Morgan Barbançon of France had an intense reaction when she saw her score with Habana Libre A in the FEI Grand Prix Special CDI4*. 

“I started crying, because he’s come a long way,” said Barbançon of her own, 11-year-old KWPN geldin—the youngest horse in Saturday’s class. “He wasn’t always the easiest, so this was very special.”

Special in more ways than one. After a difficult showing in the Grand Prix on Thursday, Barbançon, who is making her first appearance at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) this winter, says she would have settled for two full percentage points lower—and been happy with her performance. 

Instead, her 74.404% score marked the pair’s highest Grand Prix Special percentage to date. What’s more, they dominated the class, finishing more than three points ahead of Anna-Christina Abbelen (GER) on Silke Abbelen-Mooren’s Sam Donnerhall with 71.234%, and Pablo Gómez Molina (ESP) in third with 69.915% aboard Ulises De Ymas. 

For her part, Barbançon attributes the turn-around to her ability to, essentially, ‘let go and let flow.’

“[Sunday], I had such a floaty, fluid ride, and I didn’t push,” she said. “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, a two-time Olympian who represented Spain at London in 2018 and France at Tokyo in 2020, has produced Habana Libre A since his four-year-old year. In October of 2019, the pair won the French Championship for 7-Year-Olds at Le Mans. Barbançon, 30, is also in contention for Longines FEI Dressage World Cup Finals in Omaha, Nebraska in April. 

As for the rest of her time in Wellington, Barbançon—who says she is currently “on cloud nine”—is looking to continue the trend while keeping tension at bay.

“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 [Habana Libre A] the confidence in the ring, where he wants to go [in] and wants to do it.”