The sport's brightest young stars were recognized in the Florida International Youth Dressage Championships, presented by Dressage4Kids, to wrap up the evening. Tanya Strasser-Shostak, 18, was crowned Overall Champion of the Florida International Youth Dressage Championships, presented by Dressage4Kids, for her total high score of 136.403% in the FEI Young Rider division with her own Action Tyme, a 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding. Of her victory, Strasser-Shostak said, "I'm very happy. Obviously, I had a really good weekend and my horse was always as the same page as me. He's always trying, so it's just great to have such a successful weekend." Action Tyme has been the perfect schoolmaster for Strasser-Shostak after spending plenty of time in the Grand Prix ring with Strasser-Shostak's mother, Evi Strasser. "[He's taught me] so much. I'm so lucky that one day he can let me do the grand prix stuff, the next day we can go back to Young Riders, and the next day we can go hacking. Nothing fazes him, so he's taught me everything," Strasser-Shostak remarked. Strasser-Shostak, who has competed at the AGDF since its inception in 2012, credited her experience at the show as a large part of her success. "There's so many things that we can't as young riders normally have, with the big rings, the atmosphere. It's just nice that we can have this experience here. It's very convenient, and the facility is great," Strasser-Shostsak commented.
She continued, "It's prepared me. Last year, I showed here with a different horse in Young Riders and also with Action a bit. It's definitely prepared me for the Young Rider Championships and the Canadian championships. I don't know if I would have won the bronze medal if I hadn't had the same experience. I may not have had the same success. It's nice that everything can come into one place."
Katrina Sadis, 15, was champion of the FEI Pony division, finishing with an overall score of 133.992% aboard Poldy 10, an 18-year-old German Riding Pony gelding owned by Kristen Verhey. "[This win] means so much," Sadis beamed. "I never thought I'd be here five months ago. Our tests were really good. He was really with me today. The first test, it was kind of the Poldy show, but he let me have a little piece of it today, and it really paid off in my scores. It was really fun." Sadis is currently enrolled in Dressage4Kids' Winter Intensive Training (WIT) program with trainer Lendon Grey. "WIT is amazing. Lendon's a really amazing instructor. It's so great because we learn so much more than just riding. We have lectures from different people, and it's such a great experience," Sadis explained.
Champion of the FEI Junior division was Bebe Davis and her horse Fievel Mousekewitz for their score of 134.029%. Fievel Mouskewitz is a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Apex Stables International. Davis, 16, had the ride on Sadis' mount last year in the pony divisions and was happy to see him take another rider to the winner's circle. "It's any rider's dream to be able to see their horse going well with a new rider and still out there winning, being his usual wonderful self. It's great to see him here in Florida. She's having a great time with him and they're getting great scores, and I couldn't ask for anything better for him," Davis smiled. Davis' winning mount is still relatively new to her, but she's enjoying the process of getting to know the gelding. "It's going really well. He won today and he was second on Thursday, so I couldn't be happier. We're just improving, and our partnership is getting better. He's just such a fun horse. I couldn't ask for a better horse," she described. Like her fellow young riders, Davis has figured out a way to continue her education while remaining competitive on the show circuit. She currently attends Palm Beach International Academy (PBIA), where she has enjoyed the unique experience of having all-equestrian classmates. Her teachers have started to get the equestrian bug as well. "I've been with them for the past two years, and they've started to follow dressage now. My teachers are really interested in it, which is really cool. It's a great experience. It's a lot of fun," Davis smiled.
Melanie Montagano took home the Brentina Trophy for her victory in the FEI Intermediaire B 16-25, presented by Diamante Farms. Montagano finished on a 116.06% aboard Ga Deva, her own 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. Montagano recently earned her USDF Gold Medal with Ga Deva, which prompted her to reflect on their seven year journey together. "I've gotten my Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medal on her now. I've trained her from First Level to Grand Prix," Montagano detailed. "[Bringing her up through the levels has been] so special. I guess I didn't really think about it until I finally got the Gold Medal, but in seven years to bring a horse from First Level to Grand Prix - and I was not an experienced rider - she's just beared along with me and we've done it together. It's a really special journey for me." Montagano currently trains with grand prix rider Jacqueline Brooks (CAN) and credited her trainer with much of their success, describing her program as doing "complete wonders" for her riding. Competing each weekend of the AGDF under Brooks' tutelage has been an important ingredient to her progress. "I've been here probably every weekend since January, just doing the National classes and doing the Under-25 to ride it as much as I can," she described. "I've gotten to the point where my warm-up is really solid here. Sometimes I turn out a really good test and sometimes it's not so good, but every time I come here and show it, it's an improvement. I fixed something that I didn't have last time and it's never regressing." Montagano, 23, recently graduated from the University of Delaware with a pre-veterinary degree. While she has decided to delay applying to veterinary school for the time being, she strongly believes in the value of getting an education. "I'm a big believer in education. It's a vital part of any successful rider. To be able to connect with people on a different level beyond horses [is really important]," Montagano expressed.
Karin Pavicic (CAN) and Don Daiquiri, a 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding co-owned by Jayne Essig and Pavicic, picked up their second win of the week in the FEI Grand Prix Special on Saturday afternoon. The pair topped the class with a score of 70.000%. American Laura Graves rode her own Verdades to second place, finishing with a score of 68.706%. Jill Irving (CAN) completed the top three with Degas 12 and a score of 68.667%.
"It's a dream come true!" Pavicic said of winning both FEI Grand Prix classes during AGDF 7. "Absolutely. It's unbelievable." Saturday was the first time contesting the FEI Grand Prix Special for second place finisher Graves and her mount Verdades. She's owned the gelding since he was just six months old and was thrilled with their performance. "It's been almost 12 years that I've had him. It's been a really long road for us. Obviously, we really have a great partnership. I would even call it co-dependent! It's nice to reach this point and to have success," Graves explained. Graves' greatest priority in the test was simply to make sure she stayed on course, making her second place finish in good company even more meaningful. "I'm just glad that we got through it. I was really proud that we did our pirouettes to the one (tempis) clean and another pirouette. He's an incredibly emotional horse, so to hit something difficult where things happen really fast for him and he kept his cool, I was really proud of him for that. That's been a real 'proud mommy' moment for me," Graves smiled.
Lisa Wilcox (USA) and Galant, an eight-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding owned by Jacqueline Shear, topped the FEI Intermediaire-1 on Saturday morning with a score of 69.649%. Second place went to Neve Myburgh (GER) and Lexington Star for their score of 68.421%. Catherine Malone (USA) rounded out the top three with Uno Don Diego and a score of 66.798%. Wilcox was surprised to see that Galant was actually spookier during the daytime after competing under the lights of The Stadium earlier week for the FEI Prix St. Georges. "Interestingly enough, he was more looky in the daylight," she confirmed. "It was like all of a sudden he saw flowers that he didn't see at night and so I had a few more things to work through when I was in there, but otherwise he was very confident in the movements besides the lookiness. Other than that, I'm very pleased. He's very confident. It's his first CDI, so very good!" For Wilcox, the highlight of their test was their canter work. After a small bobble in the extended trot that Wilcox acknowledged was her fault, she was pleased with Galant's solid canter zig-zags and pirouettes.