New Champions Crowned on Third Day of 2018 US Dressage Finals

Monday, November 12, 2018
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More champions were crowned on the third day of competition at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, being held November 8-11 in Lexington, Ky.

SenSation HW Lives Up to His Name in First Level Open Championship
As a foal, Carol McPhee’s Westfalen gelding SenSation HW (Sunday x Donata by Dancier) was given a promising name, and since then the young gelding has proven he has every ability to live up to it. In the hands of Michael Bragdell of Colora, Md. (Region 1), SenSation HW was crowned as five-year-old champion at this summer’s Markel/USEF Young Horse Championships, and now added another title to his resume by winning the First Level Open Championship at the US Dressage Finals with 75.049%.

“He is special, for sure. He’s so talented, but it’s more than that – it’s his great work ethic, which is so important. It’s hard to have talent without the brain, because then you have to force it,” said Bragdell of his mount. “In January, I felt like I was starting to tap into that amazing trot, but it was just a glimpse. But over the year it’s gotten stronger and stronger, and he really blossomed at Lamplight. We gave him a little break after that and focused on qualifying to come here, and the strategy paid off. These Finals have such an incredible atmosphere, and especially with my young horses when looking toward their future, I want them to have this valuable experience under their belts.”

Last year’s Training Level Open champion John Mason of Conroe, Texas (Region 9) and the now six-year-old Danish Warmblood mare Savannah SWF (Blue Hors Soprano x Nicolette by Diamant, owned and bred in the U.S. by Mary Nuttall) once again found success at the US Dressage Finals, this time with a score of 73.039% to earn Reserve Champion honors at First Level. “She’s a little bit delicate and a late bloomer, so we take our time. We’ve been on this journey together since she was a yearling,” Mason explained. “But she was fantastic in there today. She is a mare who can definitely be ‘mareish’, but today she was absolutely wonderful. I can’t try to predict it – I have to keep an open mind, because if I go in there with any agenda or expectation, she knows and feeds off of it. I just ride what she gives me, and today it was so much more than a hundred percent.”

Kathryn Fleming-Kuhn Keeps Her Composure to Win Second Level Open Freestyle Title
Kathryn Fleming-Kuhn’s championship ride in the Second Level Open Freestyle division with her six-year-old homebred Swedish Warmblood gelding Washburn SW (Wolkentanz II x Opal) did not get off to a good start. “My horse is normally really solid, but something caught his eye right before we entered the ring and we had a pretty big spook,” explained Fleming-Kuhn of New Berlin, Ill. (Region 4). “That caused me to get off of my music from the very beginning. I knew I had to get it together pretty quick, that it was time to sink or swim.”

Fleming-Kuhn’s composure, as well as a slight pattern modification, quickly got the pair back on track for a winning performance with a top score of 71.778%. “You have to stay in the moment, and in a freestyle you have a little bit of the luxury in that no one knows your pattern, which allows a little wiggle room to make necessary modifications such as in a situation like this.” Fleming-Kuhn also noted how earning a national title aboard a horse she had bred made the success even more poignant. “He is so special and one of the most workmanlike horses I’ve had the pleasure to ride,” she said. “Whether it’s the first day of the show or the last, he’s the type who always rises to the occasion.”

Also riding a beloved homebred to national honors was Reserve Champion Suzanne Graham of Jacksonville, Fla. (Region 3) who braved the cold with her eight-year-old Rheinlander gelding Justice (Freedomhall x Helga de Carolina by Quick de Rouet) with 70.900%. “I was miserable, just frozen solid, but my horse was having a great time out there!” she laughed. “He just did his job and I was so proud of him. He’s so nicely forward and steady, and the music emphasizes that; it’s also very energetic which I like in a freestyle. I decided to breed my mare after she suffered an injury, and he was the first foal I ever bred. He was so scrawny when he was born that I thought he wasn’t ever going to be able to do much, but he has absolutely blossomed.”

Martin Kuhn Turns the Tables to Win Third Level Open Freestyle Championship
Following a one-two finish in Friday’s Third Level Open Championship, Martin Kuhn of New Berlin, Ill. (Region 4) was able to turn the tables on fellow competitor Angela Jackson in the Third Level Open Freestyle Championship. But it took quite a bit of improvisation to get that victory on a score of 73.433% with Elizabeth Cronin’s seven-year-old Westfalen gelding Venivici (Vitalis x Sabrina by Sherlock Holmes).

“Apparently he knows his freestyle now even though he’s only done it about six times. He’s a very clever horse – maybe a little too smart for his own good. He was a very, very good boy except for that one brief moment today when he wasn’t,” Kuhn chuckled. “In our practice ride earlier this week, he put in a flying change early and I took a mental note of it. But today he put in that same flying change even earlier. So I corrected it, which now put me on the wrong lead. Then I realize that I can’t change back because I don’t have enough room to change again without it being a tempi, which of course isn’t allowed at this level. What a mess. So three-quarters of my canter tour ends up being completely improvised. But somehow we pulled it off and it worked out.”

Angela Jackson of Henderson, Ky. (Region 2) admitted she was prepared to “go big or go home” with Julie Cook’s six-year-old Hanoverian gelding Sandeman (Sir Donnerhall x Flora by Florencio), but a mistake relegated them to Reserve Champion with a still-solid score of 73.233%. “I was a little overconfident and really went for a big extended trot, which is a highlight for him,” Jackson explained. “But it backfired – we made it almost all the way across and broke. Martin [Kuhn] is a tough competitor and it’s a national championship so I knew I had to go for it. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but we still did great.”

