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 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:

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