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Carl Hester on Burghley’s dressage, forward riding, and when demos don’t go to plan

There was much excitement and enthusiasm for the Premier Performance CZ Midway Championships that were held at Hartpury in August. They are organised by Alisa Hunter-Gordon, a high-flying project manager and former organiser of Nunney Horse Trials, who herself has ridden up to prix st georges and currently competes at advanced medium. The championships are designed for riders “midway” between amateur and professional, and you have to qualify.

Listening to the announcements of the competitors’ jobs – from lawyers to doctors and other public sector workers – was quite awe-inspiring, and everyone I asked said it was the best atmosphere of any championship. The stands were heaving with spectators, the shops were busy, and classes ran from early morning to 11pm, with professional stewards keeping everything moving.10 Fascinating Facts About Horses (That You Will Struggle To Believe Are True…)0 seconds of 1 minute, 31 secondsVolume 0%

The special performance on the Friday’s gala night from Equidance and Wayne Garrick, dressed in full drag, brought the house down. Wayne has never been shy about popping on a dress and thankfully it was ridden in a saddle, not bareback as some may have feared.

Meanwhile, for grand prix freestyle winner Anthea Parkyn, it must have been one of the happiest nights of her dressage career when she won on Amor HJ, a horse she has trained all the way through the levels.

There were rugs, sashes and good prize money too, and a real feel-good factor. With costs spiralling above the means of many, this championship seems to have ticked a lot of boxes.

A high standard

I attended Burghley Horse Trials this year in my capacity as an ambassador for Land Rover, meeting and chatting to clients about dressage, and commentating for some of the dressage phase.

Before they headed off to the eventing World Championships in Pratoni, Italy, four of the five British team horses practised their dressage tests in the main arena on the first day of Burghley. It was great preparation in a big atmosphere.

Judge Stephen Clarke commended the forward riding, and so did I. Our amazing event team really ride to a high standard: elegant seat, forward hands and proper balance. Credit to them all and their individual trainers overseen by Chris Bartle, Ian Woodhead, and Dickie Waygood. This sort of dressage is easy to watch, and those words in themselves capture the essence of what dressage should be about.

During the dressage phase of the competition, I made a mental note to myself while watching some of the extended trots; “let go, take the risk” is next year’s aim!

Demos are always hugely popular, even when things don’t quite go according to plan. Holly Woodhead has evented at European Championship level, but she hasn’t done Burghley, so her first taste of the hallowed Lincolnshire ground was riding Emma Blundell’s MSJ Gold Standard as a showcase for top paces in my dressage demo.

Amy Woodhead – the dressage sister – is due to give birth to her first baby very soon, and the second demo rider was Jenny Martell, Amy’s protégée, riding a Lusitano mare who was supposed to show the start of their journey to grand prix. But Fifi, as she is known at home, had other ideas and couldn’t wait to show off her one-tempi changes throughout the whole demo. Although it must have been frustrating for Jenny, it made me realise the crowd love to see real-life dressage.

Burghley Friday was equally busy. I drove home that evening in a complete dressage daze.

A great loss

AS the world mourns the loss of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II, I add my deepest condolences to the royal family. May she rest in peace. Long live The King.

Original article: Carl Hester on Burghley’s dressage: elegant seats with forward hands (horseandhound.co.uk)