghita Fille de Zita S, which I’m very grateful for. She is teaching me a lot.”
Talking about her preparation for the Championships, Kirstie commented: “It’s been great. I train with Becky Moody, so I’ve had her at Becky’s quite a lot. We’re learning together, but she’s well-schooled with all of the tricks so there isn’t anything we really have to focus on. It’s more keeping her mind focused because sometimes she can be a bit tricky.
“She’s very sassy, she knows she’s beautiful and she knows she’s talented. When she arrived here, she was like a stallion, screaming in the car park. She pretends she’s very mare-ish but she’s not, she loves a cuddle and she’s very kind.
“It’s been great show and we’ve had a great time so far,” continued Kirstie. “We’ve had so much fun and everyone is so nice and helpful, so that’s really nice. I’ve got a nine-year-old (Susan Sutton’s Sport Horse Centre Sissily) in the Medium Silver and Medium Freestyle Silver so hopefully that’ll go to plan.”
Jade Clark and her own and Sue Brennan’s Lord Leatherdale nine-year-old, Jemimah HH, achieved second place on 71.94% while Leonie Brown and her Welsh gelding, Wishaw Lord Nelson, finished close third on 71.67%.
Equitex Advanced Medium Silver Winter Championship
Winner: Jade Clark with Jemimah HH, 69.87%
Jade Clark was the worthy winner of the Equitex Advanced Medium Silver Championships in the saddle of her own and Sue Brennan’s Jemimah HH.
“I was super pleased with my trot work in the test,” a delighted Jade reflected after her prize giving moment in the NAF Five Star Arena spotlight, “I think that’s definitely becoming a bit of a highlight. My canter work – I've worked really hard this winter to get it to catch up and it paid off – I rode every stride I could, I asked everything I could of her and she just kept giving and giving. I’m super happy.”
The light-footed nine year old by Lord Leatherdale and out of Sheepcote Compliment oozes class and scored 69.87% under the gifted guidance by Jade. “Her extended trots are a highlight, I struggle to keep of hold of her she wants to give too much! When we get it right and in balance it’s phenomenal, we’ve scored nines when we’ve competed locally. It just feels amazing, it looks good and feels good which is so nice.”
The first two days of competition at the Winter Championships have seen several talented...yet spicy mares taking centre stage in a week that’s fast becoming all about the girls with Jemimah joining the roster. “She’s very interesting as a person! She makes me laugh on a daily basis,” Jade continued talking about what her champion is like away from the arena, “she’s full of character and she knows her own mind. She loves routine too. She can be a little vicious in the stable but it’s just all a front really, she’s a softie underneath. Riding, I just never want to get off her....when she was younger I did! It was a bit hairy when she was five and six but the last 12 months she’s really come into her own and matured, it’s knowing when to stop really because I’d ride her every minute of the day if I could.”
Winning a title at an iconic event is an impressive achievement in itself, but to make this result even more special, Jemimah is home-bred and has been in the hands of Jade and Sue Brennan for the entirety of her career. “It’s almost indescribable, she’s exceeded all expectations and more. I’m really lost for words. To do it on your own – I backed her myself and I train her every day at home with Sue and we’ve been on this journey together. For it all to pay off today is incredible.”
The combination are also no strangers to success having taken home the Medium Silver title at the 2021 LeMieux National Championships, Jade took a step back in 2022 to enjoy becoming married and made a triumphant return to winning ways today. “To win one national title is an amazing achievement but to do it twice, I’m speechless. For the future, I’d like to step up to Prix St Georges this year; it was my canter work stopping us from making the next step but I feel like we’re getting there so we’re going to have a go. Ultimately, I’d love to train her to Grand Prix, I think the basics are in there and you can see what she’s going to become. Eventually it would be amazing to try and get my flag and do some Premier Leagues and CDIs if we’re good enough, that would be my dream.”
