Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Bar Has Been Raised: A Competitor Reflects on the US Dressage Finals

Jennifer Truett and Sunset N celebrate their seventh-place finish in the US Dressage Finals Second Level Open Championship. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Truett.

By Jennifer Truett

So sorry I didn't find time to post while at the US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan, so I thought I'd write a final wrap-up post today.

I can't say enough about how impressed we all were with everything about this show. The USDF went beyond my wildest expectations in every aspect -- the incredibly smooth-running schedule, the real-time scoring, the exceptional footing, the decorations/advertising billboards, and the flowers...oh my, the flowers. Everyone I spoke with, including our international riders who were there, agreed that this show was far and away the highest-caliber and -pressure environment of any of our US competitions. As similar to European shows as we have ever had, with the exception of when we've hosted the WEG, World Cup, and Olympics.

Everyone I talked to felt honored to be there. The quality of the horses and riders was significantly higher than at any Great American/USDF Regional Championships I've ever been a part of. I believe that USDF accomplished everything it intended to, which is so gratifying after personally sitting through so many USDF Board of Governors meetings debating the various intricacies and possible success/failure scenarios over the past years. 

The big question was always, "Will the competitors come?" The answer was a resounding yes, since we had riders from every USDF region. We all left with excited anticipation for what next year's US Dressage Finals will bring.

Under Pressure: Finals Test Competitors' Mettle

On a personal level, the Finals experience taught me a lot about how my horses and I handle high-pressure situations. Very few horses at the show had experienced the kind of "electricity," sights, and sounds that this show produced, mine included.

Our competition started on Friday with Taffy's Third Level Open Championship. His warm-up was the best yet, and we were both ready to go rock that test, but unfortunately he spooked at something in the path leading to the show ring. The horse coming out also spooked, which in Taffy's mind confirmed that there might be a dragon behind that banner. He remained tense throughout the ride, even spooking away from the judge's box at B in the middle of our medium canter, turning it into a bit of a counter-canter loop! Unfortunately we ended up with the lowest score we've gotten all season and were out of the ribbons, but I felt the judging was very correct and fair considering our performance. 

I was originally scheduled to show Sunset in a 2-3 open class on Friday as a warm-up, but I decided to save his energy for his championship classes, given the difficult physical issues he was recovering from. I'm so glad I did, because at the end of Sunday he was done. He schooled more beautifully each day, and on Friday he felt better than he had three weeks ago prior to going to MSU for the diagnostic workup. (Read my previous post for an account of Sunset's pre-Finals difficulties.) We spent the rest of the afternoon watching rides in the Alltech Arena and taking my boys out for walks. 

Saturday morning was busy. Sunset's Second Level Freestyle was scheduled just over one hour before Taffy's Fourth Level Test 1 open class, and they were at opposite ends of the show grounds. Thanks to Suzy Fitzsimmons, all our grooming and pre-class prep were taken care of throughout the show. She took Taffy up to the top of the hill for his class while I got Sunset ready for the freestyle. 

Sunset was nervous in the warm-up. He whinnied several times, which is unlike him, despite having company in the warm-up arena. Unfortunately he never really settled in, and thus neither did I. When it was time to go compete, we were both not breathing well and sucked back. 

The pressure of the show actually got to me! I've never had that happen before. I've never really experienced show nerves, having shown horses since I was seven. Even at Regional Championships, I just go and ride my tests like it's no different than riding at any other show. But not here, apparently! Since I wasn't firing on all cylinders, neither was Sunset, as he is not a very confident horse and will find any hole in my strength to suck behind my leg and not "go for it." The bummer of it is that the freestyle is my favorite thing to do with my horses. I wound up not staying with my music very well and even had to improvise a bit on my choreography to make sure I got all the required movements in. I felt like I failed Sunset for not being there enough for him mentally to give him the confidence he needed. We ended up eighth in the class.

I came out of the arena very unhappy about my performance, but right away I had to ride my test on Taffy. It was probably very good that I was forced to go show right away, to break the "I screwed up" tape playing in my head. I love riding Taffy, and he always gives me energy -- unlike Sunset, who requires me to give him energy. So it worked out perfectly.

When Taffy saw me coming up the hill, he turned his head, pricked his ears, and suddenly grew three feet taller. He melted my heart and reminded me why we were here. We earned our spots at this show, and we were here to learn from the experience and grow together. He was ready to help me move on to a new level of understanding about how important it is to have the horse's complete trust and respect, especially in such an overwhelming environment.  The winds were howling, fallen leaves were blowing, and the road just beyond our competition arena was bustling with traffic. 

My often-spooky Taffy was solid as a rock, despite all the craziness. At one point my eyes teared up from the wind so much I could hardly see! The test went smoothly, but with understandable tension in his neck from the intimidating environment, and we ended up in second place after Heather Mason and ahead of several other very accomplished riders. I felt this test was confirmation that I do have the fortitude to compete under this amount of pressure and against the best in the country. Thankfully, afterward, I was able to get myself back into my competition "zone."

Sunday was Sunset's Second Level Open Championship in the Alltech Arena. I spent time mentally preparing for the test and trying to anticipate what might happen and develop strategies to deal with those surprises in the show ring. I've never done mental practice like this before because I've never had to; I've only heard and read about it. I also allowed more warm-up time and stayed completely focused on Sunset's mental state. If his thoughts started to stray from me or the task at hand, I quickly gave him something else to focus on. He settled in much better and sooner than in the previous day's warm-up. 

