Dressage & Jumping with the Stars Overview - Louise Curran

The Trailrace Team ventured down to Werribee in March for the  prestigious PSI Dressage & Jumping with the Stars event.  We were pretty busy with our tradestand, so we're delighted to have an overview of the dressage events provided by Louise Curran.

Louise is a passionate equestrian who also competed at PSIDJWTS on her warmblood "Cil Dara Gandalf", and was able to give us a great overview on the dressage classes as follows...

PSI DJWTS - DRESSAGE OVERVIEW

Louise Curran

 

Dressage and Jumping with the Stars is one of my favourite shows in the Australian Dressage calendar. This year it had a special sort of sparkle after the event last year was cancelled due to COVID.  I think we all valued more than ever the ability to get together, ride and watch some spectacular horses and catch up with equestrian friends we hadn’t seen in way too long.

Even the weather sparkled.  We had beautiful crisp Autumn mornings followed by warm sunshine and balmy evenings – perfect for both spectators and riders.  And for shopping!  The trade village was abuzz throughout the event and although numbers were limited due to Victorian COVID restrictions, those who were there seemed determined to make up for the shopping time they lost in lockdown.  The stores were busy, the proprietors were run off their feet, and everyone looked very happy about it.

The dressage component of DJWTS is primarily for future stars of the sport with the Young Horse classes, and for rising stars with the Prix St Georges Cup.  Current stars of the sport are showcased in the Grand Prix and then the Grand Prix Freestyle spectacular on Saturday night. Future human stars are also catered for with the Marcus Oldham Challenge stretching over two days. 

It’s an event with something special for everyone.

 

Young Horse & Pony Classes and Champion of Champions.

The young horse and pony classes were a feast for the eyes.  So many beautiful and beautifully trained horses and ponies at one event.  I know many Australian breeders are striving to produce world class standard foals but it wasn’t until I saw so many outstanding youngsters, one after the other, that it really hit home that this is actually being achieved.  Whether the horses and ponies were Australian bred or imported, the standard was nothing short of spectacular.

Werribee, particularly the big, echoey indoor arena, with all the movement and strange sounds it offers, can be a daunting venue for even the most seasoned campaigner.  For a young horse, it can be overwhelming.   Throughout the show I was filled with admiration for the riders who are committed to bringing out their young horses to compete at this event and are able to ride them calmly and confidently so that this competition experience can be a positive one.

A venue like this is a fairly extreme way to test the ‘submissiveness’ of each contender and some young horses and ponies that had done exceptionally well in lead up events were not able to shine quite as brightly in this atmosphere.  All of this needs to be taken into account when judging and the final winners of each class were those who excelled in all areas – scope, talent and sheer rideability.

Young Horses:

The winner of the 4 year old class, Maree Tomkinson’s Imagine II, has buckets of scope and talent as well as the work ethic and rideability that earned her the top spot.  This is a truly superb young horse who was the talk of the event when she scored a 10 for her canter.  What sort of canter scores a 10?  If you can find any footage of Imagine in action, you’ll see what it takes.  After seeing it live, I’d be very tempted to give it an 11!

Maree Tomkinson & Imagine II 4YO Champion.  Simon Scully Photography

Maree Tomkinson & Imagine II - 4YO Champion. © Simon Scully Photography

 

Another stand out was Willinga Park Quincy B who won the 7 year old class.  At this point the judges are looking for a horse that will clearly go forward to Grand Prix and I predict that it won’t be long before we see Quincy B mixing it with the best at the top level.  He’s a very exciting horse and was beautifully ridden by Jayden Brown.  It was a delight to watch them in action.

Willinga Park also took out the 5 year old class with Willinga Park Tito and the 6 year old class with Willinga Park Fangio.  Both are outstanding horses and were very worthy winners in a close competition with the second place horses in each class (Maree Tomkinson’s Friday IV in the 5 year old and Jason James’s Total Zensation in the 6 year old) snapping closely at their heels.

The winners of each class went on to compete against each other in the Champion of Champions and Jayden Brown was a very busy rider with three horses in the mix. It’s often questioned whether a 4 year old can compete against a 7 year old but the judges are actually judging each horse against the expectation for their level rather than against each other.  Therefore, Imagine was judged on her ability to perform the 4 year old requirements and Quincy B was judged on his ability to perform as a 7 year old.  I believe that the final result was excruciatingly close with Quincy B and Jayden Brown finally claiming victory.

