Katy, Texas - The Houston Dressage Society (HDS) developed the perfect recipe for a successful show. They started with a generous helping of professional riders, well seasoned. Then, they stirred in a heaping helping of enthusiastic adult amateurs to spice up the energy. They added Junior and Young Riders to freshen the mix and blended in talented horses at all levels. They allowed this mixture to marinate for four days from Oct. 8-11, taking extra care to not spill the mixture onto white breeches. They served it up at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy, Texas, with some Texas-style hospitality and just a little bit of heat to create the 2015 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Dressage Championships and Southwest Dressage Championships (SWDC) and HDS Autumn Classic, a blending of flavors suitable for any palate.
Take Lyndon Rife, a well-seasoned professional dressage rider based out of Pilot Point, Texas. Rife and his Team LTR brought 15 horses south from the Dallas area to compete in classes from Training Level to Grand Prix. "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I feel sure that a thousand words are nowhere near enough to describe the efforts and events of Team LTR at the Region 9 Championships," he said.
As a top chef, Rife claimed a rainbow of ribbons at the show. He and Jago, a 13-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding owned by Tamara McGowen, captured the GAIG Intermediaire II Championship with a 63.816 percent and the SWDC Intermediaire II Reserve Championship with a 63.684 percent. Rife took over the ride on the gelding four years ago when he was at Fourth Level. The horse was for sale at the show and Rife purchased him from his owner immediately after.
He and Dannah, a 13-year-old Danish Warmblood mare owned by Mary Beth Henderson, claimed the GAIG Fourth Level Test Three Open Championship with a 70.889 percent. All in all, Rife and the students and trainers of Team LTR will be taking five horses to the U.S. Dressage Finals Nov. 5-8 in Louisville, Kentucky. "Everyone works together and it seems like the more they work together, they like to work together," he said.
In order to prepare for the finals, Team LTR gets back to their roots. "After the show, we start working all over again," he added. "We start with the basics. Horses going in a double bridle, we work in a snaffle. We ride them in the field and then start working them back up for the horse show."
Another salty pro, Christy Raisbeck of her own Freestyle Farm in Fulshear, Texas, qualified four horses for the U.S. Dressage Finals, but she will not be making the 20 hour trip to Kentucky. She and Donnertanz, a 16-year-old Oldenberg gelding owned by Linda Middleton, took the SWDC FEI Freestyle Championship with a 69.182 percent, they placed third in the SWDC Intermediare 1 with a 66.250 percent, and placed in the GAIG I-1 Freestyle with a 68.5 percent. "Tanzi has a very high opinion of himself and thinks there's nothing he can't do," she said. "I wanted to see how many two-tempis he could do a couple of weeks ago, and had to stop when we got to 50!"
Raisbeck was pleased with Herslev Mark's Mister B, a 12-year-old Danish gelding owned by Gon Stevens. He pulled off four tests at the highest levels in four days and was the SWDC Champion at Intermediare II and the GAIG Reserve Champion at Intermediare II. Roberto, a 10-year-old PRE stallion owned by Alicia Boutan, qualified for the Third Level and Third Freestyle championships, both GAIG and SWDC. The music for the freestyle comes from the Game of Thrones.
She's had Fernando, her own 10-year-old Zweibrucker gelding, for five years. He spent the first half of 2015 in R&R, focusing on regrowing his hoof after a complete resection. "He was in work and fit enough to try showing him last month," she said. "This weekend, he was the SWDC Fourth level Champion, the SWDC Fourth Level Freestyle Reserve Champion, and he placed in the GAIG Fourth Level Freestyle championship with a 70.417 percent."
Ashlee Watts, an equine orthopedic surgeon at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, added a touch of green to the recipe. She started riding dressage in early 2011 after growing up riding Western pleasure, equitation and junior jumper disciplines. Her hectic work schedule makes it hard for her to squeeze in lessons, but trainers Sarah Denham of Denali Sporthorses and Nancy Hinz of Yellow Rose Dressage work with her to accommodate her busy life. She said that Denham sometimes comes to her house at 9 p.m. to give a lesson.
