Blue Barn, Kent, 26 November
Featuring riders Thomas O’Brien, Maria Collins, Nicola Naylor, Mark Ruddock, Sean Burgess, Jessica Berry, Tamara Strapp, Charlotte Bull (above), Charlotte Wickington and Elenor Dimant

ONE among many seizing a last chance to complete qualifications in freestyles was Thomas O’Brien. Thomas made a strategic choice of venue, avoiding the hot competition to be expected the same day at the regionals venue Merrist Wood. He opted instead to keep warm in the secretary’s office at Blue Barn — with sorties to win the silver section elementary freestyle on 75.96%, the medium 76Q qualifier on 70.91% and, finally, to claim a 74.7% second place in the last class of the day, the medium freestyle.

However, Thomas took a punt with his music choice. He explained: “My trainer, Zoe [Colgate-Sopp] advised me to stay classical but I wanted something modern. It’s bit alternative — a bit me! I wanted clubby ‘house music’ something ravey, with a strong drum and base beat.” Thomas was competing Al Shir’aa Farms’ PRE gelding, Jubiloso LXI. He continued: “Jubiloso can maintain a good rhythm in the trot and he’s very rhythmical in the canter: we can keep to the tempo and play to our strengths.”

“Jubi tries his heart out every day and I’ve never ridden a horse that is so in touch with you all the time: he's always listening, waiting and thinking what he can do next for you”

Another rider with a very promising PRE is Maria Collins. She has just started to compete seven-year-old stallion Cup Deudo. The combination won both the silver Prelim 19 and novice 23 on 68.96%. "'Fonz' was brought to me to sell," Maria explained. "He was very sharp and if anything moved he would bolt and bronc. He retreated into himself and was very scared of life. I spent the first year just hacking him and getting him to be a normal horse. After that he began to trust me and I could start to progress. I've found Spanish horses work well for reward. The minute I praised him for simply going from walk into trot, he said, 'I'll do something else for you, or do it better!'"

Dan Watson-based and trained Nicola Naylor steered her Ferrari V down less than perfect centreline-to-halts but nonetheless won the silver medium freestyle just shy of 76% — completing her qualification in only two outings. Nicola said: “I still get sixes for my centrelines which are incredibly difficult for me, even with Dan calling the markers, because I’m blind. Those halts, at the beginning and end of a freestyle, have to be ridden confidently forward and it’s hard to be confident when you don’t quite know where you are. Ferrari also got three well-deserved nines: for his extended walk; rhythm, elasticity, etc; and for his lovely medium canter."

Ferrari, a Wynton x Contendro six-year-old who was competed in the Pavo Cup five-year-old finals in Holland, missed out on the six-year-old finals with Nicola in the UK due to a bad reaction to a flu jab. “It was disappointing because he’ll never be six again, but we’ve had a lovely autumn starting the mediums. We don’t want to push him and we will consolidate at the level and I may even try to qualify him for some of the para internationals next year now that they’ve dropped the blindfold rule. (During 2016 the FEI insisted all blind riders in para classes wear a blindfold). “Under new para grades, I’m now a grade IV where the tests are roughly medium, and the top grade is V.”

Mark Ruddock on his own and Jo Lord’s Dr Doolittle x Weltmeyer six-year-old, Keystone Can Doo was the day's top scorer, claiming the gold novice freestyle on 84.72%. His and Sean Burgess’s South Godstone, Surrey-based Whitewood Equestrian's livery Julia Brightwell rode E Equals MC Squared into second place on 78.89%.

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