Sparsholt, Hampshire, 26-28 August 2022
Up and down the levels this Summer Area Festival Sparsholt made it a true celebration of the achievements of both young riders and time-served lovers of cherished special horses and their training.
ELEMENTARY, Novice and Prelim classes at Sparsholt were so well supported that they accounted for over two-thirds of the tests scheduled. They were also responsible for the biggest scores over the three-day show achieved by riders of horses as varied as a flamboyant Friesian to something standing well over 18hh sired by an Olympic showjumper, and a coloured cob.
A winner’s sash and qualification were so apparently within the grasp of the handful of riders in PSG and Inter I classes that it possibly created it’s own pressure with scores generally below best performances. Mandy Brown, riding 15-year-old Keystone Rumour, who was the sole competitor in the Inter I Bronze, commented: “Someone asked me before the show what score I needed to qualify and I said, ‘I’m not even going to look. I don’t want to put myself under that mental pressure. I’m just going to do the best I can.”
Despite the fact that Mandy has only managed to fit in two shows since the Petplan Area Festival Championships in April, she nearly equalled her Hartpury score, producing a 66.13% test. Mandy added: “Tia doesn’t worry about the environment, the occasion, noise or anything — she gets her head into the game and gets on with it, so I can just focus on what I need to do to do our best in the next movement.
“I had my most consistent canter pirouette marks so far for her first one with 6 from each of the three judges. She finds ‘sitting’ hard but I’ve found that if I practise pirouettes too much she starts anticipating and will spin — then I’ve lost her — so I just practise riding the lines.”
PSG silver winner Christiane Oakley, besides training 17-year-old Keystone Walente, is now also bringing on her own young rider, three-year-old daughter Sienna. Back in April Christiane won the PSG bronze at the Winter Area Festival Championship on 68.97% and the duo were also placed fourth in the Advanced Medium silver.
Christiane has managed only two PSGs before this Area Festival where to her surprise they headed the class on 65.05%. Christiane commented: “I’m amazed she won. She didn’t feel anywhere near like she did at Hartpury. She lacked oomph and we had some annoying silly mistakes including breaking in the extended trot — something she never does — so it got a 4 instead of the usual 8. But the good bits were good and her flying changes are consistently brilliant and usually score 7.5 or 8. I just wish she were 10 years younger!”
Christiane has had to abandon advanced medium because Walente knows the tests so well that she anticipates and anticipating remains a problem for her in the walk pirouettes, too, which are a 9 at home! Christiane added: “I had only done two PSGs before the Winter Championships — she didn’t know where she was going so she listened.”
Isle of Wight-based rider and judge Martine Harbour (featured top with one of her two sashes) took up the challenge at both levels riding showjump-bred Garfield Van HT Eelshof. They followed their 67.52% winning Advanced Medium 91 Silver with the 64.66% top scoring PSG. Martine said: “I wasn’t expecting to do well and I’m very chuffed with my little boy. It’s like buses: I’ve waited years to win one sash and then I get two at once! Garf’s been so tricky. He has pony attitude and likes to do things his own way. In the arena he makes me work for the marks because he’s too enthusiastic, anticipates everything and wants to go, go, go! All through his training he has had much more ‘go’ than ‘whoa’. It made it all the more thrilling that he did what he did for me this weekend. I’ve finally got there. That’s me done for the year: I’m happy!”
For Kirstie Hamilton-Campbell rider of 13-year-old Elningio, although standing only eighth in the line-up, being awarded some 8s by C judge Frances Turner was a massive morale boost. Kirstie said: “Frances said she loves the way ‘Elvis’ moves! I was blown away by her compliments because he has been a five-year project and helped me through some difficult times. He came from friends in the States where he had been a showjumper. He is a lovely person and easy to look after, but ridden he would use his huge power against me. His legs worked up and down like pistons instead of pushing through. When asked to go forward his back end just came up more and more. It was impossible to sit to and it would end up in a bronc.