Fortunately, the relaxation and confidence we built together in the warm-up continued into the show ring this time. When Sunset tried to suck back in our warm-up around the outside of the ring, I changed his focus by asking for something different. We even trotted all the way around the scary judge's stand at C, coming uncomfortably close to brushing into one of the USEF Network videographers

I couldn't expect anything better than how the test went. Sunset allowed me to guide him through the scary places in the arena. I was struggling to breathe at a couple of points in the test because of my asthma, and he actually had to carry me! I even got double vision a couple of times and worried that I might pass out. He literally carried me down the final center line. The only aids I was able to give him were the canter to trot and then trot to halt. He's never been there for me like that before!

I am elated that we ended up seventh in that large Second Level Open Championship class. Our placing is perfect, since we are ranked eighth in the Adequan/USDF Horse of the Year standings. It's also amazing since less than one week prior, I wasn't sure Sunset should make the trip at all. 

Looking Forward

Now my boys get a well-deserved rest. When it's time for them to come back into work, Sunset gets to start working on flying changes in earnest and Taffy gets to pick up his work to perfect his series changes and pirouettes in preparation for next year. I am thrilled with the lessons I learned about myself and my boys from this amazing show, and I am grateful to have had a show like this early in my career to teach me what I need to work on in my own mental preparation for the really big shows that I believe are in our future. Thanks for reading about our journey, and I hope to see you at the US Dressage Finals next year!

PS. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that I was stabled next to Akiko Yamazaki, owner of Legolas 92 and Ravel. Akiko was an amazing stablemate -- so kind and sweet to her horse and everyone around her. She and her helper, Tom, were an absolute joy to be around, and I was able to find a quiet moment to thank her for all that's she's done to improve US dressage and help us in accomplishing our mission to get onto the international podium. She was genuinely grateful as I explained how honored I was to be stabled next to her. Wow! I was very fortunate to have such a wonderful experience at our inaugural National Championships. 

Jennifer Truett, our guest blogger for the inaugural US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan, is the owner and head trainer of Dancing Horse Farm in Lebanon, OH. She is a USDF-certified instructor/trainer through Second Level, a graduate with distinction of the USDF "L" Education Program, and a USDF bronze medalist. She is also a USDF Region 2 participating-member delegate to the USDF Board of Governors and the Region 2 Education Chair.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Celebrations Conclude on Final Day of Inaugural US Dressage Finals Presented By Adequan

Akiko Yamazaki, best known as the owner of Steffen Peters' mounts Ravel and Legolas 92, is an accomplished dressage rider in her own right. The Californian rode Matrix to the Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur championship title at the inaugural US Dressage Finals. Photo by for USDF.

By Jennifer Keeler/Yellow Horse Marketing

Emotions ran high as the final six champions were crowned yesterday at the inaugural US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan in Lexington, KY. Riders who traveled to the Kentucky Horse Park from coast to coast celebrated their championship experience with memorable rides and victory laps while cheered on by friends and family.

Adult Amateurs: "Treated Like True Champions"

Adult amateurs at the Prix St. Georges level were the stars of the day in the Alltech Arena, and one of the riders who traveled the farthest to compete was rewarded with a national title.

Akiko Yamazaki, of Woodside, CA, is widely known as the owner of US dressage team horses Ravel and Legolas 92 for Olympian Steffen Peters; but this weekend was her turn to be in the saddle -- and the spotlight. Yamazaki became the inaugural recipient of the Janine Westmoreland Malone Perpetual Trophy for winning the Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur Championship with a score of 67.895 percent. Her partner was her Danish Warmblood gelding, Matrix, who successfully returned to competition after two years off for an injury. 

"Here is a horse I thought at one point I might have to retire," Yamazaki said afterward. "But he rose to the occasion, and I was really happy with how my ride went today."  

"I think this show exceeded all of my expectations, right from the get-go," Yamazaki continued. "All the information was provided in such a timely and organized manner, so I already felt well taken care of before I even arrived.  And then once I was here, everything ran so smoothly and was just great.  Congratulations to the show organizers; I think this has exceeded everyone's expectations, and I'll be returning home and spreading the word in California that we have to come back en masse." 

A rider whose journey to Kentucky we profiled earlier in this blog, Krista Nordgren earned the reserve PSG championship title with Schando, her seventeen-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (by Schwadroneur) on a score of  66.228 percent.

"I was so proud of my horse. I had tears in my eyes from happiness when cantering down center line for my final salute," said Nordgren, of South Portland, ME, who also had loved ones in attendance to cheer her on, including her five-year-old son. "There's a certain magic to this place. The thrill of competing on this stage was a strong pull for me to come all this way, and it exceeded my wildest dreams. I loved the fact that here, the amateur competitor has been embraced; we've never had this sort of stage for us other than our [Great American/USDF] Regional Championships. We've all been treated like true champions just for making it here to the Finals, and because of that there's a sense of pride and tremendous camaraderie."

Stiff Competition for Open Riders

Building on her success in Saturday's Fourth Level Open Championship, Heather McCarthy, of Prairie Grove, IL, claimed another victory in the Prix St. Georges Open Championship, once again aboard Dr. Marilyn Johnson and John McGuire's elegant Oldenburg mare, Saphira (Florencio - Roxina, Chairman), with a score of 69.868 percent.

