Intense head-to-head dressage competition across 30 championship divisions concluded on Sunday at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. Surrounded by friends and family, emotions ran high for competitors as they rode their way into history and celebrated their success with joyous victory laps before packing for their long journeys back to homes across the country. The appropriately-named Dutch Warmblood Eye Candy (Weltmeyer x UB40) was one of the day's big winners. In the largest class of the Finals, the lovely five-year-old mare owned by Heather Mason was the final ride of the class but made the biggest impression with the judges as she carried rider Amy Gimbel of Lebanon, N.J. (Region 8) to victory in the hotly-contested Training Level Adult Amateur Championship with a score of 75.800%.
"I started riding Eye Candy about nine months ago," said Gimbel. "The horse I had been riding before her was sold, so I was looking for something to catch ride and Heather offered her to me. She's been a super horse to show - even though this was only her fifth competition and it has a huge atmosphere, she handled it all so well. I feel so lucky to ride her and I have a lot to be thankful for." First to go down centerline at 8am was Carolyn Desnoyer of Mosinee, Wis. (qualified in Region 4) aboard her warmblood mare Fresca (Festrausch x Rising Star by GP Raymeister). They posted a score of 73.533% that stood atop the leaderboard for the duration of the class until Gimbel's final ride, but ultimately was still good enough Reserve Championship honors. "She came out of her stall ready to work and two minutes after we got to the warm-up I thought 'hey, they could ring that bell any time, we're ready to go,'" said Desnoyer of her mount. "She went in and did her job and gave me everything she had. I was so proud of her. I feel like Cinderella - it's been an amazing experience here at the Finals."
A particularly heartwarming moment of the day came during the presentation of the Janine Westmoreland Malone Perpetual Trophy (presented by USDF) to the new Adult Amateur Prix St. Georges Champion, Adrienne Bessey of Region 7. Bessey and her Danish Warmblood mare Dido ran away with the title on an impressive score of 71.491%, more than six points better than the next-placed competitor. With this score, Dido (by Royal Hit) also earned the Lloyd Landkamer Perpetual Trophy for FEI Highest Scoring Mare, presented by Janet Foy. It was an emotional win for Bessey, a family practice physician in Thousand Oaks, Cal. "My test felt great, she was perfect for me and did everything I asked," she explained. "I hadn't ever thought of traveling this far for a show, but some of my friends in California were coming and asked if I wanted to go, so I said 'sure, why not'. I can't believe how well organized and fun this show is. The atmosphere is almost indescribable, it feels very big but at the same time everyone is so supportive of each other. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to come here." Earning Reserve Champion honors was Jennifer Van de Loo (Holly Springs, Miss., qualified in Region 2) who rode her Oldenburg gelding Lanzelot 99 (by Lord Sinclair I) to 65.000%. "He is my schoolmaster, and this is just my second year at the FEI level," said Van de Loo. "He's the best horse ever and I'm so thankful for him. It's an honor to be here and I've enjoyed it so much."
The morning's Prix St. Georges Open Championship became a clash of the titans as incredibly talented horses and riders battled for the win. Saturday night's Intermediate I Open Freestyle Champions Angela Jackson and Allure S (Dutch Warmblood mare owned by Kerrin Dunn) returned to the ring no worse for wear to once again post a top score of 71.491% and lead another victory lap. "She was still asleep this morning when I had to get her ready, but she got up and felt great! It felt like the best Prix St. Georges test I've done with her all year," said an elated Jackson of her partner. "Now we're going to go home, take a little time off, and then start preparing for a move up to the Developing Horse Grand Prix." Reserve Champions Mette Rosencrantz (Topanga, Cal., Region 7) also has big plans for Anne Solbraekke's Hanoverian gelding De Noir 3 (De Niro x Maharani by Matcho) as she is considering the pursuit of a U.S. Team berth for next year's Pan American Games in Toronto. The elegant pair followed up their Intermediate I Open Championship on Friday by finishing a close second today with a score of 71.009%. "I had a good ride, he's a great show horse, and I enjoy riding him," Rosencrantz said. "There were so many talented riders and horses in this class, it was amazing. "Everyone was breathing down each other's necks because we're all here for the same reason - to win."