With the spring sunshine shining, Jade reflected the buoyant mood at the championships: “Well the weather couldn’t have been any nicer for us today! I’ve done one test inside and one test outside in the glorious sun. The whole day has been stress-free, I’ve spent the whole day with her and enjoyed every moment of it. Everyone has been so helpful....and I’ve had a beady eye on the stands too, I hope to go around them after!”
Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold Championship
Winner: Becky Moody and James Bond II, 77.21%
Becky Moody worked her magic this afternoon in the NAF Five Star Arena to seal her second consecutive Magic Prix St Georges Freestyle Gold victory. With her winning partner, Jo Cooper’s James Bond II, she delivered a captivating performance to win this feature class of the day, earning 77.21% from the judging panel of Sarah Leitch, Nick Burton and Richard Baldwin.
Becky, who took this title in 2022 with Jagerbomb, was delighted with the efforts of nine-year-old stallion James Bond II (Desperado x Fidertanz) on what was his freestyle debut.
“It was a brand-new freestyle, it’s the music from [the Netflix series] Wednesday... well most of it, the walk, trot and entry, the canter’s not but it’s the same kind of theme,” explained Becky. “I was really pleased with him because I really had a good ‘go’ button, he felt really adjustable and with me, which has taken a little while to get with him. He went in there and he tried, and we had fun! It was good to ride to, it’s a great feeling when you connect to something, it was cool.”
About her process for devising a floorplan, Becky said: “The thing about freestyles is you’ve got to play to your horse’s strengths, and a little bit cover up the weaknesses, that’s part of the tactics behind it really! Before I even think about it, I consider what I can show off as the highlights and what I can make as good as I can without bringing it to the fore. Then I stand and look at the arena and scream quite a lot until I work out how to fit it all in! It takes me a while, I do a couple of sessions where I think it through and ride what works.
“It’s part of the challenge of doing them. The judges are there watching test after test, you've got this chance to be creative and do a bit more of a showcase whilst making it interesting for them! It’s got to have a pattern and symmetry - that’s what makes it pleasing to the eye. I have a really good group of people that brainstorm music ideas so that’s always a good process.
“I say this with quite a lot of my horses, but he’s been an interesting one,” commented Becky about James Bond II. “He did very well as a five-year-old, he won the Elementary at the Nationals, and then I actually didn’t do much with him for quite a while because I didn’t feel like I had him where I wanted him.
“He went through a phase of being a little bit tricky from a stallion point of view and we had to work through that; he’s nice this year and it’s taken me until now to find the right buttons. I loved him when I very first saw him and then I went through the feeling that I wasn’t getting him to live up to our expectations. I was frustrated with myself, but we’ve found our way a bit more and he has so much talent for the Grand Prix work. I’ve really turned a corner with him in the past six months and I’m super excited about him.”
Becky also impressed with Jo Cooper’s nine-year-old Jack Diamond (Electron x Diamond Hit) to take third place on 75.78%, behind yesterday’s Magic Prix St Georges Gold winners Sadie Smith and Swanmore Dantina, who scored 76.74% despite experiencing some disruption to their test due to a music malfunction.
“Jack Diamond did some super work,” said Becky. “Unfortunately, there was a big mistake in his extended trot – we broke into canter – and that’s one of his party pieces so it was really costly. There were some bits of tension here and there, we can do a lot better than that, but it’s all a learning curve and tomorrow is another day.
“It’s good experience for the horses here,” commented Becky about the show. “There’s quite a lot of atmosphere in that arena so from an indoor show point of view especially it’s definitely a good one to do with these horses, it’s good fun.”
Becky returns for the Superflex Intermediate I with both horses and Jack Diamond comes forward for Saturday’s Superflex Intermediate I Freestyle.
