Most competitors dread having to be the first rider to enter the arena in any class, let alone the first rider down the centerline on Day One of national championship competition at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, a unique national head-to-head competition being for exhibitors of all levels held November 5-8, 2015 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. But Rachael Hicks of nearby Prospect, Ky. (Region 2) and her black Westfalen gelding Fabio Bellini (Fuerst Heinrich x Dakota by Davignon I) refused to let an unfortunate draw or the impressive atmosphere of the lavish Alltech Arena stand in the way of their claiming another victory.
The 2014 Fourth Level Adult Amateur Champions made the jump up to the Intermediate I Adult Amateur division look easy, setting the standard for the rest of the class with a score of 68.553% that could not be topped by any of the other 12 competitors. “I didn’t let the ride time bother me - I had a great warm-up ride yesterday, and I figured if I could just repeat what I did yesterday I‘d be in good shape, even though I admit I’m not a morning person,” Hicks laughed.
“I know some horses were a little overwhelmed in the Alltech Arena, but my guy was on task and felt great, and he handled the atmosphere really well. The progression to the FEI levels is a challenge for Fabio because he’s not naturally expressive in his gaits, but he keeps rising to the occasion and is becoming prouder in the way he carries himself. I’m so happy with him.”
Even as the class progressed and Hicks’ score continued to stand atop the leaderboard, the next to last competitor gave her a run for her money. Alexandra Krossen of Basking Ridge, N.J. (Region 8) had a lovely test with Heather Mason’s Hanoverian cross mare Damani (Duvall x Gqdiva by Gesandt, bred in the U.S. by Virginia Godfrey), but had to settle for second with 68.158%. “I did check a couple of scores but I didn’t keep looking because I wanted to stay focused,” said Krossen. “I’ve only been riding Damani since December and she’s always the same whether we’re at home or at a show. I’m lucky enough to get the chance to ride her.”
But for Hicks, a mother of three who stays busy managing her family’s horse farm from mowing fields to emptying manure spreaders, her winning streak in the saddle was far from over. She returned to the ring in the afternoon with Don Cartier (Don Schufro x Carmina by Cartier) and earned 72.185% to once again run away with the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship. In a role reversal from her win earlier in the day, Hicks and her Rheinlander stallion had to enter the arena as the last combination in the class.
“I always feel pressure whether I’m first or last in the ring - I think you just want to do the best you can and present your horse in a way that you’re proud of,” she explained. “Don Cartier is super fun to ride and he’s like Gumby in that he’s super supple, but he can also be a little spooky. I think last year he looked at every flower around the arena, but he was very solid today.” For Reserve, former eventer and avid foxhunter Carden Burdette (Columbus, Ga., Region 3) won a tie-break on a score of 67.815% with her Hanoverian gelding Sir Frederico (Sandro Hit x Donnerfee by Don Frederico) who she found at the Verden auction in Germany. “This is my third year here at the Finals and we look forward to it every year,” said Burdette.
For her last ride of the day, Hicks claimed one more title in the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Reserve Championship on a score of 67.133% with Apollo, who counts on an intensive equine fitness regimen of “trail riding Olympics” to keep the 18-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Gribaldi x Finckenburgh by Winckenburgh) fresh and fit. But this time Hicks could not get past the defending Grand Prix Adult Amateur Champion Alice Tarjan of Frenchtown, N.J. (Region 8) aboard her elegant eight-year-old Oldenburg mare Elfenfeuer (Florencio x Elfensonne by Sion), earning the unanimous victory under all three judges with a top score of 69.000%.
The pair will return for a freestyle performance on Saturday and then head to Florida for the USEF Festival of Champions. “I’m really happy with our ride and feel like we’re definitely making progress,” said Tarjan. “I think we’re both more confident in the work this year and the balance is better, so I don’t feel like I have to ride the test so conservatively.”
Follow the action through updates on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, as well as watch live online streaming on the popular USEF Network. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, review day sheets and results, and read daily news releases, visit the official event website at www.usdressagefinals.com.