Jayden Brown & Quincy B - Champion of Champions

Jayden Brown & Quincy B - Champion of Champions. © Simon Scully Photography

 

The final scores for each class throughout the event can be found at www.djwts.org.au.

Young Ponies:

It was wonderful to see such a large number of ponies taking part in this event and, like the young horses, the pony standard was exceptionally high.

Pony dressage is a rapidly expanding aspect of our sport and the young pony classes showed that it has a bright future in Australia.

The 6 year old young pony class was won by Belmore Park Perfect Timing, beautifully ridden by Faye Hinchliffe who also competed in the Prix St Georges Cup on Revelry R.

Freemans Lodge Divine Essence, ridden by Justin Worthy, was the winner of the 5 year old young pony class just a smidge ahead of Brookside Shazam, ridden by Annie Creed.  This was a hotly contested class with some very close scores – it’s a clear indication of the quality of the ponies participating.

Tamlyn Farm Calamity Jane, ridden by Justin Worthy, won the 4 year old class and was also victorious in the Pony Champion of Champions.

Pony dressage attracts a lot of opinions about who should ride ponies, the place of ponies in official competitions, how ponies are judged against horses and so on.  At DJWTS, the ponies were given a chance to shine in their own right and it was wonderful to see the depth of scope and talent on display.  Pony dressage in Australia is strong and with ponies like these coming through, it’s simply going to become stronger year by year.

 

Marcus Oldham Challenge

The Marcus Oldham Challenge is for riders 25 years and under and is a real test of rider skill and versatility.  The competition this year was nail bitingly close from start to finish and provided a great showcase for the rising stars of Australian dressage.

The first round was contested by 11 competitors with the top three place getters going through to the final on the following day.  The test for round one was somewhere around the level of the Prix St Georges test and asked some tricky questions of each horse and rider combination.

Alicia Ryan, riding the stunning Bluefields Furstentanz, was the clear winner of the first round on a very impressive 69.948%.  Second place was Olivia Gillespie on Versace 1 and Maddison Growcott on BZFlynn placed third.

Alicia Ryan & Bluefields Furstentanz - YR Champion

Alicia Ryan & Bluefields Furstentanz - 2021 Marcus Oldham Young Rider Challenge Champion.  © Simon Scully Photography

 

The fun really started on the following day when each of these three riders was required to ride a complex and challenging test on their own horse and then ride the same test on each of the other two horses.  The catch here is that they have only a very strict 10 minutes to get to know their new mounts.  It’s a big ask!

This event was a treat to watch and each of these riders was incredibly impressive.  The fact that they managed to ride each other’s horses so well and that the scores were so close throughout was a testament to their skill and talent.  It was also impressive to realise how well each had trained their own horses to this point – for a totally new rider to hop on and ride a complex test after only ten minutes getting to know the horse speaks to the very correct training and preparation each of these horses had experienced.

Throughout the competition the three riders were neck and neck and it wasn’t until the end of the very last ride that it became clear that Alicia Ryan had pulled slightly ahead and become the winner of the Marcus Oldham Challenge. It will be exciting to watch what these three young riders achieve over the coming years – I predict we’ll see some pretty fancy stuff.

 

Prix St Georges Cup

The rising stars of Australian dressage strutted their stuff in the Prix St Georges Cup and it was a very impressive field of talented horses and riders.

The first phase was the Prix St George test on Thursday afternoon and the stage was set for a tight competition with Jayden Brown on Willinga Park Fusion narrowly taking the lead from Caroline Wagner riding her beautiful Penny Hill Park Sophia.  It was a strong field of horses who are clearly well on their way toward the higher levels of FEI competition.

Although the second phase of this competition, the Intermediate 1 Freestyle, was scheduled to be run on the main stage in the indoor arena, some last minute changes saw the freestyle tests happening outside on Arena 2.  This turned out to be a case of serendipity. It was a beautiful balmy autumn evening with a soft breeze and just perfect for sitting outside and enjoying the spectacle. The Martin Collins surface on Arena 2 rides really well and was a welcome change from the usual indoor setting.

Jayden Brown, riding Willinga Park Fusion, was once again victorious and very deservedly so.  His test was beautiful – fluid and harmonious with horse and rider completely in sync. This is what dressage at this level should look like and the judges rewarded him with a score of 77.433%.

