Merrist Wood, Surrey, 8 October
A professional eventer steps nearer to his grand prix dressage goal, a cavalry man’s remount gets a glass of stout, a rider ‘thinking pink’ makes the judge smile, ponies make another adult convert, ‘Doogie’s’ mum plays a waiting game and Frodo’s mum matches him in elegance. Also learn more about the art of training driving breeds…

EVENTER Dannie Morgan has taken to dressage like a duck to water since he first competed BD in January 2016 — and he takes the techniques of the discipline as seriously as big fences. He claimed second overall in the advanced medium scoring 71.83% in the silver section to gold rider Alice Oppenheimer and Headmore Dirubinio’s 72.17%.

Jamie Broom who runs Lakeside Equestrian Centre near Windsor with his wife Georgi is an ex-Army Equitation Warrant Officer with the Household Cavalry.
He has taken his wife’s Furst Heinrich son Furst Impression, now 11, from winning the Novice at the Merrist Winter Championships in 2015 to his plus-66% PSG freestyle debut at this show — “almost three years to the day since he did his first ever novice,” said Jamie.
Georgi had got champagne on ice to celebrate the occasion and Tigger was due his customary post-show bottle of stout in his feed.
“We don’t always realise that we’ve achieved what many people have tried to do for years,” continued Jamie. “Tigger has been fourth at the Novice and won Medium Winter championships and competed at Hartpury in the advance medium championships. Sara-Jane Lanning, my trainer, says he could go all the way to grand prix”

Dannie is also blessed to have crossed paths with the talented 17.2hh Breitling x Furioso-sired Southern Cross Braemar who reinforced his ambition to get to top level competition in both dressage and eventing. This came about in true eventer fashion by ‘Barry’ being a tricky youngster with his former owner. Commenting on his freestyle, Dannie said: “We haven’t been to Merrist for a while so, although he was little bit tight in his back, I was pleased. I love my Jackson 5 music, especially the canter to I want you back, so I enjoy riding to it. It was a good mark but I know there is also a lot that can be improved in terms of way of going. Barry’s such a big horse and still relatively weak for the level. It’s taken a while for him to gain strength, suppleness and cadence in the trot.”

Dannie and Barry were fifth in the silver advanced medium at the Nationals despite lack of preparation as, due to a cut on a hock, the seven-year-old had an enforced fortnight off and couldn’t be worked until just a few days before Stoneleigh. Dannie commented: “But Barry has such a good brain on him, he always tries his best for me.”

Dannie: “I train with Erik Theilgaard who is brilliant. He has helped me a lot with my seat and my riding — how you influence your horse with your balance and how to achieve a good way of going.
“I try to have fortnightly lessons because any longer I could go off-course and we’re moving towards PSG for next year. That’s all new to me.
“Erik is good at explaining things. I often work Barry alone at home so when I go away after a lesson I need to understand what I’m doing and what I’ve got to work on. There are always small things that need to be corrected and on your own you can get a bit lost”

Dannie helps with the riding of the Headmore Stud youngsters, so also benefits from Headmore eyes on the ground. He adds: “Alice helped me quite a lot with our freestyle floor plan which is basically my medium one with quite a few flying changes added, because Barry’s good at them. The idea at the moment is to qualify and hopefully increase the degree of difficulty to be competitive at winter regionals.”

Holly Colgate-Hardaway rode two very different horses successfully at the show. Her star turn in the medium freestyle was overall class winner Dalvangs Lorenzo who scored 73% but she also produced a very creditable 70.33% on Eva and Shaun Measures’ compact, quick-thinking ‘Mincer’.

Last month Holly took 17.2hh Lorenzo to the Nationals and won the Elementary silver championship. She said: “He was really good there but didn’t like the plants in the pots flapping and so I had a spook. I managed to catch him and use that to my advantage and we had a brilliant medium trot afterwards.”

In her Merrist freestyle, Holly boldly medium-cantered Lorenzo onto the centreline and aimed for a simple change at G. Holly commented: “You have to do something that catches the attention or you risk boring the judge.

“When I was little and when my mum Zoe (Colegate-Sopp) was competing her stallion King of Confidence she would always gallop down the centre line and halt just in front of the judges, making them sit back in their chairs! I’ve always wanted to do that, but I didn’t have Lorenzo quite collected enough and almost fell into walk, so it only got a 6.5.”

Mincer, or Renoir, keeps Holly as quick thinking as he is himself. She admitted: “It was quite a challenge to ride Mincer after Lorenzo. I haven’t been riding him long and he can be a bit nervous and throw his legs around. I was impressed how well he behaved although we did have a blip in the walk by the door when he wanted to leave, but as it was a freestyle, I just continued in the opposite direction and carried on. It’s early days for our partnership and he is a tricky horse, but I now have him on-side 98 per cent of the time and he gives you such a good feel.”

