Para stars claim early crowns at new-look National Dressage Championships

  • Erin Orford rode herself into the record books as the first winner at the Lemieux National Dressage Championships in its new venue of Somerford Park Farm in Cheshire. The win, to be fair, was never going to be in doubt as the only entry in the Niagara Equissage Pulse grade III para individual test, but her score of 69.51% riding LJT Diamond Crusador was certainly worthy of a red rosette.

    “It was a bit odd being the only one in the class, but it worked in my favour,” international para rider Erin reflected. “I’ve been working really hard on his way of going and asking for more cadence and expression. With only me in the class I could take a few more risks in the test whilst hopefully keeping it presentable. Not everything came off, but it was our first outing since July and he is feeling a lot stronger so I was really pleased.

    “He’s such a lovely horse, nothing fazes him and he is ultra-reliable whatever the atmosphere. I’d love to think we might go to the world championships [in 2022] and that is what I’ll be working towards. The Tokyo Paralympics was a year too soon for us, but I was delighted to come close.”

    Gabby Blake won the grade I para championship with her home-bred Strong Beau on 74.17%. 

    ‘He’s the perfect para horse, he’s my baby,” said a delighted Gabby. “Like every horse he has his moments, but when I need him to do his job he does – I couldn’t ask for more.” 

    Gabby has ridden since the year dot, even to the extent of being up on the front of the saddle on racehorses in her native South Africa when she was three.

    “I can’t remember the first time I rode,” she added. “My dad bought my first pony when I was three months old and it’s gone from there. Riding is my freedom now, in reality it is the only time I’m not in pain; he is the best pain medication I have.” 

    ‘What a show’: National Dressage Championships para winners praise new venue

    Grade II winner Julie Payne posted 67.01% with Divinity to scoop victory, but for her just reaching the championships was an achievement in itself, being just weeks after the Don Frederico eight-year-old almost died from a mystery bacterial infection.

    Meanwhile Nicola Naylor, last to go in the grade IV, jumped to the top of the leaderboard with Humberto, a nine-year-old who was bought 12 months ago. 

    “I went to try him just as we came out of lockdown last year so we were allowed to ride him outdoors. Luckily it was an instant decision, which was good considering all the limitations we were still governed by,” said Nicola. “Since then it has been a question of getting mileage and getting him more secure. He’s been out doing a few advanced mediums and some of the para internationals and is just getting better and better.”

    Nicola was also third with Del Piero, her two being divided by Izzy Palmer and Je Suis Adiva.

    “Both horses were fab and what a show, it really feels like a top international venue,” she added.

    Charlotte Cundall took the top two spots in the grade V para final at the National Dressage Championships, with FJ Veyron clinching the win with 70.32% over LJT Simply Red on 69.25%.

    “I was really thrilled. It’s quite enclosed in there compared to Stoneleigh, which creates a different feeling – with the big screen and things all quite close, we didn’t know how the horses going to react,” said Charlotte. “I haven’t been in that many atmospheres with Veyron, so I was thrilled with how he handled it and I was delighted with the test. He was with me, and we’ve got the harmony now, so we can start to put the power in.

    “We’re really getting that partnership now; when you get that bond it helps so much in the arena, as we know how each other’s feeling,” added Charlotte of the Vivaldi son she has now been riding for just over a year. “He’s incredibly powerful and impressive to look at, but now we’re getting that bond there’s so much more to come and it’s so exciting.” 

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