There’s nothing like getting up at what my friend calls the “crack of crazy” to go to a horse show. Let’s just say it’s a little easier to get up when the show is the USEF Dressage Festival of Champions. This year is of particular importance as it is also the Selection Trials for the US dressage team that will head to London later this summer for the Olympic games.
If you haven’t been to the USET Headquarters, it’s set in the rolling green hills of New Jersey’s horse country in Gladstone, NJ. The farm was built by James Cox Brady, a financier and the scion of a family entrenched in utilities. Hamilton Farms, at its zenith, once encompassed over 5000 acres of stretching across three counties.
The stable was constructed in 1916, and was considered the most luxurious ever built at the time. The center entrance leads to a glass ceilinged octagonal rotunda with walls covered in plaques won at numerous competitions around the globe. On one side you’ll find the stables, on the other the office and second story trophy room, which features a breathtaking stained glass ceiling and trophy cases containing gleaming prizes won by America’s past equestrian heroes. The stables consist of 54 12 x 12 varnished wood stalls with gleaming brass accents. Many stalls feature nameplates of US equine greats – Brentina, Debbie McDonald’s great mare, is honored in this way. The riders certainly seemed to enjoy the facility, praising the luxury of the spacious stalls as well as the ambience and sense of history.
By now you’ve probably heard the results:
- Steffen Peters & Legolas 92 76.064.
- Tina Konyot & Calecto V 72.787.
- Jan Ebling and Rafalca 71.532
- Todd Flettrich & Otto 71.149
- Gunter Seidel & Fandango 70.553
- Adrienne Lyle & Wizard 70.468
Jan Ebeling led the class off on the very pretty Rafalca, a position the rider says he does not greatly enjoy, especially when it is at eight in the morning. His partner, a 15 year-old Oldenburg owned jointly by Amy Roberts Ebeling & Ann Romney, was notparticularly phased by the early hour or her famous owner’s presence, and put forth a very secure test. Ebeling credited their long-term relationship (6 years) and his work with Wolfram Wittig and Christine Traurig. Ebeling promises “a lot more to come, as long as I get into the ring on time!” (A joking reference to his mishap at the Reem Acra World Cup.)
Steffen and his up-and-coming star Legolas 92 entered the ring third, and treated the fans in the stands to a demonstration of how the passage and piaffe should be done. Peters and the 10 year-old Westfalian gelding somehow managed to make the difficult movements look airy and powerful at the same time – perhaps a throwback to the gelding’s elven namesake? In the press conference afterwards Steffen mentioned being particularly pleased with the half pass, that the walk-passage-piaffe tour was the best they’d done yet, and that he was very happy with the 2 tempis. An interesting side note: Steffen’s former ride Weltino’s Magic calls his stablemate “Legs” on his Facebook page. Apparently this moniker was not given to Legolas by Steffen, nor is it a simple diminutive of the gelding’s name. Horse loving oenophiles might recognize it as the effect one sees when one swirls a glass of wine and watches droplets slide down the sides of the glass. A very high-class nickname for a high-class horse!
Heather Blitz and the incredibly large and impressive looking Paragon followed Steffen. (I ran into Heather and Paragon on my way in as they were making their way down from the stables to the indoor arena for their warm-up. Heather is a very tall woman, and yet as I saw her walking beside her 18 hand partner she was carrying a teensy white stepladder as a mounting block.
I raised an eyebrow as I looked at the stepladder and her enormous Danish Warmblood gelding, and we shared a giggle at the incongruity of the picture.) The 9 year-old Paragon shows amazing shoulder freedom and willingness. I think once they iron out some inconsistencies in rhythm, especially in the piaffe and pirouettes, the pair will be serious contenders.
Tina Konyot and the delicious Calecto V were first in after the break. The gorgeous 14 year-old Danish Warmblood stallion, with his poofy forelock, looked as though he really wanted to show his fans a good time. He came in with almost too much energy and at times had so much activity in the hind legs he looked a bit stilted. Other than that he looked very happy to be working with Tina and very supple. They had a bit of a whoopsie in the second pirouette, which Tina mentioned at the press conference came from Calecto’s over-enthusiasm and decision to handle the pirouette on his own. She laughed, saying the stallion “allowed” her to rescue the movement, and credits his energy to an increased fitness level.
Pierre St. Jacques and Lucky Tiger put in a very solid, secure test. Perhaps it may have lacked a little of the pizzaz of some of the other tests, but the pair clearly has a wonderful partnership, as they look comfortable and harmonious and happy to be doing what they do together. If he lacked “pop” in the ring, apparently he doesn’t in the jog. The handsome Danish gelding is known for getting a little rambunctious during the vet inspection.
Lauren Sammis and her KWPN gelding Sagacious HF certainly don’t lack spark. If anything, they may have too much at times, but Lauren does a wonderful job of managing the stunning gelding’s energy level. After a spook in the beginning and mistakes in both sets of changes, he had a lovely extended walk and a very powerful first pirouette.
Debbie McDonald’s protegé Adrienne Lyle and the lovely Wizard, owned by McDonald’s longtime mentors the Thomas family, showed why they are a pair to watch. The 13 year-old Oldenburg gelding did a lovely and relaxed extended walk, several very nice transitions, and put in an all around solid performance that scored them a touch over 70%.
The winner of today’s Fashion Forward Award is Shawna Harding on Come On III. She was sporting a very sharp shadbelly with red piping. Just enough to add a little interest, but not enough to be overwhelming.
Come On III is a big boy, and the two of them make a very elegant and well turned out pair. They showed a big half pass, some very nice two tempis, and a good first pirouette. Come On “talks” with his lower lip throughout the test. I don’t know if this is considered a resistance, but to me he looks like he’s giving a play-by-play analysis of their performance. Personally, I think he’s the Chris Berman of the Dressage world.
The class ended with veteran Gunter Seidel and his new partner, the veteran campaigner Fandango. Gunter gave us a moment of levity as he almost forgot the halt to rein back portion of the test. Seidel simply smiled at his mistake, performed the movement, and moved on. Fandango has a lovely piaffe, sitting nicely and maintaining good rhythm. He showed very nice two times, a good first pirouette, and overall, a very solid test.
During the press conference the top three laughed easily together while praising the arena footing and the facilities, debating the organizer’s decision to not offer a freestyle class (having the opportunity to practice the freestyle in a competition environment versus focusing on the classes that impact the Olympic team placings the most), offering commentary on prospective team members (Jan Ebeling quipped before breaking into laughter, “We’re really close. There’s Steffen and Steffen, and then …” At one point Tina kidded that there would be a freestyle, a horseless freestyle, to which Steffen joked, “Maybe you and Jan!” Today’s dressage was lovely, but THAT would certainly be something to see!
And finally, something that really made my day! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Steffen!
Until next time!