WAYNE, Illinois, Aug. 10--The USEF National Developing Horse Championships being held next week have become a bridge to the top levels of the sport with the winners from the first two years preparing to seek a place on the U.S. team for next year's World Equestrian Games.
The USEF Developing Horse Championships presented by The Dutta Corp. and Performance Sales International are being held in conjunction with the Markel/USEF Young Horse Championships at the Lamplight Equestrian Center in this Chicago suburb Aug. 21-23.
Don Angelo, the 2007 winner ridden by Michelle Gibson of Wellington, Florida and owned by Diamante Farms, is in Germany for two months of tuning up in preparation for the winter long series of CDIs that they hope will qualify them for the trials from which the 2010 WEG team will be selected.
U II, the 2008 champion ridden by Guenter Seidel of Cardiff, California and owned by Dick and Jane Brown, is now competing at Intermediaire II and ready to move up to the Grand Prix.
"The program has acheived even more than we hoped when we decided to financially support the championship," said Tim Dutta, whose Dutta Corp. and Performance Sales International sponsor the Developing Horse Championships for seven to nine-year-old horses that compete at the Prix St. Georges level.
"The fact that from 2007 Don Angelo as the winner, Come On II in second place as well as Don Principe and Farinelli who finished third and fourth may all be contenders for a place on our team for WEG next year is testament to the value and competitiveness of the championships.
"U II with Guenter and my wife's Golden Choice DC in second place in 2008 shows these championships bring the cream to the top early so the horses and riders can be developed to reach the pinnacle of the sport by representing the USA at Olympics, World Championships and World Cup Finals."
Seidel and Gibson--team mates on the squad that won bronze in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, while Seidel was also on the bronze medal teams in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004--and other riders agree.
"It is really unique and fills a gap between the young horses and the top levels," Seidel said of the program that emulates the Nürnberger Burg Pokal that has become one of the most popular series in Germany.
"It is a great program for up and coming horses to select the best quality. It is different than the Intermediaire 1 championships because of the ages of the horses.
"For trainers and riders it is great to see how their horses are progressing."
Michelle Gibson said: "I think it's a great program because it fills the void between the young horse championships and Prix St. Georges/Intermediairte 1 and it gives people a goal to work toward that fits the age and level of training.
"it's a really nice showcase for the up and coming horses that aren't quite ready for Intermediaire."
Shawna Harding of Aiken, South Carolina whose Come On III was reserve champion in 2007, said: "It's a fantastic program. I love it.
"It has been great to help the U.S. catch up to some programs in Europe, to reward good training. I did a lot of this in Germany.
"It is difficult for younger horses to compete against seasoned Grand Prix Horses. This program leaves room for the young horses to still make young horse mistakes but get rewarded for good training as they develop to the top levels of the sport."
Jennifer Hoffman of Encinitas, California who rode Farinelli in the 2008 championship said the program provided "an opportunity to showcase my young FEI horses in such a show atmospheres and in front of top judges at the qualifiers."
"I predict that there will be a very large growth in popularity in these classes over the next year or so here in the U.S. The USEF has been doing a remarkable job with all our young horses programs over the years and I hope to continue to see a large increase in the popularity of such classes and programs."
Yvonne Barteau of Maple Park, Illinois who competed on Don Perry in 2007 and is entered on Toscano this year said the Developing and Young Horse programs are good for our sport in many ways.
"First it helps to find those really talented horses early on and encourages their rider/trainers to work to develop their potential in a timely manner," she said. "This gives them a longer and hopefully more productive career as an FEI horse.
"Secondly, it encourages our sport to pay attention to these up and coming horse/rider combinations that may very well end up on our national teams. This is essential to the growth of our sport."