Winter Dressage Championships 2022: ‘I put so much pressure on myself’

  • Five-year-old MacLaren II belied his young age to cope masterfully with the Hartpury atmosphere and pull off a 72.93% test, landing the KBIS prelim gold under Jessica Wade at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships.

    “I was really delighted with him, especially as this was his first stay-away show,” said Jessica. “To go in there and do his job and stay with me was all I wanted.”

    The horse’s owner Nick Hunt, bought the gelding for Jessica as a two-year-old from the Netherlands.

    “I’m just so delighted that I could do him justice because I knew he was special when I saw him in the Netherlands, and I’ve put so much pressure on myself,” said an emotional Jessica. “It means a lot to me to be able to thank Nicola for taking a risk on me and letting me have him in my stables. I couldn’t have asked for any more.”

    This is the gelding’s first season competing.

    “He did a little bit at the end of last year, but he didn’t do any young horse classes so it was mainly getting qualifications and doing the regionals,” added Jessica, who trains with Charlotte Dujardin. “He did a couple of novices and was then straight into the regionals, so I had no expectation at all. He’s so cool and talented, and you always know what he is thinking and feeling. I’m very lucky.”

    Winter Dressage Championships: Double for Oppenheimer

    Alice Oppenheimer overcame trying regionals to land the top two spots in the Baileys Horse Feeds novice freestyle gold.

    Riding Headmore Flintstone aka Fred, one of six Headmore home-breds competing at the Winter Dressage Championships this week, she scored 73.8% to top the class. Headmore Valentina took the runner-up spot with 72.5%.

    “I was really pleased with both horses,” said Alice. “It’s the first time either of them has been here. This winter season is their first season competing, and you never really know what you’re going to get in there.”

    Alice was simply pleased that they were both at the show due to both having tricky regionals.

    “Fred threw a splint at the end of January and it was only because Storm Eunice damaged one of the buildings at Merrist Wood meaning it was postponed by three weeks, that we could even get him to the regionals,” added Alice. “And with Valentina, she lost a shoe in the warm-up for her regionals and I nearly pulled her out, but she felt ok before the test so I went for it and we qualified.”

    Alice admits the the Hartpury arena is a difficult atmosphere for young horses to cope with, but they both behaved impeccably.

    “They both tried really hard in there,” she said. “It’s lovely having the pre-Covid buzz back, but it did make them a bit nervous, so I couldn’t have asked for more of them to stay with me like they did.”

    Seven-year-old Headmore Flintstone was sold by the stud as a four-year-old, but a change in the owner’s circumstances saw the gelding back at Headmore.

    “We call him ‘a really strong 17.3hh’, because he’s more like 18hh but we can’t face admitting it,” laughed Alice. “We’ve always really liked Fred because he’s got everything you want in a horse. He’s got really good mechanics and a lovely temperament.”

    Headmore Valentina, who won the Futurity as a foal in 2016 with a score of 9.7, has been ‘a quirky one to produce’, admitted Alice.

    “She’s claustrophobic and I can’t put anything too tight on her, so she wears a shoulder-free saddle because if the saddle feels tight, she won’t go forward, we have to travel her in old-fashioned travel boots because if they’re too tight, she kicks them off, and we put her in the field without a rug otherwise she won’t graze,” said Alice.

    “She’s taken a long time to produce and it’s taken a long time to get her confidently working forward but I do love her. I’ve done a lot of TRT training with her which has helped massively.”

    An emotional win

    Equi-Trek elementary silver winner Tracey Lawson’s ride QT ‘was like a kite’ when he first arrived at the Winter Dressage Championships on Tuesday evening, but the pair put their excitement behind them to pull off a 73.39% performance when it mattered.

    “I woke up at 4am and wondered whether I should start riding him then to calm him down, but my puppy encouraged me to stay in bed a bit longer,” says dressage coach Tracey. “I was over the moon that he got used to the atmosphere overnight and did such a calm test. I just wanted to build his confidence in that sort of atmosphere.”

    Tracey travels to shows on her own and admits she enjoys the solitude.

    “I love going away to shows just with the animals,” she said. “Usually, I’ve always got my ‘Tracy Lawson Dressage’ head on so it’s nice to only worry about myself for a change.”

    Tracey previously competed Gelderlander Alfero successfully and wanted to prove that she could also train a different type of horse.

    “I’m so proud of what Alfero could do, but I didn’t want people to think that he was a one hit wonder, so when I saw QT, I knew he was perfect for me,” she said. “He’s little and he’s got a very naturally hollow back which is my speciality, to train horses to come truly up through the back using my leg and seat. I love turning an inexpensive horse into something special.”

    The win was an emotional one for Tracey who lost her best friend Kathy Ling nine years ago.

    “It would have been her birthday today, and I wore her bracelet in my test,” she said. “She wasn’t in heaven today, she was in that arena with me.”

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