Merrist Wood, Surrey, 1 April
Featuring riders Sarah Millis, Claire Moir, Tor Fenwick, Liz Diegutis, Debbie Poynter, Jo Wood, Rowan Bryson, Holly Colgate-Hardaway, Jamie Broom, Issy Rosser, Natasha Gibbons and Betty Tatchell,

BIG TOUR at Merrist lived up to its name with Grand Prix and Inter II classes filling the warm-up arena with giants at the end of a day featuring many big personalities. A lot of combinations were stepping up to a new and challenging level — so frequently scores were on a more modest scale. But Sarah Millis, below, took 18hh-plus Behroez from his current competitive international plus-72% small tour level two steps up the ladder to winning his debut grand prix on an impressive 67.5%. 

Claire Moir, featured top, made what was almost her own grand prix debut, as well as that of 18hh-plus Davonport Bewes. She thereby exceeded her ambition, achieved two years before to compete “Rodney” in small tour at a favourite international venue, Compiègne. Another two GP debutants were Joe Bright and a confident and relaxed 18hh JBD Wodan, see below. The previously nervous horse has clearly benefited from SAS-equivalent arena familiarisation training that included Stoneleigh last year as a member of the Hickstead Quadrille,

Since Compiègne, which Claire celebrated with Rodney and Rodney’s owner and breeder Anne Haydon in 2016, the rider has had a battle with colonic cancer that involved a 10-hour operation. But she said, “I was not able to ride for a couple of months afterwards but during that time I taught [16-year-old] Samantha Willson on him and she competed him at Advanced and enabled her to get her qualification to ride at PSG.”

Claire reflected: “Compiègne was wonderful and everything we achieve now is a

bonus. I never thought Rodney would go grand prix and there’s a lot more to come than we showed today. It was green around the edges. He needs to strengthen up in the piaffe-passage but he also did lots of things well and I was very pleased with the changes because sometimes he can get over-exuberant. In the end his one-times will be his party piece along with his canter pirouettes — he was a good boy!” Claire added:

“Carl once said, ‘you get to grand prix and then you realise it is only the start’. That’s how I feel. I have trained a lot of horses to do the movements but I’ve really only done one grand prix before and so I’m very green at riding the test”

Shaun and Eva Measures’ big boy Russki and 25-year-old Tor Fenwick were testing the water at Inter II hors concours. Tor has been riding Russki just under a year. She said: “We’ve established his confidence at small tour level but big tour is a lot to ask. I’m very proud of him. He was tired at Merrist because we had a last-minute offer of a lesson with Charlotte Dujardin on the day before. He’s not been the most straight forward to train because he’s not the brightest mentally, but once he’s got something, he’s got it. He can do all the work at home but we are still establishing his confidence in my piaffe and one-tempi aids and it will be a good year before he is strong enough and confident enough to do them well in the arena. When everything is a bit more push button, I believe he will be better at grand prix than at small tour because of his talent for piaffe-passage.”

It was noticeable, scanning through Out and About photos of the day, that Debbie is able to ride the power with Really’s mouth looking consistently soft, closed and happy.

The gold winner of the Inter I and the PSG classes on 69.6% and 69.73% was Debbie Poynter riding big mover 13-year-old Keystone For Real. The pair have been collecting red rozzies for big scores at PSG and Inter I recently and will shortly be making their annual appearance at Hartpury. Really’s extraordinarily powerful hind leg action, and Debbie’s long but successful struggle to overcome his tension so he can step through his compact frame, are now legend.

Debbie explained: “He is wide behind in his extended work because he takes such massive steps: if he didn’t go wide he’d strike into his front legs. It makes it difficult for him to balance. I can differentiate between his medium and extended trot, but I could risk getting two mediums if I tried to turn the power down. The moment you ask for slightly more, more is what you get.” Debbie added:

“Really has a quirky personality but he is so talented, that a lot of it has been me learning how to ride at this level. I try to make the most of his talent and I do feel that I let him down sometimes, because I haven’t got a clue! Now I’m trying to learn Inter II, so it’s mind-blowing”

Liz Diegutis, who achieved her Union Jack badge last year partnering Saskia Hit at Big Tour, was introducing Dresden Boy to Inter I. They came second in the class overall on 68.47%. Their very forward, fluent test was described by judge Debby Lush as “enthusiastic”.

Liz commented: “He hasn’t done many PSGs but he can do all the Inter I work at home, so I thought I would take him out and see where we’re at. The score was pretty good, but I was a bit annoyed with myself because I think I over-rode him, thinking I needed to help him more than perhaps I did. Looking at the video, I can see where I could have left him alone more, but he was a good boy.

Dresden Boy is by Ingrid Klimke’s former GP ride, Dresden Mann. He is small, only 15.3hh, but Liz said: “He is a genuine pocket rocket. He’s 10 this year, and we’re working on the GP movements. I’ve just moved to Karen Shepherd’s Pepperwood Park establishment. She has amazing facilities and I’ve been teaching ‘Del Boy’ one-tempis in the huge show jumping arena and we’ve already managed to do 10.”