"I had a wonderful ride. I was concerned that I might not have enough horse left today because I thought she gave me everything yesterday, but she went right out there and did her job," said McCarthy. "I'm on cloud nine. I don't think I could have asked for anything more than I've achieved here this weekend. It's been a wonderful experience."  

Finishing second by only two-tenths of a point, with an overall score of 69.605, was Heather Mason, of Tewksbury, NJ, and her Dutch Warmblood gelding Zar (Iroko - Inga, Actueel, bred in the US by Carol Collyer). Mason and Zar concluded their week in Kentucky with top-two finishes in each of the three small-tour championship classes they contested: reserve Intermediate I Open champion, Intermediate I Freestyle champion, and reserve Prix St. Georges open champion.

Tidd Bests Huge Field in Training Level Ad/Am Championship

In the largest division of these inaugural finals, 27 adult amateur riders fought for bragging rights at Training Level. Ultimately emerging victorious (and claiming her second championship title of the weekend) was Lucy Tidd, of Germantown, MD, and her four-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Ellert HB (73.200 percent).

"I was afraid my horse might be a little tired, but he was great, super focused, and he seemed to really enjoy himself," said Tidd afterward. "It's surreal. I was just hoping to place; never in a million years did I anticipate doing so well."  

The reserve champion, with 71.333 percent, was another talented four-year-old, the American-bred RPSI mare DeLovely (Don Principe - Sky Spirit, Johns Line, bred and owned by Janet Stone), ridden by Lisa Seegar Brown, Travelers Rest, SC.

After narrowly missing the Second Level Freestyle title, Fie Andersen, of Hamilton, MA, would not be denied top honors in the Second Level Open championship. With her Oldenburg stallion Rocazino (Rosentanz - Escarda, Silvio I), Andersen earned the win with a score of 74.921 percent. 

"I'm a little emotional right now," said Andersen afterward.  "My horse is amazing!  He was tired but gave me everything he had. It's been such an amazing experience to come here and compete head to head with riders from around the country, and I think it's great preparation for bigger and better things for us."  

Saturday's First Level Open champions, Debbie Hill, Gurley, AL, and Boccaccio IOF easily moved up a level to earn a score of 73.968 to claim the Second Level Open reserve title. Boccaccio IOF (Bugatti Hilltop - Roxette, Rubinstein I) is a Hanoverian gelding bred by Hilltop Farm (MD) and owned by Marchella Richardson.

The inaugural US Dressage Finals concluded with the adult-amateur and open Intermediate II championship classes. In the ad/am division, Kristy Truebenbach Lund, of Wellington, FL, earned the top score of 61.447 percent aboard the Hanoverian gelding Reel Adventure (Rotspon - Lanthess, Lanthan), owned by Blue Marlin Farms Inc.

"I'm a true believer in bringing them up through the levels yourself," said Lund, whose horse had jumped out of that very same competition arena seven years ago as a five-year-old during the Markel/USEF National Young Horse Dressage Championships. "I think it gives you such a true partnership, and I'm very proud that I've trained him and we've come this far together."  

Finishing less than a point behind Lund was Alexa Briscoe, of Poolesville, MD, on her Bavarian gelding, Wildfeuer (Welt As - Investa, Inschallah X, bred in the US by Monika Levay), with 61.228 percent for the reserve championship. 

In the I-II open division, Laura Graves, of Geneva, FL, rode her Dutch Warmblood gelding, Verdades, to the national title on a score of 71.140 percent. Graves bested Heather Mason on her ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Warsteiner (Riverman ISF - Welona, Roemer) (69.035).

"We had a good go today, thanks to a little bit of luck and a whole lot of practice. I'm so proud of my horse," said Graves. "We knew we'd have tough competition here, and that's why we came. We were really looking forward to it and are so glad to finally have a national championship like this to look forward to."  

Miss Anything? It's Archived Online

Visit the US Dressage Finals official event website for results, photo galleries, and news archives. Video on demand from select championship performances is available on the USEF Network. 

For behind-the-scenes photos, news bits, Vine videos, and more, check out the USDF Facebook page, USDF's US Dressage Finals Flickr gallery, and the USDF Twitter feed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Saturday at the US Dressage Finals: Let's Dance!

By Jennifer Keeler/Yellow Horse Marketing

Horses and riders danced the day away in six freestyle championship divisions during the inaugural US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. 
US Dressage Finals Third Level Freestyle champions Emily O'Neill and Sir Lancelot, owned by Elaine Warner. Photo by for USDF.

In the Third Level Freestyle Championship, Emily O'Neill, of Conestoga, PA, danced to the win with Elaine Warner's Friesian gelding Sir Lancelot (Sierk - Marge, Oege) on a score of 71.778 percent.  

"My ride was thrilling, that arena is amazing, and my horse was right on. He's a showman," said O'Neill, who admitted being initially anxious about the Finals atmosphere in the Alltech Arena. "I was a little intimidated at first by all the amazing horses and riders here, but this was a really special experience and an honor to be at the Finals."   

A score of 70.878 gave Jennifer Roth, Magnetic Springs, OH, the reserve Third Level Freestyle championship on her American-bred Hanoverian gelding, Reebok (Royal Prince - Andromache, Arrian, bred by Jack and Diane Vickery), for their Game of Thrones-themed freestyle.  

