USET Foundation Dressage Festival of Champions 2006 Gets Underway with Stellar Performances for Hart, Gibson and Peters

Friday, June 16, 2006

The USET Foundation Dressage Festival of Champions presented by Paul Miller, Inc. got underway today with the best of the best from across the country in multiple dressage divisions, all vying for a coveted 2006 USEF National Championship title.

Today a stellar line-up contest the USEF Para-Equestrian Team Test, the USEF Prix St. Georges, USEF Grand Prix and FEI Young Rider Team Test. The USEF Para-Equestrian Team Test is part of the USEF National Para-Equestrian Championship. The USEF Prix St. Georges and the USEF Grand Prix are part of the 2006 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Intermediaire I Dressage Championship and the 2006 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Grand Prix Dressage Championship, respectively.

First up were the Para-equestrians who rode their team test today in what started as a chilly morning, much to the liking of the horses, and it was clear the athletes had their game faces on ready to compete. They will ride their individual tests on Friday and their freestyle on Saturday. Today’s class saw seven entries with a high score of 71.666% from Rebecca Hart of Erie, PA, and Nordkap, her 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding.

The USEF Prix St. Georges is the first of three classes that make up the 2006 Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF National Intermediaire I Dressage Championship. The USEF Intermediaire I class will take place tomorrow with the final USEF Intermediaire Freestyle on Sunday. The Prix St. Georges winner today with a score of 71.65% was the impressively tall and leggy nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Lex Barker, ridden by Michelle Gibson of Wellington, FL, and owned by Elite European Sporthorses, Inc.

The highlight of the day was the Grand Prix, and the first leg of both the USEF National Championship and the selection trial for the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany this August. The top twelve dressage riders in the nation began the afternoon on what felt like a perfect fall day and as the winds picked up, so did the scores. Ending the day in first place with a score of 74.500% was U.S. team veteran Steffen Peters of San Diego, CA riding Floriano, the 16-year-old Westphalian gelding, owned by Stephen and Laurelyn Browning. Peters and Floriano were alternates at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The team rode a beautifully smooth and elegant test that garnered the appreciation of a dressage-savvy crowd.

“I was very pleased,” said Peters. “I took a lot of risks today in the extensions and went for a lot of expression in the passage. That’s where you have to be careful, because everything can get a tiny bit uneven but everything worked out great today. He’s 16 years old, and it is great to see he has that spark in him. He’s definitely a hotter horse and I think it’s because of that that he is going so strong.”

When asked if he wanted to improve on today’s ride, Peters’ response was, “If Floriano stays at a 74%, I’ll be very happy…I think this is as good as it gets.”

Guenther Seidel and Leslie Morse tied for second place in the Grand Prix with a score of 71.583%. Seidel’s mount was the 14-year-old Bavarian Warmblood gelding, Aragon, owned by Richard and Jane Brown. The pair were members of the 2004 Bronze medal winning Olympic dressage team. This was Seidel’s second mount of the day; he rode another flashy gray gelding, Princeton, also owned by the Brown, in the USEF Prix St. Georges, adding that it was nice having two horses to ride in the competition.

“I think my ride (on Aragon) was a little on the conservative side,” Seidel said. “We had some obvious mistakes…He’s growing up and getting more experience. I used to have to ride him twice a day and now I don’t anymore. He’s changed quite a bit over the years.”

Seidel commented that he will be pushing Aragon a bit more in Saturday’s Grand Prix Special, hoping to get a little more horse in front of his leg.

Morse’s mount was the 12-year-old Swedish Warmblood stallion, Tip Top 962, owned by Morse. Tip Top wowed the crowds with his extensions as he seemingly floated down the diagonal.

“I was very pleased with my ride,” Morse said. “I was pleased with the way he stayed with me most of the ride, and he’s never been here before so he came into this venue with all the people yet stayed who he was which was really good. He could have stayed a little quicker off my aids, but overall I think it was one of the best rides I’ve had…I thought we had to go in and do a good clean ride on the first day and we build from there. We’re constantly evolving. I feel that every show we’re doing, we’re moving up. I would presume by August that absolutely we’ll take it to another level; that’s our goal to take it to another level.”

Following Seidel and Morse was the well matched pair of Arlene “Tuny” Page and Wild One with a 70.792%. Both Page and Morse represented the United States in this year’s FEI Dressage World Cup in Amsterdam.

The competition resumes tomorrow with the FEI Young Rider Prix St. Georges Test, FEI Junior Team Test, USEF Para-Equestrian Individual Championship Test, Brentina Cup/FEI Intermediaire I “warm-up”, and the USEF Intermediaire I.

Horsesdaily "On the Scene" at the 2006 Festival of Champions