Wayne, Ill. – The final day of the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions closed out a successful week of competition. With restrictions on spectators on the grounds and mandates in effect for mask-wearing and social distancing, the scene at HITS Chicago at Lamplight Equestrian Center looked a bit different from prior years. However, trainers and riders were glad to have the opportunity to get their horses in the competition arena, and the quality of horses and riding throughout the week showed that competitors had been diligently doing their homework.
Markel/USEF Young Horse Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championships
Sunday’s schedule kicked off with the FEI Six-Year-Old Final Test for the Markel/USEF Young Horse Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championship. Thirteen combinations entered the arena for their second test before the four-judge panel. For the second time this week, the judges were most impressed by Marcus Orlob (Annandale, N.J.) and Spirit of Joy’s performance. The dark bay Westphalian gelding earned high marks across the board to win the class and the National Champion title.
“I had a good lead, so I didn’t have to put so much pressure on the horse,” said Orlob. “I rode a little bit more conservatively than the first day, but I knew, going around the ring, that the horse was with me and I had a feeling I could pull off a clean test. And it was pretty much clean, so I was very happy with him. He was actually a little bit more rideable than the first day.”
Jennifer Schrader-Williams (Olympia, Wash.) took home the Reserve Champion title with Joppe Partners, LLC’s KWPN gelding, Joppe K.
“When I was going around the outside, the cheers went off for Marcus right before me and my youngster isn’t used to hearing that, so he got a little excited,” said Schrader-Williams. “But I thought he came back together quite nicely. He went down centerline to put in a pretty mistake-free test.
“There were moments of tension today,” Schrader-Williams continued. “I would really like to make him just a little bit softer in the contact, but he is such a willing, athletic horse and I thought he gave a really nice performance. He tried very hard to keep his focus in the electric environment today.”
From the Mixed Zone:
Does Spirit of Joy improve as the show goes on or get tired?
Orlob: “For sure not tired. He's not the type who gets tired. I think the more he sees the ring, the more confidence he gets. I think he improves each day a little bit more.”
What do you have planned next for him?
Orlob: “I don’t have anything planned yet. The question is, if I make the jump into the small tour CDI over there for the Festival or do the Developing Prix St. Georges over here, so I’m not sure what direction I will go with him.”
What did you think of the judges’ marks today?
Orlob: “I think they were very fair, because I rode a little more conservative and at times I felt I had the neck a little bit shorter, which they commented on, but overall I think it was a totally fair score.”
How does it feel to be going home with a top placing?
Orlob: “It feels good because I came in 2015, I got the red blanket in the Developing Horse Grand Prix, and yesterday I got the red blanket in the [Young Horse Four-Year-Old division], so now I have finally a blue one and it feels great.”
How did you feel about the judges’ comments?
Jennifer Schrader-Williams: “I always find them very helpful. I was a little surprised on the walk score, but there was some tension in there so for sure there’s always going to be pieces that we want to make better. I always try to bring it back to myself, what can I do to help the horse be more confident, more relaxed, more out to the contact, and sometimes he just gets a little bit tight, so I’m going to just help him with that over the off season this winter.”
Tell us about your support system.
Schrader-Williams: “I really have such a special team of not only owners, but folks who stay home and groom and take care of our sale horses at home. I got a great picture this morning of a five-year-old and my husband sending me FaceTime photos of them watching our ride this morning. It just makes it special. I’ve been really trying to keep all of the owners, all of the horses that I have, several of them have multiple owners, so I try to really keep them connected and enjoying the experience since they couldn’t come this time. And just really appreciative for USEF doing all that they do with the live scoring and the live videos. It has made it an enjoyable experience for them as well.”
What’s next on your schedule?
Schrader-Williams: “I want to really continue to develop Joppe. He’s extremely talented. We want to see how far he can go and keep him loving what he’s doing. He’s a very joyful horse and we’ll head to Florida in December. We plan to take six or seven this time so we’re really trying to make that a consistent winter option, so we’ll keep developing him, and I’ve got some really nice young ones coming up behind him as well.”
USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship
The USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship concluded on Sunday with the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle Test. Jennifer Schrader-Williams (Olympia, Wash.) and Millione held on to their lead following Saturday’s FEI Grand Prix Special Test to win the USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship with an overall score of 70.824%. Schrader-Williams and Millione Partners, LLC’s 17-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding performed a freestyle with dramatic music from the television show Vikings. They impressed the judges with their freestyle to earn a score of 75.355%.
“I wanted to come out feeling like I rode it well. The score was amazing; that was really a cherry on top,” said Schrader-Williams of her freestyle, which she was only performing for the second time after debuting it in Florida. “I just felt like we were in unison. We were together. He was relaxed. There was enough power. He just was really with me. It was just one of those days where I could relax and smile between the movements. We just really enjoyed ourselves.
Nora Batchelder (Williston, Fla.) and WGangster Girl, Sally Seaver’s 17-year-old KWPN mare, claimed the Reserve National Champion title with an overall score of 69.105%. Katie Poag (John Island, S.C.) and Zonnekoning, her 16-year-old KWPN gelding, finished in third place with an overall score of 67.121%.
From the Mixed Zone:
What is it like to win the national championship title?
Schrader-Williams: “I came out of that arena just tears of joy and gratitude. We have been working so hard and long. My first year of Festival was 2005 and I have wanted one of those coolers for 15 years. To have this opportunity, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this horse. He is 17 this year and he continues to get better. He has an incredible amount of try. He comes out every day loving his job. We just can’t wait to get out there every time. I am profoundly grateful for that.
“This is my first national championship and my first reserve with the six-year-old. It is a very good day.”
Tell us about your freestyle.
Batchelder: “I thought we had a really good ride today. We have never done the three tests together in one weekend, so I thought she was really good. I went down the centerline and she was like, ‘I am a little tired.’ I was like, ‘Dig deep,’ and she was like, ‘Okay!’ I was really proud of her.
“The freestyle we did today was made for another little grand prix mare that I have, but it actually fits her better. We sort of repurposed if for her. She seems to really enjoy it. I think she really likes the music. I was pretty happy with our ride. We could have had a little more pizazz in our piaffe and passage, but our canter work was really clean. I was just proud of her for digging deep and trying really hard for me today.”
What were some of the trickier parts in your freestyle?
Schrader-Williams: “There were a lot of difficult movements put close together. His strong movements are the piaffe and passage, then he has a really good ability to relax very quickly in the extended walk, so we did an extended trot to piaffe-pirouette right into an extended walk. He does that really well. I try to show the judges that he can be on point and full of power, then go right away to a very relaxed state. I thought he pulled that off today, so that was good. Just a lot of half-pass to pirouettes and tempis. If something goes wrong, there is not a lot of room to fix things and not a lot of room to repeat and have another crack at things. The only way it works out is if you nail everything and he was able to keep it pretty clean today.”
Batchelder: “Degree of difficulty-wise, we do some piaffe to pirouettes that are hard and some sort of difficult transitions, like we do extended trot into the piaffe-pirouette. We do canter-passage transitions and just a lot of difficult combinations. Actually one of the hardest things for us in that freestyle is not technically difficult, but passage directly into a half-pass because sometimes she gets confused and thinks it’s the [FEI Grand Prix Test] and supposed to be passage-canter. We just have to be careful in that moment, but she was really good today.
How long have you had the ride on your horse?
Batchelder: “I have been competing her for a year. I have known her for a really long time. She was bought for a client, Sally Seaver, who is a great client. I am so grateful to her for the ride. Sally rode her for a really long time. Just lately I have gotten the opportunity to compete her, but, no, we were not expecting to do that well. We were just coming because I have actually never competed in the [USEF Grand Prix National Championship] at Festival of Champions. I have done developing grand prix and the I-I championships, but never the grand prix division, so that is like a dream come true to be here. To get to wear the reserve champion cooler is amazing. We are very happy.”