Petplan Equine Elementary Silver Area Festival Championship
Winner: Emma Dunkley with Stanley Grange Heir Supreme, 70.10%
Wiltshire-based Emma Dunkley made the Petplan Equine Elementary Silver Winter Area Festival Championship her own as the sole rider to break 70% in a highly competitive class. With her own 11 year old Stanley Grange Heir Supreme, the judges duly rewarded 70.10% to place the duo ahead of Margaret Jones and Carys Taylor’s Deufor Spellbound in second and Rebecca Chalmers in third with Miss Schufro, owned by Sheena Melvin.
“It went so quickly to be honest it really did," Emma said about her winning test in the Petplan Equine arena, "it was just nice and measured, I felt we were comfortable which is a really nice feeling actually. I came out thinking ‘yeah that was quite nice’, I really enjoyed it. It’s very rare that I come out of a test with the feeling that I enjoyed it, most of the time I’m thinking about what I could’ve done better. We had a bit of a trip in the extended walk but other than that I’m over the moon with him, he’s such a good boy.”
'Harley', as he's known to his friends, is an 11 year old gelding who's enjoyed a change in career since partnering Emma on their wonderful journey, “I’ve had him for about four years now and he came from a showing background, turned his hoof to dressage and we’ve never looked back! We’ve been here before, we started in the Prelim Championship and now we’ve gone and won the Elementary!”
“When I first bought him I was a little bit concerned that he may have been too much horse for me for the first 18 months, he tested me and I think he wanted to see what I was made of. With that spell out the way he really settled in and he’s really relaxed. We hack and then school, and I’m lucky enough to have him and his friend at home. I attempted to leave the ground once jumping...he enjoyed himself but I don’t think it was really for him, we’re sticking to dressage with four feet on the floor!”
Emma is based just 45 minutes away from Hartpury and spoke about the positives in riding in a major championship at a local venue: “It’s such a beautiful day and it’s a fantastic venue, I’m really lucky because it’s just down the road from me! It’s actually comforting to know that he goes really well here and he knows the arenas.”
Speaking about her hopes for the future with Harley, Emma concluded “we’re hopefully going to be doing Advanced Medium in the next month. We did the Medium Petplan class yesterday, that was really good, we came middle of the table – I was pleased but nerves definitely got the better of me! We’ve been working on our changes at home so hopefully we’ll go out and do our first one soon and see how we get on.”
Petplan Equine Intermediate I Silver Area Festival Championship
Winner: Sue Brougham and Amazing VY, 70.05%
Straight from a top-ten spot in Wednesday’s Petplan Equine Prix St Georges Silver, Sue Brougham and Amazing VY pulled out all the stops to win today’s Petplan Equine Intermediate I Silver Championship title. Guildford-based Sue and her 18-year-old Dutch gelding delivered a winning 70.05% from judges Fiona Wilson, Mary-Anne and Alison Duck.
“It’s a dream come true! I’m on cloud nine, in fact I’d have to be pinched to believe it’s happened!” enthused Sue after the prize-giving. “I thought my test was lovely but when they told me I was in the lead and then when I saw the score I just burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it, I thought I was going to be pipped but to actually win, it’s the pinnacle of a lifetime.
“I rode him yesterday in the Prix St Georges and we did a massive spook at the flowers with a big spin and went silly – today I was determined to have him with me, we warmed up for a little longer and he was a bit more through. I do like this test, I think the Inter I rides really nicely and flows for him and suits him. He likes the pirouettes and finds the two-time changes much easier than the fours. I got to the end of it and thought, ‘that was really good’. There were no mistakes; the more I ride and the more I do, the more I judge myself when I’m riding. I’ve now picked myself up and think ‘if that went wrong get the next move right’, where before I would have just flopped.
“And my daughter bought me a hat, it’s a lucky hat!”
Sue has owned and ridden Amazing VY since 2021, when she bought him as a present to herself on her 60th birthday, progressing from Advanced Medium to Inter I during their career together so far. “Well, I’ve been riding at Elementary and Medium, but I’ve never had a horse that would do changes properly so I decided that for my 60th birthday I would buy a horse that could teach me piaffe and passage. When I started with Richard Barrett, who I’m based with, I didn’t have a clue what it was like. He’d be asking for more and I didn’t know what it was like but it felt fabulous – it's been a massive learning curve to learn to ride properly.”