Amy Stuhr Paterson (Lee's Summit, Mo., Region 4) thought she might be in trouble as she prepared for her Intermediate B Adult Amateur Championship performance with Greenwood Sporthorses' Dutch Warmblood mare Wies V/D Klumpert (by Future x Sarina V/D Klumpert by Havidoff). "My horse was incredibly wild in that ring yesterday when we were just hand walking around the perimeter," she explained. "She was literally passaging in-hand, so I was a little bit worried about what today might bring." But the lovely Dutch Warmblood mare rewarded Paterson's trust by earning a score of 68.690%, good enough for a narrow victory. "She ended up using all that energy for good and not evil, so I was thrilled with our ride," said Paterson, who missed last year's inaugural Finals due to battling breast cancer. "It's a tricky test, but she was honest and with me the entire time. It meant a lot to me to be here, and I definitely want to show at Grand Prix next year and come back."
Friday's Grand Prix Adult Amateur Champions Alice Tarjan (Frenchtown, N.J. Region 8) and her young Oldenburg mare Elfenfeuer returned to claim Reserve Championship honors today with 68.333%. "She handled being outside really well today. We had some mistakes but we're green at this level and we have plenty of work to do and room for improvement," said Tarjan.
Heather Mason of Lebanon, N.J. (Region 8) found great success at last year's inaugural Finals, and she returned to Kentucky to claim yet another title with her 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Zar by topping the Intermediate B Open Championship on a score of 69.286%. "This is a great show and so well-run. I love it, and my clients all love it. I think it’s just a fun show to go to, and it's a lot bigger this year," said Mason. "As for Zar, I think he’s actually going to be a better Grand Prix horse than a small tour horse, just because his piaffe/passage work is pretty special. He's kind of a hot horse who is very honest but incredibly scared of everything, so I had a lot of horse under me today! But he was really good and he held it together."
Also returning to the Finals was Eva Oldenbroek Tabor of Medina, Texas (Region 9) who earned the Reserve Championship with her flashy Dutch Warmblood gelding Uberlinus (by Metall) with 66.865%. "I've have him since he was three years old and he’s 13 now, so I know him inside and out," said Tabor. "I’ve been through some ups and downs with him because he’s sensitive and he's not easy. But we’ve worked our way up from the young horse classes and here we are! Today was a wonderful day - he was flawless. I was here at the Finals last year and it made me want to come back. The arena is amazing and the footing is amazing. It’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever competed in."
Morgan Barrows of Monroe, Wash. (Region 6) and Janice Davis' six-year-old Oldenburg gelding San Corazon have proven to be unbeatable at Open Second Level at these Finals, following up on Saturday's freestyle win by claiming today's Second Level Open Championship with 72.063%. "He's been such a 'steady Eddie' at every horse show from the minute you take him off the trailer," said Barrows. "He's already showing talent for the Prix St. Georges, so if he's ready we'll think about Developing Horse next year. We'll see how it goes. Maybe we'll even be able to come back here - we certainly had a great time this year." Also enjoying the Finals experience was Reserve Champion Tena Frieling of Holland, Mich. (qualified in Region 2) who earned a score of 70.159% with her Oldenburg gelding Royal Heir, which she has developed since he was a three-year-old. "I can't believe that we've done this," said Frieling as she blinked back tears. "It's completely unexpected. Today my ride was as good as it could have been. It's been a long road for us, but I'm just so happy to be here. It's been a fantastic experience."
