Holiday Spirit Abounds at Wellington Classic Dressage Holiday Challenge

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

West Palm Beach - The holidays came early to the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center when Wellington Classic Dressage kicked off its 2009 winter show season with its Holiday Challenge competition. And once again, the holiday show served as a benefit for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.

Photo Credit: WCD
Marines LCPL Kevin Rhodes and LCPL Mathew Howard

Both the dressage show and the toy drive were hits. "It was a great show. We had 135 entries and we actually went into tent stabling for the show. If that's an indication of how people enjoy our shows, then we're off to a great start," said John Flanagan, sponsorship coordinator for Wellington Classic Dressage. "We also collected a large number of toys and cash donations for the Toys for Tots program. And for that, we'd really like to thank the competitors for being so generous and Royal Professional Builders for partnering with us on the toy drive."

There was no shortage of holiday spirit during the competition, held Dec. 13-14. Not only were the judges' boxes and the rings decorated with a holiday theme, but Wellington Classic Dressage staff and volunteers got in the holiday mood with Christmas-colored clothing, Santa hats and reindeer antlers.

Even a few judges could be seen sporting reindeer antlers or Santa hats. Christmas music played in the background and the popular Saturday evening competitors' party featured a holiday theme.
Photo Credit: WCD
Wellington Classic Show Staff

In competition, the clear leader in Grand Prix was Mikala Munter Gundersen who earned two blue ribbons with Leonberg, a 14-year-old Zweibrucken stallion that is registered Hanoverian. The pair took first in the FEI Grand Prix de Dressage with a score of 71.458 and first in the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle with a 72.750. Winner of the FEI Grand Prix Special was Mary Ann Grant riding Westernwind to a score of 67.80 percent.

Gundersen also competed at FEI level with Wild Dance and said she was thrilled with how well both horses did at the show. "It was a wonderful weekend and both horses went really well. I'm especially excited at how well everything came together for the Grand Prix." She said Leonberg was a bit nervous in the warm-up but once he came down centerline "he took a breath and relaxed." The stallion had been out of training for three years due to injury and just came back this past year. Gundersen said his scores at the Holiday Challenge tell her that he's back on track.

Gundersen admits that winning made the show especially enjoyable, but said Wellington Classic shows are always fun. "Wellington Classic shows are always wonderful. The footing is great. The stabling is great. It's just the best possible conditions for horses. But we did have an especially good time at this one with the holiday feel of it. The Saturday night party had a great dinner and wonderful music. No doubt about it, I'm going to go to all their shows."
Photo Credit: WCD
Mikala Munter Gundersen

Two other big winners at FEI level were Shelly Francis and Katherine Bateson Chandler. Francis took wins with both Wig Wam and Dominion. Wig Wam, an eight-year-old Oldenburg gelding, scored a 73.50 percent at FEI Prix St. Georges for a win and Dominion, a 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding, scored a 68.049 for a win in the FEI Intermediaire II. "It does give me a little boost of confidence," Francis said. "I've been schooling them to bring them along to Grand Prix, which Dominion will start this season and Wig Wam probably next year." Francis said she's confident both horses have a bright Grand Prix future ahead of them. She didn't show as much last year because she was focused on their training and it's clearly paid off. "Now that they're so well trained, they're really so much fun to ride."

Bateson Chandler competed with three horses -- Rutherford, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood; Goldwing, a 10-year-old Swedish Warmblood; and Dea II, an eight-year-old Hanoverian. All three earned blue ribbons, Rutherford in FEI Intermediare I with a score of 74.250 percent, Goldwing in FEI Test of Choice with a score of 65.750 and Dea in FEI Test of Choice with a score of 77.00 percent. "I'm really happy," said Bateson Chandler. "I'd never shown Goldwing or Dea before and it was the first time at that level for Dea and you never know what you'll get the first time out." Bateson Chandler said she's aiming Rutherford for the National Intermediare I Championships and after the Holiday Classic feels she's off to a good start. With Dea, she's taking more time because "she's in need for more strengthening and I don't want to rush her."

Among adult amateurs, Jane Springer and Talent continued their winning ways of the past season, taking first in the FEI Intermediaire I Adult Amateur competition with a score of 74.750 percent. Springer said she had taken a lesson with Robert Dover prior to the show and he told her that Talent ought to be scoring in the mid-70s. "And then I came out and got a great score, one of our highest to date. It's the power of positive thinking."

Photo Credit: WCD
Jane Springer & Mgr. Noreen O'Sullivan

Springer and her eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding had a good 2008 show season that included being the New England Dressage Association's year-end champion for the Prix St. Georges level and being the Region 8 champion. "He's only been showing a little over a year so I'm really pleased with how he's going," Springer said of Talent. The pair is working their way toward Grand Prix and getting close. "He's got a bright future ahead of him and he really seems to like showing. He's hot in the warm-up but then comes down centerline and just relaxes," Springer said.

For Shelly Van Den Neste, winner of the high score of the show, coming to the Holiday Challenge was a bit of a homecoming. She had managed the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center for three years before leaving to manage the new Oaks Equestrian Center in Lake City, Florida. "It was nice coming home and seeing the staff. It's running as smoothly as when I left," she said. Van Den Neste had a number of wins at the USEF levels with Gladiator HU and Esmerelde La Biladora. She attributed much of their success to the facility at The Oaks. "The Oaks is the most complete training facility I've ever been at with good footing and everything you need -- trails, a cross-country course, track and covered ring."

Photo Credit: WCD
Shelly Van Den Neste & Esmerelde

Van Den Neste earned the high score of the show with Esmerelde -- an 80.800 in Training Level Test 4. Esmeralde had been a broodmare with Horses Unlimited and came to Van Den Neste after being purchased in a sale last year. "She was just broke in this year," Van Den Neste said. "I knew there was something special in the mare. I didn't bring her out showing until later this year because her tail was a bit chewed off from one of her foals."

Van Den Neste trains with Walter Zettl who saw the Westphalian mare this summer and was awed by her. "He really loved her so I decided it was time to pay more attention to her," Van Den Neste said. She also took wins with Gladiator, a five-year-old, 18-hand Oldenburg also purchased from Horses Unlimited." He was 17 hands and grew so much this past year he didn't know what to do with himself," Van Den Neste said. He does now. "He used to take off on me. So I just jumped him and galloped him this summer and let him find his way."

The Wellington Classic show season continues Jan. 9-11 with the Wellington Classic Dressage Challenge I. For more information on this year's season visit