USEF Children Dressage National Championship
Twelve combinations took to the Grand Prix Arena for the FEI Children Individual Test of the USEF Children Dressage National Championship. The FEI Children Tests have judges on the short side focusing on technical marks, while judges on the long side focus on the quality marks. Lexie Kment (Palmyra, Neb.) and Manatee were able to defend their 2019 USEF Children Dressage National Championship title after having a respectable test with a score of 71.982%. Kment was hopeful, though nervous, about trying to be a back-to-back national champion, but she and Jamie Kment’s 17-year-old Thoroughbred gelding keep their cool and managed to win the title with an overall score of 74.354%.
“It feels really great,” Kment said of her title. “I was kind of worried coming into this year with all the nerves of ‘Am I going to be good enough? Am I going to be as good as last year?’ Me and my mom, [who is] my trainer, we really talked about just keeping calm and working on the ride and not focusing on anything else other than riding.”
Maren Elise Fouché-Hanson and In My Feelings, her 25-year-old grade pony gelding, won the FEI Children Individual Test with a score of 75.236% to clinch the Reserve National Champion title with an overall score of 73.781%. Kat Fuqua (Atlanta, Ga.), an experienced hunter rider crossing over into the dressage arena, finished third overall with a score of 71.705% on Dreamgirl, her 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare.
From the Mixed Zone:
Tell us about your ride.
Kment: “I was kind of worried he was going to be tired. We have been here for a while. He has been really good. Today in the ride he was a little bit off of my aids. The first centerline was a little wonky, but it felt good after that. For the future, we can really work on getting my aids better and just continuing to get better.”
Fouché-Hanson: “I am so happy with this week. He has been really good. He has put in all his effort. I was a little worried in the beginning of the week because he was starting out stiff, and I was like, ‘I don’t know I will see.’ We don’t prepare him that much with equitation just to get him through the entire week, so we weren’t pushing him to do his second level, amazing, put-together test, so he came a little bit above the bit, which probably did not help. But so far in both warm-ups [for the children division], we have had amazing rides. Once I got in the ring I was like, ‘I hope I get what we had in the warm-up in the ring because this is going amazing.’ That is the highest score we have ever gotten in the individual test, and I am so proud of him.”
What are your plans for next year?
Kment: “This year was my last year in children’s, so next year I am hoping to do juniors. We will see what it brings.”
Fouché-Hanson: “I am actually not very sure where we are going with Drake. We might try ponies next year since he is still going amazing. I am really proud of him.
“Recently, we got a new donated horse from Dressage4Kids. Her name is Zahara. She is a 2009 imported Dutch Warmblood, and she has been trained up through fourth level. She has been so amazing for me so far. I am really excited to get home and get back to work on her and hopefully do juniors next year.”
Markel/USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Dressage National Championship
The Developing Grand Prix horses closed out competition in the Young and Developing Horse Arena on Sunday afternoon. Twelve entries completed the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Test, and in the end, one owner/rider took home both the National Champion and Reserve National Champion titles from the division.
Alice Tarjan (Oldwick, N.J.) and her nine-year-old Oldenburg mare, Donatella M, added another win to their resume, scoring a 71.708% to earn place first in the class and the division. With Harvest, her eight-year-old KWPN stallion, Tarjan was second in the class and reserve in the division. Even with her decisive victories, Tarjan was pleasantly surprised to find herself sweeping the top two spots.
“I’m thrilled,” said Tarjan. “It’s not what I was expecting at all. They’re both pretty green. It’s been a good week. We’ve had our ups and our downs, but that’s horses for you.”
Tarjan first came to the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions 10 years ago, and she reflected on how her program has developed through the decade.
