On the final day of the 2018 NAF Five Star Winter Dressage finals, Samantha Willson and Delhurens Sunshine took the top slot in the Petplan Equine Medium under 18 Area Festival championship with a score of 68.28%.

The home-bred mare who is rising nine has been ridden by 17-year-old Samantha for the duration of her career.

“I broke her in when I was 13,” said Samantha, who stood fourth in the advanced medium earlier in the day. “This is the third year we have been at the finals — to do it on a home-bred that I’ve worked so hard on makes the win all the more sweeter.”

The Deanes San Ciro Hit daughter is currently working at prix st georges (PSG) at home.

“She has a very trainable brain, but can be quirky,” continued the young rider, who trains with Claire Moir. “The harder the test is, the better she goes. I was particularly pleased with her medium trot and canter today.”

Coming in behind with a total of 68.14% was BKS Brandini with Ronni-Mae Morgan in the saddle.

Despite standing in first position for the duration of his competition, Scottish rider Scott McLellan and his ride Lemiroff were pipped to the post by the final pair to go in the Petplan Equine Advanced Medium Bronze Area Festival championship.

Scott, who scored 68.12%, was beaten to the sash by Thea Millward and Walentino 77, who achived a winning score of 68.21%.

Thea’s ride is a nine-year-old 17.3hh by Wolkentanz who she has owned for two years.

“I was pleased with his behaviour today as sometimes he can be spooky,” said the 18-year-old rider who has recently finished her A-levels. “He was really listening to me. His trot work started off a bit tense but he soon relaxed into it. I was particularly pleased with his last extension.”

The gelding, who is currently training at PSG, has spent the winter on a fitness programme, which included weekly water treadmill sessions.

“He’s come out stronger this year,” added Thea, who has her own small yard in Upton upon Severn. “At home, he is the friendliest horses and is just an all-round nice guy.”

It was a win for Chloe Barker and Cold Diamond in the Petplan Equine Novice under 18 Area Festival with a score of 71.50%.

Chloe, 16, has owned the 14-year-old gelding for a year and he is working at medium at home.

“The test was event-free and he felt really nice,” said Somerset-based Chloe. “He can sometimes get a bit tense in his mediums but he remained calm today. While he can have his moments under saddle and be a bit tense, at home he is the cuddliest horse — my mum has a unique bond with him and he absolutely adores her.” 

The duo’s road to qualifying was far from simple. The big moving 16.1hh actually went lame during his second round, meaning they bagged a wild card ticket.

“We won our first round with 73.96% but during our second attempt, he went unsound. We later found out that this was because he was travelling backwards in the lorry meaning he wasn’t standing right — we’ve had to buy a new horse box. I’m so happy he has come back with this win.”

Jersey Garrett and Crowide The Talisman came in second with 69.86%.

In the Petplan Equine Prelim Bronze Area Festival, Amino’s Boy and Heather Wallace took the sash with 71.25%, while equal second on 68.40% were Suzanne Dickens and Treworder and Donna Fitzgerald and Castlelawn Diva.

Heather, who is based in Whitchurch, bought the six-year-old as a just-backed four-year-old.

“He’s not the easiest,” said Heather. “He is such a baby and is quite challenging — sometimes you feel like you’re sat on a ticking time bomb.”

Nicknamed ‘all-weather-heather’ at home, the AI-qualified instructor has worked tirelessly over the last few months to  have the charismatic bay ready for Hartpury.

“I ride in literally all weather conditions,” she laughed. “He needs lots of variety and education as he is such a bundle of energy. While he can be difficult, it’s nice to know that when you get it right he stands at the top. In the future I’m hoping to event him and work up the levels; at our first novice outing we were second — and I know he has the advanced moves in there.”

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)