Winter Dressage Championships inter I: an emotional win and a mid-test downward dog *H&H Plus*

  • Find out why the inter I victor was so emotional about securing the title, and how a mid-test yoga move might have cost the runner-up victory

    Nathalie Kayal’s DHI Cleverboy officially discarded his bridesmaid status when winning the prestigious Superflex inter I title at the NAF Five Star Winter Championships.

    “He has very established at this level and has been second and third a lot – last year he was second in this class to Dannie Morgan,” said Nathalie, who was second in the Magic prix st georges (PSG) earlier this week and third in the PSG freestyle. “So I thought before the inter I, ‘Come on, this year has to be his year.’”

    This is the 14-year-old Sandreo gelding’s first national title since he won at elementary in 2015, and he posted 71.67% to finish as the only horse above 70% in the Winter Dressage Championships inter I, relegating long-time leader Kate Cowell and Ray-Ban to second.

    “I was quite late on in the class and I think psychologically that did me a few favours, because I knew a couple of the riders who are normally really, really good made mistakes, so I thought the door was open for me to gain some ground,” said Nathalie. “Cleverboy did the PSG and the PSG freestyle, and we have Hartpury CDI next week, and I’m very aware that he is doing a lot at the moment. So I kept my warm-ups to an absolute minimum, and really had to trust my ability, and his ability, that we know what we’re doing in the class. 

    “I felt quite emotional when I came out of the right canter pirouette at the end of the class – the right canter pirouette is his weakest link, and I could feel he was tired, but something you feel that amazing thing with a horse where he just digs all the way down and gives you everything and that’s what he did today. It’s always hard to know if you’ve done enough in a test but I knew that we didn’t have any more to give.”

    It has been a particularly busy week for Nathalie and her team, with her groom and main rider Charlotte Tuckwell also taking home a well-deserved sash, in the Petplan Equine inter I bronze Area Festival final on DHI Alligator.

    “It’s been a dream week for us,” said Nathalie “I just hope all our horses go home as happy.”

    ‘You can’t limber up halfway through a test!’

    Kate Cowell and Jonny Clarke-West’s Ray-Ban held the lead from first draw in the Winter Dressage Championships inter I with a score of 69.89%, and Kate said she went in, “all guns blazing”.

    “I was thrilled to bits; those were the straightest changes I’ve ever got in a test, and by far the best trot I’ve got in a test,” she said. “It was just unfortunate that he decided to do a bit of a yoga stretch halfway through his rein-back. I was like, ‘You silly sausage, what are you doing? You can’t just limber up halfway through the test!’ He did a downward dog then went off as if nothing had happened,” laughed Kate. “That was expensive but he was absolute joy to ride.”

    Kate credits a couple of lessons she squeezed in with Carl Hester just before the show.

    “It just makes such a difference,” Kate said, explaining that she and Carl worked on getting the collection in the canter and generating more energy in the trot. “We’re trying to give the horse more confidence. He has such long legs – we call him Bendy Bus – but he can really use them. He pulled out all the stops and showed off his new trot here.”

    Kate will next compete Ray-Ban at Hartpury CDI next week, before knuckling down to the grand prix work, with a view to bringing Ray-Ban out at the level next year.

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