The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. looked like the Grand Central Station of dressage on Saturday as close to 600 exhibitors roamed the grounds and competed for stunning awards and championship honors at the GAIG/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Region 2 Dressage Championships and the Kentucky Dressage Association (KDA) Fall Classic, being held October 9 - 12, 2014. After additional overnight rain, a predawn team effort by the KDA management and officials meant that several rings were relocated in record time to allow for all but one championship arena to run on horse-friendly Otto Sport footing, all while keeping the show right on track. "There was some concern this morning about the footing in the Dressage Complex, so we discussed our options and the USEF rules allowed for a change of location of some classes into rings set up in the Walnut Arena, which has wonderful synthetic footing but had previously been devoted to schooling," explained Janine Malone, USEF Technical Delegate. "We were a little skeptical at first that we could get everything reconfigured in such a short amount of time, but everyone came together to make it happen for the benefit of the competitors, who are happy with the change. The organizing committee went the extra mile to make these adjustments in order to provide the best footing conditions possible."
The lights of the Rolex Stadium were still burning brightly in the early morning hours when 15-year-old Marline Syribeys entered the arena for her Region 2 First Level JR/YR test. After traveling from Atlanta, Ga. to the Kentucky Horse Park for the first time, she wasn't quite sure what to expect with her elegant mount Hollywood. But they rose to the occasion with an impressive test, and became the only one of the 34 horse/rider combinations in the class to break the 70% barrier from both judges and earn the championship title with 72.097%. "The stadium was a little intimidating, and when I hand walked him in there on the day we arrived, he was terrified," said Syribeys of her Hanoverian gelding, which she's ridden for just over a year. "But he really settled down and listened to me and didn't spook at anything today. He gave me an awesome ride."
Juniors and Young Riders also contested Third Level and Prix St. Georges in the afternoon. Allison Shields of Paducah, Ky. came out of the ring crying tears of joy after riding her own American Warmblood gelding Tippy Canoe to a score of 66.538% and top honors in the Third Level Championship, while in the neighboring ring Christina Boyd (Canton, Ga.) scored the win in the JR/YR Prix St. Georges division with 66.447% earned aboard her Dutch gelding Navarro. Matthew Manibusan of Maineville, Ohio and his Danish Warmblood gelding Hojvangs Moonlight have successfully competed together for four years, and today they put their mutual experience to good use as they added the Region 2 FEI Young Rider Team Championship to their resume with a winning score of 65.329%.
With nine solid hours of officiating for 64 rides down centerline, judges Melonie Kessler and Scott Peterson had their hands full deciding the victor of the Region 2 Training Level Adult Amateur Championship. But Kelly Grant (Shaker Heights, Ohio) and her stunning black Dutch Warmblood gelding Easton stood out from the crowd right from the start, throwing down the gauntlet for a score of 73.100% which would stand unsurpassed for the remainder of the day. "I think my favorite part of our test was the trot work," said Grant of Shaker Heights, Ohio, who was all smiles after her victory round. "He was such a rock star! I didn't even look at the scores as the day went on - it was such a great test to me that I didn't even care what the result was. I'm just thrilled."
In the Second Level Open division, Tena Frieling's seven-hour drive south from Holland, Mich. turned out to be a worthwhile trip as she rode her Oldenburg gelding Royal Heir to a narrow victory with 70.655%. Meanwhile, Martine Duff also had a lengthy trek to Lexington as she drove by herself with two horses in tow all the way from Aiken, S.C. to attend the Region 2 Championships. Her efforts paid off as she emerged the victor in a tough Second Level Adult Amateur Championship class by earning the only score over 70% from judges Charlotte Trentelman and Dolly Hannon. With a foot-perfect performance by her Hanoverian mare Rendezvous MF, Duff topped 40 rivals with a score of 70.893%. "She's a wonderful horse, and when she's having a good day it's a great day for me," said Duff of her mare, which she started as a youngster and has trained over the last seven years. "She has great breeding and a solid foundation in her training, and that's what makes her so good. I'm so happy with her today, and it's been an awesome trip."
