Day four: LeMieux National Dressage Championships

Day four of the LeMieux National Dressage Championships dawned, another beautiful day, another spectular schedule of competition and the final titles waited to be claimed by those who proved best of the best.

Horse Health Grand Prix Freestyle and National Championship

The Horse Health Grand Prix Freestyle, the jewel in the LeMieux National Championships crown, drew a knowledgeable crowd to Stoneleigh Park this afternoon. Ten combinations came forward and the competition was strong but it was the maestro himself, Carl Hester, who secured the class and his tenth National Champion title.

Carl and Nip Tuck rode the incredibly technical freestyle that they performed in Rio to earn the winning score of 78.47%, ahead of Lara Butler and Kristjan (75.55%) and Louise Bell with Into the Blue (73.60%).

At the half way mark, Maria Eilberg and the stunning grey Royal Concert had the lead with their brilliant Rod Stewart compilation which earned them 73.20%. Louise Bell and Into the Blue later delighted with a fun, expressive performance to the sound of Sweet Home Alabama and The Greatest Showman, the roan gelding and his rider showing off an extensive piaffe-passage tour. Josh Vietti’s Despacito set the canter off well, and there was great interpretation of music. A secure test with the horse showing a good ability to collect earned them 73.60%.

Next in, Laura Tomlinson and Duval’s Capri Sonne Jr, showed much ability riding to their familiar reggae routine, which many will associate with former ride Andretti H. The performance was tinged with some tension with ‘Cas’ not quite settled in mouth, but when it all comes together, it’s going to be spectacular as the stallion has so much ability. 69.67% was their score today.

Lara Butler and Kristjan entered next to Amazing Grace in passage. Accompanied by Thin Lizzy‘s Whisky in the Jar and Scotland the Brave, their test had bags of energy, high points and flair. A misunderstanding into half pass left was costly, the extended canter impressed and the one-time changes very confident. Ultimately second place was theirs with 75.55%.

The penultimate pair Carl Hester and Nip Tuck entered in passage to a good square halt, straight into piaffe-passage tour, including turning piaffe, to their familiar Rio music. Carl is so confident with this horse and the two time changes on a curve and the 23 one-time changes on a curve were beautiful. The canter pirouettes both ways were high quality, there was one moment when something in the grandstand caught the attention of ‘Barney’, but his mind was soon back on the job. The extended trot was cautious but beautifully balanced, and overall the test beautifully presented for a great reception from crowd and a score of 78.47% from the judging panel.

Last to go Sadie Smith and Keystone Dynamite showed a lot of energy and talent with some super highlights. There score was 72.85% despite some miscommunications, so what a promising combination for the future with more experience under their belts.

After the prize-giving, Carl told us, “That first centreline has some impact! He did 23 one time changes without an error and then I had one small blip on the straight but that was it. He knows that test so well and gives all he has, he’s just so obedient. It’s nice now that he enjoys it rather than being terrified, but then again at 15, he should really! It’s a really difficult programme and he makes it look easy.

“It’s nice to get my tenth National Champion title with him. He deserves it for what he’s given to British dressage – he’s represented Britain at European, World and Olympic level and always been so solid – he was due this win.” 

Barney currently lives at Rob Barker’s yard and he’ll train with Carl to work towards a Grand Prix debut. “I’ll keep schooling him twice a week to keep him sharp and Rob can learn from him which will only help his riding and his skills for his own horses. If I hadn’t had a ‘leg up’ like this when I was younger, I’d never be where I am today so it’s important. Barney still has a lot to give and I don’t think he’ll ever retire!”

Equine Construction Advanced Medium Gold

The Headmore Stud is enjoying a fabulous LeMieux National Championships, with their horses in the frame all week. Alice Oppenheimer was runner up in yesterday’s Saracen Horse Inter I with top ride Headmore Davina but today she secured her first win of the show.