At Fourth Level, Kentuckian Linda Strine, who hails from nearby Versailles, KY, rode the striking black Friesian gelding Beerend W (Goffert 369 - Jacqueline, Wicher 334) to a top score of 68.333 percent to claim the championship trophy for owner Vickie Short. Finishing in a close second, with 67.889, was Kristy Truebenbach Lund, Wellington, FL, with Blue Marlin Farm's Spanish Warmblood Akvavit (by Silvester).  

Region 3 rider Kathryn Stoy's harmonious ride on Virginia Moon's Andalusian-cross gelding Maggio (Lepanto I - Orisha, Peter Pan, bred in the US by Shannon Sluser/CF Andalusians) earned the winning score of 73.833 percent in the First Level Freestyle Championship. The reserve champion was Claudia Novick, Gastonia, NC, with 72.333 aboard her Friesian Marco von Laar (Onne 376 - Wydana von Laar, Sjaard 320).  

At Second Level , the Hanoverian gelding Fhreelancer (Florencio - Lafayette, Londonderry) carried owner/rider Joanne Coleman, of Birdsboro, PA, to her division's national freestyle title with a score of 73.678 percent.  Finishing less than a point behind (72.833) to earn the reserve championship was Fie Andersen, Hamilton, MA, who traveled from Region 8 with her Oldenburg stallion Rocazino (Rosentanz - Escarda, Silvio I).  

"Despite the seventeen-hour haul, I thought that I needed to be here and try this to see where I stand," Andersen said afterward.  "I am floored by how well this show has been put together. I'm just amazed." 

Anna Marek, Williston, FL, dominated the Grand Prix Freestyle Championship on a score of 75.135 percent. The win, aboard her Dutch Warmblood gelding Unico G (Negro - Kleora, Animo), whom she's brought up the levels from Training Level, was made even more meaningful for Marek after an unfortunate elimination in the previous evening's Grand Prix.  

"[The elimination] was heartbreaking, but the rules are there for a reason," Marek said. "I love my horse, and today I was just out to get the win back for him. The freestyle is one of my favorite tests to ride, it's so much fun. And I think my horse enjoys it as much as I do."  

The GP Freestyle reserve champion, with a score of 70.667 percent, was New Jersey's Heather Mason on Warsteiner, her ten-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Riverman ISF - Welona, Roemer). 

Adult Amateurs Earn Championship Titles

Amy Swerdlin, Wellington, FL, and her Oldenburg mare Scholastica (Sir Donnerhall - Loni, Sir Sinclair) claimed the national Third Level Adult Amateur title with a score of 70.342 percent.  

"[Kentucky] was a big weather change for us because it's still ninety degrees at home, but she acclimated and got comfortable," said Swerdlin of her mare. "She was really with me today, and I couldn't be happier."  

Kentucky rider Rachael Hicks earned her second reserve championship of the weekend, this time in the Third Level ad/am division with her Westfalen gelding Fabio Bellini (Fuerst Heinrich - Dakota, Davignon I) on a score of 68.077.

When Lucy Tidd, of Germantown, MD, woke up Saturday morning, she had no idea that she would be competing her horse Ellert HB that day, let alone that later she would be accepting the crystal trophy for the First Level Adult Amateur Championship.

"We just arrived last night to prepare for Sunday's Training Level class," Tidd said yesterday.  "But I checked in at the office this morning, and due to a scratch, they offered me a spot in today's First Level class, where I was on the qualified reserve list. I was hoping I might get lucky and get in at the last minute, and I did! It was fortunate that it all came together."  

Tidd was thrilled that her young horse rose to the occasion, earning a winning score of 72.634 percent. "As a four-year-old, my horse hasn't shown a lot, but he took it all in stride."  

Another rider who earned multiple national titles in Lexington was Erin Laurent, Morristown, NJ. Laurent followed up on her success in Friday's Second Level division with another reserve championship, this time at First Level Adult Amateur with a score of 72.419 percent aboard her Oldenburg gelding Whasabi (Wonderful - Glimmer, Grundstein, bred in the US by Maurine Swanson).

Debbie Hill, Gurley, AL, earned her second national title in as many days by topping the field in the First Level Open Championship on a score of 75.484 percent. Her mount was Marchella Richardson's six-year-old Hanoverian gelding Boccaccio IOF (Bugatti Hilltop - Roxette, Rubinstein I, US-bred by Hilltop Farm.).  

"The footing was great, the arena was super, he was relaxed and he did everything just as I had hoped," said Hill. "I'm proud to have been invited to be here, and it's been such great experience to compete outside our region with competitors from all across the country." 

The reserve First Level Open champion was Carrie Wilson, Carson City, MI, riding Jane Hutchins' Friesian gelding Scepter Fan Leandra (Goffert 369 - Trinity, Daen 286, bred in the US by Dave and Kelly Baugh). They earned a score of 73.011.

In the Fourth Level Open Championship, Heather McCarthy, Prairie Grove, IL, claimed a decisive victory with 74.292 percent aboard the Oldenburg mare Saphira (Florencio - Roxina, Chairman, owned by Dr. Marilyn Johnson and John McGuire).  The reserve champion was Karen Lipp and her Dutch Warmblood mare Baximiliana (Johnson - Vaximiliana M, Ferro), on 70.333.  

Lipp, who traveled to the Kentucky Horse Park from Ball Ground, GA, said afterward: "I've been teaching and training for a long time, and I'm so happy that finally there is this terrific opportunity for adult amateurs. It's about time!"