Another combination who should stand tall proudly, and do, are Jo Wood and 18hh Aros who scored 63.28% in only his second Inter I.
‘Gordon’, every inch a Gelderlander, started his career rocket propelled and at risk of leaving orbit.
Watching him still makes you hold your breath but Jo now not only has him travelling forward much more comfortably but also sitting nicely for his pirouettes.
Jo has been training and competing the 11-year-old for owner Nikki Miles since 2013.

Prix St Georges featured several combinations stepping up to the level, including first-timer Janice Hawkins scoring 64.21% on schoolmistress Delilah, owned and bred by Louise Hartnett — and second-timer Megan Ingham,19, scoring 65.92% riding her mother Coral’s Wanadoo, formerly a grand prix ride of Carl Hester. Jamie Broom who also competes in the gold section has made his own PSG horse — big personality Furst Impression — who is the first horse he’s trained for dressage.

Jamie, who has ridden a handful of PSGs, said: “I thought it was a 63% test today: we had a lot of mistakes, so that was what he deserved. He now usually does his changes clean every time but in the threes today he just didn’t want to change to the right, and he also struggled with the right half-pirouette. When we got back we contacted physio Deborah Bateson straight away. She’s always treated him and loves him and although she has moved to Gloucester she came out to us in Berkshire that night.

Jamie: “Everyone who knows Tigger loves him: it’s his personality. He’s like a Peter Pan. He’s only 16.1hh but he’s the first one people notice when they come on the yard.
“We’re working on exercises that Isobel Wessels has given us to make him stronger for the pirouettes. She says he’s ‘got it all there’”

Jamie’s winner of the day was Gail Brogan’s Mr Q who scored 68.1% in the Medium 75. He says they are very different rides: “Tigger can do all the movements quite easily but he doesn’t always put in as much effort as I want him to. If you give him a wake-up he’ll kick out at your leg and get a bit of an attitude, then he starts pinging, but if you misjudge it you could end up bucking down the arena

“Mr Q wants to do it but he can get very tense if he gets something wrong, or is struggling with something, and he needs a bit more support. We’re trying to tell him if he makes a mistake it’s not the end of the world. Both horses have wild cards to Hartpury. Q’s owner burst into tears when she learned that he was going: it wasn’t in our plan this year. We may be competing in gold, but gold section means both horses are in top 24 in the country, even if we can never win at a Nationals again.”

Holly Colgate-Hardway and the Measures’ Rimskij Korsakov homebred Renoir  won the Advanced pyo overall with a 66.32% test 102, qualifying the rider to compete at PSG. Holly commented: “Mincer is a bit of a challenge and he does test me, but in a good way because it keeps me very aware of how light the aids need to be, but I also need to have him taking me forward willingly and happily. He’s sensitive and he doesn’t like to be told what to do. I don’t like to chase him but sometimes I have to give him a bit of a kick and say, ‘come on’.

We have found the best way to get good scores out of him is to be correct and soft; the judges can’t help but acknowledge that.”

Holly scored 67.36% for second place in the Advanced Medium 98 riding her mother’s Dalvangs Lorenzo as a follow up to a silver section win in the medium 75 on 68.64%. Holly has been giving Lorenzo a crash course in indoor schools in preparation for Hartpury:

“We thought the Merrist show would be a good pre-Winters venue for him because it’s quite spooky and he can be quite nervous indoors. We also did arena hire here on Tuesday to practise with our medium freestyle music — because it always runs differently away from home  — and we’ve done medium guinea pig riding for a judge’s day and then we’re doing a demo for the Youth camp at Parwood. His freestyle at Sparsholt will be a final indoor experience before the Winters. Hartpury will be ‘just experience’, too, but a top 10 place is my goal.

“Lorenzo did a green advanced medium. He doesn’t quite understand yet that I actually want him to do changes in a test: ‘you mean now, in here?’. He jumped a bit too high in one of the changes on the serpentine and wasn’t quite enough off my leg, then spooked and ran off in the medium down the long side — which is typical. But the across-the-diagonal extended canter and change was lovely and I was pleased with the test overall.”

Broughton Envoy’s latest was mission to do a first Advanced 102 well enough to get mum Natasha Gibbons qualified to ride at PSG which he did handsomely scoring 64.41%. In his career, the 15-year-old Welsh D has done Working Mountain and Moorland, and showjumped up to Newcomers. Natasha who has Treetops Livery, near Bracknell, commented: “‘Ed’ loves dressage. He’s very clever and it gives his brain something to focus on.

“I was particularly pleased with his 5m circles with quarters in. They scored sevens and we’ve been working really hard on them. He finds it difficult to sit. He is wide and short-legged and he just wants to go flat out and not put his bum underneath. But suddenly, over the past couple of weeks, the penny has dropped and he’s realised that he can bend his hocks to sit. The whole test was quite calm and relaxed — just his tempis were a bit tense. They’re work in progress: if I don’t use enough leg they don’t happen and if I use too much he will canter off. We’re getting there. I just have to judge the right level of aid at a show.”

