The first rider into the main arena at 7.52am in the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships at Hartpury today (12 April), proved to be a winning one.
Jess Bennett took the advanced medium silver championship riding her own JB Dukaat with a score of 70.75%.
“I can’t quite believe it!” laughed Jess who hails from Bristol. “’Joey’ has always been quite hot in that particular indoor arena and as I was riding through the test I just kept thinking to myself ‘he’s actually still behaving!’”.
Jess has owned the 15.3hh nine-year-old who is by Westernwind and out of a Son Of De Niro mare for five years.
“I bought him as an unbroken four-year-old. I got sent a nice video of him, but when I turned up he was so small. He then trotted up and had a bit of wow factor so I bought him,” said Jess who rides and teaches for a living. “He’s been easy to train apart from his changes, which has taken a while.”
Jess trains with Carl Hester and describes Joey as a “big pony”.
“I expected him to be wild today so I wasn’t too gutted when I saw that I was going to be first on — well, apart from my 3.30am alarm! — as I hoped that there would be less atmosphere at that time of day,” explained Jess who was celebrating her first winter title victory. “He stayed relaxed all the way through and we’ll now aim for some prix st georges competitions and keep training him up through the levels at home.”
Second place went to 14-year-old Sophie Taylor on the 14hh Madam’s Miss Maria with whom she represented Great Britain at the Pony European Championships last year.
Twenty-five-year-old Charlie Sawyer did the double to take top honours in both the medium freestyle silver and elementary freestyle gold, riding his mother Sarah Sawyer’s 17.3hh Chico Too.
In the medium the combination scored 72.56%, with second placed Claire Knowles and Corona S finishing on 71.17%. While in the elementary Charlie posted a score of 75% which saw Lara Dyson snapping at his heels in second on 74.68% riding Jazzed Up.
Remarkably Chico Too has suffered with a number of ailments including kissing spines and degeneration (arthritis) of his facet joint directly under the saddle.
“We bought ‘Chico’ in 2013 knowing he had arthritis,” explained Charlie who rides full-time from his family’s arable farm in Dorset and is another to train with Carl Hester. “We did almost 18 months of rehab work with him with loads of work on the Pessoa on the lunge, polework and hacking and touch wood, it seems to have paid off. The vets said to imagine Chico’s back was one straight, metal rod that we have to make and keep supple, so we do a lot of lateral work and jumping too, plus he is turned out 24/7.”
Charlie gave up eventing in 2009 to take a riding job with Matt Hicks.
“I had to train hard on the flat with my old eventer, which I think is where my love for dressage stems from,” said Charlie, who rode to a Coldpay medley. “Chico felt nice and up for it today — when he’s happily going forward it makes me happy. He’s very laidback and can get quite ‘lollopy’, but he’s a gentle giant and while he’s happy we’ll keep going with him.”
The six-year-old mare Liss La Belle looked very at home in the main arena when taking the elementary freestyle gold championship under Christian Landolt on an impressive score of 80.37%. They blew away their nearest rivals, Alicia Laughton on Armada Donna Bella who were second on a score of 75.46%.
“One of her strengths is that she’s so chilled,” said Christian who was celebrating his first winter championship win. “She’s an old person in a young body and was never fazed — she would never think to do something bad.”
Christian bought the mare, who is German bred by Lissaro, 18 months ago.
“I went to see Simon and Nadine Kohlenbrenner and Simon said I had to have a sit on a mare he had even though she had just been sold. It was love at first sight and fortunately she failed the vetting for the original customers so I bought her,” explained Christian. “She’s still very weak which is why I’ve done so little with her, and I wasn’t going to compete her here but after some training with Carl Hester, I’ve been able to unlock keys to her progress and so I decided to give it a go.”
Petplan Equine Area Festival Finals
Meanwhile, a one-horse owner/rider was the first to scoop a top prize in the Petplan Equine Area Festival Finals.
“I’m speechless — these kinds of things don’t happen to me!” laughed Debbie Poynter upon scooping the inter I silver.
Riding her own 12-year-old gelding Keystone For Real, the pair scored 68.68%.
“Clearly I can’t count as I did four in the first of my three-time tempi changes,” admitted Debbie, who runs her own canine hydrotherapy centre in Hampshire. “My friend came and found me in the stables afterwards and asked if I wanted to know my score. I said ‘no, not really’ as I didn’t expect such a good score.”
Debbie bought ‘Really’, who is by Florencio, as a just backed rising five-year-old from Suzanne Lavandera, who owns the stud responsible for the famous Keystone prefix.
“I went to ride another horse at a clinic at Suzanne’s place and she said she had just the horse for me as I was looking at the time,” explained Debbie, who trains with Nicola Buchanan. “I saw him lunged and I said ‘I want that’ about two minutes later!”
Really has proved to be quite a complex character for Debbie though.
“He is so nervous. Unless he knows you, he won’t let you catch him in the stable. But he’s the sweetest, kindest horse once he gets to know you,” said Debbie who has never trained a horse beyond medium before.
Second place went to Alice Hurley riding Deseado CCV who scored 67.46%.
Another Keystone horse led the way in the elementary silver area festival final in the form of Keystone Bravo, ridden by Sandra Tizzard. The pair took the class on a score of 73.16%, nearly 1% ahead of second placed Maria Pook riding So Enamoured.
“I knew it was a good test and a friend said it would be 73%,” said Sandra who works in telecoms.
Vikki Pengilly topped the leaderboard in the advanced medium silver area festival final on her own De Niro x Jazz 13-year-old Zion E. They posted a score of 69.02% while the runner-up spot went to Rebecca Baybutt and Hey Mambo who finished on 67.75%.
“He can be looky and hot but he’s very giving once he’s on-side,” Vikki.
For a full report from the British Dressage winter championships and the Area Festival final — as well as news, views and expert comment — pick up a copy of Horse & Hound magazine next Thursday (20 April).