Evening Festivities and a Final Freestyle

Exhibitors shared in a final evening of celebration in the Alltech Arena while a sold-out crowd enjoyed ringside dining. Among the VIPs making presentations were Jane Beshear, first lady of Kentucky; John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park; and Alston Kerr, chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission.

The dignitaries' speeches were followed by an amazing liberty performance by dressage trainer and competitor Kim Barteau, a former head trainer at the Arabian Nights Dinner Theatre in Orlando, FL; and the magnificent Friesian stallion GP Boater.

Concluding the evening was the Intermediate I Freestyle championship class. Heather Mason found herself leading another victory gallop after her winning test aboard Zar, her eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Iroko - Inga, Actueel, bred in the US by Carol Collyer), which earned a score of 72.125 percent.  

Finishing in the reserve position with 70.167 was Friday's Intermediate I Open champion, Emily Wagner, La Cygne, KS, on her American Warmblood stallion WakeUp (Wagnis - Maiden Montreal, Macho, US-bred by Beverly McLean Tetrick/Red Mare Farm). 

The US Dressage Finals concludes today with the final six championship classes: Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur, Second Level Open, Prix St. Georges Open, Intermediate II Adult Amateur, Training Level Adult Amateur, and Intermediate II Open. The PSG AA and Second Level Open classes are streaming live on the USEF Network.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The 30-Year Wait Is Over! First Championship Titles Awarded at US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan

Heather Mason (NJ) and Zar, the 2013 US Dressage Finals Intermediate I open reserve champions. Photo by

By Jennifer Keeler/Yellow Horse Marketing

For the first time in almost 30 years, national titles for adult amateur and open dressage riders from Training Level to Grand Prix were presented yesterday at the inaugural US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. A full day of intense competition extended into a festive evening as special celebrations were held to mark this historic event.

During the first set of awards ceremonies at midday, Emily Wagner, La Cygne, KS, thoroughly enjoyed her victory lap around the Alltech Arena after topping 20 other competitors in the Intermediate I open championship. Wagner was aboard her longtime partner, the US-bred American Warmblood stallion WakeUp (Wagnis - Maiden Montreal, Macho), bred by Beverly McLean Tetrick/Red Mare Farm, to earn the winning score of 72.412 percent. 

"It was a thrill to ride in that ring today," Wagner said afterward. "This venue is just amazing for this event."

Just a month ago Wagner and WakeUp were at the Kentucky Horse Park for the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions presented by the Dutta Corp., where they placed third overall in the Intermediaire I division. Even as she debated making another ten-hour trip to Lexington, Wagner knew she had to come.

"I wanted to support it, and I think everyone should want to be here," Wagner said. "The [Great American/USDF] Regional Championships have always been our biggest event of the year, but now with the Finals I think it's fun to be able to showcase all the hard work that everyone's done throughout the year and then bring it together for a national event. I think that's important for the sport."

Perhaps no one had more success than Heather Mason on the first day of championship action at the Finals. First she rode her eight-year-old American-bred Dutch Warmblood gelding, Zar (Iroko - Inga, Actueel, bred by Carol Collyer), to the Intermediate I open reserve championship with 70.219 percent. Later Mason not only topped a deep field to win the Third Level open championship aboard Lori Racioppo's German-bred Hanoverian gelding Romantico SF (Romancero H - Wesermelodie, Wenzel I) on a score of 72.821, but also earned reserve-championship honors in the same class with a 70.299 aboard Lincoln, an eight-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Meredith Whaley.

Mason, of Tewksbury, NJ, has been looking forward to attending the Finals for a long time, and today's wins added to her excitement.  

"I rode in the then-American Horse Shows Association national championships in 1984 in Kansas City, and I've been waiting for them to come back ever since," Mason said. "I think the organizers here have done an excellent job making this feel like a national championship. It feels like a really big deal to be here." 

Debbie Hill brought six horses to the Finals from Gurley, AL, and her weekend got off to a winning start as she earned an impressive score of 76.339 percent to take the Training Level open championship with the Oldenburg gelding Floretienne (Florestan - Tamarinde, Jazz), owned by Leslie Waterman. Jennifer Conour, Carmel, IN, rode Phoebe Crane's Dutch Warmblood mare Daisy van Wittenstein P (Johnson - Ziggy van Wittenstein A, Florencio) to reserve honors with 74.800.  

Adult amateurs competed yesterday for top honors at Second Level. Rachael Hicks, Prospect, KY, and her Rhinelander stallion Don Cartier (Don Schufro - Carmina, Cartier) got the nod from all three judges to claim the title with a score of 72.976. Earning 67.103 for the reserve championship was Erin Laurent, Morristown, NJ, on the Oldenburg Whasabi (Wonderful - Glimmer, Grundstein, US-bred by Maurine Swanson).

In the afternoon, competition in the Alltech Arena was streamed live via the online USEF Network, beginning with the Intermediate I Adult Amateur Championship class.  Emerging victorious was Heather Mendiburu, Wantage, NJ, who returned to the saddle after six months off for her pregnancy with her fifth child just in time to qualify for the Finals.  Surrounded by her family, Mendiburu was thrilled with her mount, the Hanoverian mare What Happen (Waldstar - Gina de Ro, Gloster), owned by Mendiburu and High Point Solutions, who earned the win with a score of 69.518 percent. 

Sheryl Ross's long trip home to Menlo Park, CA, will be a happy one as she takes home the I-I ad/am reserve championship on a score of 66.930. Her partner was her Danish Warmblood gelding, Lancaster (Lobster - Aleksis, Aleksander).  