Holly reported that the judge liked her pink hat decoration, stock and jacket detail — but ‘thinking pink’ goes deeper with the rider

Holly: “My mum has always told me, ‘smile at the judge’. You’re not just presenting your horse but yourself, too. You need to train yourself to have a pleasant expression while you’re concentrating on your riding. Your performance will come across better”

‘Walter’ returns to Merrist with more Friesian wisdom on the clock

KATHARINE LEWIS and Jos K, her six-year-old Friesian stallion, returned to Merrist Wood where they triumphed in the Elementary gold at the winter regionals in February.

“He’s been a very good boy! He came eighth in the winter championships and won the gold Elementary class at Hickstead summer regionals against top-name riders,” reports Katharine. “I thought he did a brilliant test at the Nationals in September and scored just under 70% and we were 16th! That sounds a terrible result but, considering the field, I was chuffed with him.”

Katharine also rode chestnut Dutch driving horse, Albertho B, into sixth place on 67.6%. He is owned by former British driving team medalist and many times national singles driving champion Di Hayes. She explained: “I’ve ridden for Di for several years and while she was still competing I schooled her horses once or twice a week to keep them supple — and if the mind was right, I might pop them out to do a dressage competition.“Di bought Albertho to compete and did one season with him in driving trials. She doesn’t compete any longer but still drives him up on Salisbury Plain behind her home. He’s 13 years’ old and when I started riding him he had been sat on but only to be shown for his trot ‘action’ as a potential driving horse and didn’t know how to canter! He was still like a baby but stronger and with more opinions! And without blinkers driving horses experience the world differently!“Albertho’s now cracked what dressage is about. Previously he related going into the arena to driving competitions and he’d go ‘Wowwh!’ and his neck would go up. We turned the corner when got to Elementary. His extensions are very powerful and he finds going sideways very easy”

Katharine and Walter were fourth on 68% in the Medium gold freestyle on this visit to Merrist.

She continued: “Walter’s got better and better in testing environments. In 2016 at the summer regionals we parted company in the arena walk: it was cold, a flag cracked and he bolted across the arena.

Friesians are known to have a fright and flight problem, but he’s got better as he’s got older and I now know how to handle the first few minutes on board when he’s tense. I start by riding him in an outline and focused, and avoid challenging situations. I can finish walking him on a long rein when he’s relaxed.

Although he’s a stallion, he is not stalliony, he doesn’t wave his ‘thing’ and squeal: he’s such a nice horse!”

Katharine trains with Anni Macdonald-Hall who originally advised her to buy 16hh Tsjalle 454-sired Jos K, then a four-year-old. Two years on they are introducing him to flying changes: “With Walter his balance and rhythm are his strong points, so I could probably do a 10m counter-canter on him. Medium canters to simple changes are easy because he has such a bounce in his stride. He finds it super easy to sit back.

“But he’s not been easy to teach flying changes. He’s very bright and you feel with that quality of canter, as long as he knows what you want, he should be good at them. However, his counter-canter is so very balanced that when you give the aid, and even exaggerate for the change with your weight, he will just try harder to maintain the same lead.

“I’ve read a lot about other people who have trained Friesians and they’ve found that training has to be very reward-based. So if the change doesn’t go to plan, we just keep going and as soon as we get what we want we have a massive celebration. He gets a sweetie and told that he’s amazing. He never needs telling off. If I got cross, it would just freak him out. As Anni, tells me, ‘Always stay jolly!’”

“We’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel and by next Spring, I may feel able to show off his flying changes in a competition. What Walter has shown us is encouraging for the future at higher levels in terms of collection. We don’t want to over-train him now because he is only rising seven — and he’s a lovely horse.” See more about driving to dressage horses. 

New silver combination Nicola Byam-Cook and Welsh C Twyford Salamander, see picture, top, scoring 71.54%, were second overall in the Elementary freestyle to Alice Oppenheimer and huge part-Connemara Headmore Difinnity on 72.89%. Nicola was formerly known to the dressage world as owner of Dark Legacy (Dayton) who was competed for her at grand prix by Amy Stovold. Her palomino pony, ‘Solo’ was competed in July by former owner Bonnie Bourne in the pony FEI classes at the Hickstead international.

Nicola said: “This is only our second freestyle and I’m thrilled with Solo. We beat Difinnity in our first one at Wellington on Monday but I had Zoe Colgate-Sopp warming me up so I had an extra bit of suppleness and a more elastic way of going. However, the Wellington judge said I was rushing him out of his canter rhythm. I changed the floorplan for Merrist and it worked brilliantly.

