Emotions were running high for Lee-Anne Baily and her team as she left the dressage arena, after completing a stunning test on Rainhill Merlyn (Merlyn), in the Petplan Equine Novice Silver Area Festival championship at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championship.

Sharon Edwards’ 12-year-old Welsh section D gelding has certainly tested the will and patience of his loyal supporters.

“I was asked to ride Merlyn about two years ago and he was so naughty back then,” explained Lee-Anne, 24, who runs a livery yard in Epsom, Surrey. “I actually got him because he put Sharon in hospital as he was just so bolshy.”

“He’s come such a long way, but he’s still a sensitive soul. Even today before our test he was rearing during the warm-up — I spent an hour just calming him down.”

Lee-Anne’s trainer was acquainted with the big-moving black cob who recommended the young rider had a go on him as he was stabled at the yard opposite her own horse.

“People think that because he’s a bolshy cob that he will be super confident but he’s actually a very vulnerable ride, and you have to baby him through it all,” added Lee-Anne, who had Merlyn right on song to score 65.83%.

“With him being a cob, and a traditional one at that, when judges like him they fall in love with him. I’ve actually got a personal best of 74% riding him at novice level; he is very correct.

“Dressage has been the making of Merlyn,” she continued. “He used to never load but since we have been competing him he jumps on the lorry. He is loving life now he has a purpose.”

When asked about her tears, Lee-Anne said: “It was because it could have gone either of two ways today — either I would have had to retire because he was couldn’t keep his cool, or he would be angelic. I was so relieved that we didn’t let everyone down.”

The pair have stayed at novice for two seasons and qualified for their novice final as a wild card. This was only Merlyn’s second away show.

“Even if we stayed at novice forever I’d be happy. He has all his changes and he definitely has piaffe and passage in there somewhere, so maybe our little cob will get to grand prix one day.”

For a full report from the British Dressage Winter Championships and Area Festival final – as well as news, views and expert comment – don’t miss Thursday’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (19 April 2018)

Picture by Bob Cook