"It's been a long journey, literally and figuratively, to be here," said Ross. "But it's been a wonderful experience. I would make the trip again in a heartbeat."

Adult amateurs also competed at Fourth Level, with less than a point separating the top two spots. Stephanie McNutt, Mechanicsville, MD, claimed the championship sash aboard her Oldenburg mare, Con Dia (Contucci - Cor Dia, Cor Noir, bred by Hilltop Farm), with 67.833. Finishing in a close second (67.083) was Patricia Fannin, of Eads, TN, with her Hanoverian partner Roxy Royale (Rotspon - Whisper, Werther).  

International rider, trainer, coach, and USEF "S" judge Kathy Connelly was the official commentator for USEF Network coverage. "This is a huge accomplishment just to be here," Connelly said. "We have seen some spectacular performances today, and I am very impressed with the quality of the riding."

A huge crowd gathered at the Alltech Arena for a "Taste of the Bluegrass" dinner and evening festivities, including opening ceremonies and a special presentation by USDF president George Williams to unveil and dedicate the new Janine Westmoreland Malone Perpetual Trophy, to be presented by USDF at the US Dressage Finals to the adult amateur Prix St. Georges champion. 

Spectators then enjoyed Grand Prix championship competition as adult amateurs and open riders competed for the nation's top honors in each division. Region 3 riders ruled the day in the adult amateur Grand Prix class, with south Florida riders finishing atop the leaderboard.  Jennifer Huber, Wellington, FL, and her Dutch Warmblood gelding, Vito (Jazz - Matouf, Wellington), claimed the ad/am GP title with a score of 65.355 percent. Janne Rumbough, Palm Beach, FL, took the reserve championship aboard her PRE gelding Junior (Gaucho III - La Nina, Brioso VI), on a score of 62.163.

In the Grand Prix Open Championship, crowd favorites James Koford and the Dutch Warmblood gelding Rhett (R. Johnson - Madette, Hendo, owned and bred by Shirley McQuillan) claimed top honors with a score of 67.128 percent. The Dutch Warmblood gelding Oublette (Amulet - Jinnardi, Expo) carried Anna Whit Watkins, Moody, TX, to the reserve title with 66.312.

Trip to Finals Is a Family Affair

By Ashley Barnes
USDF Education Programs Coordinator

With 48 hours to decide whether or not to make the trek from Elgin, TX, to Lexington, KY, for the inaugural US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan, Marsha Lewis had quite a bit to consider. She and her colorful partner Pedro, a ten-year-old Appaloosa Sport Pony, qualified by placing in the First Level Freestyle at the Great American/USDF Region 9 Championships, but she'd never thought they’d actually be going.
Helping hands: Ruby and Zoe Lewis help their mother, Marsha Lewis, with Pedro, the family's Appaloosa Sport Pony. Marsha and Pedro will compete in today's First Level Freestyle championship at the US Dressage Finals. Photo by Ashley Barnes for USDF.

As a mother of two young girls, Ruby, 5, and Zoe, 2, and a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, Lewis thought it was crazy to even consider making the trip to Kentucky. Yet with the encouragement from a friend who had also qualified and the enthusiasm from her family, at the eleventh hour she nominated.

(“It may have been the last entry USDF accepted," Lewis quipped.)

Lewis and her mother, with Ruby and Zoe in tow, made the trip to the Kentucky Horse Park while Lewis's husband, a small-animal veterinarian, stayed home to care for their six other horses. The drive was not without its obstacles. During a dark, rainy stretch in Arkansas, their running lights went out. With some determination and a pair of tweezers, Lewis located and replaced the burnt-out fuse and got back on the road.

Asked what it meant for her to compete in the inaugural US Dressage Finals, Lewis became emotional. 

“I do everything myself in the back yard,” she said, “and Pedro, he’s an amazing pony. He was a rescue. He can do anything. Pedro had no training at all when I got him. I certainly never thought we’d be competitive at Regionals, let alone a national competition. I may not be able to do this again as my children get older, and it’s just something I made happen.”

Lewis's advice to those riders who didn’t make the trip out to Finals? “Just go for it. Enjoy the experience. For me it’s also about my kids enjoying this too. They’re the ones with the big futures; they’re horse-crazy. I want to show them that anybody can do this, even out of your backyard farm.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ready to Show

By Jennifer Truett

This place looks amazing! The Alltech Arena is magnificently decorated -- as much as any World Cup, Olympics, or World Equestrian Games I've ever seen. There are mounds of exquisite flowers everywhere, even overflowing into the show ring at the corners. 
The Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. Photo (c) 2013 USDF.
Taffy and Sunset apparently both believe that flowers are completely acceptable outside the arena but have no place cascading over the corners into the arena. Sunset only considered the flowers in the corner to be questionable once, and Taffy took a few more looks, but both decided that all was well. 

I am ecstatic to report that Sunset felt 100 percent! He walked into that arena like it was our arena at home. He was incredible. He was happy, elastic, powerful, in front of my leg, soft in the connection, a total dream to ride. Yay! 

Taffy was also amazingly soft, elastic, and powerful. Developing correct contact has been such an interesting journey with him. His flight response used to completely overtake every thought, and he'd simply forget I was there while he was leaving the scene. I wound up having to compete him in a double bridle so that I could pick up the curb in those moments. Amazingly, over the past few weeks, he has let me into his thoughts much more than ever before, which has resulted in his being extra soft and sensitive to the snaffle. 