“I haven’t competed for five years and I know my limits as a rider, but as my youngest daughter is starting school, I thought, ‘I’m ready to have a pony now’. I had Solo on lease for a month to check that he was the right one for me and after 10 days I took him to our first show, at Merrist Wood. I was so ‘rabbit in the headlights’ that I went wrong twice in the Elementary non-qualifier but we then won the qualifier on 71.17%.

I have a lot of bends and twists in my floor plan to supple Solo, so although I hope they looked good, they also helped me. I could ride him and prepare movements, rather than just sit there”

Georgia Davis’s Keystone Diego was bought from Suzanne Lavandera as a foal and has Kate Smith’s Keystone Darling as a full sister but, she says that they’re like chalk and cheese in their temperaments: ‘”Doogie’ is very chilled about everything. We’re very excited about his future and he’s already qualified for Novice and Novice freestyle and now we’ve nearly qualified at Ele freestyle too”

“Dark Legacy was lovely but I couldn’t keep him at home and my little pony feels like he’s got a big engine but I never feel I wouldn’t be able to cope. I’m a massive convert to ponies and having one makes everything fun.

“Solo was quite hard work to begin with but he’s a quick learner and Zoe is making me ride better than I did before. I would now like to qualify at medium. I’ve never ridden a half-pass, but he gives me confidence that we can have a go. Hopefully he will manage changes with me at some point, then he’ll be a perfect schoolmaster for my daughter Jemima later on.”

In 2015 Georgia Davis’s Richmans Manta, the horse with which she had contested young rider internationals, started a new career as a schoolmaster with a new owner in Boston, USA. Now a Petersfield-based freelance trainer, Georgia was a working pupil between 2012 and 2015 at Gareth and Rebecca Hughes yard. She returns to Gareth with Diego for training every fortnight. Georgia and ‘Doogie’ were second in the gold section Elementary freestyle to Alice and Difinnity with a score of 69.42%.

Georgia “It was a big thing to send the horse I owed everything to, to a new home in America. I flew over to see him last November and it’s all worked out perfectly for him”

“We’ve owned Doogie since he was a foal and he’s 18.2hh so we’ve given him time to strengthen. He does a lot of hacking and not much school work at all. There are a couple of things he finds difficult in straight Elementary classes so we designed our freestyle floor plan to make them easier for him. He’s a very talented horse and knows all the movements, but things like simple changes are more difficult for him than flying changes.”

Vickie Archer: “My boss Chris Thorne’s daughter Sam and her husband Craig Sawyer always do my music compilation. I make up a test and video it and send it to them. Interestingly, they’ve done the same thing for the walk for the two compilations they’ve done for me, ‘Disturbed: The Sound of Silence’, which I really like.
“‘Frodo’s stringhalt problem has improved beyond all recognition. I quite often get eight or nine for my free walk and turnout has helped a lot. It’s a strength thing. It used to be that every third stride he’d stamp but now he only does it if he’s tense or he’s tired.
“It is interesting that in his previous home he didn’t do it when he was walking on the water treadmill because he had to walk properly. I ensure that I make him walk properly when I ride him”

In the Novice freestyle Vickie Archer and 17.2hh seven-year-old Franco (ako Frodo) made an elegant picture and posted a 71.11% second in the gold section to first-placed Alice and Headmore Bella Ruby (who scored the plus-78% best mark in the show). Franco is Sir Donnerhall x Rohdiamant bred and, it emerges, a little bit spoilt, having come from royalty.

Vickie commented: “He belonged to Mimi Al Khalifa, a niece of the King of Bahrain. He had the best of everything but developed stringhalt after an accident in the field as a youngster, so I was able to buy him as a five-year-old.

“To begin with we had a lot of problems with rearing but we discovered that he had glandular ulcers and the rearing stopped once we started him on Gastrogard. He’s very spoilt; I’m not going to lie, but he’s very endearing and everybody loves him

“He has taken a long time to grow up in his head and still thinks he’s only four. He’s a typical male and his biggest issue is concentration if there’s something more interesting going on [no gender bias here, of course]. And he has to be the centre of attention all of the time.

“He has such lovely paces that I keep my freestyle lines long and flowing and avoid anything tricky that would cause him to lose balance and impulsion. You don’t get marks for degree of difficulty at this level but you want to try to make it interesting: it’s finding the balance between tricky and not letting the judge get bored that is difficult! I think his overall way of going in the arena is getting better. I can maintain more cadence in my working trot than I could have got even six weeks ago, although he didn’t show off his best party medium trot this time.”

© Celia Cadwallader, 14 October 2017

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