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Roger Fitzhardinge reports on the Horse First NSW Dressage Championships

Donna Elena and Maree Tomkinson looking uphill in the tempi changes. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Donna Elena and Maree Tomkinson looking uphill in the tempi changes.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


By Roger Fitzhardinge

The Horse First NSW Dressage Championships were this year held at Tamworth, the centre of country music, and attracted some keen and talented competition from outside the state.

The three arenas on the outside rode well, and were Ebb & Flow with a mix of synthetic and sand. The indoor surface was good, but a little shifting, and the warm up areas also good — one Ebb & Flow and the other sand with plenty of space. The stables were top class and the amenities and camping spaces wonderful, and all very accessible to the horses and arenas.

The Tamworth facility, Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centre (AELEC), is quite wonderful — but in an Aussie drought when the wind blows the dust is simply horrendous, as it was on the first day when everyone had a “Mother Nature’s dermabrasion”!

Excitement in the Grand Prix

The Mulawa Performance FEI Grand Prix was a good showing of horses. Maree Tomkinson brought the very exciting mare, Donna Elena, all the way from Melbourne to compete in the Grand Prix. Maree was keen to get some more travelling and experience under the mare’s belt at Grand Prix, and knowing that the facilities and the surfaces were international, it was worth the trip to escape Melbourne’s winter.

The first horse to go was Fererro Chocolate Box and Sheridyn Ashwood. You could feel the competition was on! This combination made a confident and positive statement by gaining a very well respected score of 66.522% to stay in the lead for all but two horses. This combination have continued to improve and the horse now has good cadence and constancy in the trot work and the canter work is showing a better self-carrying capacity with a highlight in the passage but all the work looks more fluent.


Sheridyn Ashwood and Fererro Chocolate Box. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Sheridyn Ashwood and Fererro Chocolate Box.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Diamond Star, owned by Vicki Newham and now being ridden by Sally Rizzuto, made a great test. This very experienced Grand Prix horse, who was short listed for WEG, was enthusiastic in his work — however being one of a very few ever rides at Grand Prix for Sally, there were a few minor glitches that were expensive. All the same, the harmony was great and a combination that is going to make their presence felt. A score of 65.609% put them in sixth place — but all the same one judge awarded them a first spot! 


Diamond Star and Sally Rizzuto. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Diamond Star and Sally Rizzuto.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Brumali, for Robert Harrison Schmerglatt, did not rise to the occasion this time. The test was behind the leg, and this didn't allow for much expression for a 63.732%. GB Winchester for Gary Lung and JW Darjeeling for Jacqui Winspear were both under the 60% level and unfortunately it wasn’t their day.

Richmond H for Melinda Hart handed in a solid and respectable test, and they seem to have improved considerably over the past twelve months — but the scores were still around the 62% mark. A more consistent and harmonious test though.

Sarah Price did a great job on the buckskin pony stallion, Cheval de Luxe. A few mistakes in the changes, and as yet the piaffe is lacking definition and the trot half pass is still lacking the strength to carry the weight and keep the cadence. This pair will be great, as the basics are solid… now for the strength to catch up. It’s all about time, patience and taking the positive marks home and not becoming disheartened, as the judges too often think that it helps to point out the mistakes; at this level, this can be tedious and demoralising despite the truth.

Adonie and Rozzie Ryan always grace the arena with flare and confidence, however the mare often appears to try too hard; with huge power and cadence, it’s easy for her to put in the odd step that’s not consistent and this is only from her trying. The canter work was more uphill and the pirouettes stronger, but the lack of confidence still in the piaffe and the transition to and from passage loses a lot of marks. The empathy between Rozzie and the mare is obvious, and they are still getting stronger and better… and don't worry, Rozzie has a tenacity and patience that will win this mare over and what a test they will produce then! Their 66.232% was a good score when you think of the marks lost in the piaffe and passage, and the transitions for the lack of balance and eveness from her energy and enthusiasm! They finished fifth, less than .04% behind Luxor for Katherine Farrell.


