The first winner of the 2018 NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships today (11 April) was Claire Johnston and her own black mare, Sensation (pictured). The pair won by almost 2% in the Blue Chip novice silver championship, on a score of 72.22%.

“Last year was difficult — we didn’t compete at all as I broke my ribs in a fall from another horse and then my father died unexpectedly,” explained Claire, an amateur rider and full-time mother-of-three. “One of the last things dad said to me was ‘get on and start riding again’, so that’s what I did. I was pleasantly surprised with my score today — people tell me to go big or go home, and I tried to do that, but honestly winning is just a great bonus and I’m completely overwhelmed.”

Claire, who is based in Leicestershire, bought ‘Jazz’, who is by Sir Oldenburg and out of a Don Frederico mare as an un-backed three-year-old after a break from horses.

“I previously evented and lost my love for riding,” she admits. “I then thought to myself that I had years on my side and so I thought I would buy a two- or three-year-old dressage horse to produce. I went round some studs looking for a horse but couldn’t find anything. Then I saw an advert for Jazz on HorseQuest,” says Claire. “I rang my husband, who is a vet, and told him we had to go to Preston that afternoon to see her. The next day she was home with us. She has really helped me enjoy riding again and be happy in myself.”

Claire trains with Ian Woodhead — “He tells me to get on with it. Jazz can be quite sassy at home but she loves performing.”

The pair followed up this result with another great performance in the novice freestyle silver championship where they finished third.

An emotional Jo Barry won the PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle Gold Winter Championship with seven-year-old Goofy Le Perle (Belissimo X Jazz).

“I never thought I would win another championship again,” said Jo, referring to a riding accident she suffered in December 2014, which resulted in a serious head injury.

The pair scored a whopping 78.01% to secure the title.

“ I was really shocked with our score,” confessed Jo. “This is Goof La Perle’s first big competition — he only did a couple of low key dressage show in Holland before he arrived with me eight months ago. I’m very lucky his owner, Gordon Grainger, has trusted me with him.”

The Spillers medium freestyle silver winter championship went to 25-year-old Holly Colgate-Hardaway and her mother Zoe’s Dalvangs Lorenzo on 72.78%.

“I can’t believe it — it’s amazing,” confessed Holly, who is a freelance rider. “He was a bit looky in the arena but I gave him a pat and then he was good.”

Holly and the 17.1hh 11-year-old qualified thanks to a wild card entry at Merrist Wood.

“We’ve had ‘Lorenzo’ since he was an un-backed six-year-old and he’s had a slow couple of years as he kept on growing,” explained Holly. “This win is even more special as I was riding to the music mum used for her international grands prix competitions which was a Glen Miller medley.”

Angharad Harries and the talented six-year-old mare Gayla VD Kempenhoeve (Samba Hit II X Don Renoir), her only horse, won the Baileys Horse Feeds novice freestyle silver class on an impressive 74.91%.

“I’m so pleased as she was rideable and relaxed in there today,” said Angharad, who is 22 and has worked as a rider for Gareth Hughes for three years. “I bought her as a three-year-old from the Equine Elite Auction — Rebecca Hughes helped me find her — and we’ve given her time to get stronger. I just wanted to get round today but she felt great, especially in the trot work.”

Angharad didn’t have the smoothest of journeys to these championships.

“My lorry broke down in our yard when I was leaving yesterday,” she explained. “Thankfully mum came to get us going and we eventually arrived here late last night, but it wasn’t ideal preparation.”

Danielle Hardwick and Edendawn William Wombat, owned by Ruth MacCarthy, won the Equi-Trek Elementary Silver Championship.

“I’ve been riding him for a year, since his owner fell pregnant,” said Danielle, who alongside working for Rhett Bird and running her own yard, is also training to be a personal trainer. “We now own half of him and although he hasn’t competed since qualifying at regionals as we have just been training at home, I couldn’t have asked for any more from him today — he was supple and rideable.”

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