Gladstone, NJ - The 2010 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions got off to a flying start on Friday afternoon as the Intermediaire I National Championship kicked off a competitive two weekends featuring the best dressage riders in the United States. Highlighted by the National Grand Prix Dressage Championship which is also serving as the USEF Selection Trial for Dressage for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, these National Championships feature five divisions from Juniors to the Grand Prix.
The Young Rider Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Champion from 2009, has three chances in 2010 - and 22-year-old Kassandra Barteau (Maple Park, IL) held her own in a division of far more senior riders. With two chances in the Intermediaire I and one in the "Brentina Cup" for young adults, she kicked off her championship weekend with Toscano and scored 70.000% to win in the Prix St Georges (the first leg of the Intermediaire I Championship) in her first shot at the National title at this level.
"He's been at Prix St. Georges and I-I for two years, I've had the ride all year. He's a hot horse with a lot of energy, he's a powerhouse but he's a lot of fun." A 10-year-old gelding by Jazz, Toscano, owned by Kristen and Stephen Cooper, handled the pressure and the atmosphere with ease. He excelled in the Prix St. Georges test with flamboyant changes and extensions but relaxed and confident walk and collected work. "I am happy, lucky and very surprised to be sitting at this table," said Barteau at the press conference. "I hope we can be good again for two more days. My horse was really with me, he was a really, really good boy."
Barteau said she didn't feel any pressure stepping up to the senior ranks and that is showed in her performance because she had nothing to lose.
"Going after Cesar, I was really, really nervous when I got that draw time," said Barteau of following the top ranked horse/rider combination in the country at the Intermediaire level. "But I just went for it. My horse was really with me, I got lucky he was really on my aids."
He went in the ring immediately ahead of Barteau but he finished up just behind her, and Parra was happy with his performance on Olympia. A Colombian expatriate, who is riding under the US flag for the first time in 2010, Parra (Whitehouse Station, NJ), was thrilled to finally get a chance to compete at the Festival of Champions after coaching behind the scenes for so many years.
"I'm honored just to be here," said Parra. "It's my first year as an American, but we are looking further away, at the Pan Am Games, and to win Gold there."
Parra impressed the judges with the horse's obedience and accuracy and the pair was rewarded with a score of 69.737%, Parra was impressed with the horse's composure because he is half-Thoroughbred and can be effected by the atmosphere, which clearly got the better of him in the prize giving.
Chris Hickey and Hilltop Farm's Cabana Boy made a stylish recovery from two mistakes at the beginning of their test to end up third on a score of 68.105% Their opening halt wasn't square and then Cabana Boy broke in the first extended trot but they recovered to get within two points of the lead.
"The long story is that I was in Germany for three months," said Hickey. "I let him down when we came home from Germany and did some hacking to let him relax. I haven't given myself enough time to get him peaking. He peaked in Germany. He doesn't feel quite the way I would like him to and with that going on, I overrode him a little bit."
Cabana Boy has grown up in the USEF Dressage National Championship program, he was both the five and six-year-old champion in the Markel/USEF Young Horse Championships in 2007 and 2008 and then he was the Developing Horse Champion in 2009 (sponsored by the Dutta Corporation and Performance Sales International). He is only eight years old, and Hickey knows there is a lot left to accomplish in his career.
"I overrode the whole thing," said Hickey. "But this horse has a lot to do for us, so I need to save him. It is a hard thing for us riders, knowing when do we rest them and how."
The action returns to the main ring in Gladstone at the USET Foundation Headquarters at 9 am with the Grand Prix Test. This will be the first chance to see the riders who are contesting for a place on the US Dressage Team for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
For live results and news please visit: http://www.usef.org/_IFrames/breedsDisciplines/discipline/competitions/FestivalOfChampions.aspx
Don't miss a moment of the weekend's action, watch online at: www.useflive.com