Hickstead, West Sussex, 23 March
Featuring Francesca Bradley, Luke Baber-Davies and Tania Grantham at PSG and also riders Sarah Millis, Astrid Redshaw, Trina Stewart, Georgina Howard, Anne-Marie Rawlins, Natalie Mather, Sarah Dwyer-Coles, Rowena Gilbert, Molly Key, Philip Gover, Amelia Ward, Joe Bright and Helen Millichamp  — and not forgetting international singles driving competitor Lucy McGill

PRIX ST GEORGES was an exciting not to be missed curtain raiser to the Hickstead 2018 season. It attracted a talented cast that included no fewer than three Dimaggio sons. These relative youngsters however did not threaten the safe lead of the determined 22-year-old Francesca Bradley or the match experience of 13-year-old Baldovino. Francesca achieved an all-time personal best score of 71.0%.

Commenting on “Ernie’s” Hickstead performance, Francesca said: “I was thrilled with the result. He has fantastic canter work. He gave me lovely changes and the pirouettes are improving as he’s starting to sit more, but the canter was not as good it can be, so I know there are more marks there! I usually get the lowest marks for the trot, which has been a bit pony like, but now he’s starting to lift through the shoulder he is able to use himself better. I was pleased that the work we have been putting into the trot was so nicely rewarded. When I got Ernie he could do things nicely but the quality of his paces wasn’t great, so that has been my biggest achievement.”

Francesca recently travelled single-handed to Le Mans to contest small tour classes where their best result was sixth place in the Inter I freestyle with a plus-68% score. She commented: “Le Mans was an opportunity to put training into practise. I had 65% in the PSG but when I tried to put more power into the inter I test there it blew back in my face.” At Hickstead it worked.

The big Dimaggio movers were headed by Suzanne Lavandera and Keystone Daganay with one of their consistent 68% PSG performances, while Luke Baber-Davies’ advanced medium winter championships ride Disarrono, one and a half marks behind, occupied third place and was ahead of his Merrist PSG regionals star Keystone Drummer Boy in fifth. Both Disaronno and ‘Dexter’ showed some tension and, according to Dexter’s owner Tracy Cooper, travelling the nursery school buddies together had proved to be a mistake.

Of course, persistent wintry weather was a factor in many performances and the International Arena was inevitably wetter than usual. Tania Grantham who rode Samarino into fourth on plus-65%, commenting, suggested: “I think many people like me have been experimenting over the winter with new levels of power and then, of course, it takes a little time to work out how much you can ask for in a test. I overcooked it and it affected too many movements.

“We’re working at home towards grand prix, so Sam’s gaining more strength and power all the time and I’m constantly playing catch-up. We’ve already qualified for PSG at summer regionals, so once I have his inter I qualification as well, I’d like to stay at home and focus my time and finances on higher level work, rather than backing off it for a couple of weeks to do a small tour test at a show.”

Katja Kuistilla’s Hofjuwel, ridden by Sarah Millis, is an established international Big Tour performer. He was awarded plus-70% at Hickstead by judge Sally Merrison.  At Le Mans recently the pair scored 69.61% for second place in the Grand Prix Special which followed a disappointing 62.03% Grand Prix.

Sarah said: “Hof was a bit too much on edge in the first test at Le Mans. Everything so far this year has been indoors and as he is going out to compete in Holland next week in an outdoor Grand Prix, I wanted to ride an outdoor test here in preparation. You continually work to achieve the same focus from your horse in the ring as you get at home. You also get to the point where you’re just looking to improve little things that will enable you to edge your marks up.”

Astrid Redshaw and Belaggio, her beautiful son of the Swedish stallion Briar, won the Inter I class on 67.5%. Astrid, who describes herself as a hobby rider, fits her horse in around a family of four children. After a 10-year family break from competition, she has been riding the now 16-year-old at Small Tour for the past two years.

She said: “I’ve had Belaggio since he was five and would love to go up the grades but Inter I is as far as I’ve got. He has been going so nicely at home, I was keen to go to a competition before the Easter school holidays. With the recent snow the show I planned to go to was cancelled so I phoned up Marie Mepham at Dressage at Hickstead and luckily she was able to fit me in.”

