Gladstone, NJ - The top three placings in the Intermediaire I National Dressage Championship never changed throughout the week at the 2011 Collecting Gaits Farm Dressage Festival of Championship and Steffen Peters dominated with Weltino's Magic finishing on a three day average of 78.661%. Riding for Jen Hlavacek, Peters owned the Dick and Jane Brown Arena this morning, and to music by Seven and Five, he showed off the 9-year-old Westphalian gelding's strengths and was rewarded with a freestyle score of 81.250%. This was the only score over 80 in this division all weekend. "It is fairly new," said Peters about his Freestyle. "I've only done three freestyles with Magic. The music is by a group called Seven and Five, it's not too dramatic but it's not too much like elevator music. It was fun, there are some days where it is a little more work with Magic, but today it was fun."
Weltino's Magic was started by Peters' wife Shannon, who rode him to reserve championship honors in the 2008 Markel/USEF National Young Horse Championships as a 6-year-old. He is a strong horse and Peters knows that managing that strength is a major part of his job.
"He's a powerful horse and he can be once and a while a little strong," said Peters. "I have to be careful that I break things up a little bit (in the freestyle)... The changes have become straighter that is why I did them down the center line and the trot work is stronger than the canter work which is why I put it at the end."
Chasing Weltino's Magic all weekend is a giant chestnut gelding named Paragon. Owned, raised, and ridden by Heather Blitz (Wellington, FL), the elegant 8-year-old Danish Warmblood put on his third impressive performance and scored 77.300% for his freestyle to the music from Cirque de Soliel's Ka.
"It's from a performance called Ka - when I saw that performance I thought of my horse," said Blitz. "I think my horse evokes emotion in people. I thought I couldn't find a more perfect thing. It had to flow but not be too in your face. I think it makes a lot of teary eyes in the crowd and mine too, its really fun to ride."
Their Freestyle pushed their three-day average to 75.100%.
Rounding out the top three in the championship is local rider Cesar Parra who rode Michael & Sarah Davis' Grandioso to another consistent effort, scoring 72.700% in the freestyle which gave them a three day average of 73.368%.
The 10-year-old Westphalian wasn't at his very best today, but he was still impressive enough to finish fifth in the freestyle but third in the overall standings.
"It started to develop at the end of the winter," said Parra of his freestyle which combines Latin music, Santana and 80's disco. "I always want to do a freestyle that tells a story, this tells a story of my background... I had a tough time trying to put it all together today for sure... I was having a very hard time in the canter work... I think it's like anything some good days and some not very good days."
Three intense days of competition meant that some of these horses were not as strong on the third day as they were when the competition started, but the quality of the horses at this level in the U.S. is exceptional.
This was further demonstrated by the third place finish in the Freestyle by Marisa Festerling on Big Tyme. The 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood is also a graduate of the USEF Young Horse Championships and proved a model of consistency all week at his second Collecting Gaits Farm/ USEF Festival of Champions.
They scored 73.300% on Sunday with their Beatles themed ride to push their three day total to 71.258%.
"It's exciting of course," said Festerling. "It's been a long time, starting as a young horse. At the end of the freestyle it didn't seem real at first - I don't think it has sunk in yet. It's a culmination of all the years. We've been working a long, long time, so it's been great."
Festerling was referring of course, not only to the Championship, but also to the fact that the this year this competition served as the USEF Selection Trial for the U.S. Dressage Team for the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in October. According to the USEF Selection Procedures, the top four ranked horse/rider combinations form these Trials are named to the U.S. Dressage Team.
As Technical Advisor Anne Gribbons said:
"This is a dream team, it just couldn't get better. We have never been better off looking at a big competition than we are right now. They are ready and they will do well."
A stalwart on the U.S. Team since 1996, Peters has won Olympic and World Championship medals, but this is his first Pan American Games appearance. "My priority in 90% of this whole adventure is the team medal and that is what I am so excited about," said Peters.
For Blitz, this is her very first chance to represent her country and she is happy to share that opportunity with a horse that she has known since the day he was born. "I'm very excited... I'm going down there with a very positive attitude but not over-confident."
Parra rode for his native Colombia at the Pan American Games in 2003, finishing fourth in Santo Domingo. A newly minted American citizen, Parra is looking forward to riding under a different flag. "For me I think it's exciting," said Parra. "I feel very good... I ride a very strong test I believe I am a very strong competitor. When I took the pledge to represent America , I put pressure on myself to represent my country."
These four horses and the first two substitutes will return to New Jersey on October second to begin their Pre-Games training.
For Video on Demand from throughout the competition please visit: http://usefnetwork.com/featured/2011FOC.