“He also arrived in the UK with an undiagnosed abscess under a tooth. It was a full year before he would accept any contact. He’s now trying out the new Bigg Comfort bridle which I think could be a game-changer for him. I know he’s going to be a 70% horse some time this year.”
Dressage convert from eventing, Lucyanna Westaway headed the Advanced Medium 91 Bronze with 65.24% partnering Frances Davies’ 16hh 11-year-old AHI O Malley. Lucyanna commented: “I was pleased with our test, although I missed one of our changes. Other than that he was spot on. He’s very correct in what he does and just gets on with his job.
Lucyanna came quietly onto the BD circuit three years ago riding her own former intermediate eventer Billy Sykes. Since then she has competed at two Area Festival Winter Championships and, in 2021, was placed second in the Novice Silver at the Somerford Nationals riding dressage-bred Keystone Rocketman. She acquired the ride on O Malley four months ago through her trainer Andrew Day. The combination had scored 64.24% for their first Advanced 102 the week before Sparsholt, having been coached on riding the test by List 1 judge James Rooney.
She added: “My dad hunts and does team chasing and during lockdown we created some grass gallops at home which O Malley loves. I’m still learning as well, of course, and the gallops have helped me get my tempis for advanced because you can just keep going — it doesn’t matter if some of the changes are a muddle because you’re not heading into a wall.” She concluded: “O Malley’s for sale. He’s sweet and easy and would make an ideal junior or young rider horse.”
Despite a rider error Anne O’Brien and her correctly-working Vingino-sired gelding Ginvino were the winning combination in the Medium 73 Silver on 67.84%. Anne explained: “‘Dave’ can be a bit silly and spook sometimes, so when I came across a diagonal I was thinking that I needed to get him around my inside leg and into the corner so he didn’t spook away from the judge’s box. In fact, I was thinking so hard about that, and keeping him up in the shoulder, that I went on to ride the shoulder-in and missed out the medium trot!
“He’s not a wow horse with amazing paces but he works correctly. I evented and trained horses when I was younger but then decided I needed to get a proper job. It has always been a passion, so after bringing up my children it became ‘my horse time’ again. I bought Dave five years ago, intending to keep him for a year, compete a bit and then sell him on as a riding club horse. Unlike other horses I’ve had that have been hot, he is not naturally forward-going. That has been a learning curve for me. He was never my dream horse, but he has a lovely nature and whenever I’ve taken him up to the next stage in his education he’s came on so well that I kept him. The changes are more or less there now, so I’m hoping we’ll go on and have a bit more fun. I’d like to get him to PSG.”
Mounted prize-givings, music and professional commentary were the icing on the cake for top 10 competitors in the Sparsholt Area Festival classes. The first sash of the three-day competition was taken home by Monmouthshire-based 17-year-old Alicia Roberts who rode 11-year-old Godin’s Linda winner of the Medium 73 Bronze. They were second to go in their class producing a 69.95% test but then had to wait three hours for a winning verdict.
Commenting on her Sparsholt experience, shared with her mum and dad, Alicia said: “Linda was a bit of a diva in the warm-up but as always concentrated on her job when she went into the arena. I was still amazed that we won in such company.”
Alicia added: “We all enjoyed ourselves. Sparsholt has lovely facilities, and the show was well-organised and friendly. The mounted prize-giving where we were all introduced by a commentator was a wonderful end to our visit.”
Alicia is studying for her A levels at Hartpury and benefiting from coaching and development opportunities provided by BD’s National Academy. Linda was Alicia’s 16th birthday present. In 2021 they were placed second in both the novice and elementary bronze at the Summer Area Festival Championship and in April 2022 won the Silver Elementary 53 at the Winter Area Festival Championships.
Eight-year-old coloured cob pony Ollie, now eight, and in his second year on the circuit, was looking every inch a dressage athlete under rider Victoria Homden. They were placed second in the Medium 73 Bronze to Alicia and her Bretton Woods-sired Dutch horse.