Watts and Hampton, her 7-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, claimed the Championship in GAIG Training Level Test 3 in a field of 26 with a 74.886 percent and placed first in the SWDC First Level Test 3 with a 76.705 percent in a field of 23. They will be heading to Lexington in November. "Dressage appeals to me for so many reasons but I think the main thing is that dressage is good for the horse," she said. "It is all about education and improving the horse's life, which is my professional goal. There is obviously a clear parallel. My mission in life is to make the horse happier and better and healthier, and dressage does that perfectly."
Cecilia Cox and Winnie Too will compete at their third U.S. Dressage Finals after winning the GAIG Fourth Level Test 3 Adult Amateur Championship. Photo by Susan J. Stickle. Texan Cecelia Cox added depth to the recipe, as she may be an Adult Amateur but she's no Dressage Finals newbie. She and Donabella, a 9-year-old Trakehner/Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Shelly Schoenfeld, competed at finals in 2013 and then in 2014, she and her own Winnie Too, a 12-year-old American Warmblood mare, competed in Kentucky. This year, she qualified both horses for finals. Cox won the GAIG Fourth Level Test 3 Adult Amateur Championship with a 67.500 percent on Winnie and the GAIG Third Freestyle Open Championship with a 68.337 percent on Donabella.
Bella's freestyle music is a Simon and Garfunkel compilation. Cox said she always wanted to go down centerline to "Cecilia," and freestyle designer Cynthia Collins made her wish come true. Cox, who lives in Leon Springs, Texas, will take both horses to Kentucky, which is, as celebrity chef Martha Stewart would say, a good thing since the two horses are inseparable. "They talk to each other," Cox said. "They nicker to each other. When they are turned out in paddocks next to each other, they graze side-by-side. They enjoy each other's company. If one is one the trailer, the other just runs up onto the trailer. I'm really happy that they have travel companions."
Although Young Rider Allison Cyprus is also a veteran Dressage Finals competitor, she added a youthful bouquet to the mix. The 17-year-old senior at Magnolia High School in Magnolia, Texas, bested pros with outstanding scores on her own Madoc Gareth, an 11-year-old Welsh Cob. They captured a Championship title in the GAIG Prix St. Georges Open in a field of 18 with a 70.724 percent. They also won the Reserve Championship in the GAIG Fourth Level Test 3 Open with a 70.056 percent in a field of 12 and the GAIG Fourth Level Freestyle Open Championship with a 77.333 percent.
"I ride a Welsh Cob and they normally don't have a lot of elasticity," she said. "During the warm-up, he came into such a good spot. I felt his back break loose and I've never felt it like that before. It was a really exciting ride. The whole test was just brilliant. I never felt like I had to fix or tweak anything and we were totally as one. It was one of those rides where I could just relax and enjoy it."
The last day was their freestyle, which she said is her favorite class. "I love the music," she said. "It's super dramatic. It's very bold yet upbeat. It's pop but one of my friends said it's like an action movie. It has a big build-up to all of the movements and extensions. He gets pumped up with the music." Cyprus, who trains with Nancy Hinz, will be taking Madoc Gareth to Kentucky.
As a sweet finish to the show, the Houston Dressage Society named Ed Lavalee and Inez Campbell co-winners of the Horse Person of the Year award for their efforts at the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. Becky Brown received the Teaching Excellence Award.
For the icing on the cake, the competitors sang the praises of the HDS volunteers and the facility. Rife said the volunteers were well trained and helpful. Watts said the show was well organized and she also praised the volunteers. "They make you feel welcome and like a winner," she said. "During the banquet there was an awards ceremony and I got to ride in it, which was super fun because it was my first awards ceremony ever in dressage."
Raisbeck was impressed with the work of the Houston Dressage Society since it was sugar and spice and everything nice. "President Leslie Rohrer and her board and show volunteers work extremely hard to keep the show running smoothly," she said. "And the Great Southwest Equestrian Center is a perfect venue." Cyprus enjoyed how the show blended together.
"The warm-up stewards were awesome," she said. "Everything flowed nicely. One thing that was super big for me was the awards ceremony. They did such an amazing job of getting everyone to their spot on time. And the ground crew was amazing. We couldn't do it without the volunteers and the ground crew at the show. We have to thank them for everything they do."
To see the results from 2015 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Dressage Championships and Southwest Dressage Championships (SWDC) and HDS Autumn Classic, click here. To learn more about the Houston Dressage Society, click here.