Horses and riders danced the day away in the Alltech Arena in six freestyle championship divisions during the inaugural US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. Despite facing some of the best horses and riders in their divisions from across the country, competitors rose to the challenge in their quest for national titles while also gaining the experience of a lifetime.
In the Third Level Freestyle Championship, Region 1 rider Emily O'Neill of Conestoga, PA danced to the win with Elaine Warner's Friesian gelding "Sir Lancelot" (Sierk x Marge by Oege) on a score of 71.778%. "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. "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 of Magnetic Springs, OH (qualified in Region 4) the Reserve Championship on her own Hanoverian gelding "Reebok" (Royal Prince x Andromache by Arrian, bred in the U.S. by Jack and Diane Vickery) for their "Game of Thrones"-themed freestyle. "I felt like my horse would walk through fire for me today," said Roth. "He could not have been more perfect."
At Fourth Level, Linda Strine of nearby Versailles, KY (who qualified in Region 4) rode the striking black Friesian gelding "Beerend W" (Goffert 369 x Jacqueline by Wicher 334) to a top score of 68.333% to claim the Championship trophy for owner Vickie Short. A close second with 67.889% was Wellington, FL's Kristy Truebenbach Lund (Region 3) with Blue Marlin Farm's Spanish Warmblood "Akvavit" (by Silvester). Another Region 3 rider, Kathryn Stoy, also impressed the judges with her harmonious ride on Virginia Moon's Andalusian cross gelding "Maggio" (Lepanto I x Orisha by Peter Pan, bred in the U.S. by Shannon Sluser/CF Andalusians) to earn the winning score of 73.833% in the First Level Freestyle Championship, followed by Claudia Novick (Gastonia, NC, Region 1) in Reserve with 72.333% aboard her Friesian "Marco von Laar" (Onne 376 x Wydana von Laar by Sjaard 320). At Second Level , Hanoverian gelding "Fhreelancer" (Florencio x Lafayette by Londonderry) carried owner/rider Joanne Coleman of Birdsboro, PA (Region 1) to her division's national freestyle title with a score of 73.678%. 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 x Escarda by Silvio I) for a chance to compete at the Finals. "Despite the 17-hour haul, I thought that I needed to be here and try this to see where I stand," said Andersen. "I am floored by how well this show has been put together. I'm just amazed."
Anna Marek of Williston, FL (Region 3) impressed the judges and spectators alike in the Alltech Arena as she dominated the Grand Prix Freestyle Championship on a score of 75.135%. The win with her own black Dutch Warmblood gelding "Unico G" (Negro x Kleora by Animo), which she's brought up from Training Level, was made even more meaningful after an unfortunate elimination in the previous evening's Grand Prix. "Yesterday was heartbreaking but the rules are there for a reason," said Marek. "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." Accepting congratulations for the Reserve Grand Prix Freestyle Championship with a score of 70.667% was New Jersey's Heather Mason (qualified in Region 8) with "Warsteiner", her 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Riverman-ISF x Welona by Roemer).
Championship action continued in the outdoor arenas where adult amateur competitor Amy Swerdlin of Wellington, FL (Region 3) and her Oldenburg mare "Scholastica" (Sir Donnerhall x Loni by Sir Sinclair) claimed their first national title for Third Level. Despite the cool fall weather, the south Florida residents relished the atmosphere, and were unanimously placed first by judges Jane Weatherwax, Jayne Ayers, and Lois Yukins while earning an overall score of 70.342%. "It was a big weather change for us because it's still 90 degrees at home, but she acclimated and got comfortable," said Swerdlin. "She was really with me today and I couldn't be happier." Kentucky rider Rachael Hicks (Region 2) earned her second Reserve Championship of the weekend, this time in the Third Level Adult Amateur division with "Fabio Bellini" (Westphalian gelding [Fuerst Heinrich x Dakota by Davignon I], owned by Hicks). Even though she was first to go in the Murphy Ring at 8am, Hicks' score of 68.077% held strong for second place.
When Lucy Tidd of Germantown, MD (Region 1) woke up this morning, she had no idea that she would be competing her horse "Ellert HB" today, let alone that she would be accepting the crystal trophy for winning the First Level Adult Amateur Championship. "We just arrived last night to prepare for Sunday's Training Level class," explained Tidd. "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%. "As a four-year-old, my horse hasn't shown a lot, but he took it all in stride." Following up on her success in yesterday's Second Level division, adult amateur rider Erin Laurent of Morristown, NJ (qualified in Region 8) added yet another Reserve Championship to her resume by earning 72.419% at First Level with her U.S.-bred Oldenburg gelding "Whasabi" (Wonderful x Glimmer by Grundstein, bred by Maurine Swanson).
Debbie Hill of Gurley, AL (Region 3) 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% in the Murphy Ring. For today's win, Hill rode Marchella Richardson's six-year-old U.S.-bred Hanoverian gelding "Boccaccio IOF" (Bugatti Hilltop x Roxette by Rubinstein I, bred by Hilltop Farm, Inc.). "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." Region 2's Carrie Wilson (Carson City, MI) and Jane Hutchins' Friesian gelding "Scepter Fan Leandra" (Goffert 369 x Trinity by Daen 286, bred in the U.S. by Dave and Kelly Baugh) earned 73.011%, good enough to earn Reserve Champion honors for owner Jane Hutchins.
In the Fourth Level Open Championship, Heather McCarthy (Prairie Grove, IL, Region 2) claimed a decisive and unanimous victory with 74.292% earned from judges Gary Rockwell, Janet Foy and Sandra Hotz aboard the Oldenburg mare "Saphira" (Florencio x Roxina by Chairman, owned by Dr. Marilyn Johnson and John McGuire). Rider Karen Lipp will take the Reserve Championship trophy home to Region 3 with the help of her own Dutch Warmblood mare "Baximiliana" (Johnson x Vaximiliana M. by Ferro) as they partnered for a solid second-place score of 70.333%. Both riders were thrilled to be in Kentucky for the inaugural Finals. "It has been such a great experience," said McCarthy. "I wanted to be a part of the first-ever Finals, and it's been wonderful – I love everything about it." Lipp, who came from Ball Ground, GA with several students, enthusiastically agreed. "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," said Lipp. "It's about time!"
Exhibitors shared in a final evening of celebration in the Alltech Arena while a sold-out VIP crowd enjoyed ringside dining. Presentations were made by dignitaries including Kentucky's First Lady Jane Beshear, the Kentucky Horse Park's Executive Director John Nicholson, and Alston Kerr, Chair of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, followed by an amazing liberty performance given by Kim Barteau and the magnificent Friesian stallion "GP Boater" which entertained the enthusiastic crowd. Concluding the evening were the Intermediate I freestyles where Heather Mason once again found the winner's circle when she rode her own eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding "Zar" (Iroko x Inga by Actueel, bred in the U.S. by Carol Collyer) to the Championship title on a score of 72.125%. Reserve Champion with 70.167% was yesterday's Intermediate I Open victor Emily Wagner of La Cygne, KS (qualified in Region 2) and "WakeUp" (American Warmblood stallion [Wagnis x Maiden Montreal by Macho], bred in the U.S. by Beverly McLean Tetrick/Red Mare Farm).