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Champions Crowned in Junior, Seven-Year-Old, and Dressage Seat Medal Divisions on Day Five of the 2023 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions

by Leslie Potter/US Equestrian | Aug 25, 2023, 11:00 PM

Wayne, Ill. – Friday at the 2023 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions brought cooler weather, a full day of top-level dressage competition, and three newly crowned dressage national champions. The Adequan®/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship and the Markel/USEF Seven-Year-Old Dressage National Championship divisions both completed their final tests, and the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final 13 & Under closed out the day with its two-phase competition.

All competitors at this year’s FOC received gift bags thanks to the generosity of US Equestrian’s event sponsors. These rider gifts included full-sized bottles of UltraShield fly spray; test pads, towels, and lip balm from Markel; hand fans and collapsible pet water bowls from Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation; sample packs from GumBits; towels from Neue Schule; and hats and totes from DEFENDER.

Ben McWhorter and Littel John
Ben McWhorter and Littel John. ©SusanJStickle.com

Aspen Leaf Farm/USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship

The pony riders made their debut this morning in the Grand Prix Arena, completing their FEI Team Test, the first of two tests for the division. Ben McWhorter (Baton Rouge, La.) rode Littel Joe 2, Jennifer Burts’s 1996 German Riding Pony gelding, to the top score of the class, a 68.428%.

Class Results

Current Overall Standings:

  1. Bennett McWhorter and Littel Joe 2
  2. Alexandra Garvey and Unscripted
  3. Mary Chapman Martin and Cadbane H

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your pony.

Ben McWhorter: Littel Joe is owned by Jennifer Burts, who is a rider in the area and was super kind to let me ride “Joey” and compete on him, and it’s been such a fun time. He’s a 27-year-old German Riding Pony. He’s slightly a catch ride; I’ve worked with him for about the past six months, so it’s a good partnership.

How did your test go today?

BM: It went really well today. Super accurate tests, which is always what I’m trying to go for to just eke every little point out since he doesn’t always make up for it in movement compared to some other ponies.

Have you shown at FOC before? What do you like about this show?

BM: Last year I showed at Festival with my mare Fortoula in the Children division, and I’m going to compete with her this year too. I like how it’s a fairly small show compared to some others and how personable it is because you get to know the other competitors. You can have a really good time because you get to watch more rides and get to understand the whole dynamic, and there are so many different levels here.

Sven Smienk and Fontenay
Sven Smienk and Fontenay. ©SusanJStickle.com

Markel/USEF Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championship

The final entry to ride in the Markel/USEF Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championship also proved to be the top horse in the class today, as Sven Smienk (CAN) rode Fontenay, a 2017 Hanoverian gelding owned by Gina Raful and Dr. Cesar Parra, to a score of 87.400%.

Class Results

Current Overall Standings:

  1. Sven Smienk (CAN) and Fontenay
  2. David Blake and G.Q.
  3. Lindsey Holleger and MW Fürstencharmant
Taylor Allen and Fleur de Lis
Taylor Allen and Fleur de Lis. ©Devyn Trethewey/US Equestrian

Adequan®/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship

Friday’s FEI Junior Individual Test was the second and final class of the Adequan®/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship. Taylor Allen (Niwot, Colo.) earned the top score of the class with her own 2010 Dutch Warmblood mare Fleur de Lis, bringing her overall score to a 69.472% and clinching the national champion title. Less than half a point separated the top three in the class. Allison Berger (Chicago, Ill.) and Delacure, the 2014 Hanoverian gelding she owns with Marianne Berger, finished second in the Individual Test to land in a close reserve champion position overall, and Leah Drew (Lincoln, Mass.) and Jazzbeat, a 2010 Hanoverian gelding owned by Berryfield LLC, rounded out the top three for both the Individual Test and the overall national championship.

Class Results

Final Results:

  1. Taylor Allen and Fleur de Lis
  2. Allison Berger and Delacure
  3. Leah Drew and Jazzbeat

From the Mixed Zone:

How has your first Festival of Champions experience been?

