Hickstead, West Sussex, 24 March
Featuring riders Liz Diegutis, Richard Barrett, Andrew Gould, Jacquie Mutch, Suzanne Lavandera, Sarah Millis, Shellie Beattie, Debbie Lush, Nicola Grainge, Rob Hulbert, Krystyna Monks and Danielle Dickson

HICKSTEAD opened its 2017 season with a humdinger of a day. Over 100 tests were ridden from prelim to grand prix. The ribbon for first in the grand prix was claimed by Berkshire-based Liz Diegutis. Liz celebrated both her birthday and her return to the British dressage scene with a plus-69% GP riding her 12-year-old Sandro Hit homebred Saskia Hit.

She said: “I’ve dreamed of getting that kind of grand prix score. When I first rode at GP, 69% was Olympic level! Both our judges [Linda Whetstone and Mary-Anne Horn] were spot on with their marks and complimentary about ‘Princess’ and about how I presented her, which I very much appreciate because the harmony stuff is really important for me.” Liz returned home to the UK in September from Germany where she has been working for the past several years riding, competing and producing horses for sale. She said:

“I learnt a lot and rode some wonderful horses in Germany but it was tough. I had to make my name as a rider all over again.” While there she competed Saskia Hit up to CDI4*. She added: “Now I want to ride internationally representing my country: I want my red badge!”

The strong cold north wind that blew all day was a factor for many combinations. In Richard Barrett’s inter II debut on Tantoni Sir Soccrates, his top hat was not entirely on-side and after some submission issues it eventually parted company. Richard said: “Every time I clutched my hat Soccs cantered off and we got a four. I felt so awful about it and went back to the lorry in shame. In all the years I’ve ridden it’s never moved but perhaps my hair's thinner on top now!”

The Sir Donnerhall x White Magic 11-year-old was last at Hickstead for the 2015 international when he won the PSG, partnered by Alice Oppenheimer. Alice also competed Soccs successfully in small tour classes at Vidauban in the same year. It has been Richard’s brief to produce Soccs at big tour and for sale for his owner and breeder Georgina Pole-Carew. Speaking of the positives from their inter II, Richard said: “I’ve been working on getting more closure in the baseline and I was pleased with the feel I got in piaffe-passage. We managed some eights and 8.5s when I wasn’t holding my hat!” Richard, Soccs and The Hat scored 65.59% for first place in their class.

Andrew Gould riding David and Angela Jones’ Esquire III led the inter I by four clear points but the magic wasn’t quite happening as it did back in the summer in the “invitational" before a panel of international judges when they made a winning inter I debut with a freestyle. So well-behaved is the Valeron x Krack C stallion — and he is only eight — that you forget that he is also a stallion. But Andrew corrected: “He is a stallion when you’re on the ground and it can take three of us to tack him up in the horsebox. He’s a pain until my bum hits the saddle, then he’s a different horse. The problem is he gets stressed travelling and by the time he gets to a show he’s already done half an hour’s work.

“Today was only his second inter I test — he scored 70% for his first at Belmoredean last week — but we are purely competing him now with the idea of giving him a good experience, so that he’s comfortable doing it. I’m not going to go through the gears just yet.”

Featured top are former Suffolk-based combination Jacquie Mutch and Vigo who won the PSG on just under 68%. Jacquie now lives near the West Sussex coast and Vigo, a 15-year-old son of Negro, is a resident of some three years at Sarah Millis’s Millstones yard. Jacquie said: "We were advanced medium, sort-of-ready to go PSG, when we arrived. I knew there was still work to be done but I also moved from being among the better riders on a yard to realising I was bottom of the pack at Millstones. It makes you want to up your game, so I’ve spent a lot of time training. Sarah’s a small person, like me — she’s about technique over muscle and having a horse through. I’ve learnt so much.

"I’ve had Vigo since he was three when my own training extended only up to medium. Vigo’s such an awesome creature. Although he can be cheeky, he tries to please and we’ve learnt together along the way — and learnt to be patient with each other. PSG was my original goal; now we’re learning piaffe-passage and ones! Last year I had limited time for shows so decided just to do high profiles and premier leagues at PSG and inter I to make me push myself. This year I hope to get out more and focus on improving my ring craft.

Suzanne Lavandera and Keystone Daganay won both advanced medium golds with 73.82% and 72.89%. The combination qualified comfortably ahead of the field on a 71.54% score at Wellington winter regionals. Janet Gee who has owned the nine-year-old Dimaggio x Weltmeyer stallion since he was a foal, said: “We’re now taking him to as many advanced mediums as we can to prepare for the Winters and touching wood! We've had so much bad luck and [minor health issues] have prevented us from being at nationals over the last couple of years.

“‘Merlin’s’ is doing PSG work at home and that’s where we’re heading after the summer regionals. You have to hold his hand when you teach him anything new. He likes to work things out in his mind and then he’ll do it all day for you. Suzanne is brilliant at breaking things down into component parts and simplifying things so he doesn’t worry — always bearing in mind that he’s an entire and much more lit up at home [at Suzanne's stud] than he is at shows, where he just gets on with his job.”

Nanette Spence's Zizi Top-sired eight-year-old Euforia, competed by Sarah Millis for the first time, won the medium 61 gold on 71.21% and the new partnership scored a second on 68.78% in the qualifier. Sarah said: “'Ted' was third in the elementary at the Nationals last September with Hayley Colwell. Nanette is based at Kilbees Farm and Peter Storr [a visiting trainer at Kilbees] asked if I would have the time to further his education in collection and flying changes — and also to help Nanette to build a partnership with him."

Sarah added: “He’s been with me three or four months and it was interesting to see how he was at a competition, and in an arena doing a test, to give me direction for our work at home. He has a super hind leg and a lovely attitude but sometimes his energy isn’t always channelled in the right direction. I was finding the gears in a show situation and I learnt that he's a lot more focused and with his rider than I thought he might be. If you give him clear directions he’s very willing and he’s very supple, so sideways is easy."

Beau Zillion led the silver section medium 61 with 67.59%. Now aged 13, he came to his rider Shellie Beattie with one or two quirks: "When I bought him as a seven-year-old he had done nothing but he had a very good party trick of bolting. He's a strong horse but not the bravest soul. Fortunately, we've just moved to a yard where we have great hacking with few roads". Beattie Dressage is now based 

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