Rozze Ryan and Adonie. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Rozze Ryan and Adonie.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Luxor is one to try his hardest, and he was on fire in this test, but along with this extra zing came a degree of tension and a lack of softness and swing. He was pumped for sure and gave his all, but the bigger marks will come from this energy when it is combined with a more harmonious softness; he can get a little staccato when he is this wound up, as he was this test. The piaffe again let a few marks go, but the test was well presented and as always Katherine exudes the love she has for this wonderful chestnut.

Second went to CP Dresden, owned by Jane Bruce and ridden by Alycia Targa. If there is one combination that has simply continued to impress and gain the judges’ confidence, it’s Dresden and Alycia. A mistake-free test, and what an absolute energetic and enthusiastic performance. Alycia prepares every movement so well, and the confidence that these two show is exemplary. He makes every movement in the Grand Prix now with ease and if there was too be a highlight, it’s probably in the pirouettes where he really can sit and balance and shows great control of the size of the steps and the tempo. I think it’s the feeling of that consistency forward, combined with the balance over the hind leg, then the uphill tendency and self-carriage. It’s all about watching and feeling the control, balance and adjustability, and this bay pocket rocket has it all and is still getting better. A score of 68.515% was a good percentage and second from all three judges.


Alycia Targa and Jane Bruce's CP Dresden were second in the Grand Prix and Freestyle. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Alycia Targa and Jane Bruce's CP Dresden were second in the Grand Prix and Freestyle.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Lucky last to go was Donna Elena and Maree Tomkinson. The moment they entered the arena there was feeling of expectation. Maree was super relaxed and the mare really in front of the leg. There was no hint of any short step in the trot work, and the first extended trot had a huge over-track with an expressive front leg, but a clear difference now with a better raised neck and shoulders and the weight over the hind leg; a whole lot more uphill in a really honest and through way. Maree has been patient and consistent in her training, and all of a sudden there is a huge difference in the balance and the top line looks great.

The half passes looked sweeping and showed even, cadenced steps to both directions, and the first passage was clear and off the ground. The piaffe showed some good steps, but still needs to continue to sit more and now the front legs need to come higher for the better marks. However, it is easy to see that it’s along the right way and now it’ll just take time and confidence. Of course there are marks begging here in the piaffe and the transitions, and they aren't so far away. If you had too say what would give a bigger impression in the piaffe and passage tours, it’s simply the forearm needs to be more raised and the front feet come higher. This will happen, and no doubt Maree is already improving this with attention and patient training. The canter work was effortless and the sideways, elastic steps in the zig zag were amazing — however, Maree started a little late and went for the huge sideways, and was just running a stride too late, with a late change on the centreline and at C. It was great and the changes all big and expressive, but still a little swinging. The pirouettes confident and controlled and as good as they have been.

This is quite the glowing report, and so it should be. This is the best this mare has performed and she was confident, and Maree at ease with the test, except a little overriding the last few of the tempi changes. A habit perhaps ingrained from Diamantina, who needed more positive input than this mare. Well a score of 69.13% overall, but a first and 71.087% (H), a first and 69.783% (C), and a third for a 66.522% (B). I personally found a 66% tough indeed, and the mare perhaps was modestly marked.

All the same, it was a very good win to Donna Elena and also a fantastic test from Alycia and Dresden.

Alycia was all set to push the boundaries in the Freestyle, and what an amazing test with fabulous music and exceptionally difficult choreography... that was made to look easy as! It was close indeed, and being indoors, which isn't always Donna’s favourite. She still kept it all in perspective, and a great win on 72.510% with several technical mistakes, that without them the percentage would have been even higher.

They beat Dresden in the Freestyle by a mere 0.5%, but don't think Alycia won’t be out to even the scores at the next time they meet… and it’s this stiff competition that brings out the best in these top riders! For Sally Rizzuto, who rode her first ever Freestyle on Diamond Star, a score of 71.010% was a feat indeed, and then there was Luxor on 70.145%. For these four horses to be over the 70% mark is a real achievement, with Melinda Hart and Richmond H in fifth and then Brumali and Robert Harrison Schmerglatt in sixth.

