On Sunday morning, a rainbow was spotted over the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. as the sun finally broke through for the last day of competition at the Great American Insurance Group/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Region 2 Dressage Championships and the Kentucky Dressage Association (KDA) Fall Classic, being held October 9 - 12, 2014. But nothing shone brighter than the smiles of competitors as they rode their dressage tests and gathered coveted awards as part of the final round of championship classes for Open, Adult Amateur, and Junior/Young Rider divisions.
During the midday awards presentations, Fourth Level Open Champion Debbie Hill of Gurley, Ala. was beaming about her victory with Marchella Ann Richardson's exceptional Hanoverian Boccaccio IOF. Although the seven-year-old gelding is a newcomer to this level, their winning score of 70.188% meant much more to Hill than just taking home a fancy ribbon. "I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 1st and am currently undergoing chemotherapy," she explained. "I had to choose just one horse to continue working with, and it was him. My doctor calls me a soldier but what he doesn't realize is that it's the horses that keep me going. So coming here and winning means a lot. This horse took care of me in there, he's very forward but also so willing and safe and easy to show because he loves it. I'm so thrilled just to be here."
Rachael Hicks of Prospect, Ky. also had an emotional win in the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship. Earlier in the morning she had ridden Don Cartier to the top of the class leaderboard with 73.000%, and the flashy stallion looked poised to claim his second championship title of the week. As she entered the Rolex Stadium last to go in the order for her second ride aboard her Westphalian gelding Fabio Bellini, she had no one to beat but herself. But the underdog stablemate surprised everyone by stepping out in the sunshine to claim the victory for himself. "I am so glad that Fabio got his chance to shine today," said Hicks. "He works so hard and he gave me a great feeling in there. Don Cartier has the fancy gaits and is so flashy while Fabio has to work harder for it, but he's such a trier and never gives up. My 'Steady Eddie' came through."
After winning yesterday's Intermediate I Freestyle Championship, Angela Jackson of Henderson, Ky. and the stunning black Dutch Warmblood mare Allure S (owned by Kerrin Courtney Dunn) proved to be unbeatable at the Intermediate I level by adding today's Open title to their resume with a top score of 69.803%. In the Adult Amateur ranks, a gracious Jacqueline Beasley of Lexington, Ky. blinked back tears as she spoke about her winning ride aboard her Hanoverian gelding Winston (71.053%). "He's a bit tired today but he had a little left in the tank and he gave me everything," said Beasley. "I didn't even want to wish for something like this, but my dreams came true. I never had any idea that I would be here, and now we're looking towards the US Dressage Finals next month. It will be so exciting, and I might as well go for it. It will be a privilege and an honor."
First down centerline in the Grand Prix class, hometown heroes James Koford (Lexington, Ky.) and Shirley McQuillan's Dutch gelding Rhett set the stage for what they hope will be a successful defense of last year's win at the US Dressage Finals by earning the Region 2 Championship honors for the Open division with a score of 68.050%. "Rhett took the summer off, so he's just coming back and still a little overweight," laughed Koford. "But he felt fresh and so happy to be back in the ring, and even though perhaps some things weren't as polished as they could be, his enthusiasm made up for it. He went in there with a grin on his face which made it a really fun ride for us." But one of the most heartwarming moments of the day came when Rachael Hicks returned to the Rolex Stadium to ride her Dutch Warmblood gelding Apollo to win the Grand Prix Adult Amateur division by a five-point margin with 66.550%. Even though Hicks already had two other titles to her name from the week, her victory lap with her very first Grand Prix mount meant the most. "Oh, this is such a special win for me," she explained. "I've had Apollo a long time, and he's had ups and downs and injuries, and I didn't know if we'd ever get to Grand Prix. We finally were able to start the Grand Prix work this year, got our qualifying scores in May, and then I saved him for this show. Today he felt so happy and better than ever!"