Taylor Allen: It’s been incredible. For me this was a way to get back in the ring because I had a rough go at NAYC where I wasn’t able to make it through my team test. So, I spent the past two weeks getting back and really making sure I fixed what went wrong.

How did Fleur de Lis react to the environment here?

TA: I think it was a completely different experience (than NAYC), like getting to go in the ring more and hand walk in there every morning and just getting her in the ring more.

For those of you who have been here before, what makes you return to FOC?

Leah Drew: Last year I had a really bad experience. My horse in every test was just so hot and so spooky. And so, coming back this year and being able to prove to myself mostly, but also everyone else, that I can come here with this horse and show how good we can be. That was so good. This makes me so happy and so proud of him. He’s the best.

Allison Berger: I love Festival because there’s a junior and young rider division, and so you get to meet so many wonderful people. We saw a really close day today and yesterday. There are so many talented riders and they’re all super sweet, so I loved getting to know everyone last year and then again, this year.

What was your favorite part of your experience here?

TA: It was my final salute yesterday, knowing that I made it through my test and my horse stayed with me the whole time. Just getting redemption from NAYC.

AB: I love doing the lap at the end. I think it’s so fun. My horse gets so excited, so I have to keep him calm but also have a fun lap, so I love that.

LD: I think hugging my team at the end of every ride is the best.

Emily Miles and Sole Mio
Emily Miles and Sole Mio. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Markel/USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Dressage National Championship

The Developing Grand Prix horses had their first turn in the Markel Arena on Friday as they came to complete the FEI Intermediate II Test. Emily Miles (Paola, Kan.) and Leslie Waterman’s Sole Mio, a 2014 Hanoverian stallion, earned the day’s top score of a 68.970%.

Class Results

Current Overall Standings:

  1. Emily Miles and Sole Mio
  2. Marcus Orlob and Spirit of Joy
  3. Ali Potasky and INXS

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your horse.

Emily Miles: Sole Mio is the best. I love him dearly. Leslie Waterman bought him as a two-and-a-half-year-old at the Hanoverian stallion auction. It was funny because he’s short and I was pregnant at the time, and the joke was, ‘You just want a little pony for your son that’s coming!’ But he’s fantastic. It’s been an amazing journey with him. He won the four-year-olds here, he won the five-year-olds here. When he was a 7-year-old, we did the Developing Prix St. Georges. As an eight-year-old, he did the Developing Grand Prix, and this year as a 9-year-old he’s doing the Developing Grand Prix again, so it’s been super fun to develop him and super fun to bring him along. I think he’s such a wonderful personality match for me. He wants to show off. He wants to be fancy and at the same time, he’s a little bit of a punk, but he’s not the type to get nervous. He’s so self-confident. I just adore that about him, and I trust him so much. It’s a gift to ride him every day, and I just really appreciate that Leslie lets me take this journey with him.

Take us through your test today.

EM: We had two little mistakes that I think pulled us down a little bit, but we can fix those, no big deal. He anticipated that change in the medium canter, but I thought the medium trots were fantastic. He’s so steady and he just takes me along and the rhythm stays beautiful. The pirouettes were good today. Our half-passes in the canter were lovely. He has fantastic changes for his age. They felt so secure today. I think the highlight of the test was for sure the changes and I think that shows his personality, that it doesn’t faze him to switch leads every other step or every step. It doesn’t rattle his brain at all, so I think that’s indicative of his brilliant personality.

What does FOC mean to you?

EM: Both Daily Show and Sole Mio qualified for the Developing Horse Championships, and we’ve had both of them since they were two-and-a-half. I think it’s fantastic to be able to develop that relationship with your horse and bring them along and have an owner that’s so supportive of all the time and energy and money and years that go into taking it step-by-step. This program is so fantastic, to be able to showcase horses that are coming up through the levels. I think it’s just a wonderful program to be able to funnel into and then have the big tour and small tour right next door where that’s where we hope to be next year or whenever. I’m so blessed and happy to be part of it and to have that opportunity with this horse.