Horses can make you weep, they can also make you laugh till you cry!

Issy Rosser who was doing her first advanced pick your own on Espartaco XXII produced a 62.05% Advanced 102 to qualify for PSG at their first attempt.

“Although Sparky’s’ a very hot spooky horse, he can also ignore you when he has his mind on Sangria or something.“He’s a cheeky chappie. I would describe him as an easy Grade A student, but at the back of the class throwing rubbers and smoking a fag out the window.“We had a very amusing time at the first round Petplan last year. He got into the ring at Keysoe and thought he was at a bullfight. It was hilarious. Spectators were flocking to the arena to watch, but I was not giving up. I was completing our test no matter what.“Sparky had his knees up round his chin and then halfway through he slammed on the anchors stared at the photographer, put his tail up and did a big pooh with a ‘look at me’ expression on his face. I was mortified. The two judges at the C end weren’t very impressed but the judge at B had his head in his hands and was crying”

A human and equine chiropractor, Issy has been riding the 14-year-old Pura Raza Española since December 2016. [‘Sparky’ had a bit of a reputation for being just a bit and only occasionally, you understand, “challenging…”] Issy explained: “It happened that, as my own mare was in foal, I had nothing to ride and his owner Anfisa Ershova very kindly offered me the ride on him. Anfisa owns Equitopia Livery yard in Hemel Hempstead where a group of us moved when Patchetts closed. She bought Sparky from Spain off a video when he was eight, already knowing all the tricks!

“Sparky and I turned the corner in our partnership at the beginning of November when we started training with Nicola McGivern. Nicola is all about relaxation and stretching the horses a lot. So no ‘party tricks’, just the basics and getting him to settle. Nicola and I recognise the moment when he relaxes. He will have what we call his ‘L’Oreal moment’. When he releases his back he does a little skip and shakes his mane so that it goes everywhere.

“When I ride him I will do 20 minutes of walking in what I call a long low frame but to the contact, and deep and forward — trying to think of the wither as the highest point. And I will do all his lateral work in walk — shoulder-in, half-pass, travers — followed by a stretchy trot on big circles until I feel the L’Oreal moment then I’ll canter. It takes a good half hour then I can buckle down and ask questions.

“He can move quite nicely and the combination of the way we’re training now, and him having to think about the more difficult work, has changed his work ethic. He’s becoming more focused. I treat his back quite regularly and I also ride him to unlock both his body and his brain — then he can get decent percentages.

Whippet racing is not what a dressage rider usually mentions first, but Rowan Bryson’s whippet Loki competes in the Brighton Flyball team which, she says, runs at Crufts’ standard speed and aims to qualify for the next Crufts Dog Show.

Rowan’s other competitive partner Lazulith has already qualified for the even more prestigious Dressage “Winters” which will be the pair’s sixth national championship show. At Merrist the combination’s smooth performance saw them the top scorers in the Advanced Medium 98. Rowan said: “On the final centreline I said to myself, ‘I think that’s a 70 per cent test’. ‘Larry’ always gets high scores for his changes although when we started doing them he couldn’t follow through behind. Usually they now score between 7 and 8.

“Mostly what I work on with him is the suppleness the judges want in the lateral work, but warming up at a show I don’t have a specific agenda. It depends on him on the day. He can get a bit strong, so then I do a lot of forward and back to get him listening to me — I want to avoid problems coming back from extensions. At home he’s quite different. A show atmosphere lifts him, he comes alive. He has more self-carriage, more pushing through and his paces become bigger.

He had me in stitches going round the outside before his PSG. He did a capriole just in front of the judge, then carried on. He never used to be a natural competitor but he’s decided he enjoys it. It was only his second PSG today. He won the silver, but I couldn’t be disheartened by the 64.6% score because he gave me an amazing ride.”

Betty bought Daneur, now 10, when he was rising five: “He’s lovely and very trainable at home. He got my confidence back after a horse I was trying got me off and I shattered my leg landing on my feet”

Daneur was in a listening, helpful mood for rider Betty Tatchell, the 66.57% Advanced Medium bronze winners. Betty said: “I think Dan knew I needed help. I’d come off a couple days before when my four-year-old had a moment and although I’d dosed up on painkillers, I wasn’t very comfortable sitting to the trot or using my back in half-halts. I had to rely on him knowing the work and being kind to me. But perhaps I was being less demanding or dominating: I felt he even went a bit better for it.”

Dan is not always so co-operative — at the Oldencraig Area Festival last year he appeared to have forgotten how to bend. Betty commented: “I have good days on him and not so when he is just being lazy. At Merrist he was up for it. He finds the work easy and perhaps gets a little bored. I have been doing a lot of test 91s to qualify. Doing the 98 he had to think and listen because it all comes up very quickly.”

© Celia Cadwallader, 9 April 2018

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This