From ‘emergency dismount’ to victory by a whisker: freestyle goes to the wire at dressage championships

  • Two riders finished on identical scores at the top of the Nupafeed Advanced Medium Freestyle Gold section at the 2024 NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships. The judges couldn’t split Joanna Thurman-Baker (Sol Invictus X) and Claire Abel (GF Sezuki) with both scoring 72.278% overall and so it came down to the artistic impression mark giving Joanna the nod for the coveted sash with 74.6%, compared to Claire’s 73%.

    For Joanna, who has been working for Horse & Country TV during the week, victory was unexpected.

    “I still don’t believe I won,” she said. “It’s a surprise the artistic impression won it for me because I made my own music. I run an equestrian podcast called That’s Lame and I thought with the podcast software I might be able to make my own music, so I put it together on a wish and a prayer – using music from the Skylanders Academy – and it’s paid off.”

    Joanna’s podcast partner Evelina Shrieve had scored a double earlier in the week in the silver advanced medium championships, also using music from Skylanders. But Joanna hadn’t seen that as a lucky omen.

    “Sol Invictus can blow up, and I had to evacuate the indoor warm-up because they were about to do a prize-giving, and then I had to do an emergency dismount in the outdoor warm-up,” she explained. “So I had no expectations, I was just thankful he went into the ring and grew in confidence as the test went on.”

    When Joanna emerged from the arena, her team were ecstatic about her result, but Joanna said, “I really didn’t care about my score, I was just so happy with him. I didn’t even look at the rest of the scores, because for me how he went was already a win.

    “He can be very tricky, and it’s taken me time to understand him, but the best horses are like that, aren’t they?” she said. “I hope to take him up to prix st georges this year, but I just want to keep him happy.”

    Just behind Claire Abel, Jezz Palmer’s Honey D’Or earned her second podium of the championships, finishing third on 71.83%.

    Amy Hose bookends the 2024 Winter Dressage Championships with a double

    Having won the Equi-Trek Elementary Silver Winter Championship on the first day of competition by a remarkable o.oo1% on Enrique, Amy Hose steered the same horse to a wide-margin victory on 75.51% in the PDS Saddles Elementary Freestyle. This elastic eight-year-old by Escolar, was consistent throughout his test, with his canter work showing particular quality.

    “I absolutely love riding the music, he’s so confident in it and seems to pick himself up when he hears it,” said Amy, who was also third in the Spillers Medium Freestyle. “His simple changes are a huge highlight for him. And now I’ve done this I can play with the changes so I’m looking forward to training them up.”

    Amy Hose and Enrique win the elementary freestyle at the Winter Dressage Championships

    Amy Hose and Enrique on their lap of honour

    Amy chose Elvis music, which has a poignant touch for her.

    “My mum and my nan, who is no longer with us, were both obsessed with Elvis, so I grew up listening to it and the music means a lot to me,” said Amy. “It was the first music I picked for myself, and I knew I wanted to do Elvis and it suits Enrique really well.

    “He’s 17.3hh and was big and gangly, so he’s been a late starter, but he’s getting stronger all the time and he’s really wanting to show off now.”

    Hannah Macmillan’s charming grey, Brookeborough Lad, who already has an elementary freestyle title to his name from the Petplan Area Festival Summer Championships, had to settle for second this time on 72.62%.

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