Music once again rang out across the Kentucky Horse Park as a second full day of freestyles got underway with 24 entries in the First Level Open Freestyle in the electric atmosphere of the Alltech Arena. Emerging victorious was Megan McIsaac of Oregon, Wis. (Region 2) who rode the Trakehner gelding Kingsley (owned by Wisconsin Kid LLC) to a top score of 73.722%, good enough for a narrow win over Stacey Hastings (Mooresville, N.C., Region 1) riding Karen Guerra's Friesian mare Trijntje v.d. Bokkefarm (by Beart 411) with 73.167%. "It was so awesome to be here and be a part of this event," said McIsaac, who was attending the Finals for the first time. "Kingsley is so talented and he always brings that to the table. He's a really special horse and I have some exciting goals for him for the future."
Cariann Wlosinski (Lexington, Ky., Region 2) and her own Oldenburg mare Rhiannon (by Rousseau) had already added Saturday's Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle title to their resume, but returned on Sunday to claim one more victory in the First Level Adult Amateur Freestyle on a score of 73.700%. "It's been a fun weekend!," she exclaimed. "We rode this freestyle last year and finished third, so it meant a lot to come back and win with it this year. I thought she'd be tired today, but she actually was even better. I also would like to thank those who made the decision to separate the open and adult amateur freestyle championship classes. Everyone loves freestyles but they are a lot of work, and it means a lot to have our own division." Amy Gimbel and Heather Mason's young Dutch Warmblood mare Eye Candy had already earned the Training Level Adult Amateur title earlier in the morning, but the pair also added a second championship honor to their roster by earning the First Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Reserve Championship. "She was a little distracted in this test, but she's still such a good girl and I couldn't be happier with our experience."
Nancy Szakacs' smile was infectious as she rode a Ricky Martin-themed freestyle aboard her own Westfalen gelding Rudi Regali to top the Third Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship with 69.056%. "This music suits his movement and personality, and today we were so 'on' with the music, it really was like we were dancing," said Szakacs, who works in clinical research for a biopharmaceutical company back home in Hollister, Cal. (Region 7). "It felt like so much fun just being in the Alltech Arena and having that electric experience. I remember at one moment I looked up to see my name on the huge scoreboard at the end of arena and just thought 'wow!'. It's been wonderful." Reserve Champion Taryn Hochstatter (St. Charles, Ill. qualified in Region 4) was equally thrilled after scoring 67.500% aboard Ginna Frantz's Oldenburg mare Bella Luna GP. "She's a sassy chestnut mare, so we love to show off that attitude in her freestyle," said Hochstatter, who came to the Finals for the first time with her mother, who she called her "number one fan". "Of course there's pressure to do well, but when we halted at the end of the test I almost cried because my horse did so well today. It was unreal."
Stacey Hastings brought five horses to the Finals from Mooresville, N.C. (Region 1) and now returns home a national champion after claiming the Fourth Level Open Freestyle title with 72.278% aboard Coves Darden Farm's striking black PRE stallion Police. "This is a brand new freestyle with music by Peter Gabriel which suits him well," Hastings explained. "The downside is that it's so new, I just learned the music last week and didn't have time to actually practice it more than about three times. But I had it on video so I just watched it over and over and over and hoped for the best. We lucked out! I'm so glad I came this year, the show ran well and everyone's been so friendly." Fellow Region 1 competitor Dawn Weniger of Apex, N.C. and her Dutch gelding Don Derrick (by Don Ruto) didn't let a few bobbles keep them from claiming Reserve honors with 69.333% for their medieval-themed performance. "He was afraid of some patches of light shining on the floor of the arena so he jumped over them a few times, but he was lovely and forward and light, and I'm pretty darn happy," Weniger said. "I've never done a national championship before, and I was having so much fun with my horse. He makes me smile every day. He's so kind and fun and talented, but still a regular guy."
More information including final results, photo galleries, and news archives from the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® are available on the official event website www.usdressagefinals.com. Video on-demand from select championship performances is also available on the USEF Network. A complete archive of each competition day's results is listed at this direct link.