Gladstone, NJ - The 2011 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions kicked off day two with grey skies and ground that was doing its best to dry out after Thursday's deluge. With four championships on the line, Friday proved busy. Isabelle Leibler rode determinedly in the Young Rider Dressage National Championship on Watson 108 and set a mark that couldn't be beat. They were the only pair to score above 70% and their 70.263% meant they took a convincing lead over Brandi Roenick on Pretty Lady and Jillian Kemenosh on Nelzon. All three of these riders have been successful at the Junior and Young Rider level and for them, coming to Gladstone is an annual pilgrimage not to be missed.
Leibler (Greenwich, CT), despite her considerable success over the last two years, thought Watson was at his best today.
"It's my best score so far," said Leibler, who is 16. "I had little mistakes in my fours, I wasn't paying attention. I couldn't ask for anything more from him. He doesn't have a lot of confidence naturally."
The Individual Gold medalist from the 2011 Adequan/FEI Junior & Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North (NAJYRC) continued her winning streak in Gladstone, and Leibler was incredibly pleased with how Watson went. "Since Young Riders I've been working mostly on my rhythm, making sure he is relaxed and accurate and try not to change too much." said Leibler. Watson 108 is a 14-year-old Westphalian gelding.
Brandi Roenick (Scottsdale, AZ) and Pretty Lady have been winning consistently for the last three years. They were Team and Individual Gold medalists in the Junior division at the 2008 NAJYRC and have since transitioned smoothly to Young Riders. Roenick and Pretty Lady then won Team Gold this summer at NAJYRC and Individual Silver.
Roenick, a 16-year-old Californian, doesn't see rain very often so she was amazed at the deluge over the last two days.
"We never see rain," said Roenick. "But my mare is good about the weather. The footing was sucking them down a little more. It was definitely better than yesterday... she's a hot mare, she's a readhead. It's a matter of her getting excited, I have to juggle calming her down... the footing didn't affect my ride." Roenick and Pretty Lady, a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare, scored 68% to sit second going into the Individual Test on Saturday.
Jillian Kemenosh (Haddonfield, NJ) won the 2010 Young Rider Team Test at last year's Festival and finished up third overall. This is 21-year-old Kemenosh's last year as a Young Rider and the University of Delaware junior will turn her focus to school after this competition for the remainder of the year.
She was really impressed with how the footing coped despite the conditions. "With all the rain, it held up pretty well," said Kemenosh. "I was surprised by how much it did dry up. It was great for all the weather we've had. My horse backed off a little but it had nothing to do with the footing."
Nelzon, a 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood whom Gillian owns with her father Mark, has had an easier campaign in 2011 - after a hectic 2010 but he still was at his best at Festival. .
"I took it easy," said Kemenosh. "I wasn't expecting much. We had a huge year last year. This is my last year of Young Riders and I am trying to have a good time. I'm happy to be here. It's always a wonderful show."
Close Contest in the Inaugural Pony Rider Dressage National Championship
So far closest competition of the 2011 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions is between the two ponies contesting the inaugural USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship. The brainchild of Lendon Grey, this program is in its infancy, but the quality of the ponies that came to contest the first championship with their 13-year-old riders was very high.
Allison Cyprus got the edge in today's FEI Pony Team Test scoring 63.944% with Maple Leaf Kero just edging out Barbara 'Bebe' Davis on Bohdjan on 63.611% in the first of two tests to count for their championship.
Riding in the Dick and Jan Brown Arena is a big occasion for even a seasoned rider, but both of these juniors maintained their composure admirably.
"I felt nervous this morning," said Cyprus. "But once you get in the ring you're so focused all the nerves go away. It's a great experience to ride at Gladstone, but it was a little nerve wracking with five judges."
Cyprus travelled from Montgomery, TX, with her 8-year-old Welsh Cob gelding (who goes by 'Peaches' at home) for this event and was pleased with the effort her pony put forward in the ring. "He felt really good, especially the canter halt (transition)," she said. Peaches was a Christmas present in 2008.
Davis was pleased to get her first ride in the big arena out of the way and is confident that there is an even better test in store for the Dutch Sport Pony.
"I'm very happy with my ride," said Davis. "He was really good. There are things to work on and I can see my ride improving."
A Cohasset, MA native, she is now based locally with the 2010 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Intermediaire I Champion, Dr. Cesar Parra in Whitehouse Station, NJ. She made riding at Gladstone her goal as soon as she heard that the pony division might be a possibility.
"I'm so happy they decided to give the ponies a chance," said Davis. "I hope they have them back next year and that there are more than two. I am good friends with Isabel Leibler and I have seen what ponies did for her riding and I hope they can do the same for me."
Davis found Bohdjan in Holland in 2004.
"We have a really great bond," said Davis. "He's a pony so he always changes but he's matured a lot. I am really lucky to have him. He's a great pony."
The second half of the 2011 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Pony Rider Dressage Championship will take place on Saturday. Each test will count for 50% of the championship.
The Competition continues with the Grand Prix Special and the Prix St. Georges. The Prix St. Georges is the first leg of the Intermediaire I Championship which will serve as the Selection Trial for the 2011 Pan American Games.
Competition continues on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and complete LIVE coverage with commentary is available here: http://usefnetwork.com/featured/2011FOC.