Nobody broke the 70% barrier in Friday’s dressage Grand Prix but there was plenty of quality on display, with Julie Brougham and Vom Feinsten the eventual winners on 69.5%. They were chased hard by John Thompson and JHT Antonello, who finished second on 68.93% in what was an essentially a warm-up test as it doesn’t count for the overall Grand Prix title. The competition between John and Julie was fierce as usual, with the judges split: three had John in front and two preferred Julie.
The notoriously hot Vom Feinsten performed a relatively mistake-free test, although Julie says her 15-year-old gelding was extra spicy in the atmosphere. “When we got up the top end by the grandstand, they were clapping the show jumpers and he was just a little tense. But he won’t be tomorrow – he got it out of his system today. I’m really pleased with him, as he tries so hard.”
John was similarly happy with Antonello, who until last week looked like he would miss HOY altogether after bruising his feet badly at Nationals. John has only managed to ride the horse twice in the last month as a result, and they made an expensive mistake in the one-time changes, but the 16-year-old ‘AJ’ was otherwise looking great.
“It’s a show of how strong his character is. The harmony was probably a highlight for me – he felt really light on his feet and happy. It’s a long competition and you’ve still got to back it up in the Special, and then you’ve got to save enough gas in the tank for the freestyle.”
The big ‘hoo-ha’ for the dressage riders was being forced to work in over on the polo grounds, as the warm-up arena was rock-hard, says John. Having to navigate motorbikes, sheep and a road crossing before starting their test obviousy posed an additional challenge.
“It’s obviously not ideal and I’m a little bit disappointed with the quality of the warm-up surface. I think it’s something that needs to be addressed in the future,” says John. “But I do love the show and the atmosphere is pretty wild – you don’t get it anywhere else. It makes you feel great, riding into an arena with a massive grandstand – as, usually for dressage, there’re three people and a tumbleweed!”
There were a couple of notable absences in the Grand Prix, including last year’s Dressage Horse of the Year KH Ambrose; the lovely chestnut is sadly on the market as Abbie Deken looks to rebuild her team. Meanwhile Wendi Williamson was disappointed to send her World Cup horse Deja Vu MH home to Auckland, after he mysteriously became unwell at the show with a bacterial infection in his gut.
However, Wendi finished third with her second-string Grand Prix horse, the talented chestnut Don Amour MH, who scored 66.43% despite big mistakes when he decided to take an untimely toilet stop in the passage-piaffe work. At the Grand Prix prize-giving, Wendi remarked it was ‘Revenge of the Gingers’, with chestnuts taking four of the top six placings.
Jody Hartstone and Ali Baba were fourth on 65.23%, while Grand Prix newcomers Debbie Barke and Lucrative SW were fifth on 64.89%. Sheena Ross and her 10-year-old Parkridge Disco SW, also in their first season, were sixth on 64.58% with some beautiful work.
Clevedon rider Haydee Wells-Parmenter has made a successful comeback to the competition arena, winning the Level 3 Horse of the Year with her chestnut mare Royal Dream. Haydee (37) rode at Advanced level as a young rider and spent time training in Germany, competing at Grand Prix level there, before returning to New Zealand and starting a family.
Haydee’s daughters Baylee and Sofia are now six and four, and Haydee is riding and teaching full-time. Although Haydee never stopped riding, she didn’t compete for a while. “My kids will only be young once and I don’t want them to play second fiddle to my horses,” she says.
Haydee bought the eight-year-old Royal Dream (Royal Blend) as a weanling from Chris Sorrell and the late Tracey Blackmore, and they were also North Island Level 3 Champions this season. The mare had a virus leading into HOY and still has an irritated nose, but has been stoic and got on with her work. “She’s so cruisy and very generous, but this is the first season she’s really been competing,” says Haydee.
South Islander Lorraine Ward-Smith was Reserve at Level 3 with her six-year-old mare Fernlea Diamond Day, after coming second in both the freestyle and 3D. It was a nice end to the trip north for Lorraine, who travelled up for Nationals but didn’t get to compete when the mare was injured.
The pony dressage titles were decided on Friday, with Christchurch’s Millie Thompson and Rifesyde Prancer winning both their title tests to take out the Level 4 Pony of the Year. The win was bittersweet for Millie, who says the Andalusian gelding has already been sold, so it was their last competition together. Millie (16) bought the eight-year-old from Brugs Nicholls and was reserve here a couple of years ago. “It was very exciting – you work so hard, so it’s nice to have a reward.”
Auckland rider Bella Small won the Level 3 Pony of the Year with Kingslea Busy Bee, a nine-year-old German Riding Pony-Arab by Davidoff. Bella (15) won the Level 1 here last year with ‘Romeo’ but says her nerves got the better of her this year – until the freestyle, which she won on 67.38% to clinch the title.
Hamilton’s Olivia Robinson won the Level 2 Pony of the Year with the super-experienced 20-year-old Ngahere Romeo. In fact, the 13.2hh chestnut has won so many titles here previously that Olivia and her team couldn’t recall all of them, although they knew it was ‘quite a few’. Level 1 Pony of the Year was Zen E Bear, ridden by Laura Hare.