Jade Clark and the 15.1hh Espirito (pictured) took top honours in the Petplan Equine prix st georges bronze area festival championship at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships today (11 April).

“I’m in complete shock — it’s amazing,” beamed Jade, who rides full-time. “I was hoping to compete here last year, but I broke my leg in a fall from another horse. My first competition back was the area festival final qualifier for this event.”

Jade has had the ride on Espirito, a nine-year-old Andalusian, for 18 months after he was imported from Portugal by his long-term owner, Helen Dolisznyj.

“I saw Espirito piaffing as a three-year-old in Portugal,” said Helen. “I looked at him in the stable afterwards and thought he was a bit small so I didn’t buy him, but I just couldn’t forget him and so I went back and bought him six months later.”

Helen proceeded to fly out to compete Espirito in Portugal as much as she could before moving him to England for Jade, who trains with Carl Hester and Sue Brennan, to ride.

“His trot can be a bit pony-like so we’ve been working on that,” said Jade. “But he is full of character and has the biggest heart for such a little horse.”

Georgina Tapner, wife of Australian four-star eventer Paul, has made a successful discipline switch. She won medium bronze area festival championship with the seven-year-old gelding, Bugatti II with 68.77%.

“I bought him partially broken two-and-a-half years ago when I hung up my eventing boots and decided I wanted to try ‘proper’ dressage,” explained Georgina, who trains with Amy Woodhead and Charlie Hutton. “I never came here expecting to win, but I knew I had done all the preparation I could and with a slid test I was hoping to do well. I was also hoping I would be able to remember my test! I have no clue on dressage and we are sort of feeling our way through, but I’m hoping we can move up to prix st georges next year.”

Another former eventer to impress the judges today was Molly Key. Riding 13-year-old Absinth W (Abanos X Rubinstein I), owned by Veronica Chomse, Molly topped the leaderboard in the silver prix st georges area festival championship.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Molly, who runs a yard full-time. “I gave up eventing three years ago and took the ride on this horse two-and-a-half years ago. He then had kissing spines surgery soon after, so it’s taken time for him to regain his strength but he’s better than ever and he tries so hard for me.”

Jo Stoyell’s “accident prone” 10-year-old, Movinight, made up for vets bills he incurred as a youngster when taking medium silver area festival honours.

“As a four-year-old he got loose on the yard, galloped across it, then slipped over and put a hole in his elbow,” said Jo, who runs a livery yard with her mother near Uttoxeter and has owned this horse since he was two. “But he’s made up for it today and things have started to click over the past 18 months. I’m so thrilled — we’ve only just stepped up to medium but he’s very trainable and I hope to move him up to advanced medium soon.”

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 (19 April) issue of Horse & Hound