Describing Amazing VY, Sue says: “He’s lovely, he’s very affectionate and loves his nap in the morning. I ride him at 1 o’clock normally so this afternoon was good for him as he’d had a chance to chill out. He’s very chilled in the stable. He’s a lovely horse.
“I’m a housewife and grandmother,” continued Sue. “I took up dressage at 50 when my daughter was doing it. I saw some more mature ladies doing it and thought I could have a go at this! So I had a go, started off really excited to do Prelim Regionals and it’s progressed and progressed. Richard’s big thing is he wants me to a Grand Prix.
Sue, who was quick to thank Petplan Equine for their sponsorship of the Area Festival Championships, said about her Hartpury experience: “It’s been fabulous! I’m over in the temporary stables, they’re lovely and everyone is so friendly – the camaraderie of everyone helping each other is wonderful. I’ve been here before but years ago, it’s lovely to be back and see the shops and the whole atmosphere.”
Second place in this 17-strong class of finalists went to Lily Kelly with Ben Graham’s High Boy Van De C, winners of yesterday’s Petplan Equine PSG Silver, on 69.56%, while Georgina Tapner and her own Bugatti II (67.79%) completed the top three.
PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Gold Championship
Winner: Dannie Morgan and Vive La Reinne VH, 78.27%
On day two of the NAF Five Star Winter Championships, Dannie Morgan gained his third title of the show with a standout one-two in the PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Gold Championship. His winning ride, Kristina Rausing’s Vive la Reinne VH (Revolution x De Niro) took charge with a 78.27% victory, while Oh My VH (Oban VH x First Wish), also owned by Kristina Rausing, posted 73.97% for second closely followed by Ruth Hole and Rubico who completed the top three on 73.78%.
“She’s a beautiful mare,” said Dannie about his winning ride. “A six-year-old by Revolution and she is owned by Kristina Rausing. She’s a lovely mare that we’ve had since she was two-and-a-half, I backed her and we’ve just taken our time really. We did some young horse classes as a four-year-old, just for experience, and then we’ve taken the last few years to just gain strength in her training. She has really developed over the winter and has started to find the lift in the trot. It’s great this year as we’ve been able to show what quality she has. She’s a lovely, tall mare but she’s very talented and shows a lot of promise for the future.
Describing the traits Vive la Reinne VH shares with her sire, Revolution, Dannie says: “She’s beautiful, elegant, she’s got the long legs like her dad. I think she was from one of the first batches but she is so scopey. It’s just building strength because she has such a big frame. She’s really class.”
About his winning test and music programme, Dannie continued: “The music was put together by Tony (Hobden) at Equidance - Tony and Kelly (Jewell) have been great doing last minute requests for me and really finding music that could win a championship. So top marks to them! My horses have been first and second in the Novice and Elementary and it’s all down to them. I am very grateful to them. They both have had music that was quite powerful, which works for both of the mares. They are elegant but good movers.”
Reflecting on just what it means to him to have won three titles over the first two days, Dannie added: “We’ve put a lot of work into this and it doesn’t always go your way, but when it does it’s just a reward for all your, and your team’s, hard work. You have to enjoy the good days.”
Dannie and his longtime good friends, Jezz Palmer and Sadie Smith, all hail from Hampshire and have all enjoyed wins at this year’s Championships. What is it like having that support network? “It’s been great, we’ve been friends for years and years. We all started off in riding schools and have worked really hard to do it as a career.
“I think if you asked any of us, looking back it'd be a dream to do this as a kid. I would have never imagined we’d be doing this now, it’s so special. Sometimes you forget to look back to see how far you’ve come and we’re all busy but it’s good to look back. We always help each other and it’s good if someone doesn’t have a good ride - we can pick them up - and we’re there to celebrate for each other when it does go well. It’s quite special.”