With another liver chestnut Headmore-bred mare, the up and coming Headmore Bella Ruby, Alice claimed a highly competitive Equine Construction Advanced Medium Gold with 73.71% ahead of Jane Turney and Cruz III (72.26%) and Sam Rahmatalla with Hawtins Falerno in third (71.78%).

“I was so pleased with her today,” beamed Alice. “She had the Medium yesterday, and she warmed up OK, but I got in the ring and she was so hot that I had to ride a safe test. I was quite disappointed with the feel I got in the ring yesterday, just because I know she can go so much better. She still got 70% though, and I thought if she can still get that, when she feels like that, I’m on to a winner – I can’t really complain.

“Today, she was so much more relaxed, so much more rideable, and I’m so surprised as it’s only her first season Advanced Medium,” said Alice of the Belissimo M x Rubinstein seven year old. “I was just coming here for the experience, I thought she’d be too green to do this well but she just gave me such a super ride in there.

“I need to thank my farrier Tom Smith. A couple of weeks ago we just slightly changed her shoeing to give her a little bit more support. I felt that I’d lost the quality in her changes, and we discussed it and felt that she could do with a little bit of help, a bit more support on her shoeing, and she’s been like a different horse since. She nailed it today and I’m so proud of her. Mum cried and I cried!

“I love that horse, she’s so special,” concluded Alice. “She’s just so lovely to ride, she’s got everything you want. She’s supple, she’s hot on the leg, she’s good in the contact, she’s clever, and she’s a real character on the yard.”

Childeric Saddles Elementary Gold

Becky Moody staked her claim in the Childeric Saddles Elementary Gold Championships as she rode to a one-two with two rising stars, James Bond and Jagerbomb. The winning margin is almost as impressive as the result itself as Becky scored an identical mark of 74.56% with Jo Cooper’s five year old stallion James Bond just pipping the home-bred Jagerbomb to the post on collectives, there were just two marks in it!

“He’s [James Bond] such a talented horse and has a really good attitude. Jagerbomb isn’t so talented but the more I do with him the more he’s developing,” Becky said about her two promising partners, “Jagerbomb did a really tidy, neat, correct test. His canter work and simple changes, transitions were really good – the other horse is much more talented but he just pulls it out the bag with the consistency and tidiness.”

“Both of these horses in their different ways are future Grand Prix horses,” Becky continued, “I’d like to keep hold of both of them!”

“I’d hoped James Bond would do well, he was second in the Novice to Charlotte at the Winters and e’s a really cool horse so I’d hoped he would score well! It’s been a pretty epic weekend, we’ve had six horses and ridden 11 tests so thanks to my wonderful team – the weather has definitely helped too, it’s been amazing!”

Becky will now focus on training and strengthening James Bond, known as Q at home, over the winter with a view to working towards Medium and Advanced Medium in the New Year. Whilst ‘Bomb’ will aim for the NAF Five Star Winter Championships, “It’s good for him to get out and do a bit, he’s a bit more edgy out of the two – he’s very good boy but he’s the one we’ve done the arena walks with this week! The long term aim with both is Grand Prix so it’s just working towards that.”

Full results
Photos by Kevin Sparrow Photography


Shearwater Young Dressage Horse Championships

The popular Shearwater Young Dressage Horse Championships are a highlight on the final day of competition at the LeMieux National Dressage Championships. 2019’s three show-stopping finals didn’t disappoint as three worthy winners took home the accolades. Denmark’s Susan Baarup, David Hunt and rider judge Philip Hess were the panel to deliver the much awaited judgement.

Shearwater Four Year Old Championship

The four year old division got the 2019 Shearwater Young Horse Championships underway and it was the perfect start with four outstanding contendors in British bred mare Hawtins Floresta (s. Follow Me), stallion King IV (s. Governor), British bred Waverley Fellini (s. Furstenball) and the German bred mare Special Diva (s. Sezuan).

Ride judge Philip Hess took time with each one and carefully considered their positives and any faults before reporting back to fellow judges Susanne Baarup and David Hunt. There was a clear favourite for the trio, Special Diva under rider Tom Goode. The leggy elegant mare had it all and Philip clearly loved his ride on her. It wasn’t just the talent on the day which shone but the clear potential for future work and progress.

