Merrist Wood, Surrey, 21 October
Featuring riders Tor Fenwick, Melissa Beer, Melissa Smith, Charlotte Stansfield, Jamie Broom, Pip Blain, Ellie Dempsey, Megan Ingham, Christine Cockerton, Willow Kemp, Molly Key, Alice Oppenheimer and Julia Hodgkinson.
TOR FENWICK tested her partnership with Russki at prix st georges and their 68.68% result placed them top of the class. Tor has spent the past six months developing Russki’s trust in a new rider. Last year Shaun and Eva Measures’ homebred, by their Rubinstein stallion Rimskij Korsakov, was 2016 Small Tour champion under Leah Beckett. Tor said: “It has taken time to get him to be on my side and understand what I want of him. You have to gain his trust in every movement and almost I have to believe in him more than he does himself. Then he’s fab. I have also been working on getting him a lot fitter and slimmer by hacking him twice a week — which means 45 minutes of trot and canter work, not bimbling around!
“We scored eights for changes and for the counter-change of hand, but I was most pleased that his frame was much more up throughout the test. It is something that Charlotte [Dujardin] picked up on in a lesson a couple of weeks ago. I think that’s what gained us the good marks. He was much more connected and more powerful, but in a controlled way.”
Melissa Beer, who competed Celestial King in international young rider and small tour classes is a busy Sussex-based trainer but has lacked a high profile competition horse. Naomi Vance Webb’s PRE stallion Guardadamas looks set to change that.
The gallant and much-treasured 18-year-old stallion was once considered a potential Olympic ride for Jose Antonio Garcia Mena. His career was abruptly ended by colic and he bears a long scar from post-surgery complications and loss of crest muscle during lengthy hospitalisation. Melissa and her enthusiastic PRE partner scored 66.84%, finishing second in the gold section.
A similarly circumstanced trainer is Melissa Smith. She competed her own eye-catching, long-white-stockinged Othello up to international grand prix a few years ago. She rode a 66.18% PSG, placing her third in the class, riding Marilena Pevreall’s Caletto-sired Danish warmblood Califstar. Melissa commented: “I’m very excited to be competing Calif. I have trained Marilena for many years but, as she’s very busy with her teaching job, Calif moved to my yard in September. I’m on a crash course to qualify him for regionals at PSG and Inter I before the end of November.
Melissa who is based in Elstead, Surrey, has made a slow recovery from the serious and frequently misdiagnosed Lyme Disease, the result of a bite from a tick transferred from her dog.
Melissa continued: “Calif isn’t the biggest moving horse but he’s very trainable. A lot of the horses we professionals end up with are very complicated. It’s nice to have one that’s so straight-forward. He hasn’t competed a lot and is a bit over-excited at shows at the moment, so we get some tension that we don’t have at home. He already has passage and once we’ve qualified for the small tour classes we’ll push on with training one-tempis and piaffe.
A quiet, relaxed competition experience was what Charlotte Stansfield aimed for with Riverndell Royal Jazz. She said: “This is only ‘Jazze’s’ fifth or sixth PSG and his lower scores at the level have been at Premier Leagues. I am taking him to quieter shows so that he learns to relax and I don’t try for the bigger marks that he’s capable of. He’s sensitive and can be quite challenging so giving him a nice ride pays off better.”
Charlotte has found that being based at Kilbees Farm among many competitive combinations has inspired her to work harder with her dressage and she is now training with an old acquaintance from Denmark, Sune Hansen.
Moving up to a new level often initially causes blips in performances at a previously established level, as Pip Blain has found this summer with Jan Palmer’s Donatella IV.
At Merrist they were fourth in the advanced medium 92 silver on 64.86% which compares with their plus-70% previous best. But when Pip put on her smart new tailcoat for the first time the duo made a respectable advanced debut scoring 64.21% for their test 100. She commented: “I’ve never ridden an advanced before and until you’ve done it, you’re not entirely sure what the judge will be expecting from you. ‘Roo’ is a brave horse when it comes to atmosphere and arena, but she’s not very brave in her work and has to feel secure before you ask her to go for it in a test. She was nervous and we had some silly mistakes and it was difficult to made up the marks lost. Even though judge James Rooney gave her some 7s and 7.5s, I also had a 3 and a 5 for some real fluffs. I would love to do my first PSG with her before Christmas if I can get her more confident in the step up.”
Ellie Dempsey and Wembley Z, advanced medium 92 overall winners on 68.1%, always seem to find appreciative judges. Ellie commented: “’Womble’ and I have built up a great partnership in the five years I’ve been riding him and he always tries his heart out for me.
