Merrist Wood Winter Regional Championships, 10-15 February.
Featuring riders Sharon Edwards, Luke Baber-Davies, Eve Manning, Molly Key, Eloise Mayhead, Jane Lavington, Daniel Timson, Joe Bright, Anna Lawson, Andrew Gould, Julia Walker, Jane Howard, Cecilia Hawthorne, Nicola Rapley, Christine Cockerton, Hannah Bown, Louise Stroud, Holly Colgate-Hardaway, Debby Lush, Mark Ruddock, Dawn Buckley, Katriona Sharp and Tor Fenwick

PERHAPS the biggest smile of the show was Sharon Edwards’ as she claimed the second of only two qualifying opportunities from the advanced medium 98 gold scoring 70.78% on Romanov x Rubinstar 13-year-old Rivaal — with first place having gone to Debbie Poynter and Keystone for Real with 71.62%.

That left Luke Baber-Davies riding owner-breeder Tracy Cooper’s Keystone Drummer Boy, third on 69.91%, hoping for a wild card. The powerful 17.1hh Dimaggio x De Niro eight-year-old has few competition miles under his girth. Luke revealed: “This is only his fourth advanced medium and 10 months ago he was doing novice. He’s muscled up a lot over the winter and he’s finding it easier to balance himself, and his huge power is easier to control. He came down the centreline, as always, really up for it: he was listening and not giving a damn for the environment and he loved the prize-giving.”

Pictured top is Eve Manning, the joker at the bottom of the deck, bravely riding in and for gold on both her advanced medium debut and her debut outing on Steff Parkinson’s Half Moon Bonarda

The silver test class was won on 70.04% by Molly Key riding Veronica and Kevin Chomse’s Absinth W. The substantial 17.2hh Abanos x Rubinstein 11-year-old has recently finished a long rehabilitation following kissing spines surgery but he is an ‘easy’ ride for Molly who usually has her skills challenged by the tricky ones. Molly commented: “‘Ant’s’ the first horse I’ve had who finds changes easy and he’s very obedient. He’s like a schoolmaster — if you ask him correctly, he generally he does what you want. All the judges liked his canter work which scored some eights and he had both an 8.5 for extended walk and an eight for walk pirouette. His weakness at the moment is trot where he still lacks strength to support himself correctly.”

Rider Eloise Mayhead said: “The Winter Championships were not in my mind: my personal goal was to show more of what ‘Sporty’ is able to do in training. He’s short-backed, powerful and incredibly difficult to sit to, especially for one of my shape and no longer a spring chicken! I’ve found myself riding tests surviving rather than influencing the performance.

Welsh D Tirclyn Sportsman was applauded when he finished his silver test 98 by both spectators and judges training in the gallery. He ended up in third place on 68.55%.

"He has good trot half-pass, but once I come down that centreline I can find that he’s just gone and we reach the track far too early. Today I felt I achieved my goals for each movement. I held up my end of the bargain and he held up his — although the little bugger missed the change at the end of the extended canter!” laughed Eloise.

Jane Lavington with part-Clydesdale Boston Deluxe, third in the advanced medium gold freestyle on 70.83%, left feeling disgruntled that her complex floorplan was rewarded only by sevens from two of the judges. She said: “Some judges don’t seem to be able to separate technical and artistic marks. There’s no point in doing a high degree of difficulty if the horse can’t carry it out, but Boston can; he only loses marks because he doesn’t have high mark movement. Those sevens could cost us a wild card.”

Medium 76 gold second and third places on 70.96% and 70.6% secured qualifications for nine-year-olds Florencio II gelding Elgar and Breitling x Fidermark-bred Bellagio with rider Daniel Timson who had misgivings before the event how the Ormonde Stud's noise-sensitive Elgar would cope. Daniel said: “It was reassuring to have evidence that he is now growing up. It was by no means one of his best tests but I was proud of him. Merrist is a totally new venue for him, a big show and the first time he’s ever done a 76. I was also proud of Tucker Anderson’s Bellagio. “I took ‘Alfie’ to Merrist a couple of weeks before for a warm-up and it didn’t go well; he was very tense and nervous. He gave me a fantastic ride on the day."

Busy with her degree dissertation Anna Lawson almost didn't compete Carentino Z, 'Shaun', at this round of winter regionals. She explained: "Ten days before I decided I ought to run through my music but it didn't fit him anymore because his movement has developed so much over the summer. I'm so bad with music and floorplans so I left it — until someone pointed out to me that I ought to grab every chance I had to get to a nationals. So I adjusted my floorplan, found some old trot music, edited my canter programme, downloaded software and managed to put it together. Then I couldn't burn it to a CD! The evening before the test I went over to my trainer Lynn Wickes and her husband helped. Shaun is so reliable and I was thrilled when we scored 71.94%, came second and got the qualification!"

Rebellious mum of teenagers Imogen Byers put family on hold temporarily to spend quality time with Furst Heinrich-sired Fassbinder. They scored a handsome 72.92% to win first place in the medium silver. Rowan Bryson, riding Lazulith who also secured her ticket to Hartpury, has been based with Andrew Gould working and training through the winter. (Andrew riding Cara Shepherd's Femme Fatale, pictured below, is seen taking home the sash for the gold freestyle.)

Julia Walker, competing in the silver section with 14.2hh Rain Dance, took fourth place with 69.74%. Formerly the pony ride of Abigail Uden, the Kennedy-sired pony is at the Lassetters in Goodwood for sale — but meantime he is continuing his education. Julia said: "He has already done a few advanced mediums and he does piaffe and we are working on passage. We are planning to do some advanced tests and it would be so cool if he could get to grand prix!"

Jane Howard went home with Day and Night on a high having achieved fifth place on 69.5% in the medium silver freestyle, despite the apparent disagreement over musical taste revealed by her scores.

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