Text and photos(unless otherwise marked) by Eliza Sydnor
The FEI 5 year olds were back in the coliseum today after lunch for the Finale test, which counted for 60% of their overall score. The champion of these two classes would be the Markel/USEF East Coast Young Horse Dressage Champion. John and Lisa Seger from Markel Insurance were on hand this weekend to cheer on the young horses and represent Markel. This is the sixth year that Markel has sponsored the National Young Horse Championships, and Seger has really enjoyed watching the program grow. “There’s just been a real feeling of teamwork throughout the years,” Seger said. “From the riders, the horses, the breeders, our partnership with USEF, all of it.”
Seger also had high praise for the Young Horse coach, Scott Hassler. When I asked Mr. Seger why Markel had chosen to sponsor this championship, he just smiled and said, “Well, Scott Hassler, really!”
Scott approached Seger at Dressage at Devon and his passion for young horses and these young horse competitions was infectious. Seger said that he feels everyone, from judges to competitors to spectators, really enjoys getting to see the development of our top young horses. He also emphasized the importance of our breeders, and how this program is a great opportunity for them to showcase their best young horses. Jennifer Keeler, director of the program at USEF, has also been an integral part of this program, and is a big reason for its success.
Many of these five year olds today appeared to be a little tired after their long weekend. Unfortunately, it appeared that some of the riders were a little tired as well. A couple riders went off course, which drastically changed the final standings. Erin Sweeny and Marefield Meadow’s Rorick (Rienzi/Donnherhall) were the first combination to go. Their scores were fairly similar to yesterday, with 8.2 for walk, 7.2 for trot, 7.0 for canter and 7.0 for overall impression. Rorick struggled a bit today with the simple changes, however, which dropped his submission score to 6.5, and today’s overall score to a 7.18.
Next up was Laura Wharton-Mero on her own KWPN gelding, Zandor (Florencio/Amulet). Zandor received a 7.5 for walk, 7.0 for trot, 7.4 for canter, 6.9 for submission, and 7.4 for general impression. This left them with a 7.24 for today. However, Laura had one error when she temporarily lost her way, which cost her dearly. The judges took 0.5 off her total score today due to the error. Since this test counted for 60%, this made her overall average drop to a 7.108.
Laura was followed by Elly Schobel on Lord Sisley. This Lord Sinclair/Landgraf gelding is owned by Margaret Miller of Franklin, TN, and won the Preliminary test yesterday.
Today the judges commented that he looked a bit tired, and his scores were slightly lower. The walk and trot got 7.5, the canter a 7.6, submission was good enough for a 7.8 and overall impression remained a 7.7, for an overall score of 7.62. Near the end of the canter work, Elly went off course but continued with her ride, because the judges never rang the bell. She rode the last few movements in the correct order but in the wrong place, and after she made her final halt, the judges told her she had gone off course. It was very confusing for us in the audience as to why they didn’t stop her immediately. This made for 0.5 off of her score today, leaving her with an overall average of 7.352.
Last to go today was Teresa Butta on Dr. Jim Bond’s Hohenstein daughter, Helen. They had a lovely test with the walk as a great highlight, scoring 8.5. The trot and canter were a 7.4, submission a 7.6 and general impression a 7.7.
This gave her an overall score today of 7.72, which was enough to bring her average up to a 7.584. Because of Elly and Laura errors, their scores were now lower than Teresa’s, and Helen was named 5 year old Champion! This lovely mare is really a beautiful, elegant type. The judges wished to see more thrust in the medium trot, but they praised her super elastic walk and willingness to work.
6 Year Old Finale
Immediately following the 5 year olds came the Finale test for the 6 year olds. I had a chance to chat with Gil Merrick, USEF Assistant Executive Director of Sport Programs, about these Young Horse classes. He reiterated many of John Seger’s feelings about the teamwork that goes on with this program. The judges who judge these young horse classes have to go through special training at their own expense. They invest a lot of time in order to support this program. This year, two of the judges are the same for each selection trail (West, Mid-West and East Coast). Those judges are Axel Steiner and Jane Ayers.
Mr. Merrick was also complimentary of the progression he has seen throughout the years with the young horse program. “We now have US breeders breeding world class, competitive horses,” he said. “And we have the riders who are competitive on the world stage, bringing these horses along correctly.”
The first rider to go in the 6 year olds was just one of those that Merrick described. JJ Tate has competed at the World Young Horse Championships for the US, and she is back again this year with two 6 year olds. First to go was Rosall, an Oldenburg stallion by Rosario, owned by Wendy Costello. The judges once again commented on Rosall’s exuberance and expression in his gaits. They felt he was still a bit immature and showed a little too much exuberance at times! However, they also all agreed that he is a very talented horse for the future. He ended with an overall score for the weekend of 6.96.
JJ also competed Faberge, a German bred Florestan/Brentano II gelding owned by Elizabeth Guarisco. This gelding and JJ flowed through their test with such ease. While the judges would liked to have seen even more expression in the gaits, they all complimented JJ on her beautiful riding. JJ has become a big supporter of these young horse classes, even though she is a successful Grand Prix rider as well. “I feel in many ways it’s just as challenging as riding a good Grand Prix,” JJ said, “maybe even more so.”
Today Faberge’s scores went up a bit, with a 7.8 for walk, 7.0 for trot, 7.2 for canter, 7.4 for submission, and 7.2 for overall impression. This gave them a 7.32 for today and a 7.272 overall.
Mikala Gunderson and Pikko Del Cerro were the pair everyone wanted to watch. They won both the warm up class Friday and the Preliminary class yesterday. Pikko Del Cerro is a Hanoverian stallion (Pik L/Rohdiamant) owned and bred by Horses Unlimited. The stallion also looked a bit tired today and had a little trouble with his changes. He received an 8.2 for the walk which was just so lovely and elastic. The trot today was a 7.6, canter an 8.0, submission a 7.5 and general impression a 7.8. This gave them a score today of 7.82 and an overall average of 7.9.
Yesterday’s runner up, Heather Mason and Warsteiner, really went for it today in the Finale, and it paid off. The gelding was uphill and active throughout the test, and the judges started their commentary by saying how much fun he looks to ride. Heather agreed with this. “He’s really my kind of horse,” she told me with a smile.
Warsteiner is a KWPN gelding by Riverman out of a Roemer mare. His only limitation seems to be that his walk, while very pure, lacks shoulder freedom and ground cover. He got a 7.5 for walk, 8.4 for trot, and 7.8 for canter. The judges were very impressed with his willing attitude and gave him an 8.5 for both submission and overall impression. This left Heather with a score today of 8.14 and an overall score of 8.004. This was good enough to just edge Mikala and Pikko Del Cerro into second place, and give the championship to Heather and Warsteiner!
In order to qualify for the World Championships in Verden, a horse and rider must score 8.2 or better at one of the selection trials. I asked Scott Hassler if he was disappointed that no pair in the US has received that score this year. “I think it’s very important to keep our standards high. And the score of 8.2 is good. We don’t want to send horses over who won’t be competitive with the Europeans,” he said.
Scott also reminded me that US riders have the option of qualifying their horses in Europe, and he said that there is one rider who has already done so. Hopefully we will have some US representation at the World Championships!
A big congratulations to all the riders and owners of these young horses who competed in Raleigh. Stay tuned to DressageDaily and follow their progress at the USEF/Markel National Young Horse Championships in Wayne, IL, in August!