Let the battle continue! A great class and some very good riding. Inspiring work, and to see the improvement in the better horses is fantastic with Olympic selection around the corner!

Quality in the
Portable Horse Stables Open Novice Championship

The Big Tour was exciting, and at the other end of the scale were the horses in the Portable Horse Stables Open Novice Championship — and all that could be said by so many enthusiasts was how fantastic the horses in these classes were. It was truly fantastic, and without a word of a lie there were horses (yes, multiple) that could have scored into the 80% range. The quality and the way these horses worked were along the correct way of the training scale, and I believe it has not been seen in Australian dressage until now. The breeding, movement and type of these horses were so exciting for the future. The downside is that it appeared many of the judges were not using the full scale of marks in rewarding the really good horses. I felt the scores on the board, for the world to see, were not a true recognition of the quality that was seen at this exceptional Novice level.

How may times is it pointed out that the mark 7 is “Fairly Good” and that 8 is “Good”; I thought there were a lot of “Very Good” marks (9) and even some horses that you could have said had “Excellent” parts. There was a horse that absolutely showed a 10 for the walk!

It’s all opinion, but it’s really time that EA made a serious move to spend a lot more time and money on judge education. The judges are only giving marks as they think correct. They are all good people and try their best; it’s simply a reflection on the education system. This lack of education, when it comes to keeping our judges up to speed and interested, will be the downfall of our sport. The negativity in the marks and comments is becoming degrading and uninspiring for the riders, owners, trainers and grooms. The differences in scores and the totally differing placings from one judge to the other in the same test is confusing, and it’s time that EA stepped in and encouraged implementation of interesting education systems, so that judges will become more familiar with all the movements and what to look for, and with this will come their confidence to never be afraid to put the mark to the movement, with confidence through competence.

That being said, there were still some good scores awarded in these classes that reflected the quality. In the 2C, there were 10 over 70% and then the next 11 were 65% to 70%! In the 2B there were 9 over 70% and 12 between 65% and 70%, but here there were a lot of differences in the two judges’ marks and placings. In neither test was there a score below 60%. The novice horses were impressive, and drew a positive and interested crowd to watch!


Asterix, a Novice winner for Robert Schmerglatt. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Asterix, a Novice winner for Robert Schmerglatt.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

The winner here, Asterix, was fairly unanimous. This horse was first on 77.4% with one judge, and third on 72.3% with the other. In the 2C, Asterix was first on 76.7% with one, and first on 78.49% with the other… and won overall by 3% on 77.6%! This was an outstanding Novice horse, who flowed effortlessly around the tests with not a whisper of a problem. The frame was a little open, as it is expected for the Novice horse, with a steady carriage. The paces were all fluent and so elastic, with great natural engagement and suppleness. In a young horse class, the paces could have all been for at least a 9, and especially the walk was excellent. Robert Harrison Schmerglatt sure as hell rode an accurate test. The horse is by Astrix from a Warkant mare, and interesting for the future… but whatever happens in the future, it is an outstanding Novice horse for now!

Other Novice horses to catch the eye were Valhalla I for Elliot Patterson, a serious horse that is for the future great, but a little too exuberant and impressive for what the Novice judges want and the working canter a little too collected — but he is 18 hands. Legend of Loxley is another outstanding striking big bay, recently purchased for Victoria Welch and what a great type and also a little sharp and perhaps the odd little green transition mark was costly, but a great horse. NEP Royal Standard from the Deon Stokes stables, ridden by Sarah Price, is impressive and a real contender for the higher levels. He has plenty of energy and is opinionated, which for the future will be great and so at Novice again a few minor glitches that took the win away. Lynda Foster did a good job with the chestnut Rossini HG and showed her experience in gaining the marks. It was a simple mistake, like a few jog steps in the walk or a hop into trot or a crooked halt, that was enough of a mistake in an otherwise good test to drop the ranking down two or three places.

