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 SusanJStickle.com.

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.

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