Trina commented: “I was really pleased with our Inter II. It was our highest score so far at the level. I have been training with Amy since November and she’s been helping me refine things and to find my feet riding piaffe and passage. I’ve now taken on board that for the piaffe you take your legs back to give the aid and for the passage you take them forward! I’ve also been working on the transitions in and out that are so important and on getting more suspension and energy”

Trina Stewart competed 17-year-old De Niro gelding Dark Legacy successfully in both Inter I and Inter II classes scoring 64.74 and 65.92% respectively. The inter II score is her best to date. Amy Stovold, Trina’s current trainer, had just got ‘Dayton’ to grand prix when Trina bought him with her husband. He was her ‘dream ride’ and came along as a “Get Well” incentive when she was starting chemotherapy treatment for cancer five years ago. He has schoolmastered her from medium level.

Trina has also recently been doing ground work with South African trainer Jenku Dietrichsen who visits Amy every couple of months. Trina said: “Ground work has been invaluable in getting relaxation with more activity in piaffe and passage. Jenku gets me to work my horses from the ground myself so that now I can incorporate that into my routine and I do a few minutes from the ground before I ride.”

If you can’t beat them, join them
The highest advanced medium score of the day was produced by Georgina Howard on 12-year-old Capri. Their 75.59% advanced medium 85 put them six marks ahead of their nearest rival professional rider Andrew Gould and Feiner Stern II. Georgie, an amateur who has found losing small tour classes in gold section company a mite discouraging, explained:

“Capri’s qualified for the PSG gold at the summer regionals but as I’m eligible for advanced medium, I’d like to have another go at getting to the Nationals. I’m also planning to do the Petplan Inter I with him this summer.”

Georgina bought the Blue Hors Don Caruso x Lucky Light gelding in 2015. She added:  “Capri is a joy to ride and my trainer Sarah Williams has been fantastic at pushing me and focusing on detail and getting me to ride more up and out with suppleness in the poll. Capri just needs to get stronger and more supple in his lateral work which is definitely not my strength either! I was chuffed with how he went at Hickstead and thrilled with my sheet which had several eights on it for extended work and changes. I’m so excited about the next few months.”

The show marked the return to competition of Caroline Edgeley’s small tour horse Donja under Annie Rawlins. Annie not only won the advanced medium 98 qualifier on 70.92% riding Donja but also introduced another exciting horse owned by Caroline, Electra 2.

Sir Oldenburg-sired Electra was bought at the Elite Auctions in The Netherlands last Autumn, but the 17.2hh mare proved too big a ride for Caroline. Electra and Annie were placed third behind Feiner Stern II and Andrew who secured second place on collectives. Electra certainly impressed Margaret Drewe who judged Annie and the mare’s earlier test 85 class and awarded them 72.65%.

Commenting, Annie said: “I was pleased with Electra’s first test because she stayed together more. It was only her second show and last time she felt big to ride; now I’m not so aware of her size and she’s trusting me. She felt tired in our second test and looked to me for support. One of the judges wrote ‘wow’ on her sheet and loved the power, but I have to contain it and not lose balance between movements and get more consistency throughout.”

The silver section advanced medium 85 was won on 66.62% by Natalie Mather on her schoolmistress Barcarole II. It was same score that they achieved at Area Festivals last autumn and has given them a wild card to the Petplan Finals.

Natalie said: “I love Barcarole and Daniel Timson has been a great previous owner and trainer. Daniel was there for me at the show and I didn’t want to let him down. I was really pleased with the canter work and changes, which I’ve found hard to learn to ride. I’ve constantly been asking myself, ‘is this the right moment for the aid?’ instead of just going for it which is what Daniel has been telling me to do. Now I can ride the changes I can start to ride the rest of the test! It’s lack of experience and confidence, but the more I do with her the more I enjoy it.”

The bronze section was won by Susannah Givons and Baroness on 68.08%. Susannah has competed a lot in gold section elementaries in order to give their partnership show confidence and the medicine seems to be working.

