Under glorious skies and with unseasonably warm temperatures the third edition of the annual US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® got underway Thursday at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Riders took advantage of a full day of open competition with Dressage in the Bluegrass classes to prepare for their Championship performances over the weekend, and competition manager Janine Malone couldn't be happier with results of the first day.
“We're off to a terrific start for what we all hope will be another great edition of the Finals,” said Malone. “Every year gets better and better from an organizational standpoint because we learn how to run the show more and more efficiently, which then of course benefits the competitors. The weather's cooperating so far, and everyone from the riders to volunteers and officials are excited to be here.”
But Malone also noted the tremendous loss felt by so many in attendance at the Finals: Lloyd Landkamer, who passed away in September, served as the show manager for the 2013 and 2014 Finals, and this year's event is dedicated to his memory. “It goes without saying that Lloyd is tremendously missed by everyone,” Malone explained. “But I feel that his presence is here and we find ourselves talking about him all the time. We were such a great team.”
Among today's Dressage in the Bluegrass competition was the USEF Second Level Test 3 class, which turned out to be a microcosm of the entire Finals as 13 open and adult amateur riders of varying ages from 12 different states across the country including Minnesota, Florida, Arizona, Maine, Maryland, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey all hoped to kick off their Finals weekend on a winning note.
First down the center line was adult amateur Molly Schiltgen, who made the 14-hour drive south from Lake Elmo, Minn. with her fiancé to experience their very first Finals. “It is such a delight to be here and I couldn't be more excited,” she exclaimed. “We got here after all those hours in the truck and it was dark, and we walked into the Alltech Arena and I was just speechless. I couldn't believe I get to ride here. It's such an elegant venue, and I'm so honored to have this opportunity to be here.”
After growing up with horses, Schiltgen started competing in dressage about 10 years ago, juggling training time with a busy career and travel schedule as a medical writer. This year, she was looking for a new challenge with her young Hanoverian mare Leisl TF, which she's owned for four years. “I have always enjoyed working towards the USDF Horse of the Year awards, but I wanted to set a new personal goal this year to further develop as a rider and try more head to head competition to see how I would do under that pressure. We had a good ride today and now I can't wait for my championship ride tomorrow, but then I know I won't want to go home!”
Joining Schiltgen for today's warm-up class as well as Friday's Second Level Adult Amateur Championship is Theresa Hunt of Chandler, Ariz. As the former USDF Region 5 Director, a USEF “R” Technical Delegate and chair of the USDF Technical Delegate Committee, Hunt is no stranger to dressage shows. But after 10 years out of the saddle, she is now appreciating a fresh perspective on competition aboard her eight-year-old Danish Warmblood mare Carmen.
“My trainer Cyndi Jackson came to the Finals last year from Arizona, and she was very enthusiastic about it and told me I needed to go for it because it's the chance of a lifetime,” Hunt explained. “I just started riding Carmen in January so I was a little timid at first, but Cyndi kept pushing me…one thing led to another and all of a sudden we were qualified for Regionals and then the Finals.”
Hunt chose to ship her mare commercially with six other horses from Arizona, and even after 31 hours on the road the lovely chestnut looked ready to show her best. “Carmen feels great, and one thing I really appreciate is having this warm-up day with open classes – it's even better that my class was held in the same ring as my championship ride will be tomorrow, so that gives me even more confidence,” said Hunt. “My whole Finals experience so far has just been fabulous. Everything is so horse-friendly, and yes if I get the chance, I will come back.”
Also joining the ranks of the hundreds of road warriors attending the Finals is open division competitor Jean Thornton. Arriving in Lexington on Monday from the southernmost state in the continental U.S., Thornton drove 16 hours over two days from her home in De Leon Springs, Fla. with her palomino American Warmblood gelding Benji, a horse she bred herself and which she also competes in the sport of driving. Like Hunt and Schiltgen, so far she was pleased with her first Finals experience and with her ride today.
“Benji traveled well and he's a little bit of an overachiever – you don't get extra credit for flying changes at Second Level,” she laughed. “But we're going to take advantage of some additional open classes to improve before our Second Level Open Championship on Sunday. I'm also looking forward to enjoying the welcome reception and evening dinners with friends and family who are joining me here, as well as watching the freestyles and the exhibitions. I'm so excited to be here – this is the top show in the country for us, it's a great location and incredible facility, and it all seems very well run.”
Wrapping up a busy first day, exhibitors enjoyed a Competitor Welcome Party and Trade Fair Kick-Off on the concourse of the Alltech Arena. Competition resumes Friday at 8:00am ET as the first of the Finals championship classes get underway. Follow the action through updates on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, as well as watch live online streaming on the popular USEF Network.
To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, review day sheets and results, and read daily news releases, visit the official event website at www.usdressagefinals.com.