Gladstone, New Jersey – Christopher Hickey and Brenna Kucinski's Regent edged out Lauren Sammis and Sagacious HF in the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions Pan American Selection Trials winning the USEF National Dressage Intermediaire Championships.
Hickey’s ultimate victory after three days of competition came after he upped the ante each day. On the first day of Prix St. Georges competition he admitted that he rode a relatively “conservative test.” He changed that for day two saying “I added a little more power to my horse today.” But that, he said, is what made have given Sammis the win over him in the Intermediaire I. “There were a few places where I did too much risk, such as in the extended canter and the change at the end and I took too much risk in the two-tempis. The changes got a little too big for my own good, particularly in the last change.”
But Hickey said the fun of dressage, especially over several days of competition, is the chance to improve scores each day and that’s just what he did on the final day of competition, putting in a nice ride with a technically difficult freestyle that gave him the winning edge and the overall victory in the Pan Am Selection Trials.
Hickey and Regent were second to last in the ring and waltzed through their Freestyle with lots of elegant lateral work and four pirouettes. The 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding tried very hard throughout the entire test and was rewarded with very high marks for his degree of difficulty and interpretation. Beautiful, easy paces made the Freestyle look easy. They were rewarded with a score of 74.5% and a three day total of 72.063%
"I'm a little emotional," said Hickey. "I've had a lot of things happen at the last minute before something big so this means a lot. There are a lot of people behind me and that's the most emotional part for me – to give them what they've been pushing for." Hickey recently sold his home in Massachusetts, accepting a position as head trainer for Hilltop Farm in Maryland. He will also be representing the United States at the FEI World Championships for Young Horses in Verden after presenting the highest placed 5-year-old in the Markel/USEF Young Dressage Horse Eastern Selection Trials with Hilltop Farm’s Cabana Boy.
About his Freestyle which included techno music, Hickey recognized some risk in the performance. "I'm totally aware that the trot music is dangerous because it has such a strong beat." he said. "Seventy percent of the time I can pull it off. My freestyle is very, very difficult."
Runner-up was yesterday's winner Lauren Sammis and the adorable Sagacious HF owned by Al and Judy Guden's Hyperion Farm on a score of 73.45%. To the music of Billy Joel, the 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding exhibited polished pirouettes and good changes to reaffirm their ability in the judges' eyes. Trying as hard as he did yesterday Sagacious HF and Sammis pair picked up high marks for their degree of difficulty. They remained in second overall and secured their ticket to Brazil.
"I do need to change a couple of things," said Sammis. "My freestyle is not hard enough for the horse I have now. It was hard enough for the horse I had two months ago." Sammis spoke of her first team opportunity. "Teamanship is so important," she said. "They push me and I can push them. We can work together to improve.
Small But Mighty - Brilliant Too Gains Ground to Third in the Freestyle
Third place in the Selection Trials went to Katherine Poulin-Neff and the very popular Brilliant Too, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Thoroughbred cross by Brilliant out of Blue Brigetta. As usual, the Poulin family was on hand to offer their support, which consisted of handing out Brilliant Too t-shirts and buttons to supporters. It was the ultimate Father’s Day gift for Olympian Michael Poulin, who together with wife Sharon watched proudly as their daughter worked her way up to third position with a charming Freestyle which totally matches her small but correct mount.
"I'm very excited to be here," said Poulin-Neff. "I don't really know what to say. I have a tendency to be a little boring in my riding. I tried to be brave and I made a couple of mistakes but if I hadn't taken the risk I wouldn't have known. I know I need to work on my Freestyle and improve.
The top three combinations from today's competition are named were named to the team pending the USEF High Performance Working Group, the Executive Committee and USOC approval and the fourth place finisher is picked as the alternate and travels all the way to Brazil with the squad.
Susan Dutta and Horses UnLimited's Hanoverian stallion Pik L (Pik Bube II/Abaja) jumped up into the alternate spot of the Pan Am process on the strength of their freestyle score of 71.1%. Overall they finished just below the 70% mark with 69.443%. The 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion was dynamic in the trot work to the music of Flashdance. Really good flow highlighted her test.
"I've been in this position before," said Dutta. "I was the reserve for the last Pan Ams. Three months ago I didn't have a horse and Horses Unlimited offered me this opportunity. I started riding him at the end of March. I'm really grateful to this horse, he's a prince."
The US coach Klaus Balkenhol had praise for the all the riders vying for a spot on the team. "I want to thank the riders for really coming out and fighting for the top spots. There is no need for any of these riders to stand back and hide from the world," he said.
The four horses stay at Gladstone to be evaluated by the veterinarians and then ship to Arlene and David Page’s Stillpoint Farm in Wellington, FL for quarantine.