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Day four: LeMieux National Championships

last updated on September 18, 2017 12:59

Day four: LeMieux National Championships

There was a dramatic twist on the final day of this year’s LeMieux National Championships, with different combinations taking the Horse Health Grand Prix Freestyle and LeMieux National Champion titles.

Heading into the Freestyle at the top of the leader board, Lara Butler and the Bechtolsheimer’s 15-year-old Rubin Royal gelding, Rubin Al Asad, pulled off a fantastic performance for a well-earned score of 77.40%. Radio Nationals' John Bowen commented that there was ‘so much quality, it was difficult to choose a highlight’.

However it was Carl Hester who reigned supreme aboard his new partner, Katherine Bateson’s Alcazar. Dancing to music previously used by Uthopia, Carl and the 12-year-old Contango gelding scored a whopping 78.75% to steal the title and crown of Freestyle Champion once more.

“I’m thrilled!” enthused Carl. “It was Uthopia’s music, it felt like riding Uthopia and he went like Uthopia. His extended trot was great and he gave me a really fun, happy feeling. He had lots of power in there and he did the technical things really well. Yesterday was my rehearsal and today I had a different ride; I had a happy horse and it was a great performance to end the Championships on. And….I’m one title further away from Charlotte!”

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Nationals without some form of twist and today’s was a big one. Although Lara won yesterday’s Grand Prix and Carl claimed the Grand Prix Freestyle, their scores were not high enough to earn the top spot so we had a brand new LeMieux National Champion…step forward Hayley Watson-Greaves.

Riding her long-term partner, her own 13-year-old Rubin Royal gelding WG Rubins Nite, Hayley attained her first ever National title after a fantastic and confidently ridden test with John Bowen commenting that ‘there was not one foot out of place, it was beat perfect. Hayley must be thrilled – there’s definitely a competitor inside her after that performance’.

Earning a score of 78.43%, Hayley and ‘Squeak’ may have just been pipped to the post for the Freestyle title, however their brilliant performance in the Grand Prix gave them an average score of 76.18% - enough to win the title, an awesome achievement for the duo.

“I can’t quite believe it, I’m a little bit speechless!” exclaimed an ecstatic Hayley after her prize giving. “He’s just absolutely awesome and tries his heart out every time. I love him [Squeak] to pieces, we have a great partnership and he’s got me where I am today.

“I know my freestyle really well and I knew the pressure was on because it was so close with the competition, but I love riding him, I just went in there to enjoy it and have fun – which is what I always do with him.”

With campaigning for the World Cup as their next step, Hayley announced that today is the last time the pair are riding to that music; “I’ve got bits and pieces of my new floor plan as I’d like to make it a little bit more difficult for the World Cup competitions – although I’ve been told that it’s already quite challenging! I’m hoping to run through my floor plan next week and then I’ll be getting Chris Lever, who does my music, to compose it in time for the end of October, hopefully.”

Childéric Saddles Elementary Gold

In the Childéric Saddles Elementary Gold, the penultimate competition of Charlotte Dujardin’s epic 2017 LeMieux Nationals campaign, she once again proved unbeatable. The class was awash with exciting combinations for the future, yet Charlotte still had the edge, taking the top two places with her rides.

This time, it was the turn of the charming chestnut Gio (Apache x Tango) to take top spot on the podium. In yesterday’s TopSpec Medium Gold he lay third behind his stablemates but today was his time to rule, earning 76.91% from judges Penelope Lang (E), Kirsty Mepham (H), Jane Peberdy (C), Claire Ballantyne (M) and Sue McMahon (B). It was Sarah Tyler-Evans’ River Rise Nisa who impressed for second. The gorgeous six-year-old daughter of Negro, who at home is affectionately known as Nancy, was expertly piloted by Charlotte for 76.25% to sit just behind Gio.

“I just love that horse!” smiled Charlotte after her lap of honour on Gio, the little horse still full of running after an action-packed day in which he also contested the Shearwater six-year-old final. “He’s like a Duracell bunny,” she laughed. “He’s Dutch – they go and go and go – and that’s why I love them.”

With such a fabulous collection of horses under her charge, it would be impossible for Charlotte to choose a favourite, yet it’s clear that this little horse would be in the running for that label. “He puts a smile on your face every day, even just seeing his face over the stable door,” said Charlotte. “He’s so much fun to ride and just keeps on going, he’s like a little sports car.”

Clearly excited for the horse’s future, Charlotte said, “He’s so clever and every time I ask a question, he answers. He has so much talent for the Grand Prix work; piaffe, passage, and he does up to one-tempis already.”

Affectionately known as ‘Pumpkin’, Gio was noticed by Charlotte when she hosted a training clinic in California in the autumn of 2016. Charlotte was instantly taken with the diminutive chestnut and persuaded his owner to let her buy him. “When he arrived home Carl [Hester] said ‘What have you done?’ as Pumpkin was quite small, but now he regrets not having a share in him!”

Equine Construction Advanced Medium Gold Championship

It was an early start for Charlotte Dujardin after a mammoth four days but the finishing line was in sight. First on her day’s packed agenda was the Equine Construction Advanced Medium Gold Championship. Her first ride was the grey Vivaldi-sired seven-year-old Florentina VI who claimed the TopSpec Medium title here last year. She laid the gauntlet down with a score of 74.16%.

Her second ride was in the shape of Ekitof, a leggy black gelding which Carl Hester bought as a two year old for himself from the Van Olsts. It was a similar situation to how he saw Valegro – just lunged in a pen, but Carl said he fell in love with his canter straight away.

