The first championship honors were awarded today at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. This spectacular competition being held from November 6 - 9, 2014 in four championship arenas has brought together the top dressage riders and horses from across the nation to ultimately honor a new generation of Adult Amateur and Open division champions from Training Level to Grand Prix. Mette Rosencrantz of Topanga, Cal. was grinning from ear to ear as she accepted congratulations for becoming the first Finals champion crowned in 2014. Her long journey all the way from the West Coast ultimately proved worthwhile as she guided Anne Solbraekke's elegant black Hanoverian gelding De Noir 3 (De Niro x Maharani by Matcho) to a resounding victory in the Open Intermediate I Championship, earning the unanimous win under all three judges for a total score of 72.632%. "I saw all the other riders warming up, and I thought, 'uh oh, I'm going to have to go for it because everyone's really really good,'" said Rosencrantz.
"But my horse was great in the ring and handled the atmosphere with no problem. It's a long way and a long time away from home, but everyone has gone out of their way to make us feel welcome here. The setting is great, and it's really fun to come ride at a show like this." Finishing in Reserve was Susanne Benne aboard Zonnerhall (Dutch Warmblood [by Gribaldi] owned by Toni Pastermack) with on a score of 68.816%. Benne recently obtained her U.S. citizenship and became eligible to come to the Finals, and happily traveled from Satellite Beach, Fla. (Region 3) to participate. "I definitely think it's worthwhile to come here, even from a long distance," Benne noted. "Having so many excellent riders and horses here makes it all even more special."
Patti Blackmore (Louisiana, Mo., Region 4) placed third at last year's Finals in the First Level Adult Amateur division, and this year she improved upon that performance to claim the Second Level Adult Amateur Championship aboard her own Hanoverian gelding Rubico (by Rotspon). As the only combination to break seventy percent, they earned a decisive win with a total score of 71.905%. "I breathed a sigh of relief after our counter canter portion of the test," laughed Blackmore, who is a small animal veterinarian and mother of twin 12-year-old girls. "My family is so supportive, in fact my daughters are helping to clean stalls for the horses at home so that I could be here." Reserve Champion with 68.810% was Jessica Iorio (Region 8), who is also a busy mom with three young boys at home in Foxboro, Mass. She and her warmblood mare Roulette (by Loerke) are former die-hard eventing competitors, but an injury forced a change in career. "It's worked out well and competing in dressage has been more exciting than I expected," said Iorio, who drove all night Monday to come to Kentucky. "Roulette did the best she could despite the chilly weather and I was thrilled with how she held it together in the ring."
Two talented five-year-olds ruled the day in the morning's Training Level Open Championship. Champion Patricia Becker (Wadsworth, Ill., qualified in Region 2) rode Joan Pecora's five-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Edward to a strong performance and a winning score of 77.933%. "He warmed up so well despite the cold and the wind, and I think it was the best test we've had all year," noted Pecora. "It's such a great experience coming here, and is so important for a young horse's future to get exposed to a big venue like this." Mike Suchanek of Cambridge, Minn. (Region 4) and Douglas Leatherdale's Hanoverian mare Fleur De Lis L may both be newcomers to the dressage ring, but they did not let the fact that this was their first show season keep them from earning the Reserve Championship with 74.667%. "She didn't put a foot wrong today, and I'm honored to be here," said Suchanek.
Heather Blitz of Medfield, Mass. is no stranger to international dressage competition in the U.S. and Europe, but the Region 8 rider made it a point to add the Finals to her calendar this year. Her decision paid off as she won today's hard-fought Third Level Open Championship with Oak Hill Ranch LLC's young Danish Warmblood stallion Ripline on a score of 71.239%. Despite Ripline's long 24-hour trip to Kentucky, Blitz was thrilled with both her young star and the Finals. "I'm really happy with my horse and how he's handled everything here," Blitz said. "I'm also very impressed with this event, and it was incredibly worthwhile to come here. The facility is of such a high quality, and the indoor looks like a top-notch European show. I will definitely come back." Reserve Champion Debbie Hill of Gurley, Ala. (qualified in Region 2) was a big winner at last year's inaugural Finals, and returned to Lexington this year to claim even more honors despite currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. She and her partner, Marchella Richardson's charming Hanoverian gelding Boccaccio IOF (Bugatti Hilltop x Roxette by Rubinstein), didn't even let a broken bridle in warm-up shake their concentration, earning a total second-place score of 69.872%. "He was pretty fresh out there this morning," she said. "I had a few little bobbles but overall he was so good. I'm just so happy to be here."
