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Debutantes delight in Belgium

last updated on April 28, 2015 17:24

Debutantes delight in Belgium

It was a matter of two debutantes announcing their arrival on the European scene when Natasha Baker and Amanda Shirtcliffe, both Grade II, competed at the CPEDI3* in Waregem, Belgium last weekend. Both riders took their up and coming stars to make first appearance on European soil, Sookie St James and Ruby Rose II respectively. For Amanda, it was also her first trip across the channel after taking up para dressage in 2012 when the diagnosis of Dystonia, which affects her legs and right arm, curtailed a career in eventing.

Riding the elegant black mare Sookie St James, Natasha shone in the three grade II classes with two victories and a runners-up spot in the freestyle by a narrow margin. The seven year old was bought for Natasha by long-term supporter Christian Landolt in late 2013 from Germany and the multi-medallist has taken time to build up an impressive partnership with the San Amour sired mare. They made their international debut at Bishop Burton CPEDI2* last year and dominated the grade II.

However, the trip to Begium was certainly their biggest test to date. In Friday’s team test, the duo were first to go and they certainly through the gauntlet down posting 73.588%. Home rider Barbara Minneci was second with the beautiful piebald Barilla, whom she rides side saddle, with 70.59%. Amanda and ‘Ruby’ made an impressive start to their international career and were only just edged into fourth – by 0.118% - with 66.735%.

Natasha shared her joy via her Facebook page; “Wow wow wow!!!! I am the luckiest girl in the world to ride such a special horse! I could not be more proud of Sooki winning her first International 3* class today on 73.5%!! I even had a little tear in my eye! HUGE thank you to Christian for giving me such a special horse to ride.”

Amanda was equally happy with Jon Mcfarland's ‘Rosie’, who she refers to as ‘Prancing Pony’ on Facebook; “Extremely proud of the Prancing Pony! Rosie was totally awesome and didn't go rogue! Para pilot started straight but finished in a heap with one of my classic Hokey Cokey halts. The Judges scored us between 70.30% & 63.5%, finished overall 4th, plenty of room for improvement but a great start to the competition.”

Saturday dawned grey and dull but Natasha and Sooki soon brightened the arena with another dazzling performance to claim the Individual test with 74.457% by nearly 3.5% over Barbara Minneci. It was again a close battle for third and fourth between Amanda and Annemarieke Roling (NED). A tummy upset wasn’t the best start to the day for Amanda but her British-bred Royal Diamond mare helped her through, missing out on a podium place by 0.7% on 66.4%.

Sunday was dancing day and our ‘girls’ all strutted their stuff in style. It wasn’t the fairy tale hat-trick for Natasha and Sooki but the rider felt her mare ‘produced some of her best work’ to finish second, giving the home crowd a final opportunity to cheer Barbara and Barillia who won by 0.3% on 74.5%. Natasha felt that the judges didn’t take to her choreography as she’d hoped so she’ll be re-working things for next time! It was a third fourth spot for Amanda and Rosie with 65% which she put down to ‘para piloting problems, a lack of lucky pants and the prancing pony performing one too many funky movements’ but was delighted none-the-less.

It was a great trip for the two riders with both learning a lot which they summed up perfectly on their own Facebook pages:

Natasha Baker:

"What an amazing week... My superstar, seven year old Sooki, competed at her first 3* International and smashed it! Overall Grade II winner and three incredible scores. I literally could not be more proud of my baby right now! Celebrating in Daphne with a bottle of bubbly tonight with the 'Baker' Team! This would not be possible without Ma and Pa Baker, Marc, Michel Assouline, Lisa Hopkins Dressage, my fab owner Christian Landolt. Also huge thanks goes to Equestrian Team GBR and all of my amazing sponsors and supporters, I cannot thank you all enough for everything you do for me. So looking forward to the rest of the year!"

Amanda Shirtcliffe:

"Pleased as punch with the prancing pony for behaving beautifully all week, having proved she can cut it as an international para pony we shall be bringing her back home to Britain rather than making her into a burger. Lots to brush up on before our next adventure but we're heading home extremely happy with a lorry load of prizes, a belly full of chips and a partial sun tan having had a brilliant time in Belgium. A big thank you to the Baker family for showing us the ropes and making our experience all the more enjoyable, to Louise [Robson] for acting as groom/rider/chauffeur & all round superwoman and to Rosie’s fan club for cheering us along. Finally, a massive thank you to my wonderful sponsors who have supported us every step of the way."