Flick commented: “I was happy to take a second in the Medium because I’d ridden the 73 just once before and have ridden a total of only five mediums in my life. I find riding tests very nerve-racking and I’m still thinking as I go round in the medium, ‘how on earth do I ride these movements?'”
Flick and Ollie then returned two days later to win the Elementary Silver on 71.52%. She continued: “It is only just over a year since we were doing Prelim and Novice at the Area Festival Championships at Hartpury. I think Ollie’s carrying himself better now and using different muscle groups. He’s eye-catching because of his colour and type, but he has athleticism as well. If I can channel that and ride him off my seat without restricting him at all with my hands, he will be able to progress further.
“My trainer Katharine Lewis would like us to be able to try an advanced medium before the end of the year and then make plans to campaign him at advanced medium in 2023. Katharine is trying to teach Ollie and me together. The only changes I’d ridden in the past were achieved after bombing across a diagonal and not worrying about having the horse available to do another movement straight after!”
Regular hacking up and down the Berkshire Downs for fitness as well as pleasure has been helping Jenny Corrett put the muscle on her homebred young giant Londoner. Commenting on her 69.46% winning Elementary 53 Bronze Jenny said: “‘Bertie’ was such a good boy. I’d hired the Box Arena to practise before the show, but when I saw there were tables and chairs in the corner for the practice judge, I thought, ‘oh, no!’ but he took it all in his stride and tried very hard for me.
“He’s very tall, only eight and about 18.2hh, so he can tip onto his forehand quite easily. One of the judges commented that he needs to sit back more but I’m hoping that will come with the higher-level work. We’ve also been doing some British Novice showjumping this year. It doesn’t look like he’s going to be a top showjumper like his dad Glock’s London — he’s too clumsy — but I’m going to do some combined training competitions with him as well.”
Jenny benefits from the judge’s eye of her trainer Sue McMahon and from the support of her partner of 28 years and now husband, Paul. Jenny and her other homebred competition horse, Joie de Vie, were Reserve Medium Champions at the recent Midway Championships. They also have a wild card for the the Silver Elementary at Somerford Park.
Alison Heywood who won the Novice Silver on 72.57% riding Lady Kate Hobart’s Friesian Thomas K, came to Sparsholt having put in homework following competing and winning in the Elementary Bronze at the Wellington Area Festival the previous month. Alison said: “We’ve been working on Thomas lengthening his frame in the extensions. At Wellington we had a few comments saying he was a little tight in his body in those movements.
“Thomas was a bit lively in the collecting ring at Sparsholt, but in the arena I was pleased that he didn’t draw back in his neck, was consistent in the contact and was bringing his hind legs under.”
“We got quite a few 8s for his Novice including one for medium trot and one for the second medium canter. We are still working on coming back in the canter and we need to show more difference in transitions.”
Alison and Thomas are based on the Isle of Wight. Alison said: “We’re so lucky that Douglas Hibbert comes over to the Island to train us once a month. He works with us and with Thomas to get him to work correctly but without taking away his Friesian personality
“I wish Douglas could come every day but Kate videos our lessons and I make notes as soon as I get off Thomas so we can do our homework between his visits.
“Thomas is eight and we’re working on his lateral work. It took a while for the penny to drop but Douglas thinks we might be ready to come out at Medium next year”
Charlwood Not the Norm, a 17-year-old three-quarter Welsh/TB, ridden by 16-year-old Maisie Filler, stood top of the line above 20 other other combinations in the Novice 23 Bronze.
Mum Liz said: “Norman always amazes us. He is only 14.3hh and we never think he’ll do very well against the big impressive warmbloods but he always seems to pull it out of the bag. Our aim was top 10 and to be in the prize giving, but to head the line-up was pretty amazing.” Maisie who is based near St Albans in Hertfordshire and trained by Millie Macbride, added: “Norman was very consistent and I didn’t make any mistakes and mess up the test. His halts were square and his give and retakes in the canter were good.”
