In a dramatic conclusion to the Grand Prix freestyle, Wendi Williamson and Don Amour MH pulled off the test of their lives to win the Dressage Horse of the Year. During Wendi’s test the music began to cut in and out, eventually failing completely in the final few minutes. However, Wendi stayed remarkably composed as she rode her lines in silence and was rewarded with huge applause from the sympathetic audience at the end as well as an impressive 74.45% from the judges – the highest mark she’s ever received in a Grand Prix freestyle.
The sound system had caused problems throughout the class, with loud crackling noises scaring poor Toni Louisson’s horse Back on Track Astute quite badly in the middle of her test.
Thankfully for Wendi, the usually noise-sensitive Don Amour for once didn’t so much as flicker an ear, and she kept right on riding, like a true professional.
“It was very strange riding the movements without the music. I did wonder what the judges were going to do, but only fleetingly, because I was concentrating on what I was doing!” she says.
“It was one of those tests that just flowed – it didn’t feel like I had any bad bits. I came out at the end thinking how annoying, because the horse had just done the best test he’s ever done, but I thought they would give me a horrendous mark because of the music.”
However, the judges had obviously heard enough for all the required movements, and all five had her in first place. In hindsight, Wendi is happy they didn’t stop the test. “I never would have been able to resurrect what I had.”
Wendi now plans to take ‘Donny’ to the Sydney CDI in May, to further his competition experience. “He’s fit and ready, and he’s improving, so we may as well have another go.”
Vanessa Way says NRM Andreas felt a little tired on the final day of the show, but she was still pleased with her big powerful ‘baby’, who scored 71.25% for second place and Reserve Champion. Vanessa had been battling a virus for most of the show, but managed to keep smiling. “I missed one of my pirouettes and a couple of his flying changes were short behind, but I’m still stoked with him – he was such a good pony.”
Grand Prix newbies Victoria Wall and her mare Letty Lei EDH looked impressive, on 69.95% in third place, with Jody Hartstone and Ali Baba’s fun routine, set to Spanish music, scoring 69.16% for fourth.
Marlborough’s Franzi Van Bruggen-Smit and her gigantic home-bred Fortunato took home the Level 8 Horse of the Year title, after finishing second in both the freestyle on 67.8% and the Inter B on 66.57%. The 10-year-old black beauty is 18hh (his nickname is ‘Stretch’ for obvious reasons) and is by Franzi’s former stallion Furst Jupp, out of an Anamour mare called Jasmine. Franzi is only 5’2’’ and needs a mounting block to get off as well as on! But luckily Stretch is well-balanced for such a big horse, and also has a wonderfully kind nature.
“It’s just so awesome and really unbelievable,” says Franzi, of winning her first ever Horse of the Year title. “I have always had a lot of faith in this horse but I knew that with his size I would have to take a bit of time. You can’t push them too quickly, and slowly he’s building up strength.”
Full-time rider Franzi works closely at home with her daughter, Tessa, who finished third overall in the Level 4 Horse of the Year with her mare Fiorenza, another of their home-breds by Furst Jupp. Mother and daughter have both been training with Andrea Raves for the past year, and Franzi was quick to credit Andrea for her support.
Palmerston North-based Cooper Oborn rode Aphrodite beautifully to win the Level 8 freestyle on 67.97%; they were Reserve Champions at this level.
Amy Sage and RM All About Me cantered away with the Young Rider title, after winning both their title tests by a wide margin. They scored 69.61% in the Individual Test and 69.12% in the freestyle. The Reserve Young Rider Champion was Brina Carpenter on Lord Louis.