NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships – Day four

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A grey, chilly Gloucestershire day didn’t detract from some great competition and five amazing winners on the penultimate day at Hartpury.

KBIS Preliminary Championship

Surrey event and dressage rider Anna Lawson, 19, has won a coveted national title at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships.

 Anna rode Carentino Z, her 10-year-old Dutch-bred gelding to win the KBIS Preliminary Winter Championship with 74.09%. She was thrilled to bits with her horse, an elegant dark bay by Caridor Z. “I’m so happy with him – it feels amazing to win,” she said. He’s such a good horse. He’s naturally ‘uphill’, easy, and comes out wanting to do the job. He always wants to please and I can have fun on him.”

The talented young rider from Guildford is on consistent form. Last week, she and Carantino won the Pony Club Dressage Winter League and they also gained a third here on Wednesday in the Novice Restricted Freestyle.

Anna described how the pair came together: “I’m an event rider mainly so was looking for an event horse – we just happened to find one with amazing movement and temperament and have done dressage to get to know him. My trainer Lynn Wickes found him through word of mouth. She’s been a huge help having everything to do with him since.”

Spillers Medium Open Music Freestyle

Once again the Spillers Medium Open Music Freestyle belonged to reigning champion Matt Hicks, the 2012 winner of the prestigious national final. Riding Ann & Steve Keen’s eight-year-old gelding Don Carissimo (Don Crusador x World Cup III) Matt produced an expressive, assured performance to impress for a mark of 70.76%.

“He felt amazing in there – very powerful – and such fun to ride,” said Matt, who has ridden the attractive bay since November last year. “I felt fairly confident that we would do well today. Though he was a little unsure to start with, he soon settled.” “He trusts Matt,” added Ann.

Don Carissimo was sent to specialist young horse trainer Connie Colfox as a three-year-old to be backed: “It got him off to a really good start and is one of the reasons he’s the way he is. He was successful in young horse classes then Matt had him when he was ready to go,” said Ann. The pair gets on famously and have won on nearly all their competitive outings so far. “They get on really well – they have a special bond.”

Matt is trained by FEI 5* Judge Isobel Wessels who was on hand to help Matt prepare. “Isobel’s been brilliant,” he said. “She kept me relaxed and ready.”

Petplan Equine Novice Restricted Area Festival Championship

It was a fairy tale story for the winner of the Petplan Equine Novice Restricted Area Festival Championship. Debby Dunleavy hails from the Yorkshire Dales and until recently, show jumping was her favoured sport but some encouragement from best friend Elaine Wormwell, she had a go at dressage and is now a convert. Her first test was in July 2012 and today, she proudly wore the winners sash and horse Jet Set S was equally happy in his Petplan Equine rug and rosette for taking the Championship.

The combination stormed the first round with 68.06% before an even better performance the second time to be the only pair to break the 70% barrier. “It’s just amazing – I’m on such a high! To get 70% is just well…WOW! I was really hoping for a top ten – I even booked my second round with the secretary just in case! In Wensleydale the cows will be mooing and the sheep baaing to celebrate for us!” said an ecstatic Debby.

Debby only took up dressage last July and took the leap to affiliated straight away. She did one prelim and was advised to go novice. She explained; “I got the two sheets that I needed to qualify for an Area Festival in my first trip out which I couldn’t believe! We then won at Northallerton Area Festival and here we are!

Jet Set S, by the jumping sire Japeloupe S, was originally bought for Debby’s daughter but she decided he was better suited to her. He had a few soundness troubles which was traced to a cracked splint bone. “It was touch and go as to if he’d ever come sound again,” Debby recalls.

But he came good in the end and Debby summed up by saying; “To me, he’s a superstar.”

They now have a first team appearance for the Northern region to look forward to as well as plans to tackle their first elementary.

After the prize giving and media interviews, she walked back to the lorry park, gave Elaine Wormwell a massive hug and said; “I couldn’t have done it without you!” and both simultaneously burst into tears.

