If you want to measure your competition performance or watch quality: go to Hickstead where winning in any section doesn’t come easy.

GOLD SECTION riders in the Elementary and Medium qualifiers — the hottest classes of the day — gave judge Margaret Drewe the pleasure of awarding a round dozen combinations scores of over 70% at Hickstead (19 April). One of the combinations she picked out for comment was her 75.88% overall Medium 73 winner, Sarah Millis. Sarah rode Selene Scarsi’s beautiful and massively powerful-looking Belissimo M x Fidertanz eight-year-old, Bodleian. They also won the advanced medium 85 on a more modest 70.15% due to still green changes.

Margaret said: “Bodleian has amazing paces and is the sort of horse you would expect to see at international competitions. Today he was so extravagant in his movement that there were some balance issues, otherwise the marks would have been higher but Sarah is such a great rider that she makes the connection on big-moving horses look easy.”

Runners up Molly Key on Eastborn D and Melissa Beer and Bucephalus II were both on 72.21%, but two collective marks gave second place to the former successful and frequently reported combination. Melissa, in third, is back on board a horse who was known as “Little Boss” when they were both based at Sarah Millis’s yard. She competed him for owner Catherine Stuart up to advanced medium in 2015. Boss, by Parzival, is now 11 and was brought back into work after injury and back into competition this year by the former British Team young rider. Boss is a quite different box of tricks from Melissa’s other current competition partner, the PRE stallion Guardadamas. Commenting on the “a little long behind the saddle” Boss, she said: “We have been trying to stop him just ‘flapping’ his front leg’s and instead come through more from behind — and his medium trot on the final centreline scored 8.5!”

Mark Lloyd-Fox’s Harley Beau under Sarah Ridd scored 72.35% in the Elementary 53 with one collective placing them first, ahead of Maria Collins on Dot Taylor’s Exclusive Gem. Friesian Beau, now 8, only began his dressage training last July. Previously he was just being hacked after a lengthy hospitalisation at Rossdales following multiple operations by tendon specialist Andy Bathe. Click to read Beau’s story. Sarah commented: “Since I've had Beau I’ve spent a lot of time building his strength. We do hill work twice a week and now we have the lighter evenings, I will be able to take him to the Wellington treadmill again after I’ve finished the yard.”

The heat got to Beau by his medium test so he couldn’t match his 69% best at the level. Maria Collins also said the hot, easily distracted Exclusive Gem was feeling uncharacteristically lethargic: “‘Vinnie’ is nine, very compact and weak — and he proves that small horses can take as long to mature in their bodies as big horses. I put him onto Saracen Releve after Christmas. We’ve been trying to find a feed that would put weight on him without having too much energy and within a month he started to fill out and look more mature. This year he’s accepting that he needs to be more focused on his work. I can keep him in front of my leg and ask for medium and he will take me into it, rather than hollowing and tensing in the poll.

"Paul Fielder, my trainer, is coming to give a clinic at my Kent yard next month and he’s going to polish up my walk pirouettes and get my half-passes more fluent and forward — then we’ll try some mediums.”

This report’s cover combination, see image top, epitomised the sunshiny day and spring time at Hickstead. They are Antonia Forster and Czech warmblood, Pyrities. They recorded the only plus-70% Elementary 53 silver test. “Py”, according to rider Antonia Forster, was once a horse that nobody wanted to buy and nobody wanted to ride. She said: “The fact that I couldn’t sell him was

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