Susan Baarup commented after the announcement of the winning horse; “This has been a very high quality line up and some horses showed themselves off better than others. Our winner is full of quality with a very clear walk, active trot, a canter with uphill tendency and nice overall mechanic. Her rideablity was outstanding and Philip really enjoyed riding her; we rewarded her with a general impression mark of 9.5.”

Tom, stable jockey for Emile Faurie, has been riding ‘Diva’ since March when the owner, Isabelle Bergmann, who bought her from a foal auction, sent her over to Emile from Germany. Their aim was age classes this year and have their target for next year of the five year old World Young Horse Championships.

This is clearly a horse which Tom loves to ride; “She’s so intelligent and finds everything so natural – she’s the most amazing horse I’ve ever sat on! Her canter feels like you’re flying and she has the perfect mix of being hot but never naughty. Her temperament and trainability are superb.

“This is only her fourth show and she’s quite noise sensitive so I’m really glad today I could show her off to her best as yesterday there were a few nerves.”

Shearwater Five Year Old Championship

After a thrilling four year old section, the Shearwater Insurance Five Year Old candidates took centre stage in the LeMieux arena to be put through their paces by Philip Hess.

Judith Davis’ exquisite Lemonys Nicket mare Hawtins Lirica topped yesterday’s qualifier under Hawtins Stud stable rider Lucinda Elliot and continued to impress in today’s examination. Speaking direct from the saddle Philip provided expert analysis: “she’s a very sensitive horse with fabulous movement, I was very positively impressed when I saw her in the test yesterday and also today under her rider!”

“She’s a horse with great opportunities and it’s just important to get a feeling for her now to make her relaxed but she has a lot of cadence and quality,” Hess continued whilst clearly enjoying his test ride, “She has lots of motivation and this is what we like as dressage riders. The more I canter the more she gets comfortable with me and it’s an amazing feeling in trot – It’s a pleasure to ride this talented horse.”

Next up, Astrid Bolton’s Femme Fatale, a powerful daughter from Paul Schockemohle’s popular stallion Foundation. “She rode a positive test yesterday and we [judges] thought we’d try to bring the horse just a bit more uphill – I’d like to see her pull the nose more in front. I want to open her in the frame and I can tell you that the first trot steps feel really comfortable!”

The tall, dark mare presented yesterday by Sammie Gualtieri was another to impress the 2019 guest judge, “I just can say after the first few rounds – I like her! When you look to her ears she’s really concentrated with her ears in front, she makes a really cooperative impression so compliments to this nice mare but also to the rider.” In canter, Philip worked on producing extended and collected strides, as well as a little counter canter before making a transition to trot to change the rein, his word ‘Brilliant’. His concluding comment, “when you have horses like her, you enjoy dressage riding! It’s fun and a pleasure and I know why then dressage is such a nice sport when you have a horse as comfortable and easy to ride as this. I am positive and thank you very much for allowing me to ride this nice mare.”

Alex Hardwick’s Joie de Vivre Prins (Expression x Uphill) scored 7.69 in yesterday’s preliminary round. “This nice bay gelding made a good test yesterday but I try now to make him a little bit more soft, more loose in my rein and hand,” Philip discussed his aims for the brief but effective session before complimenting how easy the horse was to work with, particularly in canter.

“He understands what I like, he’s really cooperative and also here a horse with lots of potential – he will learn to more by himself, a little more self-carriage but I’m happy and he’s a really nice horse with a good future. He also reacts well in walk, I’ve asked him to go forwards and he’s now doing it by himself.” Philip concluded as he also praised how impressed he was with the progress of the horse throughout the session.

Our final horse coming forwards to rider judging was Sara Lucas’ SJL Baks Zacco, the Blue Hors Zack offspring has impressed this year, from his appearance in the BD Young Horse Forums at the start of the year through to the Shearwater Semi Finals this summer. His performance under Philip continued his form.