Charles Owen Advanced Medium Open Championship

The final class of the day in the NAF Five Star Arena was an absolute cracker. The Charles Owen Advanced Medium Open Championship is normally a great place to spot stars of the future and this year was no exception. Michael Eilberg and John & Julie Deverill’s Dimaggio-sired Half Moon Dynasty laid down the gauntlet when second to go with a magnificent 73.51%. Promising combinations gave it their best shot but none could better the mare’s score. Carl Hester stable jockey Katie Bailey came the closest with Jane de la Mare’s feisty Nip Tuck with 72.28% with Matt Frost and the sizable AMD Don Rosso II, owned by Dedi Leech and Matt were third on 70.79%.

Half Moon Dynasty is the current Dressage Deluxe Medium Open Champion and is unbeaten since she finished as runner up here at Hartpury in last year’s Medium Winter Championship.

Michael commented; “She’s a quality mare with good presence so I suppose you expect her to do well. There weren’t any major mistakes I can recall – perhaps a small wobble here and there but only what I could feel; when I watched it on the video, you couldn’t tell. She did her first PSG the other day and this felt so much easier!”

Michael was sporting a smile as wide as the Severn when he came out of the prize giving. He said, “She found her big trot – if I got that in the test all the time, I’d never get anything else! Couldn’t sit to it so I gave up trying!”

He continued; “She has three fantastic gaits all which the judges reward. We hope to establish her at small tour and once she gets to grips with the movements, she’ll be a great international prospect. She’s a pleasure to train and so far we’ve had no major issues in her progress.”

Petplan Equine Medium Open

Berkshire dressage rider Michelle Nichols rode Classical Destiny (Dimaggio x Broadstone Landmark), her 10-year-old British gelding, in a cracking test to earn 73.18%, more than 3% ahead of her nearest rival.

“He couldn’t have gone better at this stage. I’m so pleased with him,” said Michelle. “I felt in the warm-up that he was going well, a little tense but once through the archway he was completely relaxed and I could ride for every mark.”

“I’ve had him since a three-year-old and every year he’s got better and better – he’s a superstar. It’s not been easy as he was very strong-minded and has been a challenge. He’s a phenomenal mover though and we knew he was special,” said Michelle. “He’s the first horse I’ve broken and trained all the way through; it’s our first championship and to get such a great score – I’m really happy.”

Michelle, who works full-time at the livery yard where he’s kept, had a serious accident in 2010. A kick from a young horse she was unloading from a lorry resulted in a smashed leg and a lengthy recuperation. Her grit and determination got her back in the saddle as soon as she could: “I have three pins in my knee but it works – it does the job”, she said.

Talking about her plans for the rest of the year, Michelle said: “We’ve qualified for the advanced medium open summer regionals and we’ll maybe play at prix st georges before the end of the year.”


Debutante delights for victory

It was a freestyle debut win for Worcester’s Zoe Sleigh with Christine Sleigh’s Fantastic Light in the Superflex Intermediate I Music Freestyle in front of a capacity Hartpury crowd at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships.

Zoe said; “Really pleased with him tonight especially the trot work.  It’s the first time I’ve ridden to music at Inter level and we only got my CD last week!  I used Abigail Todd and sent her a video and from that she put something together which really suits him.

I came here not really knowing what to expect or what he’d do.  He’s never been to such a big indoor venue but he dealt with the crowd brilliantly – I’m so proud of him.”

Zoe was quick to praise trainer Michael Eilberg; “He’s always been so good with this horse and knows him well.”

Alice Peternell with Surprise, owned by Ann Wilson, had an early draw and made the most of it to take a healthy lead with a score in that all-important 70%+ zone.  But then crowd favourite Matt Hicks came along to steal the lead with a fantastic 72.54% with Anne Marie Dolan and his own Talent III.  It was to be a short lived time at the top as 25 year old Zoe came in for her first ever Inter I freestyle.  She rose to the occasion and 72.63% was the score.  It wasn’t a unanimous judges’ decision but the average score gave her the edge and ultimately the victory.

Others came into the electric arena and gave it their all with Lesley Peyton-Gilbert coming closest on Woodcroft Garuda K on 72.25%

Runner up Matt Hicks, from Whitchurch in Hampshire,  praised Talent III; “He was brilliant tonight – really thrilled with how he went.  I was tired by the time I rode him last night but tonight, I could let fly and he responded to it.  I like to think of us both as a pair of diesel engines and we take a bit of warming up and stoking!”

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