Maisie and Norman competed at the U21 Prelim Championships Winter Area Festival Championship in 2021 and will be competing for Hertfordshire in the Inter-County Championships at Bury Farm.
Liz Filler said: “We found Norman on Facebook four years ago. We had seen a few ponies that were unsuitable but one morning when his ad had just gone up, I said to Maisie, ‘I think I’ve found your new pony’. Within a few hours we had been down to see him and bought him on the spot. He lives in my back garden and is treated like royalty!”
Prelim Silver winner Jenny Moorman has been having the time of her life since she bought Rehy High Society-sired Grovepark Dassett, now 13, seven years ago. Jenny explained: “I had always been my daughter’s groom and driven the lorry but when she went off to university I missed the eventing so I bought Raymond (Rehy). I was 50 and had never done anything affiliated before but we have competed up to BE100s. We live on the Wiltshire-Oxfordshire border and have lots of lovely hacking around The Ridgeway and, now I’ve retired, I’m enjoying every minute.
“We’ve only been doing BD seriously for the past couple of years. Eventing is still my main sport but since Rehy had a check ligament injury I have to be even more careful with him. When the ground is hard we do dressage. He’s a very obedient horse and does what he’s told but although he’s forward cross-country he can lack impulsion in an arena. That was something we worked on in the run-up to Sparsholt and it paid off. I was overjoyed with our win and with our 72.29% score. We will be going to a national championships for the first time. He deserves it because he’s the best. He’s definitely my horse of a life-time.”
Julia Godden, who formerly competed at Internationals in Grade IV para classes, scored 70.63% in the Prelim Silver riding Penny Garton’s heavyweight show cob Garties Mr D’Arcy. In 2018 when Julia’s Grade IV mare Premier Joyfull Moon had to be retired, she was not in a position to replace her. Penny asked her whether she’d be interested in riding D’Arcy: “To be honest, due to his size and weight [795kg in his dressage trim] I wasn’t! But when I went along to look at him on the lunge I saw he was quite special. When I started riding him, I realised he was also very complicated. He has a panic button in his head and will become totally solid in his body — he could bolt, bronc and dump me. He is unbelievably powerful and it took me two years train him to canter and carry his own weight.
“After one season Penny and I realised that he didn’t enjoy showing but each time I asked him to do something that challenged his brain in his dressage, when he understood and could do what I wanted, he shone.
“Able-bodied riders often don’t realise how hard the standards of dressage in paras are to achieve. There is a huge focus on accuracy and maintaining a correct way of going. That’s very valuable discipline for able-bodied competition. We’re currently practising staying straight, trotting and cantering down centrelines. For a big horse like D’Arcy that’s a big challenge!”
Three marks clear of the field, Alice Tilley and Skip Away (Oscar) also have a date at Arena UK, having produced the highest scoring test in the Prelim Bronze and, in fact, the highest score of the whole show, 73.47%. The combination were also placed fourth in the Novice 23 Bronze on 68.13%.
Alice commented: I didn’t expect our Prelim marks to be so good. Oscar had been at the show to do the novice the day before and felt a little lethargic. I just wanted to be in the top 10 in the prelim and was absolutely elated when I saw the results. I had a 9 from the C judge for our 20m trot circle right and a total of eight 8s.
“I find when a test is apparently as simple as Prelim, it’s easy to lose your concentration and let things slip.”
“I bought Oscar nearly 10 years ago to event but he’s not always consistent cross-country and every now and again decides he hates ditches. As he’s always done well in the dressage, it was at the back of my mind. We did My Quest in 2019 as something to keep him occupied through the winter and ended up as regional winners and came second nationally in the Prelim.
“I’m based with eventer Sasha Hargreaves in Blewbury, Oxfordshire, but I’ve trained with John Reid for years. If I hadn’t met him, I don’t think we would have progressed as far as we have. He took the time to understand us both.”
© Celia Cadwallader, 5 September 2022