“This gelding made a positive impression throughout yesterday’s test. He was cooperative and did a nice job but the judges said the horse could have some more energy and a little more self-carriage and cadence. He’s managing with a new rider positively, he understands quickly what I want.”

Hess was impressed with the charming gelding’s great attitude to his work, “The feeling of the judges and my riding is that you can improve very easily and quickly this horse! This is a sports partner! He makes a nice ride, I feel so comfortable in canter I could canter to the airport in Birmingham!” His concluding comment: “I’m absolutely positively impressed with this horse – compliments to the rider, he’s done very well otherwise I couldn’t do the exercises so nicely. Definitely on the correct way of training and for me a positive feeling. I feel really happy and comfortable on him!”

Following a brief deliberation between our judges, the decision was made. For a second consecutive year the Shearwater crown was given to the outstanding Hawtins Lirica with the runner up position going to Astrid Bolton’s Femme Fatale.

“She shows great potential and anything you ask she just finds so easy! She just picks everything up so well. She is quite hot but she’s not spooky at all.” Lucinda complimented her ‘favourite horse’, “She’s very powerful and so go-ey her engine is amazing, she always takes you – it’s a lovely feeling.”

Judith Davis’ wonder mare will now head home and hopefully prepare for another shot at the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses following a successful trip to Ermelo this year to fly the British flag.

Shearwater Six Year Old Championships

The top-four six year olds from yesterday’s first round came forward for the Sunday afternoon final. All four showed much promise as future Grand Prix horses, however it was the sublime German gelding Freeman (Foundation x Ehrentanz), owned by David and Sarah Johnson of Equine Construction, who was declared the 2019 Shearwater Six Year Old Champion by judges David Hunt (GBR), Susanne Baarup (DEN) and ride-judge Philip Hess (GER).

The Shearwater classes are a firm Stoneleigh favourite, and the stands were packed in anticipation of watching Philip Hess test ride the top young horses. Philip, son of FEI 4* Judge Christoph Hess, is a young professional rider who has gained much respect and acclaim as a test rider at the Bundeschampionate as well as at the German stallion performance tests and this year’s Pavo Cup Finals in Ermelo, the Netherlands. This is the first time he’s played this role in the UK.

First up for Philip to assess was Freeman. Philip commenced his appraisal with the comments, “This is a very impressive horse with a lot of potential. After first round of trot, it’s a great feeling. He has swing through the body and by nature, he’s uphill. My aim is to keep him a little round. From time to time he pulls, but it’s a positive feel. I like them soft, but the trot movement feels really nice.

“Ask a little shoulder in, half circle, same other way. Keeping in front of my inside leg so I can feel he understands what I’m asking. In the half pass, there could be more flexion and bending but he’s only six. It’s important to keep him soft and smooth. I can get more cadence, yes it’s a good feeling.

Talking about the canter Philip commented, “I feel super comfortable. I feel I could do a pirouette. And it’s a super smooth transition to walk.”

“And the extended canter – it feels mega. The collecting is super too. He’s listening, feels very nice in the transitions and is definitely a horse that I can say is on the right way of training. He ends in a relaxed and nice way. I am absolutely happy. A big compliment for this wonderful sport horse and the rider for training him so well.”

Next up was Michael Eilberg’s super-talent Dante VX (Dante Weltino x Quattro B), owned by Geri Eilberg. “He was a little nervous to start, which is normal in this atmosphere with another rider,” commented Philip. “I’ll give him a few moments to relax, and then I can have influence. There’s a little lack of communication but it’s no problem, he’s developing positively in these few moments.

Philip moved the athletic bay through shoulder in, half circle, half pass. “The half pass, this is really good for a six year old horse. He gives a nice feeling, flexion and bending. He’s now more my friend. He gives me a good feeling and more cadence.

“In canter, it’s important that he waits for me. Now you see, on the short side, he comes for a moment behind me. It’s useful to use the canter to bring him forward again, to bring him back to relaxation.” Philip rode counter canter and extended canter, “Very positive and the extension is good. I think this is another horse with potential, a horse that is hot enough, he wants to work. The rider needs to keep him soft in the contact and closed behind, but his experienced rider will do a good job with the training.”

