It was a sense of déjà vous at Stoneleigh today as we all watched the maestro of dressage Carl Hester canter around in the Esapyo colours of burgundy and gold having claimed the Grand Prix Freestyle and National Dressage Champion titles 12 months on from the exact same sight last year.  In the beautiful light of the setting sun, Carl gave a perfect lap of honour display with Jenny Green’s stunning liver chestnut stallion Fine Time 13 as he bronked his way around much to everyone’s amusement.

It was Carl’s day once again and no one would begrudge him his 65th and 66th titles, plus becoming National Champion for an eighth time, equalling the record of the doyenne of dressage, Jennie Loriston Clarke.  “I’ll just have to do it one more time!” jibed Carl. 

It was a lively display of freestyle entertainment in the Espayo arena from start to finish and British Nations Cup rider Daniel Watson and Susie Farnon’s Fideramber and when then put up a 70.73%, we knew it would be a good competition.   Judy Harvey and Fitzcerraldo, owned by Richard Heley stole into the lead with 72.05% before the break but her lead was short-lived as Emile Faurie with Julie Bradley’s Topolino squeaked ahead with 72.28%.  Michael Eilberg and Marakov were their powerful selves with a beautiful display – their canter to piaffe line impressed many and 73.98% was enough for the lead.  It wasn’t long before the crowd say a change again when Lara Griffith came in with Andretti H and they danced to the familiar reggae beat which has claimed Laura Tomlinson two national titles.  The combination are still so new in the competition arena but they know each other inside out and today was all about fun.  Lara rode with a smile from ear to ear throughout which the judges clearly loved for 74.03%.  Then in came Carl.  He’d declared his intention to ride to his 2011 European Championship score with the Florestan I sired ‘Bruno’ which won Carl an individual silver medal so he considers it lucky.  A whopping 76.65% put them into the lead with one to go.  It was all down to Anders Dahl with Fiona Bigwood’s Wie Atlantico De Ymas.  There experience shone all the way but a final mark of 74.40% wasn’t enough to take Carl’s crown, but did give them second in a hugely competitive class.

“He was brilliant again today,” said a delighted Carl.  “He was a bit flat to start with in the warm up but then spotted Nikki Crisp’s Pasoa who is a mare and he’s madly fallen in love with her.  That certainly perked him up!  He went brilliantly to Uti’s music but he’s a bit slower than him so I had to shave bits of the arena to keep to the music!  Charlotte said I should have done my line of one-times again as I fluffed the first ones but I certainly don’t remember that one!  Must be a sign of age!  I’m so happy for his owners Paul and Jenny Green.  Paul hasn’t been well recently and couldn’t make the trip from Jersey to watch him but hopefully the win will cheer him.   Racing is his passion really, it’s Gemma (Appleton, his daughter) who is the dressage person.  We’ll talk about his future but I’d be sorry to lose him – he’s a great addition to the yard.”

Always a highlight for the knowledgeable Stoneleigh crowd on a Sunday is the final judging of the Shearwater Potential International Dressage Horse Championship and this year it was interesting as there was no clear favourite so the title was anyone’s for the taking from the 13 who came forward from Saturday’s preliminary judging.

In the four year olds, the judges Peter Holler and Hans Christian Mattieson made their champion Emma Woolley with the impressive Dutch-bred Eldorado (Special D x Damiro) owned by Jane Woolley.  The horse was first yesterday in the preliminary judging with a score of 7.68 and the judges kept him up top.  Second also was a horse of Emma’s but with trainer Hannah Esberger in the plate as she could only ride one today, Jan Bennett’s Don Fulcher (Daddy Cool x Abraham).

The five year olds didn’t quite go to Saturday’s pattern when Dan Greenwood was awarded first with his own and Jamie Reynolds’s Romanno Stromboli (Sir Donnerhall x Fabriano) having been down in fourth after the first judging round.  Second spot went to Saturday’s winner, Sam Geddes’ Dior III ridden by Tom Goode, who’s based with Emilie Faurie, the only horse to score over 8.

The four then came forward for the final judging for the championship.  In addition to the opinions of Peter and Hans Christian, our ride judge Erik Theilgaard then entered the mix with his take on the horse’s paces, way of going and feel.  It was a very different selection of horses – different shapes, variations of pace and manner which made for interesting viewing.  All four gave Erik a safe ride but he was clearly suited to the two winning horses and seemed ‘at home’.  Romanno Stromboli showed great variation in the paces and great poise whereas Eldorado was, at a year younger, more ‘raw’ and exuberant.  Don Fulcher was a picture of composure and clearly has endless potential; the judges describing him as ‘functional’.  Dior III is a powerful ‘pocket rocket’ at just 16.1hh but what he lacks in size, he more than makes up with exuberant paces which Erik seemed to enjoy; ‘He’s just like a rubber ball!” he said.  The three judges then went into a huddle while the crowd waited with anticipation.  The when the commentator announced Dan Greenwood and Romanno Stromboli, there was a great cheer from the crowd and the biggest smile of the championships on Dan’s face.

A clearly delighted and proud Dan commented; “He was great today.  He came into the final in fourth so we knew there was making up to do.  As it was his second time in the arena he was more relaxed and then he can show himself better.  And that’s basically how we manage him at home.  He can lack confidence but given the chance, he grows into it.”

