Hickstead, West Sussex, 4 May
Featuring riders Sarah Millis, Leah Beckett, Rachael Hawkins, Alice Oppenheimer, Cathy Oh, Rowan Bryson, Tania Grantham, Philip Gover, Naomi Smith, Jo Henbrey, Badr Al Omran, Ruth Almond and Linnéa Aarflot

ROXY III, Sarah Millis’s shiny new competition partner, see above, clearly wowed medium qualifier judge Margaret Drewe who awarded them the top score of the day, 76.18%. The eight-year-old Romanov x Don Schufro mare, bred by owner Katja Kuistilla, had competed just three times before.

Sarah who is usually partnered with equine giants, said: “She’s a bit smaller than my usual rides, 16.1hh, but very athletic. I call her ‘Bambi’ because she does little leaps when she’s feeling playful. In the arena she is extremely focused on her rider and very light to ride; you just think of a slight adjustment and she’s with you. She finds it easy at medium level and she knows a bit about canter pirouettes and flying changes so we’ll progress her training towards small tour and take her out soon at advanced medium.”

Hofjuwel, left, also owned by Katja Kuistilla, scored 70.4% in the grand prix to head the class. The Hofrat x Davignon 12-year-old has been trained by Sarah since he came over from Denmark at four. He survived the huge atmosphere of Aachen last year in his first full season at Big Tour but is a far less cool customer than Roxy. Sarah said: “Hof was far too buzzy at the Keysoe Premier League. He hasn’t been competed for a while. He’s quite a sharp, on-edge horse, and not the bravest, so I was thrilled with him today after having to retire last week. At Hickstead I was able to ride him a lot more forward in the warm-up, without him being too explosive, and get the freshness out of his system while staying in control."

Rider Leah Beckett says she likes owner Jacqueline West’s taste in horses “a lot”! Jacqueline’s Don Schufro x Rubinstein 12-year-old Athene B gave Leah her grand prix debut achieving a 65% second place. The combination had the most ‘sitting’ of the piaffes seen that day. Leah said: “Piaffe is 'Attie’s' highlight and she’s very generous with it. She offers and you get to select the gear and go. One of the judges commented that it was travelling slightly, but that’s my inexperience, not her fault. I have also been advised to allow it to travel in our first few GPs to build her confidence in the ring.

Alice Oppenheimer is again a competitive force to be reckoned with — back in the arena after a lengthy period on the sidelines due to injuring her right hand badly when lungeing a horse. At Hickstead on Wimoweh, she scored 70.39% in the PSG, one mark behind winner Suzanne Lavandera on Keystone Daganay who made a 70.66% debut at the level. Alice and Wimoweh went on to win the Inter I on 66.71%.

Alice commented: “We stepped ‘Tank’ up to PSG last year, but we didn’t do many as he needed to gain the strength to maintain self-carriage throughout the test. He’s confident at PSG now but today I made a mistake trying to ride a big bold line of changes. In the inter I there were no major mistakes — it just needs polishing. He’s a bit of a joker and is always doing hilarious things, but he knuckles down to his work. Sadly he’s for sale. I would love to keep the ride but if I don't, he will give another person a lot of pleasure.”

Another dressage milestone, a first inter I scoring 64.8%, was recorded by Rachael Hawkins. She shares just 36 years' life experience equally with her Donnerhall-sired schoolmaster Don Antello. Rachael is in the Hartpury Equine Academy and currently sitting A levels — finding it convenient to do revision in the horse box when she steals away for shows.

Commenting on her test, she said: “I was struggling with the zigzag  at home but it fell into place at Hickstead. It scored a 7.5 — and one of the judges gave us eight for the three-times changes." She added: "I still need to do a lot of work on my canter pirouettes." These are made even more tricky because "Donny" acquired a mouth-open issue earlier in his career, so forward contact needs careful handling. Rachael said: “His mouth-opening has definitely improved. It’s Kirsty Mepham’s good training and she makes me ride him from my seat with just a light contact.

Singapore rider Cathy Oh’s shiny new horse, Wamorkus, also a schoolmaster, will she hopes take her up to grand prix. She found the former French Junior Team Contango x Jazz 14-year-old with the help of her trainer Amy Stovold. The combination won the silver section PSG with 67.5% on their first show outing.

Cathy commented: “I got 'Louis' in December and he’s been great. I’m aiming for the Asian Games in Jakata, Indonesia, next year, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. He has competed up to grand prix and is a great schoolmaster, very obedient and not fazed by anything. I was very impressed with his professionalism in the arena: he just did his job. His shoulder-in felt nice, his changes felt fabulous and the canter work generally is good. I’m very lucky to have found him."

As well as compact 16.1hh Louis, Cathy has also been successful at small tour competing “much bigger and longer” mare Vlicka. She said: "The idea is that I sell Vlicka, she’s a lovely 

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