Week 3 of the Global Dressage Festival concluded on Sunday 28 January 2023 with a victory for France's Morgan Barbançon and her own Habana Libre A in the Grand Prix Special 4*. It was a personal best score for Barbançon, who is wintering in Florida and giving her young Grand Prix horses mileage under the sun.
The 30-year old Morgan competed at the 2012 Olympic Games for Spain and at the 2021 Olympics for France and has clearly mapped out her route towards a third Olympics in 2024, this time on home turf in Paris, France. She has her hopes on Habana Libre A as her ride down the centerline in the gardens of Versailles.
Snowbird in Florida
For the first time in her career, Morgan has travelled to Wellington, Florida, to compete at the Global Dressage Festival, while her life partner, Belgian show jumper Jos Verlooy, is across the road showing in the Winter Equestrian Festival.
Based at Naima Moreira-Laliberté's yard, Morgan has brought three horses to Wellington: the 11-year old KWPN bred Habana Libre A (by Zizi Top x United), the 12-year old Westfalian Deodoro (by Damon Hill x Lauries Crusador xx) and the 16-year old KWPN bred Bolero (by Johnson x Vincent).
Her number one, stallion Sir Donnerhall II, stayed home as the American quarantine procedures for importing stallions were too complex for the short period Morgan will be there.
"I love it here, for sure the weather," Morgan smiled. "My favourite thing is that everything is so close and that we don’t have to travel so far to compete which I think makes a big difference on the horses, they feel less tired !"
Just less than three weeks into her trip, the Swiss based rider has found out the pros and cons of a campaign in Wellington.
"For sure it’s very expensive, so I’ve really being checking everything out of where are the best suppliers, because not every place has the same products for the same prices so I guess it’s all about knowing your way around," she explained. "I’ve also done some simulation calculation that if I had done so many shows in Europe in that little time it wouldn’t of been that much cheaper, counting hotels travel costs, plane tickets, entries, gas etc."
Habana Libre A Finds Winning Form
Just a week after her arrival in Florida, Morgan found her winning ways. At the CDI West Palm Beach she scored a Grand Prix victory of 71.239% on Deodoro. A week later Habana Libre A moved into the winner's circle at the CDI Wellington, scoring a personal best of 74.404% in the Grand Prix Special. At 11 years old, Habana Libre A was the youngest horse in the class.
The pair finished more than three percentage points clear of second-placed Anna-Christina Abbelen (GER), who rode her own Sam Donnerhall to 71.234%. Spain’s Pablo Gómez Molina claimed third on the 13-year-old PRE gelding Ulises De Ymas with 69.915%.
“I’m super happy," said Morgan “I’m on cloud nine. Honestly, I thought we would get a 72% or maybe 73%, and I would have been super happy with that. Today, I had such a floaty, fluid ride, and I didn't push."
Barbancon continued, “my goal was to give him confidence in the ring and have a fault-free test — and that’s what I had. There were hiccups here and there, but it felt like such a nice ride. Next time I can push him a bit more because he was confident in there.”
Barbançon noted that the journey with the horse has been somewhat challenging, making this result all the more meaningful.
“When I saw the score I started crying because he’s come a long way. We’ve had him since he was four — he wasn’t always the easiest, so this was very special.”
Habana Libre A was originally the horse of Morgan's sister, Alexandra. In 2018 he was trained by Dutch Diederik van Silfhout for four months. He convinced mum Carmen Mestre it was a good idea for the 6-year old to represent Holland at the World Young Horse Championships in Ermelo. Afterwards he joined Morgan in Switzerland, because her sister had ended her career on horses to begin her own business in cosmetics.
"With Habana I had troubles with changes," she confessed. "He wasn’t really getting them and then one day to another he understood like if a light bulb lit up."
Sine then the gelding has been a bright student and easily moved up the levels to Grand Prix. They won the French Championships for 7-year olds in 2019 and had their CDI Grand Prix debut in March 2022 in Jerez de la Frontera. Last year they competed in Le Mans, Compiegne, Jardy, Meerle, Motesice, and Kronenberg.
Morgan has the impression the liver chestnut has come of age in Florida;
"I’m super happy, he’s improved so much," she said. "In Europe I think he was still figuring it all out and now he is finally understanding what he has to do. He’s coping much better with riding the exercise together, now we say we keep on going like this and it’s just a matter of time and experience."
Morgan has trained with numerous renowned European coaches, from Anky van Grunsven, Jan Nivelle, Jan Bemelmans to Dorothee Schneider. The last year she's been working closely with Gareth Hughes. Most of the time the coaching is via online video training.
"I absolutely love it. He’s helped me so much, and made a lot of time for me," said Morgan. "We train 4-6 times a week. Normally we pick 2-3 mornings and do two horses. Here with the time difference and internet it’s a little more complicated but we still keep in touch. I send him training videos and all my competition videos and he gives me his opinion on what to work on and how. I’m very happy because he’s very supportive and understood all my horses."
When asked what her plans are for the rest of the season, Morgan replied, "I don’t have any set plans. I’m looking at the five-star with Habana, but I’ll take it week by week. I’m here until the end of March, so there is no rush and no pressure, and I’m here to compete as much as possible. I want to give him the confidence in the ring, where he wants to go and wants to do it.”
Photos © Sue Stickle - Lily Forado - Astrid Appels
Scores: 2023 CDI Wellington
Barbançon Kicks Off Florida Season win Grand Prix Victory at 2023 CDI West Palm Beach
Scores: 2023 CDI West Palm Beach
Habana Libre A Wins 2019 French Championship for 7-year olds
Barbancon and Nowakowski Make Inaugural CDI Jardy a French Affair
Villeneuve In Pole Position after 6-YO Preliminary Test at 2018 World Young Horse Championships