The national anthem of Spain rang out for the third time in as many days for Juan Matute, Jr. and Don Diego Ymas on Sunday morning of the AGDF 5 CDI 3*/4*. Matute, Jr. picked up wins in the FEI Prix St. Georges on Friday, the Intermediaire-1 on Saturday, and capped off the weekend with a win in the Intermediaire-1 Freestyle, presented by Havensafe Farm, on Sunday morning. Matute, Jr. topped the class with a score of 71.125%, followed by American Alix Szepesi (USA) and Majco Thunder's Hattrick. The pair finished second with a score of 70.792%. Third place went to Canadian Tom Dvorak and Ribot, who finished on a 69.333%. The FEI Intermediaire-1 Freestyle concluded competition for the fifth week of the Global Dressage Festival. Competition resumes February 15 for the GDF 6 Dressage National, managed by Wellington Classic Dressage, which will run an abbreviated schedule to finish on February 16. The Stadium at PBIEC will play host to show jumping for the second weekend this circuit on Friday, February 14. The $84,000 Salamander Hotels & Resorts Valentine's Grand Prix will enjoy the wonderful International Arena at The Stadium for "Friday Night Stars" before dressage competition returns for the weekend.
Matute, Jr. began by saying what was on everyone's mind; the sudden drop in humidity was a welcome relief on Sunday morning and created picture perfect competition weather. The more tolerable temperatures may have lit Don Diego Ymas up a bit, however. Matute, Jr. admitted he was quite hot at the canter, but was still thrilled with how his horse performed. "Don Diego was good. He was a little bit nervous. He tried his best. The mistakes were a little bit my fault. The trot was really good. I think the highlight today was his trot. In the canter, he was just hot. I couldn't really do anything, I just drove! It was good and I'm happy. It was a good weekend," Matute, Jr. smiled.
After a banner weekend of competition, Matute, Jr. decided to go all out for the I-1 Freestyle, a decision that clearly paid off with a win, but he admitted there were a few mistakes in some of the more difficult movements. "We were very happy yesterday with the scores and we decided, well it's a freestyle, so let's push it to the limit and see what we could get. There was a lot of difficulty in my freestyle, and with difficulty there's risk," he noted.
Of the one-handed canter pirouette, Matute, Jr. commented, "If I had been able to pull it off, it would have been a fantastic movement. It's hard because [Don Diego Ymas] is such a big horse. To be able to collect him so much from the most extension in the extended canter to the most collection, so that's a lot of difficulty. He didn't interpret what I wanted to do, I'm not sure what happened, but we weren't able to pull it off today. But we tried. It's okay, it happens."
Second place finisher Szepesi was also quite satisfied with her test with Hattrick. Third time was the charm for the pair, with Sunday's test being their best of the season.
"The first one I did at the national show, artistically I hit all my markers and it was great, but technically we had some things we needed to work on. The next one I did at the CDI, technically it was really great, but then I missed a lot of my markers and music. This time, I really feel like technically it was all good and everything was right on as far as hitting the music and being on the beat," Szepesi remarked.
She continued, "The test today was just plain fun. Especially after the Prix St. Georges and I-1, trying to be very technically correct. Today I just wanted to enjoy the music and enjoy the test. He was great. He was easy to ride and a lot of fun."
Szepesi particularly enjoys her music, which has also been a crowd favorite. Put together by Karen Robinson, her routine includes Maroon 5's hit "One More Night" as well as "Into the Wild" by L.P. and "It's Time" by Imagine Dragons.
"My favorite part of the freestyle is in the trot work when we come around when the [music lyrics] go '1, 2, 3, 4, somebody left the gate open,' and we do the extended trot. That's a lot of fun and definitely just the canter music. When I'm listening to it off the horse, I just want to get up and dance. I get a lot of positive feedback from the audience. A lot of people watching, that I don't even know, come up to me and tell me what a pleasure it was to watch the ride," Szepesi smiled.
Hattrick has been a solid partner for Szepesi since he was imported as a five-year-old by part-owner Michelle Doucette. Now 13, Szepesi described the gelding as a solid and reliable partner.
"He's just so consistent and reliable. If I stay focused, he's just right there. There's never anything. Even if he looks at something, he's right there and he knows he's got a job to do. I feel like he's always right with me and always reliable. I'm never nervous, like 'Oh this is coming up, I don't think we're going to pull it off,'" Szepesi detailed.
Their nearly ten year partnership has not been without bumps in the road. A week after he debuted at the Prix St. Georges and I-1 level, he foundered and was out of the ring for an entire year. It took Szepesi another two just to get him back to the level he was at previously. Now that they're back in action and schooling grand prix, she hopes to show the gelding at I-1 or grand prix by the end of the season.
The FEI Intermediaire-1 Freestyle was followed by the FEI Young Rider Freestyle, which was topped by Canada's Tanya Strasser-Shostak and Action Tyme. The pair earned a score of 69.958%.