By Amber Heintzberger For

The USEF/Markel Young Horse Dressage Championships for six-year-olds had a grand finale when two California riders, David Wightman on Brigadier and David Blake on Catapult, tied for first place on two American bred horses with a final score of 7.956.

“This is the best thing that could happen for the sport,” said Wightman of that fact that both horses were bred in the United States. “It gives everybody an inspiration to ride American-bred horses and feel that they can succeed with them.”

Both horses were also awarded the Born in the USA award, sponsored by DreamTime Farm of Lexington, KY.

Wightman was the first to ride, and the Oldenburg gelding Brigadier (Batido – Lady Deco by Art Deco) owned by Deena Smith of Lenexa, KS and bred by Paige Hinds-Athan showed off the exceptional gaits that earned him a trip to the World Breeders Young Horse Championships in Verden, Germany earlier this year.

Judge Jayne Ayers commented, “This is an exciting horse and he was nicely presented.” She and Axel Steiner awarded Brigadier an 8.8 for his trot, which she described as having a “clocklike steady tempo.”

Wightman explained that Brigadier has had a whirlwind summer traveling between Kansas, California and Germany, but that with a little downtime at his owner’s farm before the championship he has held up well under pressure. “The first day here was our best ride ever,” he said. “Today I rode the trot a little more relaxed and improved even more.”

He was sure to mention, “I couldn’t have gone to Verden or come here to Kentucky without the help and support of my wife Kathleen (Raine).”

Blake Brings it On

Several horses later, Blake entered the arena on Catapult, (Cantour – Hell or Highwater by Condino), a Holsteiner gelding owned by Blake’s mother, Nancy Blake, of Champaign, IL. The striking gray horse stood out from the crowd with an impressive performance in the arena 27-year-old David, of Thousand Oaks, CA works regularly with Steffen Peters and Christine Traurig, and his hard work has paid off.

Ayers complimented the pair, saying, “Here is a dressage horse with a lot of potential. He has some difficulty in the trot keeping all of that power consistent, but in the canter he has a good ability to engage, to sit, and to push off his hindquarters.” Though his walk, which Ayers said should cover more ground earned only a 7, an 8.8 on his canter work pushed him into the tie for first.

“I’m so happy with the tie,” said Blake. “David’s been so supportive, he was even coaching me earlier. I’m honored to be right under him; I feel like he won, because he really deserved it, he’s so exceptional and a great rider.”

Blake said that Scott Hassler’s coaching has really helped him figure out the nuts and bolts of the Young Horse tests. “I went to the symposium at Hilltop Farm last year and the training session at Flintridge this year, and I wouldn’t have known how to get the cadence and what the judges want without that,” he said. He said that he has also studied videos of the World Championships in Verden to learn what the judges are looking for.

Blake a well respected professional trainer from Thousand Oaks, California, also credits Steffen Peters for his progess. Catapult is Blake’s only personal horse, and he is hoping to train him to the Grand Prix level. He trained his former mount Dante to Grand Prix then gave him to his mother an amateur dressage rider, for a schoolmaster. He has a full barn of fourteen horses in training for clients. Blake is looking forward to the 7-9 year old Prix St. Georges tests with Catapult that will be introduced next year as part of the Young Horse program to help keep his training on track.

Five-Year-Old Champion is Up To Date

Jan Brons and Up To Date (Flemmingh – Ola by Argus), a bay Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Pieter Ruig of Shelther Island Heights, NY won the championship for five year olds with a final score of 8.54, well ahead of Jessica Rizzi on Therese Elton’s Gisele (Welt Hit I O – Ellie by Uniform), a bright chestnut Oldenburg mare bred by Joerg Kasselmann in Germany, whose final score totaled 8.04.

Up To Date was purchased by Ruig as a foal from VDL Stud in the Netherlands and Brons has trained him since he was started under saddle. Brons’ professionalism was evident in his clean test, which the judges noted. The big bay horse also compliments Brons’ tall frame. He commented, “Obviously it’s easier for me to have a horse and help it than if I was younger and didn’t have as much mileage. For me the commentary helps me know what they like or don’t like, but there’s only so much you can do to improve on the horse’s gaits. It’s a snapshot of what’s happening that day.”

Brons liked that the preliminary test counted for 40% of the final score and that the final test counted for 60%. “Of course young horses may be tense on the first day so it gives you a second chance to show them off. I am fortunate that my horse is very consistent and businesslike.”

Rizzi won the preliminary test on Friday but today Gisele showed quite a bit of tension. Judge Lilo Fore commented, “She had difficulties in some movements but her medium trot is fabulous; she’s a lovely horse and you’ll go a long way with her.”

Rizzi has recently joined Tina Konyot’s barn in Connecticut and will spend the winter with Konyot in Wellington . “I am looking forward to having Tina introduce me to the movements in the six-year-old tests!” Rizzi said with a smile.

Leopold Q, Top U.S. Bred Horse in 5-year old Division

John Seger, of title sponsor Markel Insurance, said that he was pleased with the quality and quantity of horses at the championship. “I am also impressed with the quality of riding,” he said. “We hoped when we began this program that it would give riders with young horses a goal. In Europe there are riders who specialize in young horses and it’s very prestigious. We are hoping that this program will give trainers incentive to focus on the young horses that are the future of the sport.”

Judge Axel Steiner commented, “The quality of the four and five year olds is very high. It was refreshing to see the top two horses in the four-year-olds (and later the six-year-olds) US-bred. I’m sure we’ll see more in the future; we have the same quality that they have in Europe , just not the quantity.”

The top US horse in this division was Leopold Q, owned by Dianne Anderson of Alpharetta , GA and ridden by Jules Anderson. The bay Hanoverian gelding (Loerke – EM Felicitous by ES Wertherson) was bred by Suzanne Quarles of Maryland. The award was sponsored by Elly Schobel of The Homestedt in Aiken, SC.

Jules Anderson said, “Looking at the four, five and six-year-olds, the standard of US-breds has gone up every year. It’s important to recognize that breeding is heading in the right direction in the US."

HorsesDaily "On the Scene" at the 2006 USEF/Markel Young Horse Dressage National Championship