Assessing Judith Davis’s Hawtins Quattro, Philip said, “He had a really positive impact when the rider warmed him up for us. From the first two rounds (of the arena) – I like him. He’s nice in the contact, good in my hands, listening to my aids. In the shoulder in right, he’s not 100 percent in front of me. So I make him straight, in front of leg, then ask again.

In the canter work, Philip said, “The horse has a lot of quality but the rider needs to pay attention that he’s always 100 percent in front of her. The canter gives me a really great feeling. It’s uphill, and when I can keep him more in front, it’s really nice. You can hear his teeth the whole time, so perhaps there’s not 100 percent relaxation.

“I would like to ride him more, but time in Britain is running too quickly!” joked Philip. “It’s a very good feeling. The horse definitely has great potential and I think the rider will manage very well.

“This quite beautiful chestnut gelding gives me a very comfortable feeling,” said Philip about Judy Harvey’s ride, SP Bento. “I find it really easy to ride this horse in trot. I have a super nice, comfortable feeling in the sitting trot. He’s really nice to ride. I think for the training it’s important to keep him a little in front of the vertical and open the neck. He’s a lovely horse, now the half pass.” In the half pass, SP Bento showed a good reaction. “Perhaps for the future, more improvement of flexion and bending.”

In the canter, Philip commented that from time to time the horse is a little strong. “This can be solved though and he gives me a nice collected canter feeling. He listens and responds, then he’s a horse you can bring easily to relaxation. Philip summed up his ride, “This makes really fun to the rider the sympathetic and wonderful horse. I understand him and I think he understands me.”

“It’s been a pleasure to be here in Britain and I’ve enjoyed the weekend very much. It’s a super team here, with very nice colleagues to work alongside,” he concluded.

After a final consultation between the judges, the final order was announced – Hannah Biggs and Freeman, Lucinda Elliott and Hawtins Quattro, Judy Harvey and SP Bento, and Michael Eilberg and Dante VX.

“I found him at the Westphalian Elite Auction,” said Hannah about Freeman. “I actually met the owners here three years ago for the first time [when the Johnson’s spotted her talent competing in the Equine Construction Advanced Medium] and they were looking for a rider for their young horses. We later had a conversation about finding a good young horse. Then I was at the auction a couple of months later when I found him, so I called David up and said “You know that promise? Do you fancy buying a horse!” she laughed.

“So then yes, he suddenly came to England and he’s been with me ever since, and Carl [Hester] helps us. We’ve taken it really slowly with a lot of hacking and ground work because he’s big-moving and sensitive, so we didn’t want to push him too much and too young. This is the first year we’ve really competed him seriously.

“I always knew he was a special horse and am just so proud of him.”

Describing what caught her eye, when she first saw Freeman at auction, Hannah said, “When I first saw him move, he just moved through every inch of his body, everything just oozed quality. He was a little bit naughty with one of the auction riders who didn’t ride him very well, which put everyone else off. It was at that moment I thought “he’s mine!” because I knew I could cope with him. It was just meant to be.

“It was the most nerve-wracking five minutes of my life watching Philip ride him today. I know what an amazing feeling the horse gives and when I heard Philip use the word ‘mega’ at one point, I knew that he could feel that. It’s such an honour to ride this horse.”

“I couldn’t do it without David and Sarah Johnson, they are very supportive,” added Hannah.

Full results
Photos by Kevin Sparrow Photography.


Day two: LeMieux National Championships

Though unlucky for some, Friday 13 treated the knowledgabele crowd at Stoneleigh to a day of top-notch dressage in fine weather on day two of the LeMieux National Championships. 

It had to happen sooner or later…and today was the day. Gareth Hughes scored a resounding victory in the Saracen Horse Feeds Inter I Gold Championship riding Judy Firmston Williams and his own Sandro Hit sired Sintano Van Hof Olympia with an athletic performance to score 75.21%.

