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Paras on full power

last updated on March 27, 2017 10:32

Paras on full power

The cream of British para dressage gathered at Vale View EC in Leicestershire for the Nirvana Spa Winter Championships last weekend. A season of qualifying culminated in battles in Silver and Gold contests across the five grades. Grade V Gold rider and Paralympian Sophie Wells was the standout performer with a busy few days training, riding and competing which culminated with her winning the Grade IV title (the championships were run under the old grades) with Charlotte Hogg’s C Fatal Attraction.

The Silver Championships were Saturday’s star attraction alongside warm up classes. The Grade IV was the first under judges John Robinson and Sarah Rodger and it was the final rider of the class who claimed the title with over 6% in hand. That winner was Gillian Brown with her eye catching Welsh Section D, Meikle Rustler on 68.21%. The duo also competes able bodied and had a successful trip to the Winter Regionals at Morris EC a few weeks ago.

Gillian said afterwards; “He’s not been the easiest and I never expected to win today but it makes it all the more special when they repay the faith. He sat in a field from the age of three to nine so is low mileage. He was upside down and naughty but he had presence and we’ve taken our time and been very careful not to over do it. He finds it difficult to push from behind but his changes are there so I’m hoping to qualify for Area Festivals at Advanced Medium and PSG. He can do all the advanced movements but still dumped me last week just to keep me on my toes!”

It was a close contest in the Grade III with judges Alison Duck and Sarah Rodger having the four riders separated by just 3%. It was Lindsey Mclaren with her partner of seven years, Rockefeller, who came out on top with 65%. An ecstatic Lindsey said; “I can't believe I actually won! I've been on cloud nine ever since! Thank you Nirvana Spa for the fabulous rosette, sash and prizes. I love competing at Vale View, everyone is so helpful, and it was lovely to catch up with so many of my Para friends.”

Grade II was dominated by Vicky Nurcombe. She opened the class with her first ride, her 22 year old veteran Fabrication and firmly laid down the gauntlet with a strong 67.38% which others tried to beat but it was only herself on her second ride which managed. That horse was Tomgarrows Teans, or Doris to her friends, with 69.88%.

Vicky told us; “I am particularly thrilled with this win as I missed most of last season due to breaking my back. My aim was to qualify two horses for the championships, and as my youngster isn't ready yet, I have been riding Doris since November 2016. She is an Irish mare owned by my groom Sally Oldham, who competes her with BD at Advanced Medium level. Thank you so much Sally for sharing her!”

Rowan Crosby scored a win by over 4% in the Grade Ib championship with Kilmazing Tiger Lily with 67.86%. Rowan is currently studying for her GCSEs so hasn’t had ideal preparation and Lily is just six. She said; “Everything went well today. My horse is an absolute star even though she’s so young – she’s six going on 40! She’s learned so quickly to cope with my body. I’ve not had as much time as I’d have liked to prepare so to come here and do so well is amazing!”

Rowan is aiming for Bishop Burton CPEDI2* later in the year and is hoping to qualify for the Nationals at Stoneleigh.

The Grade Ia brought the Silver Championship to a climax with Diane Green (right) clinching the title with a stunning 71.18% with Gunstone’s Pride. Bred by Samantha Fish, ‘Winnie’ is the same stamp as her sire, Gunstone Iwondo D, an imposing grey with a great temperament. Diane said; “She’s like a big Labrador! She has the perfect temperament for para dressage as you can do anything with her.” On her winning test, Diane commented; “She was really good; brilliant really. I don’t really have any leg movement but she’s excellent. It’s our first championship as we’ve only been together 12 months and I couldn’t be happier.” The combination is hoping to build on the result and go international at Bishop Burton and Hartpury this year.

Sunday featured the Gold Championships and there was some strong competition in the International arena.

Sophie Wells has got her 2017 campaign off to a flyer in qualifying three rides for the NAF Five Star Winter Campionships and it was one of them, C Fatal Attraction, who she partnered to win the Gold Grade IV title. Just over 7% proved their domination over some strong competition from Tamsin Addison, Charlotte Cundall and Gillian Brown. Her score of 72.26% took the win and the coveted Nirvana Spa rug for the highest score over the five grades.

It was Sophie’s protégé Izzy Palmer who was the victor in the Grade III. Izzy had two rides and took an early lead with Jackie Walker’s Pinocchio on 67.99% before overtaking herself with Touchdown M on 70.2%. The final rider of the class, Nicky Greenhill, gave it a good go with her new partner Swoitana Hit but 69.27% wasn’t quite enough. Nicky had her own share of drama when husband Gary was injured lunging her other ride, King Edward I. Three broken bones and ligament damage to his hand was the result but ever the trooper, Gary put a brave face on to ensure Nicky could ride. Thanks to everyone helped get the Greenhills home! And we wish Gary a speedy recovery.

