Lehua Custer of North Hollywood, Cal. felt like she’s been living in a fairy tale at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. She and her mount F.J. Ramzes traveled more than 2,000 miles to Lexington from the West Coast on a plane filled with Thoroughbreds returning from last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup for just one championship class. And they won it.
Custer and Wendy Sasser’s seven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Juventus x J. Rambiance by Rampal, bred in the U.S. by Cornell University) have been on a roll all season, and after earning victory at the Great American/USDF Region 7 Championships in September the pair were ready to relax at home and enjoy their success. But there was more to come.
In a matter of days, a whirlwind fundraising campaign organized at the urging of friends raised the funds needed to fly Ramzes to Kentucky. Before she knew it, Custer found herself a long way from her home in sunny California and shivering on a frigid November morning at the Kentucky Horse Park as she prepared for the ride of her life in the Third Level Open Championship, which she and her mount won decisively with a top score of 72.991%.
“We think anything under 65 degrees is cold in southern California, so the temperature this morning was a bit of a shock,” Custer laughed. “My hands were frozen and I have no idea if I was actually doing my half halts, but Ramzes came through for me. He loves to show, and once we were in the ring he knew his job and was just amazing. This whole event is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s been an incredible and unforgettable experience.”
Reserve Champion Kelsey Broecker of Celina, Texas (Region 9) echoed Custer’s sentiment, describing her first Finals experience as “shock and awe,” she noted. “This year was my first year going to Regionals and now I’m super excited to be here as well and finish where we did.” Broecker rode Molly Huie’s seven-year-old Oldenburg gelding Dreamcatcher (Desperados x Taenzerin) to a score of 69.444% for second place. “He was fresh at first but he really came through for me,” she explained. “He came to the States as a three-year-old and we had a bit of a rough start, but he’s been such a great horse for me to learn on and bring up through the levels. I’m excited to see where we go from here.”
In 2016, Elma Garcia also made a long journey to Lexington from her home in California which proved worthwhile as she earned reserve honors in the Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur division. After moving to Mill Spring, N.C. this year and now representing Region 1, Garcia returned to the Finals in victorious fashion by earning the unanimous win with 68.991% in the Intermediate I Adult Amateur Championship aboard her trusted partner and 15-year-old Hanoverian mare Wenesa (Westernhagen x Dancing Girl by Davignon). “Wenesa and I have really kicked it up a notch this season, and our test felt great today,” said Garcia. “Now that we’re looking to move on to the Grand Prix, I really wanted to finish strong and get the win today for her.”
As a youth, Region 9’s Terri Sue Wensinger of Dallas, Texas earned a national title for American Horse Shows Association (AHSA) stock seat equitation in Kentucky. Now as an adult, she returned to the Bluegrass State in a very different saddle and earned yet another national honor as she was crowned Reserve Champion in the Intermediate I Adult Amateur division with her 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Valentino (Riverman-ISF x Jiovette by Flemmingh) on a score of 66.667%. With this being her fourth trip to the Finals, Wensinger felt that confidence was a key to her success. “Today was super fun – I felt like I knew the ring and knew the test, and I was so happy just to be here again,” she noted.
Competition resumes today at 8:00am ET with 12 additional championship divisions – 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 http://www.usdressagefinals.com.