The afternoon's Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship was dominated by Region 2's Rachael Hicks of Prospect, Ky. as she claimed both the Champion and Reserve Champion honors with her two mounts, Fabio Bellini (Westfalen gelding [Furst Heinrich x Dakota by Davignon I]) on 71.750% to edge out stablemate Don Cartier (Rheinlander stallion [Don Schufro x Carmina by Cartier]) with 70.458%. "Today the sun came out and we enjoyed the brisk weather, and I think it energized them a little bit. They're both so different and so I have to ride them very differently," said Hicks of her mounts, both of which she's had since they were four years old and brought through the levels. As a busy mom, Hicks works hard to find time to be in the saddle. "I have three young kids, and every morning I get them to school, and then I have few precious hours with the horses on the farm before 3pm when the kids come home and I become a mom again."
Region 2's Jacqueline Beasley may have only had a 15-minute drive from her home in Lexington to the Finals, but her journey to winning today's Intermediate I Adult Amateur Championship has been much longer. She purchased her now 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding Winston (by Worldly) as a three-year-old in Germany and together the pair has risen through the levels, culminating in today's winning ride with a score of 67.632%. "I never thought we'd come so far," said Winston. "Even though I live here and I've shown at the Horse Park before, I've never had the opportunity to show in the Alltech Arena. During yesterday's schooling session, he was very impressed by the atmosphere so I was concerned going in the arena today. But he rose to the occasion, was so perfect and answered all my questions. He gave me a lovely ride today and I couldn't have asked for anything more." Lauren Thornlow and her Oldenburg gelding Royal Konig had to trek 2500 miles with friends and their seven horses from Monroe, Wash. (Region 6) to earn Reserve Championship honors (67.193%), but she was happy to have made the trip. "I've never hauled this far for a show before, but it's been a great experience for all of us," she said. "I had a great ride today with my horse - he's put the right foot forward every step of the way on this journey."
Despite being only seven years old, the talented Oldenburg mare Elfenfeuer carried owner/rider Alice Tarjan of Frenchtown, N.J. (Region 8) to victory in the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Championship with 68.133%. "We still have a lot to learn, but I think this level suits her and she's a good girl and tries hard," said Tarjan. "I haven't been here at the Horse Park since coming for a Pony Club event about 20 years ago, and it's absolutely gorgeous. These Finals are such a big event, and it's exciting and inspiring to be here." Janne Rumbough's gray PRE gelding Junior (by Gaucho III x La Nina by Brioso VI) literally bucked for joy during the victory lap in celebration of his Reserve Championship honors after earning a score of 65.000%. Rumbough returned to the Finals from Palm Beach, Fla. (Region 3) after earning the same title last year. "I had a wonderful time in there. I've brought him through every level, and he's proof that the test system works," she said of her longtime partner. "I thought he was even better than last year, and I'm just happy and feel lucky to be here. "
A huge crowd gathered at the Alltech Arena for a "Taste of the Bluegrass" dinner and evening festivities including opening ceremonies and special presentations followed by Grand Prix championship competition. Topping 20 other competitors for the nation's top honors in the Open division, Diamante Farm's black Danish Warmblood gelding Destiny lived up to his name as he carried Wellington, Fla.'s Devon Kane (Region 3) to victory with an impressive score of 72.000%. "It's very exciting, especially since I didn't even expect to come here," explained Kane. "But after we won at Regionals we said, 'why not'. It's a wonderful opportunity to ride with great competition and fantastic judges in a tremendous venue, and it's really fun to see everyone from all over the country. We had a great ride and he was so 'on' tonight." Last year's Intermediate I Open Champions Emily Miles (La Cygne, Kan., Region 4) and her American Warmblood stallion WakeUp (Wagnis x Maiden Montreal by Macho) successfully made the jump up to the Grand Prix level, earning Reserve Championship honors on a score of 69.067%. "This is just our fifth Grand Prix test together, and I couldn't be happier with him," said Miles of her partner. "He handled the electric atmosphere like it was no problem - he was just a rock star through the whole thing, so solid and easy."
Competition resumes Saturday at 8:00am ET as 12 new Finals champions will be crowned throughout the day. Follow the action through updates on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, as well as watch live online streaming of classes from the Alltech Arena on the popular USEF Network (www.usefnetwork.com). 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.