I've debated about what to show him in for the past few days, and opted for the snaffle for schooling in the Alltech. I was overjoyed with how perfectly soft and responsive the connection was the entire ride. Today I get to ride them in the outdoor arenas and will see how he is in the snaffle there. My hope is that he's no different and that I can compete in the snaffle. 

Both boys are happy to have free time in the paddock I rented. They play and carry on in there, and Taffy really enjoyed getting very muddy -- even his ears!

Live from Lexington: It's the US Dressage Finals!

The USEF Network is live-streaming some of the most highly anticipated championship classes at the 2013 US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan. The live feed is under way this afternoon with the Intermediate I adult amateur and the Fourth Level adult amateur championships.

These classes, like the others that are being live-streamed this weekend, are being held in the gorgeous indoor Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Some Finals competitors have observed that the beautiful decorations and the electric atmosphere are reminiscent of some of the most prestigious European indoor dressage competitions. (What great experience for our horses and riders!)

Tonight we crank up the excitement with the official US Dressage Finals opening ceremonies, which kick off at 6:20 p.m EST. These festivities, which will be included in the live stream, will feature:

  • Mounted Police
  • Dignitaries in carriage
  • National Anthem by William Clay Thompson
  • Welcome by USDF executive director Stephan Hienzsch
  • My Old Kentucky Home by William Clay Thompson
  • Welcome by USDF president George Williams, with presentation to Janine Malone, US Dressage Finals Organizing Committee Chair.
Then: Grand Prix! The Grand Prix adult amateur championship class begins at 6:45 p.m., followed at 8:10 p.m. by the Grand Prix open championship. For complete class lists and orders of go for today's competition, click here

Saturday Is Freestyle Day!

Spend your Saturday afternoon and evening soaking up some of the nation's best horses and riders in their US Dressage Finals freestyle championship classes. The following will all be streamed live on the USEF Network:

  • First Level Freestyle, begins at 1:00 p.m. EST
  • Third Level Freestyle, 2:30 p.m.
  • Grand Prix Freestyle, 4:10 p.m.
  • Intermediate Freestyle, 7:00 p.m.
Wrap up your weekend of live-streaming Sunday with the Prix St. Georges adult amateur championship, which starts at 9:00 a.m. It's followed by the final live-streamed class of the US Dressage Finals, the Second Level open championship, which begins at 12:40 p.m.

Expert Commentary

What could be better than watching great dressage competition? Watching it along with expert commentary from one of the world's most respected international trainers, coaches, and judges.
US Dressage Finals commentator Kathy Connelly. Photo by Brigitte Voelk.
USEF "S" judge Kathy Connelly will be providing commentary with the live-streamed classes. Connelly represented Team USA in the World Cup in Sweden and has trained and coached numerous horses and riders to national and international titles. She is currently the vice-chair of the USEF High Performance Dressage Committee. 

An experienced commentator, Connelly has provided commentary for such events as the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and the 2011 and 2012 International Masters Classic in Wellington, FL.

Happy viewing, and good luck to all competitors!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

US Dressage Finals Competition Gets Under Way

By Jennifer Keeler/Yellow Horse Marketing

The much-anticipated start of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan became official today when the first horses trotted down arena center lines at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. As the inaugural national head-to-head competition for adult amateur and open riders from Training Level to Grand Prix, hundreds of exhibitors from coast to coast have gathered to share in what for many will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Today sixteen non-championship "USDF Dressage in the Bluegrass" classes were held in four arenas in front of an esteemed roster of FEI and USEF judges, including Jayne Ayers, Charlotte Bredahl, Janet Foy, Sandra Hotz, Jeanne McDonald, Michael Osinski, Gary Rockwell, William Solyntjes, Jane Weatherwax, and Lois Yukins.

Eva Oldenbroek Tabor of Region 9 was the very first exhibitor to enter the Alltech Arena this morning for her Intermediate II test aboard Uberlinis.

"When I first walked in I said, 'Oh my God, look at all this!'" said Tabor.  "It looks like a European World Cup venue.  The footing is fantastic, and the whole setup is just beautiful."  

Tabor was thrilled with how her flashy Dutch Warmblood gelding handled the impressive atmosphere, scoring 65.000 percent to top the class.  

With her Finals week off to a winning start, Tabor's 22-hour drive from Medina, TX, seems to be time and effort well spent. "From the moment we arrived on Tuesday, everything has been super-well organized, like a top-class event," Tabor said.  "I have no complaints and am so happy to be here."

Looking fresh despite a four-day journey across the country from Region 6, Lisa Morton-Gramyk and her fifteen-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare, Rubinesque, contested Fourth Level Test 3 in the outdoor Stonelea Arena, surrounded by picturesque fall foliage and under sunny afternoon skies.

"This is by far the biggest venue we've ever been in; we don't have anything like this at home.  But even though it's such a big venue, it feels comfortable," said Morton-Gramyk, who noted that it was snowing in her home town of Sagle, ID. "Part of the reason I came here is to put myself in a new environment and to challenge myself. I've met some fantastic people, and I've learned so much already.  I hope that more people from my region will be tempted to come next year. Win or lose, I'm just so thankful to have this opportunity to compete here.  I feel like this is my Olympics."

It's not just competitors who have traveled far from home to participate in the Finals experience. USDF Region 5 director Heather Petersen, of Falcon, CO, is scribing for all four days of competition.