Stars for the future in the Pursehouse Rural Saddleworld Tamworth Open Elementary Championship

Cleddau Bellini, ridden by Mark Arthur, is a big bay that won the Pursehouse Rural Saddleworld Tamworth Open Elementary Championship. This was impressive in this class, but perhaps lacks a little suppleness in some of the canter work — but a great horse. Tarcoola Furst Romanz and Tarcoola Hot Shot for Rachael Clarke were also very well produced and ridden, and again fluent and good movers with an easy way about them.


Mark Arthur and Cleddau Bellini, Champion Elementary horse. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Mark Arthur and Cleddau Bellini, Champion Elementary horse.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Elliot Patterson with Lord Lachlan were impressive, as was Daenarys for Alexis Hellyer. As you see, the list goes on and on and in fact most of the field on a better day for them could place higher. It was truly a phenomenal group of good horses, well trained and presented and they all need congratulating as this is the roots for our Grand Prix horses.

More combinations to keep an eye on

Horses to watch for in the future were the Champion and Reserve in the Scone Equine Open Preliminary Championship: F1 Rockstar for Courtney Larard, and the imported Lord Larry for Robyne Smith. They are both wonderful movers and types and look out when they hit their straps!

The black imported station Braveaux for Gina Montgomery was the Dark Horse Vineyard, Hunter Valley Open Medium Champion, and an impressive horse indeed who is taking time to develop the collection; however, with all Gina’s horses she makes the most of every movement, and this stallion will come into his own as he matures and gains more strength and carrying. Lord Kingsley for Jenny Gehrke, and these two were so so close! Lord Kingsley is a very upstanding and impressive horse as well, and again Jenny not letting a mark slip by.

The Wilmont Equestrian Open Advanced Championship went to Lord Kingsley with a great two tests, and the runner up went to Katina Smith on the Sandro Hit gelding, BC Sangria and again a super mover and well ridden, especially as he is green at this level and has really stepped up a notch at this show. Great changes, and a power-plus expressive trot.


BC Sangria and Katina Smith. © Roger Fitzhardinge

BC Sangria and Katina Smith.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

Small Tour was impressed by several horses, but it was MI Sirtainly Sir, owned by the Farrell family of Mulawa Stud, who dominated the winner’s circles and deservedly so. A very charming horse and rider combination, and now MI Sirtainly Sir is gaining a real strength and self-carriage about him. Great scores, and looking like Grand Prix here we come. 


Riley Alexander after a big win in the Small Tour Freestyle withj MI Sirtainly Sir. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Riley Alexander after a big win in the Small Tour Freestyle with MI Sirtainly Sir.

© Roger Fitzhardinge

The County Saddlery Open FEI Prix St Georges saw some wild variations in scores and placings. Needless to say, Doris Day for Alexis Hellyer was second on 70.441%, and a good performance of this young mare at this level. Jenny Gehrke and Senator Nymphenburg were third on 69.706%. Riley Alexander and MI Sirtainly Sir gained 70.588% to win the class. In the County Saddlery Open FEI Inter I, they were second behind Jenny Gehrke, 68.971% vs. 68.775% — so very close!

Riley again, this time with Larenso, looking international in the EquiDirectory Inter B with a 69.042% and a huge 74.083% to win the EquiDirectory Medium Tour Freestyle. Lets Jazzabit for Lizzie Wilson-Fellows scored a 70.049% in the EquiDirectory Inter A, to win from Show Master and Mark Arthur a whisker behind.

Live scoring a thrill for spectators

The new scoring app was well received and makes it all so much more interesting when you can see the scores, often before the horses leave the arena. It was also great to be able to see the individual movement marks, but unfortunately this was only available on the first day.

There were so many classes, from AOR and Pony, to Para and Open classes at so many levels; it was incredible the number of classes, and to report on them all would take an entire book… not a few paragraphs!

So the NSW states were a successful show and some serious scores! It’s upwards and forwards for everyone with the experience they gained, and looking forward to impressing the judges at the upcoming shows and CDIs as we head towards the Tokyo Olympics!








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