He stayed with me the whole test and I was able to ride him exactly how I do at home. His changes, lateral work and extensions all came off. I always try to ride accurately and judges seem to like the harmony.”
The 14-year-old Solos Carex son has not always been an ‘easy’ ride. Hot and spooky, he started his dressage career quite late. Fortunately, Ellie has benefited from home-based help from her mother Sharon an experienced Ascot-based dressage trainer. They competed and finished well at Winter Championships in 2014 and 2015.
Another interesting advanced medium combination were Megan Ingham and Wanadoo. Megan’s mother Coral frequently competed at Merrist during the now 16-year-old Wolkenstein II’s early career, but lack of time led her to offer the ride to her trainer Carl Hester. Carl competed Wanadoo at international grand prix as recently as Doha in March and they were the lead story of the Horse & Hound report at their international debut at Hickstead, July 2015.
Coral explained: “I wasn’t able to devote the time to Wanadoo that grand prix would have required. When Megan decided to take a gap year to ride we decided to keep him rather than lease him to a rider in America. He is the perfect schoolmaster for her and we made the right decision. It’s an incredible opportunity for her and it’s nice for me to have him at home.”
Professional chiropractor and successful amateur rider Christine Cockerton won the silver section medium 75 on 68.64% riding her Rivaldo x Obelisk eight-year-old Evaldo. They have previously got through to and won at Petplan finals in 2016 and competed at the Winter Championships at medium this spring.
Perhaps more could have been expected from their medium at Merrist this time? Christine explained: “He probably produces better-scoring advanced mediums than mediums at which level he’s already qualified. His canter is his strong point but we’ve been working on improving his trot, doing half-steps and teaching him passage. Judge Debbie Wardle didn’t like to see him dwelling a bit in collected trot when he came back from his medium, so I will have to rectify that in future tests.”
Willow Kemp, like Charlotte Stansfield is based at Kilbees Farm and now also training with Sune Hansen. She competed the two young stars that she hopes will take her up to big tour as Dragon Heart II has done. “I’ve had Dragon since he was four and riding him is like having a conversation with an old friend,” says Willow who won the gold section medium riding seven-year-old Dark Horse on 66.08% despite some unscheduled flying changes.
Dark Horse is by Helen Langehanenberg’s Damsey out of a Rubin Royal mare. Willow’s other promising youngster is seven-year-old Lone Star II, whom she retired from the same class. “Luna” is equally impressively-bred, being by Lord Loxley out of a Lauries Crusador mare. The rider describes her as a long-term project. She commented: “Luna is highly strung; very forward in trot and canter but doesn’t yet like the idea of walking. She won the Badminton Young Horse Championship as a five-year-old and I’m very proud of her, but she hasn’t done much since. As I’ve had both horses since they were three, competition-level performance has been a long time coming but now it’s getting exciting.”
Molly Key’s on her latest ‘pony project’ — with an ejector seat hind-leg and no air bags — Eastbourn D, a perfect retirement plan who nevertheless stayed the elementary course!
Alice Oppenheimer’s 70.44% gold section and overall winning Elementary saw her partnered with ‘the Yellow One’ — Caroline Dibden’s dun ‘pony’, Difinnity, pictured below. Finn is by Dimaggio and was bred from Caroline’s Connemara x TB mare Celtic Rose III who took Alice from Pony Club in her mid-teens to Winter Championships in 2007 (and on up to advanced medium). ‘Kelly’ is now 24 and Finn was the result of a successful embryo transfer eight years ago.
Caroline, who was taught to ride as a nervous adult by Sarah Oppenheimer and Alice said: “Kelly is a lovely mare who kept Alice safe competing all the while she was learning on more tempestuous animals, like Wurlizer. It’s almost a surprise when you get want you want from a breeding, except the size, I wanted 15.2hh and Finn is 17hh. But he has Kelly’s temperament and Dimaggio’s hind leg and Alice loves competing him. I get all of the pleasure but none of the pain!”
Julia Hodgkinson, happily based at Crabbett Wood Stud in Limpsfield, Surrey, has surprised herself with her success in dressage. At Merrist she notched up her third win at Elementary in two outings riding Wunderboy. They scored 67.5% and led the bronze section but were also fourth overall with just three gold combinations ahead of them. “Woody”, a substantial show-jump bred gelding by Concorde, is now 14.
Julie said: “I got him as an unbroken three-year-old and when I first went to Sharon Edwards for training three years ago I couldn’t even get him on the bit and he was in charge.
“Since I’ve been training with Sharon I’ve been on Southern inter-regionals teams twice and to a Home International. I’m 60, work full-time to keep Woody — and I’m having the time of my life!”
© Celia Cadwallader, 28 October 2017