Keysoe, Bedfordshire, 9 December
Featuring riders Lara Edwards, Suzanne Lavandera, Fenella Ross, Joe Bright, Sarah Williams, Georgina Howard, Sharon Edwards, Sara-Jane Lanning, Catrina Leckie, Debbie Poynter, Charlotte Dicker …and Sam Turner

ACTIVE hind legs propelled riders Lara Edwards and Suzanne Lavandera to the top of the Prix St Georges class. Lara’s hot Jazz son, Jazzed Up, took first place with 68.5% just ahead of the stallion Keystone Daganay with his famous Dimaggio engine on 68.24%. Both were praised for their test riding skills by C judge Kim Ratcliffe.

Lara commented: “Test riding is something that has been drilled into me by Rhett Bird. He’ll have me doing 15 to 20 centrelines until they’re spot on and you don’t move on until they’re spot on”

Judge at C, Kim Ratcliffe, commented: “Both Suzanne and Lara are very good at taking every mark from the judges that they can”
On the class generally, she added: “The trot work was generally better than the canter. A lot of horses lacked the strength needed for the canter movements and riders who did well were the ones that presented the movements in good balance and place.
“There were some very nice horses but some of them were ridden too much forward — giving the impression that they weren’t in front of the leg — so they looked as though they were being rushed rather showing true impulsion.
“None of the tests were ridden too slowly but those in the best balance and genuinely in front of the leg were the ones who got the best marks
“There are still a lot of marks to be gained by riders positioning movements better— for example. the pirouettes in canter. They were not always on the diagonal line and they ended up losing balance, or were over prepared and quarters in”

She explained: “When ‘Felix’ is nervous or somewhere spooky his hind leg bends even more. The qualifier for the small tour championship was the first PSG he had done. He’s only eight and an impressive horse but not really strong enough for PSG — his tempis aren’t yet as expressive as his single changes and I do only working pirouettes. I would have started small tour next year but because I’m expecting a baby in the Spring, I wanted to get a qualifying score to be able to compete in June and July internationals.

Sussex-based Suzanne’s ride Daganay, nine, and known to owner Janet Gee and friends as ‘Merlin’, has lost some big show experiences due to minor injuries.

Suzanne commented: “It felt like a really uphill, active test but there a bits of the PSG where he’s still a bit green, like the pirouettes and we made a mistake in our four times. The trot work is getting great marks but mistakes in the canter and the changes are big marks to lose. He also needs more mileage: things like the arena decorations and the cold don’t worry him but he was a bit distracted going towards the other horses in the warm-up.”

The Small Tour Championship, an inspired initiative by List 1 judge Carole Thornton, is designed to be decided on averaged marks from competitors’ test and freestyles performances. But although Keysoe’s indoor school was all dressed up for a Christmas gala occasion sadly the organisers cancelled the freestyles in the expectation of heavy snow — a good call!

There were many Southern riders in top 10 places. Joe Bright, 23, in fourth place on a fraction under 67%, was riding Karen Wright’s “late bloomer” 14-year-old JBD Wodan.  His “good safe PSG test” put him just behind one of two highly placed U25 Scottish Small Tour competitors (click on blue bar below).  He commented: “We were up against some of the names that have inspired me for a long time — it was exciting to be in that company. However, I was hoping to show off our strengths and bring our marks up with our freestyle as it had in the qualifier. Wodan is inexperienced in competition, so it’s lovely to be able to design a test that gives your horse confidence.

“I was pleased that the test showed the improvement in his balance — I got an eight from Kim Ratcliffe for my first centreline. I’m able to maintain straightness while keeping him a lot more on the hind leg now. The horse also has a real talent for pirouettes, which scored sevens from all three judges, despite the fact that I ride them slightly big at the moment to keep the suppleness over the back. Most of all I am pleased that he has become a happy athlete. He has a big heart but when he doesn’t understand, it all comes out on the table. It’s now just about mileage — and I can’t wait to take him out again.”

Behind Joe were a group of four other riders on plus-66% who were all hoping freestyles would push them up the final order. Sarah Williams, like Joe based in Kent, was in sixth place. She was riding Breitling daughter Bohigus W, a 16-year-old former schoolmistress to many, but now developing into a star in her own right. Sarah joked: “’Chloe’s’ become less of a bulldozer and more of a classy Range Rover. She’s a big girl and has big paces — a massive walk and canter — but has only recently been happy to stay in front of the leg and remain supple when she’s collected. (Photo captures the change of leg in the canter half-pass zigzag.)

“One of the judges commented, ‘a lovely forward-thinking mare’ and I was chuffed with that. I can ride her without a whip now and she doesn’t feel like she will run out of steam. I can ask less and be confident that she will keep travelling and that I can close a pirouette down and she will really sit. The changes have become so big and bouncy that you feel like you’re airborne, but I need to continue to work on suppleness to have them straighter.”