Hightrick S, ridden virtually one-handed by Sarah Dwyer, won the medium 75 qualifier with 67.03%. Sarah said: “I probably shouldn’t have come as, although I didn’t know it, I had broken a bone in my hand that morning. I couldn’t balance the horse or ride it with any power — and ‘Trix’ is 17.1hh and ‘square’ so he’s a lot of horse to balance. There were lots of mistakes in our test as I couldn’t ride effectively and I think he realised that I wasn’t at my best.”

Sarah took on the Furst Junior x Ferro gelding two years ago as a retraining project and began to compete him at Novice aged nine in 2016. She added: “When I started riding him he was very anti being ridden at all and had learnt to get away with a lot with an inexperienced rider. He’s a very different horse now. He enjoys his work, is lovely to work with and at long last he’s getting the strength to be able to transfer his weight back onto his hindlegs. I sold my last advanced horse five years ago. Hopefully I will start doing some advanced mediums with Trix in a couple of months and it would be nice to think of him at PSG by the end of the year.”

The Medium 61 was won by Kirsty Mepham on her “little Dikki”, Mandy Crouch’s Florenzo. A tad full of himself in the warm-up, Kirsty went into the arena muttering that it might be an exciting test… In the event she kept him contained and they turned in a win on 70%.

Hilary Vernon has also supplied Rowena with a React Edgware training bit that combines the attributes of a bridoon and a Pelham. Rowena explained: “James is almost impossible to work in an ordinary snaffle because he just takes over and I’m trying to move him on so that he can get his changes for advanced medium. At the moment they are they are work in progress — like jumping a four foot square parallel with a six foot ditch underneath!”

The silver section was won by Rowena Gilbert riding her near 18hh former advanced eventer Keystone and scoring 68.28%. Rowena bought part-Holsteiner Keystone as a six-year-old. he had been jumped in Ireland and she says came over with a frazzled brain and no mouth: “I’ve evented him successfully for six or seven seasons up  to 2*. He’s still sound but he’s 15 now and I adore him. I knew that I’d break him or me if we carried on at 3*. Instead, I thought I’d see if he’d take to dressage so I joined BD in 2017. I went out straight away at medium. He was seventh at the summers but at this year’s Merrist winter regionals he was big, strong — and arrogant which was why he managed to event so well. I’d been playing around trying him in different doubles and he decided he didn’t like the one he had that day.”

She continued: “I got a new double on the recommendation of Hilary Vernon of Informed Designs Bitting. It is her design and she reckons that when the horse gets to the right position — up and out but soft — and the rider allows with the hand, the bit allows the horse to enjoy a release so learns that that is a good and comfortable place to be. James has spent so many years taking over that for him to learn that it’s not necessary and to wait for me, will take time.”

If you ever thought you had a connection problem, spare a thought for carriage drivers!

Lucy McGill won the silver section Novice 22 on 65% and also scored 66.77% for second place in the Novice qualifier riding her single’s driving horse, 14-year-old Zaronno, who is known as “Cougar”.

Lucy said: “I was thrilled with his results at Hickstead and he has come on a lot recently. He needs to learn to concentrate because he can be a bit of a ‘Gelderlander’. If he was being driven he would be wearing blinkers but when I’m riding him it’s a problem if he can see the edge of the arena. There’s no hard edge at Hickstead so he goes better there.”

She added: “I have to compete him in dressage because there are only a limited number of opportunities in the driving calendar. With a horse that’s not been out a lot it’s a good way to get them some experience until they learn to settle. We still have to work on the softness but adapting to contact and connection when you’re driving is tricky.

“The carriage is independent of the horse. As you slow down, it catches up with you — and as the horse accelerates the carriage drifts back, effectively you get left behind. It’s taken me quite a while to get used to what that means in terms of connection”

Lucy was having a last outing before heading out to Exloo in Holland to compete Zaronno in the equivalent of a 2* event driving trial: “We are up for British Team selection for the World Singles later in the year and we are after two qualifying marks at internationals of plus-65%.”

Driving competitors have to pack a huge amount of equipment before they set off to a show and missing even one item could be a disaster. Lucy’s solves this by having the Google Keep app on her iPhone. “As I pack, I tick off each item and you pack everything related to the carriage together, much as you should never pack a saddle without a girth. I would be very rich if I charged a penny for every occasion someone borrowed my spare girth!”