Six years on, Charlotte decided the Zucchero sired gelding needed to compete more so took him to Hartpury Premier League where he won the direct qualifying section to earn his spot at Stoneleigh. ‘Blackie’ has been a tricky youngster and ‘quite cheeky’ but some of his potential was realised today, on only his fifth competitive outing. It wasn’t perfect but the canter work was powerful and impressive and the judges just favoured him over Flora with a score of 74.79%.

He’s not a horse that I’d naturally choose, he’s not hot enough for me, but Carl absolutely adores him and won’t say a bad word about him. He worships the ground the horse walks on! He said to me ‘you can take this one out’ thinking that I’d say no, but I didn’t. I was surprised how well he went at Hatpury and we won and qualified to come here. When he arrived on Friday, he didn’t want to go down the horse walk, in the arena walk he wiped out some of the boards and basically has said ‘no thank you’ all the time. So I was thinking ‘am I even going to get round’ but we went down the centre line and he just seemed to be on form. He surprised both me and Carl!

“Although I have to say I’m not impressed about him beating my Flora!”

Third place went to Jess Dunn and LG Alicante Valley.

Shearwater British Dressage Young Horse Championships – four, five and six year olds

Four year olds

For another year the popular Shearwater Potential International Dressage Horse classes thrilled the fans who travelled to Stoneleigh for the final day of the LeMieux National Dressage Championships. The judges looked closely at the quality, way of going and future potential of all the finalists over a very exciting afternoon of competition.

Whilst Kerry Makin and Rowan Bryson’s stallion Izonik impressed in the first round it was the combination of the Hanoverian Waverley Dante and Greg Sims to stand out in the final impressing the panel of judges Maria Colliander, Ulf Moller and foreign rider Eva Moller.

Over Radio Nationals Paul Hayler and the team commented on how well trained and well produced Waverley Dante was, they also discussed his impressive quick hind leg and balance – two factors which without doubt affected the final decision.

At the end of Eva Moller’s test ride Finnish judge Maria Colliander said ‘At first when he came into the arena I thought he was quite normal but then the more I watched I realised he is a true riding horse. I really liked him, he was well balanced and the more Eva rode him the more the top line developed.’

British Bred Dante (Dimaggio x Fürst Heinrich) was bought from Waverley Stud by rider Greg Sims as a six-month-old foal; ‘I’ve produced him lightly, he’s done a few local shows and the Shearwater qualifiers so now we’re here. I had hoped to do well but I definitely didn’t expect to win!’

Greg reaffirmed the judge’s comments stating that the horse’s rideability is one of his best attributes, ‘He’s always been a really chilled out guy and from day one he’s never really put a foot wrong. He’s a real trier - that’s one of his main strengths – his attitude is great and he’s got three fantastic paces. The canter in particular is brilliant and his balance is really quite special’

2015 Young Professionals Award winner Greg has confirmed that he’s keeping the horse and hopes to train him through the levels towards Grand Prix.

Five year olds

It was the battle of the mares in the five year old division which saw four outstanding horses come forward from Saturday’s preliminary round.

In the end it was another great result for British breeding with Judith Davis’s Hawtins San Floriana coming out on top to gift Charlotte Dujardin her eighth win of the Championships. The bright bay mare by San Amour and out of Hawtins Floriana (Florestan x Weltmeyer) showed her class and potential once again to mirror her winning performance in the four year old competition this time last year.

‘Wow that’s a good picture, it looks like an Advanced Medium horse,’ expressed Judy Harvey over Radio Nationals as Eva Moller started her test ride aboard the class winner. The judges were also impressed as Ulf Moller explained, ‘She has a really nice uphill, swinging trot with a nice natural cadence and a nice balance. There is a very nice jump from behind in canter but the rider will have to be careful in the future that there is enough ground cover,’ this was his only slight criticism of the superstar as he concluded, ‘In general I think you’ll all see that the conformation is good and the picture is nice, it’s no wonder she was a winner last year.’

From the back of San Floriana in her prize giving Charlotte said, ‘I’m keeping her for the six-year-olds next year! She gives an amazing feeling and I have really high hopes for her.’ With ten horses to compete over four days it’s been no mean feat for the Olympic Champion to fit everything in, ‘It’s been a busy week but going down the centre line becomes a normal day of training when you do it so many times. I’ve tried my best and it’s been hard work but it’s a great experience for my horses coming through for the next few years.’

Second place went to Mount St John Zonetta presented by Amy Woodhead whilst yesterday’s first round winner Helga moved into third place.

Six year olds

Jumping off San Floriana and onto Mount St John VIP, Charlotte entered the arena to eventually claim the six-year-old title. Having qualified both VIP and her own chestnut son of Apache, Gio, for the final, Charlotte elected to ride Emma Blundell’s beautiful Vivaldi mare with Sadie Smith piloting the gelding.

Although a little tension crept in when ride judge Eva Möller first boarded VIP, she soon settled and displayed easy extensions with great balance in all three paces, ‘The training hasn’t been too bad’ laughed judge Maria Colliander as Eva continued to put the horse through its paces before giving the ride back to Charlotte.

‘I like the horse’s adjustability and its education, she feels like being at home’ announced Eva as she discussed her thoughts with the judges before heralding the talented mare as the winner.

Having already earned the Medium Gold title yesterday, Charlotte and VIP are proving to be a real exciting partnership for the future.

“VIP is slightly more experienced than Gio, which is why I chose to ride her in the Final. I’m very lucky to be working with Mount St John and able to ride such super horses. I’d also like to thank my team, without them it wouldn’t be possible to do what I have done this week.”

And that’s a wrap for the 2017 LeMieux National Championships, a huge thank you goes out to all competitors and their teams, our sponsors, the Show Direct team, hosts NAEC Stoneleigh and everybody who attended over the past four days – see you next year!

For full results, click here.

For interviews with our winners, click here.

Photos c Kevin Sparrow.