In seventh, on 66.4%, came a dedicated southern amateur rider Georgina Howard, who rode Blue Hors Don Caruso x Lucky Light 11-year-old Capri. She said:

“We’re biting on the Gold bullet which is a bit daunting but I was pleased that we were up there in the results among some very good riders and horses — and biting the tail of my trainer Sarah Williams”

Georgina Howard: “I have started to have some help from Michael Eilberg and he complements the work I do with Sarah. He has been trying to get my seat better, so that I’m more independent and can be quicker and lighter with my leg aids
“I have the problem that I’m hyper-mobile — over supple — so my muscles are long and wobbly rather than short and strong. I do a lot of work on my body off-horse and including something called Somatics* which I predict will become huge with riders and be the ‘New Pilates’.
“I have been doing Somatics with trainer Anna Bagnall for a couple of years with aim of getting the muscles at the front and the back of my skeleton more in balance.
“It’s a slow and tedious process but it helps if you have strong motivation as I do — to improve my riding”
*Definition found on Google: “Somatic movement involves a series of exercises that reconnect the brain with the muscles.”

“It was a shame the freestyle round was cancelled. With marks so close I could have gone from seventh to third! I was really excited to be doing our music again. I did it for the first time only at the Blue Barn qualifier where I went wrong, which put me out of the running, but trying again at Keysoe we qualified on 69.62%.”

Improved lateral work in trot was a highlight of Georgie’s test and she scored an 8 for half-pass for the first time. She commented: “Capri is changing quite a lot. He used to be very floaty and elegant but probably a bit ‘slow’.

We’ve been working on getting him more active, especially in the canter. I felt that I got more jump in a test for the first time although it’s not yet established. When he has become stronger he will have a lot more to give. The canter half-pass, coming so soon after the extended walk, is still a difficult movement for us, but I didn’t get one comment that he was ‘nodding’ as he used to. It was nice to get the score we did in our test with still so much to improve on.”

Southern horses and riders are known to be keen competitors and among the keenest must be Sharon Edwards’ Rivaal. Sharon explained:

“I kept asking the ring steward, ‘is it all right if we go in now? Is it all right…?’
He didn’t hear, so Rivaal decided, ‘We are going in!’”

“He was fighting me to get into the arena, even before the judges had got back from their break,” laughed Sharon. “He was cold but had fire in his belly to make up for it. I always need to be the chilled one in our partnership!”

Sharon ended up in eighth on 66.18% and commented: “It was annoying that in his test he did well in all the hard bits. He got sevens for his pirouettes and the tempis came off, but I couldn’t canter down the centre line!

“And I was gutted that we couldn’t do our freestyle. I paid good money for that music and I had Mark Ruddock’s help with my floorplan. We’ll have to unveil it soon, so perhaps at the High Profile at Addington in January: why not? He needs to keep practising in exciting atmospheres!”

Scots Fenella Ross and Catrina Leckie run the Saltire up the flagpole

Two U25 riders made their long journeys down from Scotland worthwhile. Fenella, riding Creatzo, was third in the Prix St Georges with 67.5%, while Catrina was second in the Inter I on 67.96% with Adventure.

Catrina, who comes from Falkirk, made the 7.5-hour journey down on the Thursday to give Adventure a day to rest. While it was the pair’s first visit to Keysoe, they were competing in their second Small Tour Championships. The combination was sixth last year in the PSG final at Houghton Hall, but that’s just one of the garlands they’ve gathered in their career. They were U25 advanced medium champions in 2013 and they have been Scottish champions twice, once at PSG and once at Inter I.

Notably, the 18hh 12-year-old by Tuschinski, was Catrina’s first dressage horse after deciding to switch disciplines when trying to improve her ‘rubbish’ eventing dressage. She has brought Adventure on herself from a five-year-old with the help of trainer Gail Smith.  She said: “People tell me Tuschinskis are quirky but he hasn’t been at all. He’s super trainable and loves work. I was pleased with his concentration in the test and he stayed with me. Sometimes he gets a bit over-enthusiastic and takes over in the changes or pirouettes because he thinks he knows the test better than me.”

Fenella Ross started her journey south from Aberdeen with a diversion to Gloucestershire and her trainer Abi Hutton. She acquired her Johnson 10-year-old in March this year with a little PSG mileage under his girth. She explained: “I had never competed above medium myself and I wanted a horse who knew the ropes to take me up the levels, but I also hope to be able to school him on towards grand prix over the next couple of years.

“Creatzo has a great brain and a fantastic hind leg and he’s very talented but he can get quite tense, especially in the trot work, so I was happy that he stayed relaxed, and quite soft, so we had no major mistakes. He has lovely straight neat changes and loves to do them but at the moment the pirouettes are still work in progress.”