Out and About Dressage got an inkling of the old Born when Molly rode him for the first time after an extended Christmas break when they were training with Damian Hallam.
Molly said: “He was like a cat on hot tin roof that day. For a horse that is unbelievably supple and athletic he can hold his body and become totally rigid, creating an armour the rider just can’t penetrate.
“After the Wellington regionals he had another 10 days off but this time it didn’t bother him so much. He’s becoming much more normal and I can tap into his body rather than being kept at a distance. I’ll know I’ve arrived when I can put my foot on the accelerator and he doesn’t run away”

Also a former eventer, now a committed dressage rider, Molly Key maintains that Eastborn D is always a star, if sometimes a wild one. He was at his brightest and best at Hickstead winning the gold section Elementaries on 72.76% and 75.51%. Eastborn has had a troubled past, causing one prominent trainer once to describe him as a “nutter who should be shot”. Now, says Molly, judges seem to be excited about him. She commented: “I hope one day Bornie will be able to say, ‘Look at me I’m a super star!’

“For me, just one ride on Eastborn is worth enduring 100 winter days working with horses”

The silver section Elementaries were won on 72.59% and 69.64% by Philip Gover and family favourite Deutz who will be taking Philip’s son Freddie to eventing’s Corinthian finals at Gatcombe later this summer. Freddie also drag hunts Deutz with the Kent and Surrey Bloodhounds.

Deutz relished every opportunity to lengthen his canter in his tests but Philip commented: “He’s a funny old thing. I can’t ride a test with a whip because he gets the hump. I lost a spur before I started my second test and he felt the softest in my hand he’s ever been if not with so much energy.  I’ve worked really hard on his downward transitions over the winter. I needed the transitions sharper, particularly for the Elementaries, because then you can ride more accurately. He was listening to me for once.”

Lower level classes revealed some stars in the making. Amelia Ward, 19, rode the 16-year-old, partially blind Revue Star. The combination won the silver section novice qualifier with 67.42% before going on to win the Elementary 57 bronze with 68.75%. Amelia said: “It has taken such a long time to get a partnership with ‘Jasmine’. I was chuffed with her because it was the first show she went into the ring and relaxed and trusted me. We had no spooking and jumping across the arena which have given us many twos and threes in the past. She relaxed and flowed with me. When I came out of the arena I said to mum I don’t care where we come, I’m thrilled with her.”

The former event pony was once long-listed for the Pony Europeans. Sadly before Amelia could campaign for Pony Europeans herself, Jasmine suffered a suspensory ligament injury and has never jumped since. When she recovered and was due to be sold Amelia decided to take her to a flatwork lesson with Rudgwick next door neighbour Daniel Timson. Amelia said: “Daniel fell in love with her and said: ‘you have to keep her: try some pure dressage’ and suddenly Jazzie and I clicked. I had never got on with her before and thought I’d made a mistake buying her but over one summer, with Dan’s help, she turned from being an event pony who couldn’t do a dressage test to save her life to scoring 68% at Elementary.

The gold section Novices were won by Joe Bright riding Karen Cleaves very handsome Rubrix for best yet scores of 71.21% and 70.97%. 
Rubrix, a Rafurstinels x Corleone seven-year-old, was making his third show appearance and recording his fifth and sixth wins

Another combination from eventing to look out for are Helen Millichamp and six-year-old Jalado’s Star. They won the Prelim classes with 74% and 76.25%. Helen said: “I bought Jalado’s Star from Carolyn Bates of the Grafham Stud. She is by her stallion Wish Upon a Star and is out of a full sister to Brief Encounter.

“Judge Yvonne Huber loves her and thinks she should have a dressage career. For now I’m going to do both because I’m able to at lower levels and then we will see where we go. The mare had never been to Hickstead before and she went a bit wobbly on me in her first test and gave a pile of leaves in the corner of the arena a hard look, but in the second test she felt a lot better. We’ve qualified for the regionals at Prelim and now she’s ready to move up we’ll do some Novice tests. I’m also going to put her forward for the Southern team for the inter-regionals.”

© Celia Cadwallader, 31 March 2018

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