Thanks to a staggering number of entries, the First Level divisions of the Region 2 Championships were nothing short of a marathon for competitors and officials. The Open division took seven straight hours of judging by Hilda Gurney and Scott Peterson for the winner to be decided, but ultimately rising to the top was Adam Lastowka's young American Warmblood gelding Ovation, ridden to victory by Ashley Marascalco of Cleveland, Ga., who admitted to being a bit "wowed" when she first saw the start list. But her confidence in her mount paid off. "He's only six but he's super talented, and he just continues to impress me more and more," said Marascalco. "He can be challenging in a good way and keeps me on my toes, but he was really with me today and we had a smooth test. He's just beautiful and such a character, and that makes him one of my favorite horses to ride."
An almost unbelievable 65 rides in the First Level Adult Amateur Championship necessitated a Presidential Modification from USEF to hold the class over two days. Judges Charlotte Trentelman and Kem Barbosa had never seen anything like it. "I'm so glad to see so many people competing, it's wonderful for the sport," said Trentelman. "Sure, it's a little bit of a challenge to judge so many rides, and I'll certainly admit I'm a little tired, but I never get tired of looking at good horses." Co-judge Kem Barbosa agreed. "You just try to stay focused and because we judge each movement by a standard, the placings seem to fall into the right places regardless of number of entries," she explained. "The top quarter of the class was of excellent quality and was very impressive, especially for the amateur division." Most impressive of all was Rallie McAllister's lovely Hanoverian gelding Lowrider TFH, ridden to 72.581% and a trip to the winner's circle by Anita Arends of Frankfort, Ky., who applauded show management's decision on Saturday to move championship classes to the horse-friendly synthetic footing in the Walnut Ring. "I really appreciated their efforts because the footing was wonderful," said Arends. "Lowrider is almost 18 hands and he's a stunner. He's just such a lovely horse, and even though he may not be the biggest mover, he has such charisma and elegance that he really makes an impression. And especially his extended gaits are super fun to ride!"
Juniors and Young Riders had their share of titles up for grabs on the final day as well. Once again starting her day off on the right foot was Marline Syribeys of Atlanta with her Hanoverian gelding Hollywood, who rode to their second straight championship in as many days by topping the competitive field at Second Level with 69.821%. "He was a little tired because we've been here since Tuesday, but he was such a good boy for me," Syribeys said. "We've worked all year on Second Level because it's quite a jump up from First, but all our hard work paid off today." In the Rolex Stadium, Benjamin Albright from Lafayette, Ind. rode Kristin Cooper's Holsteiner gelding Braxton to win the Region 2 Grand Prix JR/YR division (56.600%), while NAJYRC veteran Rebekah Mingari of nearby Crestwood, Ky. guided her Dutch Warmblood Unico to top honors in their Intermediate I JR/YR Championship class with 63.553%. "We started off at Training Level and we've come all this way together," said Mingari. "It's been a lot of fun and we've learned so much together. I think the this level really suits him because some of his strongest movements are his flying changes and pirouettes, so it comes easy for him."
At Fourth Level for Juniors and Young Riders, the flashy Arabian gelding Sparklin' Red carried owner/rider Karrah Wyckoff (Sheboygan, Wis.) to victory with 58.812%, while in the Dressage Complex a huge field of 42 Juniors and Young Riders finished off the day in a battle for their Training Level Championship. Finally emerging the victor was Benjamin Albright who earned his second championship of the day, this time with FHF Pequin (owned by Leslie Walden) on a score 71.100%. Albright explained that the eight-year-old American Warmblood got a late start and only started training this spring, so he was thrilled with their rapid progress in the gelding's very first season of showing. "He's a hot horse and is still figuring all of this out, but today was the most relaxed that he has been," said Albright. "He's been incredible and I'm so happy with him. We were Reserve Champions yesterday at First Level which of course was great, but it's always terrific to go home with a win."
As competitors packed their trucks and trailers for their journeys home, KDA President Michelle Morehead reflected on the outstanding week. "I'm so thankful for all of our sponsors and officials, but most importantly for the army of volunteers that it took to put this show on," she said. "It just continues to amaze me because whether it was for two hours or for all day, so many people have been so gracious with their time. It's because of their efforts that we were able to make this incredible show happen."
Complete results from the Great American/USDF Region 2 Championships and KDA Fall Classic are available at this link