Probably what you’d expect from the Warwickshire rider brimming with confidence after his rides in Rotterdam a matter of weeks ago but it’s the fact that he beat none other than Charlotte Dujardin to take the title and spoil her Nationals strike rate. In yesterday’s Fairfax Saddles PSG, it was Charlotte who took the honours with Mount St John Valencia but today, the expressive mare was on her toes with a few costly mistakes while Gareth and Sintano Van Hof Olympia were on song and well settled to the task at hand. The nine year old, discovered in the Netherlands by Rebecca when set the task to ‘find something really special’ by Judy, really impressed yesterday but today took it to the next level.

“He’s pretty nice, isn’t he?!” joked Gareth. “Today he felt like a Grand Prix horse in there. He has all the talent but now just needs the patience. He’s quite like Classic Briolinca to ride; the harder you work them, the more they love it but they’re super sensitive.  I’m thrilled for his owner Judy who bought him as a six year old, we’re so excited by him. The Grand Prix will really suit him as it’ll close him up more but for now it’s a case of building confidence, strength and security.

Para super star Sophie Wells earned her place ont he podium today with Charlotte Hoggs’ C Fatal Attraction after fourth in the PSG yesterday.

Gareth will take Sintano Van Hof Olympia to Keysoe CDI in October and on to his first Eruopean trip in France before taking the Winter to consolidate his work before coming out at Inter II next spring with a view to a Grand Prix debut later in the year – something everyone will be eagerly awaiting.

Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships

A sunny Friday morning set the scene for the 2019 Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships at Stoneleigh Park as leading UK para dressage riders went head to head for the national finals of all five grades in front of judges Mary Ann Horn (E), Sarah Leitch (C) and John Robinson (M).


Grade I
Fresh from a victory in the Equissage Pulse Para Silver Championships, the year-long partnership of Gabriella Blake and Strong Beau (by Spinway Blakethorn) continued their good form with a 68.155% victory in the Grade I division ahead of second placed Mari Durward-Akhurst with Lebensfreunde (67.738%).

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Gabriella told us after the prize-giving. “I wasn’t expecting this as I was riding against the best, but he was as good as gold. I couldn’t have asked for anything better today, I really couldn’t have. It’s the biggest atmosphere I’ve ridden in.

“I was really pleased with my halts. It can be difficult to halt, and stay halted every time I ask him, but he was very good.”

Describing Strong Beau ‘the person’, Gabriella said, “He can be cheeky. Not ridden – he’s good ridden, but he can be bolshie from the ground. He definitely knows he’s the main man! But to ride, he knows when I’m on. He looks after me.”

Grade II
Georgia Wilson and Midnight, who recently brought Freestyle Gold back from the FEI Para Dressage European Championships in Rotterdam, won the Grade II Championship with an exciting personal best score of 77.843%

“We definitely had more power today – now I need to learn to sit to it! She [Midnight] tried her best, I just needed to ride a bit better,” said Georgia in the same self-critical way that we so often see in her trainer Sophie Wells. “When I get that trot from her, I can back off and be a passenger; we’re working on using my seat and core more.”

Talking about upcoming competition plans for the Hilkens Black Delight x Cassander 10 year old, Georgia said, “After Rotterdam, I thought she’d be tired but she’s recovered really quickly and after today’s performance we’ve decided to definitely go to Keysoe CPEDI in October for more practice.”

Grade III
2017 European Team Gold and reigning World Team Silver medallist Erin Orford claimed the Grade III with Dior UKH on a score of 70.098% – a great prep for Keysoe CPEDI in two weeks’ time. Erin and the 16 year old chestnut Dimaggio x Hitchcock mare, who is owned by Annabel Whittet, scored 70.098% ahead of Amanda Shirtcliffe who filled second and third New Princess and Remi II respectively.