Aftwerwards Izzy said; “Both boys were good today – they felt amazing in the arena. Both really listened and tried their best. I know I need to get braver in my mediums and I thought they were better today but I still need to improve the way I ride the walk as I have a habit of just sitting. I know there was a few places in both tests I could have set them up better and prepared more but something to work on for next time. We’re off to Deauville and I’m so looking forward to it and can’t wait to get into the arena and show them off as best I can.”

The largest class of the weekend was the Grade II and it was a battle royale! Erin Orford, Jane Lishman and Suzanna Hext all had two rides apiece but it was Amanda Shirtcliffe who proved unbeatable with New Princess. They were the only combination to score over 70% when the score was averaged between the judges to finish on 70.24%. “I came here hoping for a top three finish as it was such a hot class,” explained Amanda. “Princess was on excellent toe flicking form – I’m well happy! To be honest, I just wanted to get round. I did the warm up class yesterday and had a shocker. So, I’m really pleased both of us managed to hold it together.”

The duo has been together for less than a year and its taken time to form a partnership. “We struggled a bit to be honest. We took time when she arrived and did a lot of hacking to give time to get to understand each other and for her to get used to my movement. You have to find ways of motivating her but I find carrots usually help! She’s voice-activated now though – I love it!”

They’ll be in action on Friday at the Winter Championships in the able-bodied Blue Chip Novice Silver Championships.

Due to withdrawals, there was just one rider in the Grade Ib but with two rides, which one would come out on top? Georgia Wilson is another name on the list of Sophie Wells-trained riders and she makes monthly trips form the north of Wales to have lessons. Her first horse, My Knockillaree Conquistador, scored 67.5% so it was down to Chico 3 to better that. And better it he did…but just by a smidge; 68.36% was the score.

Georgia said; “Having ridden both tests, I thought Chico would win. He was more relaxed and I got the hang of the walk better with him. I aimed for a relaxed test as I’ve been rushing him a bit and it worked. Connor was a good boy too but he’s still quite new to me and it’s our first championship.”

And what was her trainer’s take on the rides! “Sophie was pleased but she said we seriously need to work on getting my 15m circles smaller!” laughed Georgia.

The final honour went to Julie Payne in the Grade Ia riding Pandora. It was another quality class but the 72.07% produced by Julie just couldn’t be bettered. Julie, who has Multiple System Atrophy (which she says is like ‘ having multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s and chronic fatigue syndrome all in one’, was full of praise for her partner, despite a tricky warm up; “Not her best test as she was a bit tense and spooky outside. In there, she kept her rhythm which was the main thing a few errors which I can iron out so hopefully for the future it’ll be better. Just wanted to get her round as we nearly lost her last year – the vets told us to have her put down. To win all of this is is the icing on the cake!

“She’s a very special lady – very much my horse. She can be difficult for other people but I arrive at the yard and she’s soft as butter; she looks after me. But definitely the queen of the yard though!”

Julie is planning going international with an eye on selection for the World Equestrian Games next year.

It remained for the star of the weekend, Sophie Wells, to reflect on her Championships; “It’s been a good start to the year. You come out [after winter] and you don’t have an idea where to place yourselves – it’s just good to get riders and horses out into the arena. At home, we work and work on things in training and try and get the same in the arena. The mix over the weekend with the new and old tests has kept everyone busy but all the horses and riders have done well.”

On her own performance with Jorge; “He was a good boy but still more work needed. The canter work is much stronger than last year so I’ll work at home on the trot work ahead of Deauville and the Winters. It’s been a busy period but it’s nice to have a concentrated time of competing, especially for him who likes to be out and doing things. When he has time out, he’s not at his best.”

And finally about the season ahead; “It’s exciting times – I have three horses at the Winters, my first international trip of the year, riders coming up, horses coming up. I’m getting lots of pleasure from seeing them enjoy riding and competing like I do. It’s surprised me a bit, I didn’t think I would but I really do – as I grow up a bit more your perspective changes and I’m enjoying seeing them do well.”

Thanks to Nirvana Spa for their continued support of the weekend – the scented candles went down a treat! And also to the team at Vale View for being great hosts and running everything so smoothly.

For full results – head over to the Vale View website.