Adult amateur riders showing off their Third Level freestyles were first in the Alltech Arena early Sunday morning, but it was the final competitor down centerline who impressed the judges the most on the last day of national championship action at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, held November 5-8, 2015 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
Julie McCrady of Raymore, Mo. rode her six-year-old Hanoverian mare Remanessa (Rousseau x Leonessa by Louis Heslegard), and as the only pair to break 70 percent on their way to earning a score of 70.778% they took the Third Level Freestyle Adult Amateur Championship home to Region 4. This was the pair’s third trip to the Finals, where they were crowned as the First Level Adult Amateur Champions last year. “It’s such a blast riding a freestyle! My horse likes to go with the music and her forte is flying changes so we do a lot of those,” said McCrady. “She traveled well coming to Kentucky again and got better the longer she was here – she doesn’t seem to stress, which is good because I do! I was the last ride in our class, so the waiting was torture but it worked out. I saw others warming up and just decided to go for it and ride my butt off, and my horse said ‘okay!’” McCrady and her husband, an equine veterinarian, bred Remanessa but weren’t sure she’d become the horse they’d dreamed of. “She was very naughty as a baby so we even tried to sell her when she was a youngster. But then the first time I sat on her I knew she would be good. To this day she’s not nice on the ground and isn’t ‘lovey-dovey’ at all, but as soon as you put the bridle on her she’s all business. I do think it means more when you breed them, watch them grow up, and do a lot of the work yourself. It’s been quite a journey with her.” Amy Hedden of Manassas, Va. (Region 1) was thrilled to earn Reserve honors her Oldenburg mare Sadira TWF (Starlight x Revlon by Routinier, bred in the U.S. by Laureen Megan) with 69.444%. “I was really happy with my ride, my mare was a little physically and emotionally spent so I went out there with the attitude that I’d be happy with whatever she could give me, and she gave me everything she had so I’m very proud,” explained Hedden. “I hadn’t done a freestyle since I was in Pony Club so I thought it would be fun to do it again. I work the late shift as a nurse and have a lot of hours at night to sit on the computer, so I did the music editing myself using a Batman theme. I call it my 99-cent freestyle!”
A homemade freestyle with a Batman theme was also a recipe for success for Heather Fultz of Gainesville, Fla. (Region 3) who claimed top honors with 72.167% for the First Level Freestyle Adult Amateur Championship aboard her colorful six-year-old tobiano Oldenburg mare SS Seraphina (Sympatico x Hall of Fame, bred in the U.S. by Shiloh Sport Horses), who she bought as a yearling and trained herself. “I’m a music teacher so I actually put the entire freestyle together myself, and then it was great to just be at the Finals and ride it in front of everyone. I’m so lucky to have great friends who helped me get here,” said Fultz. “I don’t even have a regulation-size arena at home, so had to trailer off-site to practice it and use schooling shows to tweak the choreography. It slowly got better and better and we ended up here! It’s been an adventure. Last year was the first time we’d ever even done a recognized dressage show, so we’re delighted to be here and I’m excited for our future.” Also from Region 3 (which sent 84 competitors to this year’s Finals) was Reserve Champion Carol Wertz of Cramerton, N.C. with 69.333%. Even though her Friesian gelding Marco von Laar (Onne 376 x Wydana von Laar by Sjaard 320) is a Finals veteran, it was Wertz’ first time taking a turn in the saddle. “I came here with him last year as his groom, and never in a million years thought I’d be back here riding my own horse, but I fell in love with him at the barn,” she explained. “I’d never even ridden a freestyle before, but I was fortunate that when I purchased him in January he came with his First and Second Level freestyles so I got a really nice package deal. I’m thrilled beyond belief.”
After finishing a close second in Saturday’s First Level Open Championship, Stacey Hastings of Mooresville, N.C. (Region 1) with hers and Ronald Woodcock’s five-year-old Oldenburg gelding Fürst Aurum (Fürst Romancier x Kapela by Rohdiamant), she returned to the ring determined to emerge the victor in today’s First Level Freestyle Open Championship. Despite an initial case of stage fright, the pair reached their goal with a winning score of 74.278%. “At first my horse was pretty scared going in the ring today and I was a little concerned, but he pulled it together and we’re really proud of him. Hopefully we’ll be back again next year,” noted Hastings. Finishing in second with 73.556% was another youngster in the five-year-old Oldenburg mare Rae Sangria (Royal Prince x Ferrymore Lane by Fantastico, bred in the U.S. by Donna Mayne), ridden by Kristin Stein of Spencer, Ohio (qualified in Region 1). “We bred her ourselves so we’ve had her from the ground up,” said Stein. “We chose Lady GaGa music for her because it’s a little edgy. It’s our first time to the Finals and it’s been an absolutely wonderful experience.”
Another repeat winner was Jonni Allen of Pleasant Hill, Mo. (Region 4) who had already earned the Second Level Freestyle Open Reserve Championship and wrapped up her 2015 Finals experience on a winning note Sunday. Aboard Bobbi Wojtowicz’ Friesian Sport Horse mare Celtic Grace (Roi Des Blues x Zena TB) she topped the Fourth Level Freestyle Open Championship with 72.944%. “I was very happy with my ride today, she was with me every step and we hit every mark,” said Allen. “We’re thankful to even be here – we’ve had several injuries and lameness issues in the last month, so even at the beginning of this week we weren’t sure if we would make it. So we’re thrilled, she’s an amazing horse.” Region 1 qualifier Domenique Carson of Keymar, Md. rode her Oldenburg mare DeLiza (De Laurentis x Dutch Treatt by Hall of Fame, owned and bred in the U.S. by Victoria Carson) to the Reserve Championship, earning 69.444% for a Taylor Swift-themed performance. “I was so proud of my horse for holding herself together in the Alltech Arena. She’s normally very sound sensitive and likes to look up and get scared, but she put her head down and stayed with me. She loves to dance to the music and did her job today. I was there when my mare was born and I’ve done all the training with her, so it was really special to do this.”
Coming into the final day of competition, equine orthopedic surgeon Ashlee Watts of College Station, Texas (Region 9) had already had a successful Finals as she previously earned her division’s First Level Reserve Championship. Despite an early morning ride time, she trotted into the picturesque Stonelea Arena and set a whopping mark of 75.152% that could not be caught to claim the Training Level Adult Amateur Championship. Watts couldn’t stop smiling when talking about her Danish Warmblood gelding Hampton (Blue Hors Hotline x Madigan L). “I warmed up the exact same way and didn’t change a thing and it all worked, from the moment I put my foot in the stirrup he was so solid. He was amazing and right with me the entire time – he never changed his frame and was so soft, it was perfect harmony,” said Watts. “He grew up a lot here, and it’s been a great week and a great atmosphere for him. I think this weekend was worth two years of training at home! Just watching all the incredible riders and horses here has been inspiring.” Christine Malpartida of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Region 3) had her hands full at first with the four-year-old Hanoverian gelding Freudentänzer (Fürst Nymphenburg x Design-Ra by Donnerhall) but ended up with a great ride for 72.273% and the Reserve Championship. “My horse warmed up really hot and I was a little surprised, but once we started the test he came together and I think my smile got bigger and bigger as the test went on,” she explained. “I was so happy that he came back to me even though he was feeling so frisky. I’ve only had him a short while, but he has an amazing mind and that was one of the reasons why my trainer selected him for me. He’s so talented and I just adore him.”