Miki Yang and Grey C Carrus
Miki Yang and Grey C Carrus. ©Leslie Potter/US Equestrian

Horseware Ireland/USEF Young Rider Dressage National Championship

The Young Riders completed their FEI Team Tests on Friday afternoon as the first of their two tests. Miki Yang (Los Altos Hills, Calif.) and Grey C Carrus were the last on the order of go and took over the top spot on the leaderboard with a 71.029%.

Class Results

Final Results:

  1. Miki Yang and Grey C Carrus
  2. Kat Fuqua and Dreamgirl
  3. Mary Claire Piller and Caterina

From the Mixed Zone:

What’s your partnership been like with this horse?

Miki Yang: I’ve been riding him for about a year. He started out as my mom’s horse, actually. And after around six months with us, he was turned over to me graciously by my mom. This is our first full competition season together. He’s only nine, so it’s been a huge learning curve with him, and I’m really grateful that I had my experience with my other young rider horse, Donovan, who was a total schoolmaster. So being able to transfer that knowledge onto “Grey C,” who is pretty comfortable with the equivalent to Prix St. Georges movements, but being able to guide him through that and building that really special partnership has been very rewarding.

How does he feel in the environment at FOC?

MY: He’s been good. He’s been really relaxed the whole time. We’ve been in that equilibrium of just enough energy, but he’s still really comfortable and relaxed, and there’s not any tension. So, I’ve been really happy with his attitude and his overall positivity.

What were some of the highlights of your test today?

MY: I would say the half-passes in the trot. All of the trot work felt really good, but especially the half-passes. We’ve been working a lot on the extensions at both the trot and canter, so I felt like today I was really able to show that off to our best ability today. The changes were pretty consistent, and the left pirouette was pretty good. Overall, I’m really happy.

Markel/USEF Seven-Year-Old Dressage National Championship

With a big score of 77.300% in the FEI Seven-Year-Old Final Test, Sabine Schut-Kery (San Diego, Calif.) and Gorgeous Latino, Sandy Mancini’s 2016 Dutch Warmblood stallion, moved up the leaderboard to clinch the champion title in the Markel/USEF Seven-Year-Old Dressage National Championship. Ali Potasky (Versailles, Ky.) placed third in Friday’s final test to win the reserve champion title with Courtney Lau’s Lord Hennessy, a 2016 Dutch Warmblood gelding, while Rebecca Rigdon won second place in the final test and third in the overall national championship with Lionell VE, a 2016 Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Lauren Fisher.

Class Results

Final Results:

  1. Sabine Schut-Kery and Gorgeous Latino
  2. Ali Potasky and Lord Hennessy
  3. Rebecca Rigdon and Lionell VE

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your ride today.

Sabine Schut-Kery: Well, I’m pretty much speechless. He was amazing. I could not have asked for more. There were a couple of problems, but he’s young and that’s not a big deal to me. But he had a lot of energy, and he was really with me, and that’s one of the most important things I look for. It really felt like a partnership in the ring—sometimes you can have it in the warmup and then in the ring it’s different. So, I could not be more thrilled.

Ali Potasky: Hennessy is a really big and kind of a heavy guy, so he’s been struggling a little with the heat. He maybe didn’t have quite as much energy as he did the first day, but he stayed 100% with me and the training just showed. I think I had no bobbles. Really safe, really submissive, obedient, willing test, and that is also what’s important to me. That can always be developed and strengthened. The fact that he can just go in there, knock out that test—which is really hard for a 7-year-old, I think everyone in the division can agree it’s a technical test for that age and training level. So that’s what I’m most proud of.

Rebecca Rigdon: I was also thrilled with my horse today. That was the best ride that I’ve had with him in the arena. We had some issues. I knew that I was going to have to push the gaits in order to be on the heels of anyone here technically. So, I was super happy with him. He’s green, and at this point, as a 7-year-old, it’s a tough test for them. And with the heat and everything, he showed up and I could not be happier.

Tell us about your horse’s breeding and background.

