The final day of competition at the Rolex Central Park Horse Show celebrated international dressage on Saturday in the U.S. Open $75,000 Dressage Freestyle, presented by Axel Johnson Group. Germany's Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW gave the crowd a commanding performance with a final score of 80.333% and her second win after taking top honors at the event in 2014. Also on Saturday, the U.S. Open Hunters made their debut in Central Park with wins for Jennifer Alfano, Giavanna Rinaldi and Sophie Gochman in their respective classes. The Rolex Central Park Horse Show wraps on Sunday, Sept. 27, with admission-free demonstrations and activities from 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., and a ticketed Dressage Master's Class with Charlotte Dujardin at 1:30 p.m.
Seven riders representing five countries participated in the U.S. Open Dressage competition in Central Park with the top four riders all hailing from different corners of the world. Sweden's Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén and Paridon Magi scored a 76.587% to take home the red ribbon for Lövsta Stuteri South. Catherine Haddad Staller was the top-placing rider for the U.S. in third on a score of 76.587% aboard Rowan O'Riley's Mane Stream Hotmail. Fourth was presented to Karen Pavicic (CAN) and her own Don Daiquiri after a score of 72.125%. Charlotte Jorst (USA) capped the top five in the irons of Kastel's Nintendo for Kastel Denmark with a score of 71.792%.
After Werth and her 14-year-old German-bred gelding (Ehrentusch x Rythme) boasted the top score from Friday's U.S. Open Dressage Grand Prix exhibition competition, they returned to Wollman Rink with even more focus and drive on Saturday.
"Ernie [El Santo NRW] did a really great job today and improved from yesterday. We could take risks and I'm really satisfied," said Werth. "I'm really happy that we could come back here and do it twice. It is an outstanding and special atmosphere and beautiful venue. The skyline is brilliant - never have I seen a skyline like this for a competition."
While winning was the highlight of her week, Werth's experience in New York City was made all the richer with the presence of Pope Francis as he passed through Central Park on his recent visit to the U.S. "I was standing on the roof of the steward trailer and caught the eye of the Pope," she said. "It made this show a double highlights in my life. It was really amazing and a feeling I will never forget."
An impressive crowd turned out to watch the cast of dressage riders that traveled to New York this week. For Werth, their excitement made her job that much more rewarding.
"When I start my music, I feel like the spectators are awake and coming with me," she said. "I think the special thing about this freestyle is that you have a lot of transitions and a lot of combinations between extensions, half pass, passage and piaffe. There's no break and no time to think. But, now after a while I feel really at home in this freestyle and together with this music."
Second-place rider Vilhelmson-Silfvén was onsite in Central Park all week to experience the event and admits it was something she will never forget. "I think to ride in here tonight is one of the most amazing things I've ever done," she said. "This whole week has almost been unreal."
Vilhelmson-Silfvén had never competed Paridon Magi before Saturday evening and was proud of his performance. "I've known him for a long time, but it was my first time competing him and the first time riding this freestyle. Walking from the warm-up area, he was like 'let's do this'."
The U.S. was well-represented by Catherine Haddad Staller, who described her experience at the Rolex Central Park Horse Show as "magical."
"I have to say it makes me very, very proud of my country because we are moving into the big time when it comes to horse sports," she said. "New York City proves that for us. You need a promoter, you need a sponsor, you need a venue like this, and then the riders will come and it makes me very proud."
Number-one dressage rider in the world Charlotte Dujardin participated in the U.S. Open Dressage with a demonstration performance aboard Evi Strasser's Renaissance Tyme. They performed Dujardin's wildly popular freestyle based on Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon and will present a Master's Class on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
"For me, this week has been completely different because I've had no pressure," said Charlotte. "It's been complete fun to be here in New York. I've done some sightseeing and it is brilliant to be here and to see the show, the backdrop and how everything is set up. It was like learning new buttons with Evi's horse. I rode him once yesterday before today. For tomorrow, hopefully I can go through the basics of how I train and bit more of what I do. I'll have another day on my riding and feeling of this horse. It will be good fun."
Antonia Johnson is fourth generation Chairman and Owner of Axel Johnson Group, as well as the Founder and Owner of top equestrian breeding and training farm, Lövsta Stud Farm. She was in the stands watching as not only her rider - Vilhelmson-Silfvén - but also her vision for dressage in America experienced success.
"Years and years ago I was born on Park Avenue. I grew up in NYC and this is really my home. I moved to Sweden when I was around 10 years old, but I have an unbelievable passion for Central Park," said Johnson. "When Mark called me and asked if I was willing to support dressage I just felt we could do it together. This is just the start of something that will be really exciting over the years."
Bellissimo stated that a show like the Rolex Central Park Horse Show takes a great deal of energy and vision, a combination he says Axel Johnson Group has plenty of. "Antonia's confidence in this has been spectacular and it really meant a lot that she and Axel Johnson Group stepped up to support it," he said.