John Thompson and JHT Antonello won their second Dressage Horse of the Year Show at Hastings on Sunday with a superb freestyle, scoring 74.52%. The test went so well that the normally talkative and upbeat John was a little teary and lost for words afterwards, simply saying he loves his horse and that he has the biggest heart. It’s the third time that the 16-year-old Anamour gelding has been Dressage Horse of the Year: he first won the title back in 2012 with Louisa Hill and then again in 2016 with John.
“He was amazing in there – I was having a ball,” says John. “I felt like I was at prize-giving, with no pressure and all the time in the world. It was really beautiful to ride.”
It’s the first major title John has won in a while and he had jokingly begun referring to himself as ‘Mr Bridesmaid’, after a string of second places, including at HOY last year. He was reserve to Julie Brougham for the Rio Olympics and also finished second at Nationals last month, where Julie pipped him at the post. It was another right royal battle between John and Julie over the three days of HOY competition, but John wanted to acknowledge their friendship as well.
“You never know who is going to win, but Julie and I have the best camaraderie – she’s already put the champagne on ice for me. This is her passion, so of course she has to dig deep that she hasn’t won this time, but she’s just about to celebrate my success, that [camaraderie] is really rare.”
During his freestyle, Antonello displayed his trademark power, with John’s contemporary dance tracks suiting him perfectly. Their passage music was a cover of rapper 50 Cent’s In Da Club; he had Michael Jackson and Mozart for the canter work and Major Lazer’s Where Are You Now for the walk. “I’m very well-known for having house boy music, but we wanted to make it a bit softer, so we’ve got piano and violin in there as well,” John says.
While Antonello has always been a passage and piaffe machine, this season the combination has appeared much less tense and more in tune with one another, and John acknowledges he’s learned to back off a little in the test.
“All over the showgrounds people have been talking about the harmony, and that’s lovely,” he says. “AJ is such a strong-willed horse, which is what makes him amazing, but if it goes against you it’s tricky. I ride stallions for a living and he’s far more stallion-like than all our stallions!
“I’ve been doing 10-minute warm-ups on the grass arena and we did no tricks out there – all we did was work on the suppleness and our communication to make sure we were both on the same page.”
Queen of the freestyle Julie Brougham is always the one to beat, and she and Vom Feinsten also performed a beautiful test, scoring 73.70%. Their very difficult and well-executed routine included double pirouettes and challenging transitions, and really showcased their lightness and elegance.
“John and I have been battling all season and I thought this time it might be John’s show,” says Julie. “But I was really pleased with Steiny – I’m happy to be second and runner-up.”
It was a great day for New Zealand dressage, with several of the Grand Prix newbies pulling off super tests. Wendi Williamson and her rising star Don Amour MH produced by far their most consistent and settled performance of the competition for 69.85% and third place. Jody Hartstone and Ali Baba’s energetic and entertaining test set to Spanish music was good enough for 68.92% and fourth place, while Debbie Barke and Lucrative SW also proved they are ones to watch, with 66.05% in fifth.
Level 8 Horse of the Year
Vanessa Way and her impressive NRM Andreas dominated the Level 8 at Horse of the Year with their fabulous piaffe and passage, winning the freestyle on 71.35%.
“I love this horse – he’s such a competitor,” says Vanessa. “Everyone is saying he’s a real international type.”
Vanessa got the 10-year-old Anamour gelding three years ago from her pupil Mandy Littlejohn, who recognised his potential, but found the 17hh-plus powerhouse was just a little too much horse. At that stage, he had never been out to a show and was very strong, with a tendency of bolting off.
“Mandy loved him and it was the hardest decision for her, because she knew how talented he was, but he basically intimidated her because she’s so nice,” explains Vanessa. “He’s a real character. He’s not nasty at all and I’ve never been scared of him, but he tries to be a bit of a bully if he can – he’s actually a hilarious horse. Mandy has been incredibly supportive and she stayed on for today just to watch him.”
Vanessa’s great friend and pupil Nicky Daulton was Reserve at Level 8 with her 13-year-old Saskatoon (Belmont Golden Boy), coming second in the freestyle on 67.75%.
All in all, it was another great result for Team Way, with Vanessa’s working pupil Lucarne Dolley also taking out Young Dressage Rider of the Year, her second title of the show. Lucarne won this title two years ago with Devils Chocolate, but this time she was riding her up-and-coming horse Ardmore and says in her eyes the win was far from a foregone conclusion.
“Arnie is a tricky ride. He’s definitely not the easiest and this is his first time here – he’s never been in the oval before. I’m really proud of him.”
There were only two starters in the Young Rider freestyle, which was won by Lucarne on 69.97% from Amy Sage on RM All About Me, on 67.27%.
Lucarne bought the 17.1hh 10-year-old Ardmore two years ago. He formerly belonged to a beginner rider and has gone from Level 1 to Advanced in just a couple of years.