HOY: Dressage Grand Prix heats up

Wendi Williamson joked that she was perfecting the art of coming second after ending up Reserve Champion in both Level 4 and Level 5 at the 2019 Land Rover Horse of the Year, but yesterday the win was all hers in the CDI FEI Grand Prix Special. Wendi and Don Amour MH scored 69.957%,  showing some really lovely work in a relatively mistake-free test.

Wendi Williamson and Don Amour MH won the GP Special (Libby Law)

Although his trot work has always been fancy, Don Amour’s canter work is much improved from at the same show 12 months ago and three of the five judges had her above the 70% mark.

“I was pleased – I came out thinking it was a 70%. I was very focused on doing a clean test. Clearly, the neck is our biggest issue – he needs to be longer in the neck still. But that’s about balance and strength; it’s not a five-minute job,” she says.

Wendi and Don Amour MH have gone head to head with Vanessa Way and NRM Andreas at Level 9 all season, but it was not a two-horse race in the Special. The surprise of the day was Jody Hartstone’s second place with her 14-year-old stallion Ali Baba, their tidy test scoring a personal best of 67.596%.

Jody Hartstone and Ali Baba, a personal best in the Special (Libby Law)

“I’m stoked, although it’s still a work in progress,” says Jody. “Ali Baba is really coming along and Christine Weal has done a good job of helping me. It’s made a big difference having controlled riding every day – I tend to want to go off to the beach! But Ali Baba is a thinker and that calm, steady work has really paid off.” 

Vanessa and NRM Andreas are usually impressive in the piaffe and passage work, but weren’t quite on song in the Special, finishing on 66.851%, just in front of Bill Millar on Raukura Satori MH  (66.59%) in fourth and Victoria Wall on Letty Lei EDH (65.19%) in fifth.

However, Vanessa and Andreas won the previous day’s Grand Prix on 68.804%, with Wendi second (67.76%) and Jody third (66.23%).

“Andreas is still a baby and he’s a big horse with a lot of power, so it’s still very early days,” says Vanessa. “Looking at my sheets, the judges would probably disagree with me, but I thought we did the best canter zig-zag we’ve ever done and I was really pleased with his changes. He’s coming! And I just love his willing attitude – he gives it his all.”

The Grand Prix doesn’t count for the overall Horse of the Year title – points are only taken from the Special and the Kur. And with the musical’s 1.5 weighting, the Dressage Horse of the Year won’t be clear until after the final day’s competition today.

Level 7

Northland’s Julie Flintoff and her super special mare Belladonna MH continued their unstoppable run, winning the Level 7 Horse of the Year crown. Julie and the 10-year-old by Brentano II topped both the musical freestyle on 71.4% and the Inter I on 69.7%. Bella was not only incredibly consistent at the show – she was also remarkably relaxed, contentedly snoozing in her yard all day, the exact same one Julie has requested for the past three years.

Julie Flintoff and Belladonna MH (Libby Law)

“I don’t know what it is about this show, but she just really likes it! I did get a bit worried when someone opened up their tent this morning as we were going around the outside of the arena, but she was fine.”

Runner-up in the Level 7 was Christine Weal on the striking black 10-year-old Schindlers Liszt (by Lessing). They finished second in both title tests, with 68.1% in the Inter 1 and 67.6% in the freestyle.

Christine Weal and Schindlers Liszt, runners-up in L7 (Libby Law)

This is Christine’s second season on the horse she bought a couple of seasons ago from her pupil Louis Schindler, and he has progressed rapidly from Level 4 to Level 7.

“Louis had done an awesome job with him, but he’s still quite green. Unfortunately I lost my changes today, but it’s just mileage for him as this is only his second time to Horse of the Year – last year he was terrified!”

Level 6

Wendi Williamson and her chestnut mare Decadance MH won the Level 6 title, coming second in the freestyle on 71.83% and second in the Prix St Georges on 67.44%.

Wendi Williamson and Decadance MH (Libby Law)

Wendi has been riding the nine-year-old by Dacaprio for less than a year. “She’s a hot mare, but a real worker, which is why I’ve been able to get her up to speed so quickly.”

Vanessa and her prolific winner NSC Pronto didn’t have the best start in Level 6, finishing fourth in the Prix St Georges after a few glitches in the changes. “He just lost confidence on the footing,” explains Vanessa. However, they were back to their usual brilliance in the freestyle, which they won on 72.25%, thus ending up Reserve Level 6 Champion.