“I came the first time on a four-year-old, so it’s really fun to come back to try to build up the horses,” said Tarjan. “You start from the bottom and you get them trained to the top, so that’s kind of exciting.
From the Mixed Zone:
Take us through your two rides.
Tarjan: “Donatella put in a pretty decent test, same as she did on Friday. It’s about where she’s at right now. The changes are green and they swing a little. Piaffe/passage, we’ve got to work on the rhythm a lot. But she’s very honest and very rideable in the test. That’s good, and she’s pretty good on the connection.
“Harvest is much greener at this level. He’s only eight. We just brought him for the experience. He put in a better test than he did on Friday, so I’m very pleased about that. We got our ones, so that’s good, and the piaffe was better. He’s really green. It’s just a work in progress. I really wasn’t expecting much. I know we made a lot of mistakes still, so to have done so well, I’m happy.
Are you planning to go to U.S. Dressage Finals?
Tarjan: "That’s kind of the tentative plan. Everything’s up in the air. They are qualified. That was sort of the idea was to try for regionals and then Kentucky to get them some more ring time."
What’s your plan for next year?
Tarjan: "We go down to Florida for the weather. Beyond that, [my plan is to] keep the horses happy in training and sound. They’ll get some downtime after this for sure, and then start legging them back up for regionals and train on them and see where it goes. The horses kind of tell you what they’re ready for or not."
Do you have any goals with these two?
Tarjan: "I really think that the horses tell you when they’re ready to do stuff or not, so I just kind of follow where they lead. It’s nice to have three grand prix horses now. I’ve been working for it for a long time. I’ve been going to Lamplight now, ten years ago was my first time. I think I missed maybe two years."
USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final – 14-18
Fifteen youth riders entered arena to display their equitation in the 14-18 division of the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final. The young athletes rode in front of the judges, performing rail work and a pattern to demonstrate their skills. Sixteen-year-old Averi Allen (Pleasant Hill, Mo.) stood out in the class while riding Superman, Jonni Allen’s seven-year-old Hanoverian gelding. Allen earned a score of 86.000% to earn top honors in the competitive class.
“I just went in the class and rode my best and tried to breathe through everything,” said Allen.
Seventeen-year-old Emma Teff (Renfrew, Pa.) rode Beaudacious, Rhianna Pankhurst’s 11-year-old RPSI gelding, to reserve national champion honors on a score of 84.000%. Seventeen-year-old Caroline McQueen (Milton, Ga.) collected third-place honors with a score of 79.000% on Mandolin RH, her 16-year-old Hanoverian mare.
From the Mixed Zone:
What did you work on at home to practice your equitation?
Allen: “Basically all of it—sitting deeper, keeping my legs quieter, sitting straighter, more up with my back, not leaning in the turns or anything.”
Teff: “I’d say my elbows are a bad habit of mine. I will tend to get too far back or too wide so I’m always trying to keep them in at my sides just by my body. I am always trying to get better at using my seat and sitting deep.”
Did past experiences in the final help you today?
Allen: “Definitely because I know all the rules and how the whole class goes and what exactly you do, so I practiced in the warm-up. Doing it multiple times helped.”
How does it feel to win the title after being third last year?
Allen: “It feels really good, especially on the same horse. We had a lot of improvement.”
How does it feel for you with the result that you had?
Teff: “I am absolutely thrilled. I actually borrowed my trainer’s horse, Beaudacious, so I was super excited just to be here. Then, being able to come away with reserve champion is just icing on the cake.”
McQueen: “I’m really surprised. I have only had my horse for about eight months and this is our sixth show together. It is very new.”
What are your thoughts on a class focusing on equitation?
McQueen: “I did hunters and hunter equitation for a long time. Coming into dressage, I always had the mindset that your equitation kind of dictates how the horse will move, so dressage is really, really a tough sport. It means a lot when you are asking a horse to do hard movements.”