Competitors on the first day of this year’s NAF Five Star British Dressage Winter Championships set the bar high, with monster scores from the top three in a hotly-contested novice open music class.

Eventual winner Sadie Smith, who works for Roland Tong and Ben St John James, scored 76.76% on the expressive black gelding Fascinato.

The gelding — a previous young horse class winner with Roland — was described by Sadie as “really cool and trainable”.

Stena Hoerner, 19, took the second winter title of her career when she headed the elementary open with a fluid 73.02% test on the British-bred Half Moon Frizzante.

Stena, who works for the Eilbergs, said: “Coming here I knew he could do it, but everyone told me to just relax and enjoy it so I didn’t feel any pressure.”

In the para classes — watched over by hawk-eyed selectors — the favourites in each category took the spoils.

Sophie Wells’ Pinnocio made a welcome return after having a tooth removed, but his enthusiasm for the job cost him the lead and he had to settle for second to stable-mate Valerius, by Flemmingh, who looked bouncy and full of running.

Anne Dunham’s Teddy gave his usual foot-perfect performance to head the grade 1a class.

“Teddy was a star today,” said Anne.

But Norwegian judge Kjell Myhre was rather taken with Anne’s other ride, the Knabstrupper stallion LJT Lucas Normark, who has only been with Anne for a few months.

Lee Pearson (Zion), Natasha Baker (Cabral) and Deb Criddle (LJT Akilles) topped the remaining grades.

In the Petplan Equine elementary open, the diminutive Welsh pony FEH Tirpentwys Del Boy’s 68.62% was good enough to top the class. His 15-year-old rider Jessica Wade was at her first winter championships.

“He felt quite relaxed,” beamed Jessica. “He was all good.”

At the other end of the height scale, Angela Westgarth topped the novice restricted with her mother’s 17.2hh gelding, Satisfaction – another Flemmingh son.

“The spookier the arena, the better he goes,” said Angela, who was the only competitor in the class to reach the magic 70%.

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Full report on the NAF Five Star British Dressage Winter Championships will be published in Horse & Hound (26 April, 2012)