In a generally high scoring field, Caroline Wagner and Penny Hill Park Sophia were in second place and Brooke Mance, one of Victoria’s talented young riders, was third with Callum Park Freya.

 

Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle

It was great to have so many of the top level riders back together in one place.  With COVID restrictions it’s been ages since so many of us have been together and it was great to get a chance to catch up in a competition setting. 

The competition at this level is always fiercely contested with most of us working to come somewhere close to the scores of the two superstars and Olympians who generally lead the field.  Lone Joergensen on Corinna and Mary Hanna on Calanta and Syriana have been keeping us all entertained with their battle for supremacy here in Victoria.  At each competition there’s a collective holding of breath to see who of these two riders will post the top score and it’s been pretty evenly distributed in recent months. Their scores are often extremely close with just fractions of a mark between them.

In the Grand Prix competition at DJWTS, Mary Hanna on Calanta was victorious with 73.696% and Lone Joergensen followed close behind on 72.522%.

John Thompson also rode a beautiful test on JHT Chemistry for third place with 71.392%.

It’s wonderful to see these marks being achieved at Australian events and it was a treat for both spectators and fellow riders to see these high achievers in action.

Saturday night was Freestyle night and we had a load of fun.  It’s always a high energy part of the event.  Somehow the gloomy indoor is transformed into a brightly lit stage and watching athletic, beautifully trained horses performing to music chosen specifically for them is a real highlight.

The field for the Freestyle was much smaller than for the Grand Prix with a surprisingly large number of competitors deciding not to take part.  While this made for a shorter class and must have been disappointing for the spectators, it didn’t diminish the fun for those of us who did compete.

I ride Cil Dara Gandalf, a beautiful grey warmblood who was given to me by a very dear friend when his mind had checked out and it was thought his dressage days were well behind him.  We’ve formed an amazing bond and bit by bit we’ve brought him back to dressage and made it to the heights of Grand Prix.  All this means however, that he’s still fragile and we’re never sure exactly what’s going to happen at any event. 

Louise Curran & Cil Dara Gandalf

Louise Curran and 'CIL Dara Gandalf'
© Simon Scully Photography

Riding Gandalf in the freestyle felt a little bit like I was riding a giraffe on speed!!  Head in the air, control on a hair trigger and a complete inability to cope with one spooky corner which happened to be the one we needed to go into for the trot half pass and the one tempis.  There were a few ‘abort mission’ decisions made and somehow we achieved a fairly respectable test that took full advantage of our final safety line.

Others managed in much better style and John Thompson and JHT Chemistry carried the day with a beautiful test and a score of 75.195%.  Rozzie Ryan and Jarrah R are real masters at the freestyle and were a joy to watch for their score of 73.195%.  Dirk Dijkstra and AEA Metallic are always crowd favourites and their score of 70.005% earned them third place.

John Thompson and JHT Chemistry, 4cyte by Interpath Big Tour Champions
© Simon Scully Photography

Riding a freestyle well takes a certain type of skill that combines precision and discipline with the ability to think quickly, rearrange as you go if necessary, and work with the music so that the whole effect is one of complete harmony and effortless dancing.  John, Rozzie and Dirk all managed this superbly and were a delight to watch.

After the competition of course, comes the mounted presentations with a lap of honour.  In my case it was a matter of adrenaline spiking as I tried to somehow pilot my giraffe around the arena with people moving and clapping and generally adding to the tension level. I stayed on, it was fast, we survived!

 

Conclusion:

For Dressage and Jumping with the Stars to go ahead at all is always a major feat of organization.  To make it happen with all the COVID Safe restrictions that applied, and with the limitations this placed on numbers, ticketing and general scheduling was a mammoth effort.  When you consider that dressage was only a single phase of this event and that the venue was also filled with classes for both Jumping and Eventing young horses, an Open Jumping event, a Jumping World Cup qualifying event and Ridden Performance Pony classes, the scale of the work required to put it all together is a little bit mind blowing.

Event Director Lizzy Schirmer is making a name for herself with her ability to pull together spectacular events.  DJWTS was no exception and Lizzy and her organizing committee not only produced a great event but did an amazing job of dealing with all the curved balls COVID threw at them.  The organizing committee are a power team and I know they’ll already be planning for DJWTS 2022.

The dressage community in Australia is now looking forward to further easing of COVID restrictions and more fabulous events on the Australian Dressage calendar.