Tales from Hartpury: meet the championship finalists who had only 24 hours to prepare for their test…

After getting the all clear to ride her mare just 24 hours before she was due to ride her test, it’s no surprise that Keri Bates was full of emotion when she found out she was taking home the sash in the Nupafeed advanced medium freestyle silver at the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships.

Her horse EKKO Christianslund Gevalia (Gevalia) — a 12-year-old Danish warmblood mare — was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in February.

“A couple of weeks after we’d won at regionals she started acting a bit our of character when I rode her,” explains Keri, who has owned Gevalia for two years.

“She started grinding her teeth and she just didn’t feel comfortable; she was not lame but as I know her so we’ll, I just knew that she wasn’t 100 per cent right so I called the vet.”

A veterinary examination revealed that Gevalia had developed a large splint:

“An xray then confirmed she had a hairline fracture,” continues Keri.“My vet basically told me that I wasn’t going to nationals. I was gutted. She was then on box rest for eight weeks. After five weeks of rest, he came to see her for a check up and a further xray revealed that the fracture had gone and had heeled over. I was told that I could ride her again the day before I was due to come to Hartpury and compete.

“I walked her out for 45 mins a day once her fracture had healed to keep her fitness up. I decided not to ride her at home before we were due to leave for the championships and just just hand grazed her. I rode her once before the test and just focused on walking and stretching. We had originally qualified for two finals but I withdrew from one as I wanted her to enjoy her first trip here.

“It was quite daunting and we were so unprepared — I was so scared that I was going to make a fool of myself in front of everyone watching.

Keri’s music was a dramatic piece from the film 300.

“As soon as she came down that centre line, she just lit up; I think it was one of the best tests she has ever done. She was foot perfect and we didn’t score lower than a seven the whole way through.

“To find out we’d won on 74% was just incredible — and so random! With only one day to get ready for it, I didn’t think we’d have a chance. I’ve cried a lot.”

Horse & Hound has three reporters on the ground at Hartpury; don’t miss the 11 April issue for 12 pages of reports from the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships and the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships, and keep up to date with action as it happens here on HorseandHound.co.uk