‘I was prepared to truly freestyle’: Barker grasps brilliant gala victory after music mix-up

Nikki Barker and the imposing stallion Durable put a music mix-up behind them to claim gala night victory at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships.

Nikki and “Dan” had been drawn two-third of the way down the star list for the Superflex inter I freestyle gold class on Saturday evening’s performance.

However moments after Nikki raised her hand to start the music it was clear something was wrong as she stopped and signalled to the judges box.

“The music started and I didn’t even recognise it!” said Nikki, adding she was prepared to “truly freestyle” if the judges decided she had to go on her time.

Luckily they allowed Nikki to go and find her correct music — which featured music from the Kill Bill soundtrack — and slotted her in at the end of the class.

The Speilberg stallion, who Nikki co-owns with Viv Gleave, showed enormous power and expression with jaw-dropping extensions to score 74.04%.

“The balance is feeling better and better all the time,” Nikki added. “He is so talented and so huge moving that keeping the balance and power under control is the main thing.”

Drawn first to go, Hannah Biggs and Don Caledonia faced a nervous wait to see if anyone could take on their leading score of 72.5% for their eye-catching routine to a Tinie Tempah mix. The pair led until the end, when Nikki and “Dan” pipped them to the title.

Katie Bailey and Eagle Nouvelle, Friday’s PSG freestyle gold winners, were third on 70.67%.

Alice Oppenheimer and Headmore Davina, who won both the inter I and PSG gold titles earlier in the week, made a stunning start to their test. Unfortunately the mare had some pink foam in her mouth, so a third title in as many days was not to be.

The welfare of the horse is absolutely paramount and it’s just one of those things, it happens with horses,” said Alice in a statement on her Facebook page.

“I’m just gutted for Davina as she didn’t deserve her show to end like this. She has been an absolute superstar this week and given me her all every time in the ring and nobody can take away her victories in the PSG and inter I.

“I’d like to thank everyone there tonight for giving her the round of applause she deserves. She has been thoroughly checked by the stewards who could find nothing and is very happily tucked up in her stable and has had a sack full of carrots.”

‘The biggest win of my career’

Dannie Morgan and Knoxx’s Figaro were the runaway victors in the Charles Owen advanced medium gold to add another national title to their collection.

Dannie and “Fig”, who won the advanced medium silver title at the 2018 LeMieux National Dressage Championships, impressed the judges to score 73.47% ahead of second placed Judy Harvey and Palimera on 70.7%

“Last year was our first year together and the horse has really grown in confidence and strength over the winter,” said Dannie.

“I know what the horse is capable of, so it is a really nice feeling to go in and actually feel I could show what he can do. I am just really fortunate to ride a horse like him for his owners David Knoxx and Lisa Morgan.”

Dannie added it was particularly special for Lisa to be there and witness the win as she broke her back in a freak accident several months ago.

“She has put a lot into the horse, he is really special to her and David so it was really special for her to be here today and it was nice I was able to win for her,” he said.

Nicky Barrett has trained the horse since he was a youngster and Dannie credited her help for the bond he has developed with Fig.

“When you look at the start list, there’s all these top riders and this is probably the biggest win of my career so far and to be in a class against some of those riders and do a good job is really cool,” Dannie added.

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‘Beyond my wildest expectations’

In the silver classes, Rebecca Marsden bagged her third top-10 finish of the week with a win in the Spillers medium freestyle aboard her own Fiorello on 71.22%

Rebecca, who works full time as a lawyer, switched disciplines from eventing just over 18 months ago and this was her first national dressage championships.

“We chose the music because it was light and elegant but also bubbly,” said Rebecca, who rode to a soundtrack from the film Madagascar II.

“That was his third test this week, so he was a little more tired than I was expecting — not his usual exuberant self — but I think he heard his music and knew it was time,” she said, adding she loves his cheeky character.

Gill Peckham took her first national title with her former driving horse Hero topped the KBIS prelim on 71.84%.

“It was completely beyond my wildest expectations,” said Gill, who bought Hero two years ago.

“I couldn’t find a dressage horse that wasn’t lots of money, so my trainer Katherine Lewis said ‘Gill, we’ll get you a driving horse’.”

“I was delighted with our test because I had no idea how he’d react because he’s never been to a show with this sort of atmosphere.”

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