Dan explained a bit more about his background and how he got his name; “He was conceived in Germany but his dam was bought by Jenny Gilchrist so effectively he’s British-bred .  We’ve had a few foals from her and when she rings to say she’s got a good one, she means it!  And he’s a good example.  He’s so straight forward and has been easy from the very start.   Alan Davies, Carl Hester’s travelling groom raised him until he was three and then he came to us to start his career.   We named him Ollie to start around the time it was time to find a show name; we were on a cruise in the Mediterranean near Sicily and happened to go to Stromboli.  Being volcanic, it’s big and black so we had our name!”

Four busy days for Dan and his team ended with just reward; “I’m so pleased he’s done it after coming so close as a four year old last year.  He’s a big horse so we’ll see how he develops over the winter before making a decision on what to do.  Six year old classes are an option or maybe we just into straight tests.  It’s been a great Nationals for us; we bought this horse and the chestnut which won the prelim championship on Thursday as foals and now they’ve both won titles as five year olds - I’m a proud daddy today!”

Many people’s idea of a perfect Sunday morning is coffee, croissants and a good read of the Sunday papers, but not for the hundreds who arrived early at Stoneleigh this morning. For them, it was to watch a ginger horse; not any ginger horse – but the one and only Woodlander Farouche (Furst Heinrich x Dimaggio), dubbed the ‘supermodel ‘of dressage.

There was an air of anticipation as the chestnut beauty, masterfully ridden by Michael Eilberg, limbered up for her 8.27 slot in the Suregrow Advanced Medium Open Championship and she didn’t disappoint. Now seven, and in her first year of ‘grown up’ competition, her performance was spellbinding and displayed all the qualities that earned the title of FEI World Young Horse Champion both as a five and six-year-old. They scored 79.05% despite an incorrect canter strike off and a change that was late behind to win the title by almost eight percent.

“She always feels unbelievable,” said Michael. “She’s on fire and felt edgy in the collecting ring so I aimed to ride a nice test without boiling over. The half passes and fluidity were great. We had the couple of mistakes but everything she does is such good quality. Through a test, what a normal horse would be running on, she’s a mark above. Her base mark is 80%.”

“In the canter she was hanging to the exit - she can be a bit trickier in canter right – which caused the error in the canter on, but the mistake in the change was my fault. Her canter ‘tigers’ away, and her front can get away from the hind legs – I needed to keep her more together.”

Aside from these blips, the test oozed quality, with expressive changes and extensions that would be sensational for a grand prix even. “My best mate Anthony, who’s not horsy, came today,” said Michael. “He said to Louise [Bell] ‘is that normal?’ when watching Farouche’s extensions!”

“She’s been hot but then horses can get wound up here. It’s very wide with a lot to see whereas at other shows the main arena is normally more enclosed. It’s all good for her though. When she’s hot like that it makes me think that training grand prix is going to be easier. Her brain is very cute and when excited she wants to show off what she’s learnt.”

Michael also filled second spot with his medium open winner from yesterday - Fuerst Sinclair - Alison Reddy’s 10-year-old son of Fuerst Heinrich. The pair scored 71.95%.

“I was really pleased with him. He’s very talented but was a bit green at this level. When I came back from Herning [in Denmark for the Europeans] he’d forgotten how to do flying changes! When I did a demo at Burghley Horse Trials with him I put a few in to remind him!” smiled Michael.

“He went through a great test today. The canter serpentine is not easy for him as he’s such a big horse but it was better today. He’s quite a hot horse and at the regionals I surprised him with the aid for the changes. This time, I just rode the canter and asked him for the change with my weight aid.”

The Stretch & Flex Elementary Open Championship was full of classy combinations but there could only be one winner, and that was Jo Hamilton with her own and Lady Hope’s Corchapin. Jo rode the elegant six-year-old son of Negro for a score of 72.31% to edge ahead of close runners-up, Becky Moody and Carinsio on 72.13%.

“I knew Becky was the one to beat with that score – plus she’s such a technician,” said Jo, obviously delighted with her horse. “Corchapin was great today; as consistent as I’ve ever known him. It was the best test at elementary he’s ever done - just one of those days when everything went right.”

Jo and Corchapin (stable name Colin) have a very good championship record together. “I really wanted him to win today having won the novice here last year and coming second in this class. I certainly didn’t want to do worse than that.”

Jo trains with Carl Hester for whom she worked for five years after leaving school. “I haven’t been able to see Carl for six months since the Winter Championships. I’ve just been relying on feedback from my test sheets and watching the mirrors at home so I must have more faith in myself!

“Colin is a ‘busy’ person so I compete him at least once a month to keep his competition head on,” said Jo, describing his active show schedule. “And I do all my own grooming at shows – I like it that way – if something goes wrong, you’ve only got yourself to blame! For me, it’s part of the mental preparation.”

I’m so grateful to Carl for his support and belief in me; he offered me Colin sight unseen as he knew that he’d suit me. I’m sure he could have sold him for more elsewhere. I love the Negro-sired horses as they have such a great temperament – look at Valegro. I’ve just bought another one from Carl so that’s exciting for the future – I pick him up on my way home today!”

For full results and rider interviews – click here.

There’s loads of videos from the Espayo National Championships on our You Tube channel.

For detailed results - the spreadsheet will be available in the morning.  Many apologies!

All photos copyright www.kevinsparrow.co.uk


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