A Weekend of Grand Prix Firsts for Liz Austin and Courtney King at Saugerties CDI-W

They say practice makes perfect. If so, then Elisabeth Austin and Olivier practiced their Grand Prix freestyle perfectly the first time because they never had a second. Fresh off their Brentina Cup victory, Austin and Olivier were the big winners in the CDI Grand Prix Freestyle at the Centerline Events CDI-W, held at the HITS-on-the-Hudson show grounds in Saugerties, New York.

Not a bad showing considering it was the first time they’d performed their freestyle in competition and only the second time they’re ridden it. “I’ve never done a freestyle with him before and we only practiced this one once. It was just so much fun,” Austin said.

Also taking a blue ribbon their first time out were Courtney King and Mythilus, winners of the CDI Grand Prix Special.

“It’s the first time he’s done the Special,” King said of the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding by Ferro that is owned by Richard Malloch. “It was so good to get that first Special out of the way. I think the judging at this show as been very strict. There’s an international, top-level panel so to get a 68 percent the first time out from that panel was a huge achievement. I was really happy and I know there are plenty of more points in there.”

The pair’s winning score was 68.560. Right on their heels in second was Jane Hannigan and the very handsome Maksymilian with a score of 65.680. King and Mythilus spent much of the winter season collecting blue ribbons at the Intermediaire level on the Florida circuit. The pair did their first Grand Prix just two weeks ago at the Windy Hollow Hung Dressage in New Jersey. They competed in Friday’s CDI Grand Prix but their efforts were thwarted by a bug.

“In the Grand Prix he had this huge horse fly attacking him and got totally fried,” King said. “So it was nice that coming into the Special he had this renewed confidence.”

Elisabeth Austin and Olivier Bring Young Blood to American Grand Prix

In her first Grand Prix Freestyle outing, Austin bested a field of more experienced competitors. The 23-year-old Austin and Olivier, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood son of the popular Idocus ridden by Courtney King, clearly showed they’ve got what it takes to compete in the big leagues. Riding to a mix that included music from “Pretty Woman” and the rock duo, the Eurythmics, Austin and Olivier scored a 71.40 percent. Behind them in second was Lars Petersen and Success with a score of 70.750.

Austin borrowed the freestyle from long-time supporter Theo van Bruggen of Belgium, who had designed it for a European rider. It may have been the pair’s first competitive Grand Prix Freestyle, but they did get a bit of a test run in performing a freestyle before a crowd. Last weekend, the pair were demonstration riders at the Equus Equestrian Sport Foundation’s Scholarship Benefit Weekend. The Sunday evening gala included awarding Robert Dover with a Lifetime Achievement Award and in honor of him, Austin and Olivier rode a Grand Prix Freestyle of Dover’s.

“I rode his freestyle to a live orchestra. It was so great,” Austin said.

Horses Feeling Good at Saugerties CDI-W

But poor “Fizzy,” as she calls Olivier, did a lot of traveling before his Saugerties CDI. “We’ve been on the road for 10 days. And it’s breeding season so he’s been very excited. He’s not naughty, just excited,” she said. “Yesterday in the Grand Prix, he tried for me but I could feel that physically he was just tired. Today he just felt there. I think he slept better last night.”

The Friday Grand Prix was won by Lars Petersen and Success. The cool weather that moved into the region Friday – temperatures were only in the 70s – seemed to electrify the horses. Action in the Grand Prix ring Friday consisted not only of passage, piaffe and pirouettes but quite a bit of bucking, rearing and, in the case of Success, squealing.

“He certainly seemed to be having fun,” said Petersen who, when asked how he felt about his Grand Prix win, joked that victory came only because all the other riders made even more mistakes than he.

This is Austin and Olivier’s first year out at Grand Prix and clearly they’re off to a great start. The Grand Prix Freestyle competition was held Saturday evening before a crowd of riders and fans gathered under the VIP pavilion for an evening of great food and wine. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect – cool and clear. The joyful, party atmosphere under the pavilion floated across the competition ring and Austin enjoyed every minute of it.

“I would catch myself smiling, and then I’d tell myself to stay focused,” she said.

Cesar Parra and Michael Shondel's Silver Label Confirmed in Intermediaire

The three-day show, held August 17-19, drew nearly 400 horses and many of the East Coast’s top FEI riders. In CDI Intermediaire competition, Cesar Parra and Melissa Taylor battled it out at the top. Taylor and Dacardo, a nine-year-old Swedish Warmblood, won Saturday’s CDI Intermediaire I with a score of 67.667, while Cesar Parra, riding Michael Shondel’s Swedish Warmblood Silver Label (by Rambo), finished second with a score of 66.583. The positions switched in Sunday’s CDI Intermediaire I Freestyle with Parra finishing first with a score of 70.917 and Taylor second with a score of 68.917 percent.

With Lendon’ Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival following right behind the Saugerties CDI-W, dressage action will continue at the HITS show grounds through Wednesday.