Merrist Wood, Surrey, 28-29 January
Featuring Debbie Poynter, Amy Stovold, Gary Hoult, Rob Waine, Joe Bright, Andrew Gould, Jamie Broom, Luke Baber Davies, Adam Smyth, Maria Pook, Imogen Byers, Betty Tatchell, Sara-Jane Lanning, Tor Fenwick, Sharon Edwards, Dannie Morgan, Hannah Bown, Tania Grantham, Chloe Mariani, Cheryl Hammerson, Laura Durkan, Jade Vale, Emilia Nelson and Melissa Joannides.

BIG MARKS were not in the forefront of most riders’ minds in the penultimate Merrist Wood regionals ‘warm up’ show. Debbie Poynter and Keystone For Real was one of a short list of combinations contesting the PSG test class — although the rider will be stepping down a level to what could be a tougher ask, qualifying for advanced medium Gold.

Debbie and  "Really" who posted a win on 72.26% already have tickets to the Petplan finals at PSG and Inter I. The Florencio 12-year-old is sensitive to the outdoor warm-up/indoor test environment scenario but his performances are always exciting edge-of-the-seat stuff — from the spectator’s viewpoint. Debbie commented: “I almost didn’t get my extended canter back for the final flying change and was almost in medium down to the final halt. Sally [Merrison] wrote on my sheet, something like ‘need to watch your collection towards the end of the test’!”

Judge Pat Watts was in plus-70% heaven in her advanced medium 98. The top Gold duo, was Amy Stovold and BoBo L with a best-yet 75.26%. Amy  reported: “Bo felt full of power in the cold outside but was more relaxed indoors and there was only one spook. He’s  better balanced and maintaining a better rhythm now and I can start to ask for more and he has the strength to carry it. My aim for the regionals is to show power with balance and more consistency. Then we’ll push on up to PSG." Amy will also be at the show helping Josh Hill warm up the very talented Don Cara M for the novice and elementaries. Josh has achieved high-70% scores with Donnie at elementary.

Gary Hoult achieved B Jazzmin’s 71.57% best yet AM98. The mare has lots of talent and lots of temperament which Gary has got a good handle on. Jazzie went to the Winter Championships at medium last year with Zoe Colgate-Sopp. Another horse producing a  PB AM score, 71.5% for second in Silver, was Jen Nissen’s DHI Lightning Z. Jen has handed over the reins of her Laristinius 10-year-old to her trainer Rob Waine in the lead up to the big day and the latter tells me he has been working a lot with Lisa Hopkins in recent months. “Lightie’s much more up in the canter, so his changes have improved and has a few more gears in trot,” he said. The combination were fourth in the medium open last year."

Joe Bright and Hazelhope Roxxanne are also on form. They scored 70.92%, for third in the AM98 Gold, while judge Joyce Wood awarded them 79.5% for their AM freestyle at Blue Barn this week. Another strong contender will be Luke Baber Davies and Keystone Drummer Boy and there is the new partnership of Essex-based Adam Smyth and the very talented Salo competing in the test class to look out for, too.

Furstano ridden by Sara-Jane Lanning was gold section medium winner on 67.72%, but the rider plans to compete AM and PSG freestyle-qualified Mi Amigo at the Merrist regionals with advanced medium and PSG freestyles warm-up at the venue on Sunday 5 February.  Sara brushed aside the topic of Fustano’s medium win and was more keen to talk about her day’s highlight moments — her pupils, silver riders Hannah Bown on Sandro’s Storm in the elementary and Jamie Broom in the advanced medium. Jamie and Furst Impression were top scorers overall on 77.36%. Sara said: “Jamie rode a fantastic test and quite rightly had a phenomenal score. For me, as his trainer, everything was as we’ve been trying to get it in lessons. Jamie’s a bit of a perfectionist and he wasn’t that happy when he came out so was gobsmacked by the result.”

More modest medium scores
One of the ‘working rider’ heroes, Maria Pook who combines a full-time job in banking in London with a busy dressage and showing competition schedule, topped the medium 76 overall. She and Felicity Passmore’s lovely chunky So Enamoured, aka Dino, scored 69.84% in the silver section. Their first outing at medium was in October and they have only done three. Maria commented: “We’ve been at home consolidating the work and improving his reactivity, suppleness and fluency. He’s naturally uphill but he has lacked strength to maintain an uphill balance. We took him to Merrist on Thursday for a school because he can get a bit shy in the arena and draw into himself. In my test two days later he felt more confident and on the aids and listening. We produced a consistent test but I was surprised we’d done so well against some very good horses."

Maria: “I’ve opted to go silver on Dino but it could work against me as only one in 30 qualify in silver, while one in eight qualify in gold!”

She added: “I’ve been studying Mark Ruddock’s test analysis on Out and About Dressage. There’s some great tips in there both from a rider’s and a judge’s point of view. He’s my trainer, so if I make any mistakes, he’s going to say, ‘that’s in the article, why didn’t you read it?’” Silver runners up were Imogen Byers on Fassbinder (on 68.0% against a medium PB of 72.43%) and Betty Tatchell, on 67.27%. Betty recently moved up to advanced medium bronze.

Tor Fenwick, who rides Flammenco in Gold medium, was second with a 66.51% consistent, ‘nice’ test. Tor explained: “At Priory ‘Freddie’ dropped me for every conceivable reason he could find so I took the opportunity to correct him in the arena. This time I let him cruise round and be happy. I think we have a fighting chance of qualifying. Today I rode him underpowered. He has so many gears in trot he can get confused and flustered. There is a lot more I can ask for.” Tor will also be competing Don Oro in the PSG freestyle at the Merrist regionals. He achieved a 68.29% PB Inter I at  the Addington High Profile in January. Tor: "He’s awesome. I had him checked out at Liphook after the HP show and he was confirmed totally sound on flexion behind — at 18!”

Twenty-three combinations contested the Elementary 59, with the top two Silver section riders separated by one collective for the red rosette, having both scored 72.18%. Headmore Davina was bred by Sarah Oppenheimer by Dimaggio out of her famously successful competition horse producing broodmare Rubinsteena (by Rubinstein). Ridden by Dannie Morgan Davina was placed just ahead of Hannah Bown and Sandro’s Storm, another British-bred horse.

Sarah said: “Davina is immensely talented and is going to be an amazing grand prix horse. She is quite sensitive and when we had a ‘blip’ early in her competition career we asked Dannie if he’d have a sit. Davina has a strong flight reaction and Merrist was quite a big ask for her. Dannie made several adjustments in the test, but we weren’t there to win, just to practise. Dannie and Davina were placed fourteenth in the Novice at Stoneleigh but have recently had mid-70% scores at elementary.

Hannah Bown, another “before or after a working day” rider, still has the physical and mental energy left to ride thoughtful and successful tests on “Stanley”, Sandro's Storm. She said: “We have recently done our first mediums, but it was our pre-regionals outing and he deserved his 72.18% for his ele 59. Previously there have been one or two moments that have let us down. This time it felt like the best test I’ve ridden. Moving down a level you have to remember things like that the judge wants to see working rather than collected trot, for example, when you’ve unconsciously adapted to a different gear. I also had to think of suppleness and getting him through to the contact in the different work and I think that worked better than we’ve had it before. I had a lesson with Sara-Jane at Merrist on Friday because he had a real teleporter at Snowball Farm a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to make sure he isn’t going to spook at the flowers.”

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