"As a regional director, I thought it was important for me to be here for the Finals," said Petersen, "and what better way to show my support than to volunteer?"

Wrapping up an exciting first day, exhibitors enjoyed a Competitor Welcome Party and Trade Fair Kick-Off on the concourse of the Alltech Arena. Competition resumes tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. ET as the first of the Finals championship classes gets under way.

Follow the action, check results, and view photos and video on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website. Starting tomorrow afternoon, watch live online streaming of the weekend's competition on the USEF Network.  

Good luck to all competitors! We're glad you're here!

Behind Every Team, There's a Team

Ready to roll: The writer and Taffy show off their extended trot. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Truett.

By Jennifer Truett

Here I am, the night before we leave for the US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan, and I haven't even started packing yet. The horses are bathed and the trailer is packed, thanks to my wonderful groom, Ayme, but I haven't even begun figuring out what to take and it's already 10:30 pm.

Taffy, Sunset, and I had one last check-in with our local coach, USEF "S" judge Sue Madden-Mandas, today; and she was very happy with everything Taffy did. She even used the word "perfect" to describe a trot-halt-rein back-trot. I've never heard that word from her before to describe a movement :-) I'm super excited about how well Taffy is doing. 

Sunset's also doing much better! His neck is totally back to normal, thanks to a lot of generously donated myofascial work from our ever-supportive body worker, Julie Fox, who came out multiple days in a row, including over the weekend, to ensure his comfort and success. I am so blessed to have the best support team to help keep my boys healthy and sound and me mentally stable in spite of all the craziness leading up to this major event. 

I want to send a special thanks to the most amazing farriers, Skip and Josh Miller, who care as much for my horses as I do. Skip even called me last Saturday to ask how Sunset was doing. He knew I was worried about Sunset not feeling his best, and so Skip was worried about me. He and his son, Josh, always go out of their way to keep my horses' feet as perfectly balanced and healthy as possible. 

I can never thank my super-wonderful friend, mentor, and student, Suzy Fitzsimmons, enough for making the trek to Ohio from Minnesota to help and support me at Finals. I set up a clinic for her to teach at my farm since she was in town, but I know in my heart she would have come just to be there for my boys and me.

Many students and friends--from Minnesota and Michigan and all over Ohio--are coming to Kentucky to cheer us on. I am excited to glance through the crowd and see smiling friends instead of strangers.

My parents and wonderful hubby, Lenny, are also coming. They are the foundation of my strength and confidence. I could never do what I do without all these amazing people.

I have to be a little bit of a starry-eyed fan for a moment. I just checked my stabling assignment and discovered that my boys are stabled adjacent to Akiko Yamazaki, owner of Ravel and Legolas! I am so excited to finally get a chance to thank her in person for all that she has done to help make dressage what is is in our country. She's been a hero of mine for quite a long time, so I'm thrilled. Many thanks to the stabling gods for putting my precious boys in such a perfect location!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It Takes a Village: How One Adult Amateur Rider Got to the Finals

By Ashley Barnes
USDF Education Programs Coordinator

It’s not every day that you can call your husband on the way home from Regional Championships and casually mention that you’ve qualified for a national dressage competition, but that’s exactly how it happened for adult-amateur rider Krista Nordgren.

Nordgren qualified for the US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan at the Great American/USDF Region 8 Championships in Saugerties, NY, by placing in Prix St. Georges and via a wild-card score for Intermediate I. However, she wasn’t really planning on competing until her husband said, “Well, you’re going, right?”

With the overwhelming support and encouragement from friends, family, and her trainer, Nordgren decided to make the trip to Kentucky. It was, she realized, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Transporting seventeen-year-old Schando from South Portland, ME, to Lexington was not without its obstacles. Nordgren reached out to others in her region who had also qualified for Finals and were planning to attend, and so her Danish Warmblood gelding joined two vans of horses heading down from Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to the Kentucky Horse Park.
Their old Kentucky home: Krista Nordgren and Schando arrived at the Horse Park early so they'd have plenty of time to settle in and enjoy the sights. Photo courtesy of Krista Nordgren.
Having attended the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event a few times as well as the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Nordgren is familiar with the Horse Park--but she says it's still a magical place. In fact, she says, one of her main reasons for trying to qualify for the US Dressage Finals was the chance to come to the Horse Park as a competitor and not a spectator. 

Nordgren and Schando arrived earlier than most, and the extra time has allowed them to settle in and get to know their new surroundings for the week. She reports that there's a great sense of camaraderie among the fellow denizens of Barn 22, which has made her feel welcome and ready to begin this exciting journey.

“When I tell my friends I’ve won my USDF silver medal or got a 65 percent, I get this look of ‘I don’t really know what you’re talking about, but you’re really happy,’" said Nordgren. “When I’m able to tell people that I’m competing head to head for a national championship, it’s something that people who aren’t familiar with dressage can understand. It’s been amazing to hear friends' and family’s support and just the overall thrill of it!”

Nordgren and her supporters plan to make the most of their time in Lexington. After her family arrives, they will visit some of the area's top Thoroughbred farms and will also make their way down the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail. And Nordgren has even managed to get out for a run on the Rolex cross-country course.

US Dressage Finals and Dressage in the Bluegrass competition starts tomorrow. For day sheets, click here.

Good luck to Krista Nordgren and all of the riders and horses who have worked so hard to get here! You are all winners.