Top-flight British para dressage took centre stage during the first two days of Wellington Premier League show in Heckfield, Hampshire (6 – 10 June 2018).
The Waterloo Arena provided the perfect setting for the semi-finals of the Equissage Pulse Para Gold Championships, attracting many of the country’s elite riders vying for a coveted place at the LeMieuux National Championships at Stoneleigh in September.
Seventeen-year-old Izzy Palmer and the Jazz-sired 18-year-old gelding Touchdown M (pictured) were the ones to post the winning score in the Grade IV Team Test. World Class Podium Potential Programme rider Izzy was awarded a score of 69.188% with Nicola Naylor and Ferrari close behind on 69.063%.
Happy with her ride, Izzy took to Facebook to say; “Touchdown was a star today, winning the team test at Wellington! Thanks to Equissage Pulse for sponsoring the class! [I’m] Starting to take in to my test what I get in the warm up, and hopefully [there’s] still more to come!
"Thanks to Sophie Wells for training me and letting me ride him, and Caroline Palmer for grooming and making him look so smart!”
The following day’s Individual test saw Nicky Greenhill (40) with the beautiful black mare Betty Boo rise to the top with a score of 69.573%. 'Betty' is new to the Greenhill stable this year. The nine-year-old Benetton Dream daughter, who is co-owned by Nicky and her husband Gary, has formed an amazing partnership with her talented, visually impaired rider. This year the pair have achieved scores of up to 74% in the Individual test and they’re certainly ones to watch for the future.
“I have never formed a relationship so strong with any other horse so quickly, she is something really special,” says Nicky.
The rider to yield the highest scores across all five grades was Natasha Baker (28) with Mount St John Diva Dannebrog, at only their fifth competition together. Contesting the Grade III divisions, the multi gold medallist who trains with Lisa Hopkins won Wednesday’s Team Test on 75%, with second spot taken by 2017 European team gold medallist Erin Orford (29) aboard Annabel Whittet’s Dimaggio daughter, Dior UKH.
The following day, Natasha and Erin once again sealed the top two places with Natasha on 76.103% and Erin, 73.088%.
Clearly delighted, Natasha took to Facebook on Thursday to say; “What a little superstar this girl is, another win with 76.1% in the Individual Test! Couldn't be happier with her! One judge even thanked us in her comments! Highest score of the day again, I've had such an amazing couple of days and I am coming home on cloud 109. Love, love, love this super special girl!
“Special thanks to Emma Blundell from Mount St John for this amazing horse, Lisa Hopkins and Mum for their incredible support, and thanks to Wellington for hosting such an amazing competition,” she added.
Natasha acquired the ride on the Don Schufro sired nine-year-old earlier this year and they hit it off straight away, Natasha skilfully finding the key to the mare very early on. The pair made their international debut a winning one at Waregem CPEDI3* in April and are building on their scores each time out.
Another new team, Sophie Christiansen and Amazing Romance, were victorious in the Grade I classes. Sophie (30) and nine-year-old ‘Harry’ produced two cracking rounds for 74.464% and 72.321%.
Eight-time Paralympic Champion Sophie reflected on the show via Facebook; “I've been trying to think about how I put my feelings about this week into words. These past few weeks have been bumpy for a few reasons, so my main aim was to go ride two ‘safe’ tests. I achieved this and I was thrilled that my team took on board my plan. However, I am a perfectionist and in my crazy brain ‘safe’ was not good enough - I didn't quite have him from my leg to my hand so the throughness and suppleness wasn't quite there - even though I had done what I had set out to do.
“I have to keep reminding myself at how far I have come in a year. Harry is still new to all this - all my other horses had at least a year of ring experience before I asked them to concentrate for five minutes of walk in front of the judges. I put pressure on myself to keep posting 75%+ scores, and forget about the journey. This is what makes me a champion, but also makes me unbearable at times! As I heard Nadal say on the radio this morning, "If you don't feel the pressure, you don't love the sport..."
Sophie Wells and C Fatal Attraction (Fidertanz x Olivi) - pictured right - were the undisputed winners at Grade V in both the Team and Individual tests, with scores of 73.256% and 73.155% respectively.
Sophie (28) and ‘Jorge’, now 11, were part of the gold medal-winning team at the Para European Championships in Gothenburg last August where they also claimed Individual Silver and Freestyle Gold. Familiar faces at the FEI levels in able-bodied competition too, they emphatically won the Inter I at Keysoe Premier League earlier this year.
Sophie’s compatriot and triple gold medallist in Gothenburg, Suzanna Hext, claimed the Grade II Individual with a score of 72.652% aboard Henrietta Cheetham’s LJT Enggaards Solitaire. The 13-year-old son of Blue Hors Soprano made a comeback in February following a six-month break from competition due to illness, and Suzanna is quite
rightly thrilled with his progress so far.
Suzanna (29) came into para dressage after an eventing fall in 2012 left her with life-changing injuries, and she’s overcome challenges and relished every opportunity since.
Hot on Suzanna’s heels was European Grade I triple gold medallist Julie Payne (55) who has recently been re-classified as Grade II. Aboard her own Pandora (by Pascal) - pictured right - she achieved second place. However, the tables were turned in the Individual when Julie and the bright chestnut 17-year-old had the winning edge to score 74.706% for victory.
Wednesday 6 June
Class 1: Equissage Pulse Grade V Team Test
Sophie Wells with C Fatal Attraction, 73.256%
Class 2: Equissage Pulse Grade IV Team Test
Izzy Palmer with Touchdown M, 69.188%
Class 3: Equissage Pulse Grade III Team Test
Natasha Baker with Mount St John Diva Dannebrog, 75.00%
Class 4: Equissage Pulse Grade II Team Test
Suzanna Hext with LJT Enggaards Solitaire, 72.652%
Class 5: Equissage Pules Grade I Team Test
Sophie Christiansen with Amazing Romance, 74.464%
Thursday 7 June
Class 10: Equissage Pulse Grade V Individual Test
Sophie Wells with C Fatal Attraction, 73.155%
Class 11: Equissage Pulse Grade IV Individual Test
Nicky Greenhill with Betty Boo, 69.573%
Class 12: Equissage Pulse Grade III Individual Test
Natasha Baker with Mount St John Diva Dannebrog, 76.103%
Class 13: Equissage Pulse Grade II Individual Test
Julie Payne with Pandora, 74.706%
Class 14: Equissage Pulse Grade I Individual Test
Sophie Christiansen with Amazing Romance, 72.321%
For full results click here
Photo c Kevin Sparrow