Au Revoir Earns Third Finals Title in Fourth Level Open Championship
Sandi Chohany’s Oldenburg gelding Au Revoir (Ampere x Lara by Liberty M) is no stranger to the winner’s circle at the US Dressage Finals. Despite being only seven years old, the talented youngster has previously earned national titles at both First and Second Level in previous years in partnership with rider Heather McCarthy of Prairie Grove, Ill. (Region 4). And on Saturday the pair added yet another accomplishment to their resume: as the only combination to break 70%, McCarthy and Au Revoir topped a tough field in the Fourth Level Open Championship with a score of 71.370%.

“He was a little electric in warmup due to the cold, but once we went in the ring he settled and put in a great test,” said McCarthy. “He’s a special horse, and this has been a big year for him in that he’s really matured both physically and mentally. We used to call him a peanut but he’s a big boy now. This winter we’re going to get serious about the half-steps and work on his strength in the collected work, and hopefully be back to the Finals yet again. It’s been fun to bring him up through the levels, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring.”

Angela Jackson of Henderson, Ky. (Region 2) also believed in the talent of Sheila Borneman’s seven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Gaston TF (Uphill x Neasandra by Sandro Hit, bred in the U.S. by KC Dunn/Timbach Farm), and her faith was rewarded with her second Reserve Championship of the day on 69.852%. “He’s been a little slow to mature so I have not brought him to the Finals previously, but this year I felt like he was ready for this type of atmosphere, and he was,” Jackson said of her mount. “It’s a tough test and keeping him focused has been a little bit of an issue in the past, but I couldn’t be more happy with him today because he was soft and with me the whole time, despite the cold. What I liked from day one about this horse was his biomechanics, and I felt like when he grew up he would be able to show what he can do.”

Nora Batchelder is a Girl on Fire in Intermediate I Open Freestyle Championship
Every fall, Nora Batchelder of Williston, Fla. (Region 3) makes coming to the US Dressage Finals a goal for herself, and this year she’s is on a roll in the small tour. After four hours of hard-fought competition in the Alltech Arena in the Intermediate I Open Freestyle Championship division, Batchelder claimed not only the Champion’s title but Reserve as well. Her 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding Faro SQF (Fidertanz x MS Rose by Rotspon, bred in the U.S. by Jill Peterson, owned by Batchelder and Andrea Whitcomb) earned a winning score of 77.383% to edge out stablemate Fifi MLW (nine-year-old Hanoverian mare [Fidertanz x Wolkenstanza MLW by Wolkentanz I], bred in the U.S. by Mary Winn) with 76.783%.

“His music is actually a professionally-made freestyle with Cirque de Soleil music which I re-used from another horse, but it fits him well,” said Batchelder. “But for Fifi I wanted something a little lighter, so her music has violin covers of popular songs like Taylor Swift. I made the freestyle myself and I think it suits her.

“I am so lucky to have two amazing horses in Faro and Fifi, but they are completely different,” Batchelder continued. “Fifi is really powerful but a bit of a girl – I have to be a little more careful with her. On the other hand, Faro is so easygoing and chill, just up for anything. He loves everyone and everything. It’s especially fun when I get to ride Fifi first like I did today, because when it goes well it takes all the pressure off and I can go out and just have fun with Faro. I didn’t think Fifi’s score could be topped, but I went back to the barn and told Faro what he had to get and he did it. I think he does the math in his head!”

James Koford Rocks the House with Grand Prix Open Freestyle Victory
During festive evening performances of Grand Prix freestyles in the Alltech Arena, it was crowd-favorite Adiah HP and North Carolina’s James Koford (Region 1) who once again rocked the house to claim the Jazzman Perpetual Trophy (presented by Donna Richardson) and successfully defend their 2017 title in the Grand Prix Open Freestyle Championship. Koford and the 11-year-old Friesian Sport Horse mare (Nico x Marije ANT by Anton) unveiled a new freestyle featuring music from owner/breeder Sherry Koella’s former international magic show, which proved to be a hit with both the audience and the judges, earning a top score of 71.767%.

“I love it when the crowd cheers for us,” said Koford. “Our one tempi’s are still a little vulnerable and she can be noise sensitive, but I’d much rather have the audience be into it because when Adiah hits her piaffe, it’s like she’s saying, ‘these are my people’. I’m so happy to be here and playing the game, and winning is just ice on the cake.”

Heather Mason of Lebanon, N.J. (Region 8) was delighted to earn Reserve Championship honors with her 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Warsteiner (Riverman-ISF x Welona by Roemer) on 71.542%. “He was super, I’m so happy with him,” Mason noted. “He’s just a lot of fun. His energy level was good – we did 22 one-tempi’s, and I stopped counting the two’s. He was just really good in general.”

Watch archived streaming videos Championship classes on the USEF Network HERE, as well as Facebook Live videos of press conferences on the USDF Facebook page HERE. Championship competition concludes Sunday – follow the action through updates on the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, as well as watch live online streaming on the USEF Network at this link: www.usef.org/tune-in. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, review day sheets and results, and read daily news releases, visit the official event website at www.usdressagefinals.com.