“We’re having a really good year and she’s been very consistent in her performances. She’s won all the national stuff, and then we had the three wins at Hartpury CPEDI, so this win is a really nice way to finish the national season,” commented Erin. “She felt very fresh today so we had some moments of brilliance, and a couple of little mistakes because of that, but it’s great knowing what’s in there. She has so much scope in her paces and gives a really great feeling.

“She [Dior] hasn’t been back here for a couple of years. It’s a really good atmosphere here at Stoneleigh, it’s a great show. It’s so busy and the horses can feel it, even early this morning.”

Grade IV
Laura Gulliver and the well-known small tour stallion Woodcroft Garuda K earned a decisive victory in the Grade IV division. The 18 year old Trakehner son of Münchhausen and his young rider earned a score of 68.862%.

“I’m thrilled to bits,” said Laura. “I got the ride on him in November and it’s big thanks to the Woodcroft Stud who own him for giving me this opportunity. He’s a very loveable stallion, he has a super temperament and he’s really adapted to the paras with me. He’s meant to have a quieter life, but clearly he’s loving the occasion. He loves the atmosphere – the bigger the show the better for him.

“We now go on to Keysoe CPEDI3* in two weeks,” said Laura, who trains with Judy Harvey and has mentoring from Clive Milkins. “This is only my seventh show, so it’s still early days really. It’s very exciting.”

Grade V
Charlotte Cundall and the lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Simply Red, the sole competitors in the Grade V, rode an expressive test for 69.524% despite a handful of mistakes.

“It’s a bit difficult when you’re the only one competing but I decided to use it as a training opportunity in the atmosphere under top judges,” explained Charlotte. “I tried pushing different buttons and experimenting which resulted in a few mistakes but I’m happy. Paul Hayler warmed me up which was great and we’ve been working on injecting the power while keeping him in balance and it was very positive today. I’d like to thank Equissage for their support, both of the class and me personally – Red loves his Pulse!”

Dodson & Horrell Novice Gold

After an early start to the day, Victoria Maw and her own six year old Benito Dorato topped a highly competitive Dodson & Horrell Novice Gold with 73.29%. The starting line-up oozed class and the standard proved high as the top ten each rode to plus 70% scores.

Speaking about her test with the home-produced Benny an elated Victoria said, “I was really pleased, he had really good balance the whole way through and he felt so fluent. It just went really nicely! He stayed nicely connected the whole way, there were no major mistakes perhaps just a small loss of balance in the second medium trot just before the canter transition.”

“His party piece is the medium canter,” she continued, “There are so many layers, you put your leg on and he keeps going up the gears – you feel like a kid in a sweet shop riding him!”

Benny has been owned by Victoria from the age of just three days old, after she purchased him as a foal in Germany. He spent three years growing up in his home country before moving back to the Lincolnshire based rider who’s sympathetically produced him with a varied approach to working: “He likes jumping, and he does a bit of everything at home. He hacks, goes on the treadmill – he does a little bit of everything to keep him happy!”

Rider and BDCC Level 3 coach Victoria brought a winning mind-set to her test today setting three goals before the test to help focus her performance, “It helps to take away the pressure and be realistic about the results. Anything above the goals set are a bonus – He’s been producing consistent scores but I was still a bit shocked to get that score. He’s not seen anything like this, he was so confident today and when he went inside those boards he did everything I asked, it was such a nice feeling.”

Victoria paid credit to long-time coach Tracy Woodhead who warmed her up for today’s test describing the day as an emotional occasion, “I was on edge the whole time waiting for the class to finish!”

“It’s a very special place to compete,” Victoria added about her trip to Stoneleigh, “You don’t get to compete here for regular shows so it’s a big occasion to ride in that arena for the National Championships.”

Completing the top three were Nikki Barker on board Dan Icarus and Alex Hardwick with Joie De Vivre Prins.

Dodson & Horrell Novice Silver

The Dodson & Horrell Novice Silver Championship proved a battle of future para horsepower talent – and what a great battle it was. Paralympic Gold Medalist Natasha Baker took the lead when about half way down the running order with her newest star Keystone Dawn Chorus, a British bred mare by Dimaggio, with a great 72.77%. This pairing is very much in the early stages but there was plenty of potential on show today.

