From musical mishaps to the horse who reminds Charlotte Dujardin of Valegro: the best of the 2019 Winter Dressage Championships

  • With the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships due to have started today (8 April) before the coronavirus pandemic forced its cancellation, we take a look back at some of the very best stories from the 2019 championships at Hartpury…

    The musical blip that almost scuppered the inter I champion’s chances

    A musical mishap didn’t stop Nikki Barker and her impressive Spielberg stallion Durable (pictured top) from taking the inter I freestyle title on the final gala evening.

    “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 the judges 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 champions who had just 24 hours to prepare

    Keri Bates and EKKO Christianslund Gevalia landed the advanced medium silver freestyle title, despite Keri only being able to ride the mare for the first time in five weeks 24 hours earlier.

    The 12-year-old former para dressage mare had suffered a fractured split bone, and the vet gave Keri the go ahead to compete in one class at the championships, but told her not to ride her until the day before.

    “I can’t believe what’s just happened,” said Keri after her win. “I only came hoping to get a nice picture and not come last.”

    The 20-year-old part-bred trotter who took home a title


    Finance advisor Joe Davey and Joan Price’s 20-year-old piebald Humbug II claimed the Area Festival prelim bronze title with 72.08%.

    Little is known about Humbug’s breeding, other than the fact that he is out of a Trotter mare.

    “He’s actually everything you wouldn’t want in a dressage horse,” says Joe, who has ridden Humbug for three years and has established a great partnership with him. “He didn’t even learn to canter until he was 18.

    “But what he might lack in ability, he makes up for in heart.”

    The £200 ‘unrideable’ rescue horse who made his championship debut

    Siân Lovatt and Barrontop Ziggy contested the Area Festival prelim silver championship.

    Ziggy was bought by Siân for £200 from a dealer and she says it took her a long time to build his trust.

    “At first, I couldn’t even get near him,” says Siân. “When I first tried to get on him he would just bolt and rear. After the help of some specialists, we realised that he had a fear of people being high up on him. But I was willing to try anything to help him so I persevered.

    “He has come so far. I used to be scared of jumping myself after an accident when I was 14 but Ziggy has now safely taken me from being scared to jump, to our first ever British eventing competition, and now qualifying for this.”

    Charlotte Dujardin’s young champion who reminds her of Valegro

    Charlotte Dujardin riding MSJ Charmer at Addington winter regionals 2019

    Charlotte Dujardin claimed the novice gold championship with nearly 78% with her own and Verity Jenner’s MSJ Charmer, then five, whom she had competed just once before, at regionals.

    “His canter reminds me of Valegro’s because it’s so uphill and powerful and so off the ground,” she said of the Charmeur x Danone I gelding she bought as a foal from Emma Blundell’s Mount St John Stud. “He’s got all that power and now he just needs to get stronger.”

    The winner who thought she had finished 20th

    A marking mishap meant that the Area Festival elementary silver winners initially had their scores added up incorrectly.

    “When I looked at the scores and saw we were in 20th place, I took him back to the stable, took his plaits out and gave him his tea,” said Lisa Clarkson of her Goldfever gelding Giannova, who was sidelined two seasons ago after having a tooth removed and catching MRSA.

    “But then I received a call from my trainer, Becky Moody, who said there had been a mistake and we’d actually won! Becky did his plaits in seven minutes; I think that must be a record.”

    The Headmore domination

    Connections of the Oppenheimers’ Headmore Stud enjoyed a fantastic week. Alice Oppenheimer scooped prix st georges (PSG) and inter I titles with Headmore Davina, and also took the top two spots in the elementary gold with Headmore Bella Ruby (pictured) and Headmore Dionysus respectively.

    This pair were pipped in the elementary gold freestyle by Dannie Morgan riding Headmore Figaro, making it a Headmore one-two-three. Dannie also claimed two further titles at advanced medium with Knoxx’s Figaro.

    “It’s not often you have days like this,” said Dannie.

    Former showjumper Maeve Morris also landed two novice silver titles riding Headmore Footloose, who is kept at the stud.

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    The horse fighting for his life in the run-up to the championships

    Two weeks after qualifying for the 2019 winter championships, Suzanne Smith’s world came crashing down when her home-bred T-Moviestar gelding In The Limelight I (Alfie) contracted a deadly disease.

    “He was grinding his teeth and also had a fever,” said Suzanne. “I called the vet and the following day he was taken to the equine hospital for some tests. This was on the Friday; by Sunday, he could not walk in a straight line. Literally within two weeks of his win he was fighting for his life.

    “Eventually, vets found that he had contacted equine Parvovirus and had secondary bacterial hepatitis. He also had an impaired liver function as a result.

    Alfie was on medication and steroids for two months following the diagnosis.

    “Just to get to the championships is amazing,” said Suzanne.

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