West Coast dressage riders and horses enjoyed thrilling competition in a spectacular venue at the Festival of the Horse CDI 3*/Y/J Presented By HorseShow.com, held March 29 - April 1, 2012 in San Juan Capistrano, CA.
As the site of the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Dressage Selection Trials for the Olympic Games, it was only natural for this spectacular facility to once again open its doors to North America’s top dressage competitors who hope to become members of Team USA at this year’s Olympic Games in London.
Adding to the excitement, this show was held in conjunction with the Blenheim Spring Classic Hunter/Jumper show featuring a $40,000 Grand Prix jumping event. “I love seeing this show here with the jumpers – I think that’s more the way we need to go in this country,” said judge Gary Rockwell (5* USA). “When you can combine them, it’s more interesting for everyone, and draws a crowd.” “What a terrific atmosphere here; there’s plenty of room for everyone, and it’s very horse-friendly,” added fellow Ground Jury member Mary Seefried (5*), who traveled from Australia to officiate for the weekend’s competition.
Riders agreed. “I always thought this was a great show facility, and I have great memories from 2004 and 2008,” said Olympian Steffen Peters. “I love it, and my horses seemed to like it just as much as I did.” Fellow Grand Prix competitors Jan Ebeling (who will fly to Europe this week to compete in the FEI World Cup Finals) and David Blake held equally high praise for the venue.
“It’s a great facility, the arenas and footing are very good, the horses did great, and I love all of the activity – it makes it fun,” he explained. “We go to the same places to show all the time, so it’s refreshing to be somewhere new. I’m very happy that they decided to have the show here, and it will be fantastic for it to return next year.” Blake was also enthusiastic. “I LOVE the atmosphere here, it’s so cool with the jumpers,” he said. “I’ve been taking breaks to go watch. This is the type of show I like – I wish they could all be like this.”
Steffen Peters & “Legolas 92” Photo: Jennifer M. Keeler
The weekend’s dressage action proved to be just as exciting as the jumping. Steffen Peters (USA) and Four Winds Farm’s ten-year-old Westfalen gelding “Legolas 92” (Laomedon x Fuerstin by Florestan II) continued their winning ways, sweeping the Grand Prix and the Olympic Grand Prix Special Tests with impressive scores of 75.255% and 75.933%, respectively.
“This is a wonderful horse which has the potential to earn even higher scores as he continues to get stronger,” noted judge Gary Rockwell (5* USA), who will be officiating for this summer’s Olympic Games in London. Fellow ground jury member Mary Seefried (5* AUS) agreed. “His horse’s attitude is wonderful, and we saw a lot of harmony today. Now we’re just waiting for him to put the pedal down.”
Peters was understandably pleased with his mount’s performance. “He’s getting more and more relaxed, and even the difficult transitions in the Special seemed effortless for him,” he explained. “I’ve never ridden a horse that has so much fire on one side and ice on the other: I can give him the rein in the free walk and he’s completely relaxed, but in the passage and piaffe he feels like he can explode at any second, but doesn’t. It’s the most amazing feeling.”
Since Legolas only arrived in the U.S. from Germany three months ago, Peters credits his success to their having quickly established a strong partnership. “The best part so far is seeing how much he is trusting me,” Peters noted. “His confidence in me seems to help him contain his energy. With other horses, that trust process usually takes a whole lot longer, but not in this case. Even when he sees me coming across the parking lot to the barn, he starts calling to me. It’s a special connection.”
In the small tour, David Blake (USA) rode the impressive 11-year-old Oldenburg stallion “Royal Prinz” (Royal Diamond x Mystica by Dream of Glory, owned by Willard and Teresa Simmons) to victory in both the Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I Tests, with scores of 68.860% and 70.921%, respectively.
“He was really, really good, and super focused,” said Blake. “It’s all very easy for him; it feels like when he goes in there, he enjoys himself. So I just try to maintain that feeling.” In the freestyle, Rochelle Kilberg (CAN) claimed the win on a score of 69.583% with “Rudy”, an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Rotspon x Waldluft by Werther, owned by Kilberg and Ben Vermeulen). “I thought my ride was really good,” said Kilberg. “He’s a little tired but the electric atmosphere in the arena woke him up a bit. He did a great job for me today.”
Canada’s Monica Houweling rode the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare “Rifradin” (Gribaldi x Atradin by Formateur, owned by Linda Houweling) to a winning score of 67.061% in the Young Rider Team Test, while Mackinzie Pooley (USA) rode Deena Smith’s 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding “Brigadier” (Batido x Lady Deco by Art Deco) to top both the Individual Test (67.456%) and the freestyle (69.083%).
Despite being ill, Pooley prevailed by counting on her steady partner to get the job done. “Brigadier took care of me because I’m not feeling very well,” said Pooley. “He’s very well trained and I had to trust in that.” Meanwhile, Kalynn Harrington (USA) topped the field of CDI Juniors in both the Team and Individual Tests, riding Elly Schobel’s 14-year-old American Warmblood gelding “Raison d’Etre” (Regulus x Little Doozie by Uzi) to winning scores of 63.964% and 64.079%. For the freestyle, Julia Burke (CAN) earned the blue ribbon with her own 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding “Patrick” (Balhinrobe Pearl x Serena Dawn by Northern Minuet) with 58.042%.
First debuted during February’s Mid-Winter Dressage Fair in Burbank, Cornerstone’s YouTube channel was met with rave reviews from fans. With sponsorship by HorseShow.com, this exclusive video service continued at the Festival of the Horse. Video highlights from the competition (including all Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special rides as well as top-placing Intermediaire I tests) were posted for public viewing immediately following each day’s competition, available here: http://www.youtube.com/user/DressageCornerstone/videos
“I absolutely love these YouTube videos and how quickly they’re up,” said Steffen Peters, who explained that he used the service to review his own rides after each test. “It’s also so good for some owners who can’t be here – for instance, Sundance’s owner saw his video right away and was so excited about how he looks.”
Complete results for the Festival of the Horse CDI 3*/Y/J Presented By HorseShow.com are available here http://www.cornerstonedressage.com
The next Cornerstone CDI competitions will be Woodside Spring Dressage CDI*/Y/J in Woodside, CA on May 17 – 20, and Dressage at Flintridge CDI*/Y/J, May 24 – 27 in La Cañada-Flintridge, CA.