Inter I proves to be another close battle
The Inter I was the smaller of the two Small Tour test classes and was perhaps more affected by withdrawals due to the gloomy weather forecast. It proved to be another close call but superior experience and rideability won the day for the combination of Hampshire-based and honorary ‘Southern’ Sara-Jane Lanning and Try Me Once with a near 69% score.

Sara-Jane: “I have done six grand prix with Theo but I decided because he’ll be 18 after Christmas to step him down a level and have some fun while he’s still fit and healthy.
“When I first got him he would be very scared of other horses in the warm-up and it took me five years before I could pass left to left but he’s finally grown up”

Sara commented: “‘Theo’ tries so hard for me and never lets me down: he’s always consistent. I’ve started training with Spencer Wilton and we’ve been working on getting more reaction so that I have more power at my disposal. Theo is 18 next year and it was very cold so I was careful to give him lots of walking and stretching at the beginning of his warm-up. I was thrilled with how he felt and although I couldn’t quite keep that in the test I was still very happy with it and only had one mistake in a pirouette when he got a bit muddled behind — but he didn’t panic.”

Sara-Jane has a reputation for clever freestyles so she was among those very disappointed that they had to be cancelled. She said: “It’s nice to do something a bit special in early winter, but it was a pity that there were no special Small Tour rosettes.  And she echoed many when she added, “It was a brilliant friendly show.”

While Debbie Poynter and Keystone For Real ended up in third place on 67.1%, it was a triumph for the amateur rider who has had to manage the Florencio 12-year-old’s after-burner hind leg and temperament through rocky times especially when she was nailing the changes. The duo racked up fours as well as eights in their test: so there is ‘easily’ more to come!

Debbie said: “’Really’ was amazing in his test — if only he hadn’t changed canter lead in one of his pirouettes! Because he’d not done that before I hadn’t any tactics prepared to deal with it. I didn’t change him back, as I should have done, so I couldn’t get a mark for a change at the marker. That’s my lack of experience.

“But thank God I went to Keysoe the week before because then he was completely neurotic. Today he was the most rideable he’s ever been in a test.”

The competition proved just the ticket for one young rider on the brink of an international small career, Charlotte Dicker. Her lovely talented mare Sabatini gave her a hard time in the warm-up and did not have her best game head on for the test but the 65.78% result nevertheless put them fourth place — although frustratingly nearly eight percentage points short of their score at Solihull last month. Charlotte said: “‘Soli’ was certainly keeping us on our toes and I had three horses at the show and she was rather jealous that I was riding the others and keeping her waiting. We have been looking at some one-time tempis in lessons with Carl [Hester] recently, so in the test she was ultra sensitive and got too hot in the canter.

“This is our first year in young riders and we were nominated to go to various internationals but I felt because she is so talented and so special I didn’t want to go out and make a fool of either one of us, mostly her, when we’re not established at the level. We had no intention of qualifying or competing at Sheepgate U25 this year but the Small Tour Championship definitely fills a gap.”

One of the delights of the Small Tour Championship is that its eligibility rules give opportunities for a wide variety of combinations to compete together for honours. Hertfordshire-based 14hh Cuffstown Rumble and his smiling rider Sam Turner, in the Inter I, was certainly one of those delights.

“I had some lovely comments on my sheet and some 7.5s as well as some well-deserved 4s!
“He’s known as ‘Billy Whizz’ for a reason, but if I’m not carrying a stick he can be idle — I have to judge my warm-up just right. “Because it was so cold and he’s 16 and I was taking care of him, I warmed up for 10 minutes too long, so he dropped me in some of the changes”

Sam explained: “You can’t do the Traditional Cob Championships at advanced level but this is something we can do, although it’s very hard when you see these huge warmbloods go across the arena in three strides. You look at their riders — they’re not hot and sweaty — but sometimes I have to work so hard to get what I do.”

Sam who runs Mill End Equestrian, at Buntingford, trains ‘Billy’ on a budget and attributes their success to Mary Wanless ‘Ride with Your Mind’, BD camps, Mark Ruddock and her top hat!

She commented: “Because Billy is a cob and I’m very old-fashioned, I think it’s nice to wear an elegant top hat. I’ve trained Billy since he was five but when I got to medium level I became despondent with the marks we were getting and felt I couldn’t get any further. My partner, Simon, said to me one day, ‘You said your dream was to get your top hat and tails on this pony, why have you stopped?’ He promised to buy them if I got to PSG.
“Mark Ruddock who has trained me on and off for years has been a huge help. When we went to the ‘Eastern Oscars’ Simon went up to Mark and shook his hand and said, ‘Without you, this girl wouldn’t be where she is now’.”

© Celia Cadwallader, 15 December 2017

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