On Saturday afternoon, junior equestrians were put through their paces in the USDF Dressage Seat Medal Semi-Final classes. In the 13 & under division, Sophia Schults of Saint Joseph, Mich. earned a winning score of 90% aboard her Lusitano gelding Zealand Do Nico. Next, as the 14 - 18 division was welcomed to the ring, judges Joan Macartney and Michael Osinski knew they had their work cut out for them as 19 riders were seeking the champion's ribbon. After group work, the best competitors were then asked to perform short individual workouts. Ultimately emerging the victor with 92% was Helen Claire McNulty of Holland, Mich. who once again partnered with her Dutch gelding Checkmate to win their second title of the weekend after claiming the Region 2 FEI Junior Team Test Championship yesterday. "The top group stood out, and through their individual performances they really sorted themselves out and decided the final placings for us," noted Osinski. "They did a great job. We would love to have the top riders ride our own horses." Co-judge Macartney agreed. "We had a great time judging this class because it was a great group of quality riders, with the top performers showing us secure positions and a real confidence in their presentations," she explained.
The afternoon was filled with music as Third and Fourth Level Freestyle Championship competitors tried to dance their way to the winner's circle. Recently crowned as the Reserve Champion six-year-old in the country, Theresa Schnell's six-year-old Oldenburg stallion Hemmingway gave rider Angela Jackson (Henderson, Ky.) another impressive performance which earned a whopping score of 77.500% and an easy victory in the Third Level Freestyle. Interestingly, the pair only recently decided to qualify for Regionals for the freestyle class, and due to a shortage of time had to borrow their "Pirates of the Caribbean"-themed music from another rider. "It actually ended up fitting him very well," said Jackson. "We just tweaked it a little bit, rode it twice, got our scores and here we are! He's got such a wonderful character - he's a superstar! I think he's well on his way, and I wish I could take the credit for it but when you sit on such a wonderful horse he makes you look good." In the Fourth Level Freestyle, the judges liked what they saw from Jennifer Conour of Carmel, Ind. and Sally Booth's lovely Dutch Warmblood mare Zaida, rewarding their freestyle performance (which included the popular tunes of "Let It Go" from the Disney movie "Frozen") with 73.833% for a comfortable six-point victory. "The first day she whinnied through her whole test but today she was terrific - she's such a little princess," Conour laughed. "She really is such a wonderful mare, and a big thank you to her owner who is gracious enough to let me ride her."
As the ringside hospitality tents overflowed with revelers enjoying a Kentucky BBQ dinner, Intermediate I and Grand Prix Freestyle competitors danced under the lights of the Rolex Stadium in pursuit of the day's last two championships to be awarded at the conclusion of the evening. First down centerline in the Intermediate I Freestyle division, Angela Jackson was back in action, setting a score of 73.750% which could not be caught. Earning her second victory of the day, Jackson partnered for this win with Kerrin Courtney Dunn's elegant Dutch Warmblood mare Allure S, the reigning Developing Horse Reserve National Champion. "Our freestyle features music from the movie 'Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron', which we've used for Allure since Fourth Level and then reworked as she moved up because it suits her so well," said Jackson. "This mare is so special because she doesn't necessarily come out like a big impressive mover, but she is such a hard worker and every day she comes out and gives you her all. She also loves going in front of an audience - she goes in the ring and seems to say, 'let's do it.'" Capping off a festive evening, Betsy Van Dyke of Kingsley, Mich. gave a crowd-pleasing Grand Prix Freestyle performance with her flashy chestnut Danish Warmblood gelding Cantana to lead the final victory lap of the day on a score of 66.438%.
Complete daily results from the GAIG/USDF Region 2 Championships and KDA Fall Classic are available and updated throughout the day at this direct link Additional competition information including daily schedules are available on http://www.showsecretary.com.