It was an agonizing wait as combinations tried to topple Tash and Lottie and they held their lead right up to the last competitor, Louise Robson riding her own and Amanda Ratcliffe’s Remi II. It was a second trip around the arena for ‘Kevin’ today having done the Grade III Championship with Amanda to finish third. Louise, who’s well known in the dressage world for her talents in transorming race horses in to dressage diva, trains Amanda and they’ve built quite a formidable relationship in the para world and Kevin has very much been a project for them as he’s not been straightforward so their expectations of today weren’t too high. However, Kevin, British bred by Desert Moon took it all in his stride and surpassed all expectations for a 73.02% score and the Novice Silver title on Louise’s debut in the hallowed arena at Stoneleigh.

“My aim really was to keep him in the warm up and get round! He came here with another rider to do the Trailblazers and was…interesting. I did think a few days ago I might actually be safer on one of my race horses!” explained a jubilant Louise.
She continued, “Plus, he’d gone really well for Amanda earlier in the para championships but I can’t carry a whip or use my voice! Amanda and I work well together – normally it’s me feeding back how he feels but today, she could give me the advice.
“I’ve been riding him to give him arena experience and get him forward off the leg to help Amanda bring him on as a para horse. He’s got huge paces and I think as a result he did a lot as a young horse and just became a bit angry with riders. We use a lot positive reinforcement! He can be lazy but you have to ride him positively and his heart is ruled by his stomach!”

The win marks a huge step in progress towards the Louise and Amanda’s end goal, a place on Team GBR. “Today really felt like we’ve started his Tokyo campaign. He really held his own and we know there’s so much more to come and that’s exciting. Taking him to Doha CEPDI was a risk but it made him – he came back a dressage horse. To achieve this on him is really special. We’ve taken so much time with him, worked hard and come so far…to win is just reward,” said Louise.

“It has been a great day here at the Dodson & Horrell Novice Silver and Gold Championships and we have watched some very competitive tests. Congratulations to all the horse and rider combinations that have taken part, especially to the deserving winners Louise and Victori.” Anna Horrell, Director at Dodson & Horrell, summed up.

TopSpec Medium Silver

Rob Barker, a rider with a superb LeMieux National Championships record, continued his winning ways taking a third title in three consecutive years. This time it was victory in the TopSpec Medium Silver in the concluding hours of day two of the championships on board Charlotte Dujardin’s River Rise Isabella, the tall six year old daughter of Don Frederic impressing the judges panel to earn 70.37%.

“She’s an amazing horse,” Rob enthused about his winning ride, “she’s still getting used to the bigger atmospheres and she’s a lot more used to the local shows but she gets better and better every time. I’ve done quite a lot with her but I’ve had a lot of help from Charlotte. She has no weakness it’s just experience!”

About his test today Rob continued, “last year she didn’t walk when she came here but I got my walk today which I was really pleased with. We take it step by step with her to produce her as a horse for the future, I kept a lid on it today and it was good fun. Her walk, trot and canter is amazing it’s just about steering her and making sure I do the right thing!”

As winning owner Charlotte walked into another prize giving in the LeMieux arena, Rob was quick to praise her as a great support and coach. “Charlotte doesn’t put any pressure on but I put a lot on myself. She helps me a lot and I want to do well because she gives a lot of time to me so I want to give it back in a way.”

Charlotte will make the decisions on what’s next for the super talented mare, Rob concluded “I’m so lucky to be able to ride her and every time I sit on her I’m grateful, we just take it day by day.”

Second place belonged to Maria Collins who scored 69.56% with her Dorothy Taylor’s Exclusive Gem, whilst Maisie Hodge and her own Garant H completed the top three with 68.56%. A special mention goes to fourth placed horse Floris, who scored 68.45% with Cath Creemer in the saddle, for being a stellar prize giving stand in for an excited River Rise Isabellla.

Full results – click here

Photos c Kevin Sparrow