SSK: He’s by Toto Jr. and Rubiquil on the dam’s side. He’s owned by Sandy Mancini, and he’s a superstar. I could ride him through downtown Chicago. I think nowadays that it’s great to have those kinds of bloodlines in the mix of everything. He is that way because he’s honest, and he’s a good citizen, and he tries his hardest and likes his job. He’s a good boy. Sandy found him. He comes from Hexagon in Holland.

AP: Lord Hennessy is by Hennessy. We found him through Egbert Kraak in Holland as a three-year-old. Kathy Priest, my boss, bought him from Holland and then we sold him to one of our clients, Courtney Lau, who has owned since he was three-and-a-half. She also has shown him through the summer and the Florida season.

RR: My horse is also from Egbert, as well as my husband’s horse, who was fourth in the class, which I think is pretty rad that he picked those horses out. He’s by Negro. He’s a full brother to Nespresso, bred by Van Erp. He was originally Lottie Fry’s. My horse owner is Lauren Fisher, who is just a wonderful human being.

How do you decide which horses to enter into the young horse program?

RR: The horse has to be well suited. The mind, right training, and obviously the gaits. We’re trying to develop future international Grand Prix horses, but if it’s too much for them mentally or physically, then it’s not going to happen.

SSK: For me, it’s a lot like Rebecca said. It’s a tough decision, and especially in America because they have to be ready in the first half of the year. I think that’s why I was a little bit surprised [when we won the class] because we really made a big jump just recently in strength. He wasn’t that strong at the beginning of the year. I think it’s tough, if you think about a whole season of training a horse, they have to qualify in the first six months. For me, it’s really important to listen to see if they’re ready or not. And of course, the gaits and quality and all of that, but that’s a tough one.

Alex Garvey and Unscripted
Alex Garvey and Unscripted. ©SusanJStickle.com

USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final 13 & Under

The USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final is a unique experience for youth athletes to compete in a two-phase competition held in one day. Competitors are evaluated on their equitation and use of aids during the rail work phase, which is completed as a group, and in an individual workout composed of certain dressage movements. First-time medal competitor Alex Garvey (Dallas, Texas) riding Unscripted, a 2005 Dutch Warmblood pony gelding owned by Dressage4Kids, Inc., took home the gold medal after scoring an 87 from the judges. Autumn Vavrick (Oxford, Mich.) won the silver medal riding Dante, her own and Karen Vavrick’s 2007 Hanoverian gelding. Claire Tucker rode away with the bronze riding her own Custom Made, a 2012 Danish Warmblood gelding.

Class Results

Final Results:

  1. Alexandra Garvey and Unscripted
  2. Autumn Vavrick and Dante
  3. Claire Tucker and Custom Made

From the Mixed Zone:

What do you like about showing in the medal class?

Alex Garvey: I think it’s awesome. You get to meet new people, and it’s great to see the younger group and the older group.

Autumn Vavrick: I really like it because you’re around other kids your age and it’s really cool to see the top of the sport. I think we have a really promising future for all these young kids, and I think it’s cool to see everyone work their way up.

Claire Tucker: I love it because it’s anyone’s game. It doesn’t matter as much about the horse. It’s all about you, and anything can happen.

Tell us about the horse that you rode.

AG: The pony I rode was Unscripted, a Dutch pony. I was super proud of him. He’s super good. I want to thank Lendon Gray. I leased him from her donation program.

AV: I rode my horse Dante today. He’s a Hanoverian warmblood. He was very good. I’m very proud of him.

CT: The horse I rode today is my horse, Custom Made. He’s a Danish Warmblood, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.

The rail work is done as a group, which is unusual in dressage. Was that a challenge for you or your horse?

AV: A little bit. It was pretty busy, but I think everyone did a really good job of circling and staying away from each other.

AG: It was just a lot of people. It was kind of cool also, but it was a lot.

CT: It was kind of tough because my horse is a bit bigger than most of the other horses, so it’s definitely hard to keep good space

Full Schedule and Results

2023 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions Livestream

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