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Four National Champions Crowned on Day Four of the 2020 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions

by Kathleen Landwehr and Leslie Potter/US Equestrian Communications Department | Aug 21, 2020, 11:51 PM EST

Wayne, Ill. – Friday brought another warm and sunny day to HITS Chicago at Lamplight Equestrian Center where seven classes of the 2020 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions showcased a wide variety of horses and riders on their quest for national champion titles.

Four divisions concluded and named their national champions on Friday: The USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship; Adequan®/USEF Young Adult ‘Brentina Cup’ Dressage National Championship; USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship; and the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals for 13 & Under.


Marcus Orlob and Spirit of Joy

Markel/USEF Young Horse Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championship

Thirteen horse-and-rider pairs completed their FEI Six-Year-Old Preliminary Test on Friday morning in front of the four-judge panel. Marcus Orlob (Annandale, N.J.) and Jeanette Pinard’s Westphalian, Spirit of Joy, turned in the final ride of the class, which was also the judges’ runaway favorite. The panel had nothing but praise for the powerful but obedient gelding, giving him scores that included a 9.5 for the trot and a 9.3 for canter and a final average score of 8.96.

“In the ride, I had a good feeling because he was really with me,” said Orlob. “When I heard the scores, I said, ‘Wow! That’s the highest scores I’ve ever gotten.’ I was very, very happy.

Jennifer Schrader-Williams (Olympia, Wash.) took second place with Joppe Partners, LLC’s Joppe K, a KWPN gelding. Pablo Gomez Molina (Wellington, Fla.) finished in third place with Cristina Danguillecourt & Yeguada De Ymas S. L.’s Spanish Sport Horse gelding Baltasar De Ymas.

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your test.

Orlob: “To be honest, I’m very, very pleased with the horse because this is obviously, for young horses, a very beautiful but scary environment. And he’s sometimes a little bit afraid of shadows. But he handled it very well and I couldn’t be happier with him today.”

Tell us about the background with the horse?

Orlob: “I actually got him when he was four years old in Germany. And we imported him and I did last year here the five-year-old class. But he, he’s a very good horse, but the neck sometimes is very tricky. He’s very powerful and sometimes he gets a little bit too short. It was the killer last year in the five-year-old class, but now I get it better and better. I think this will be a very good FEI prospect.”

What about him made him stand out to you?

Orlob: “To be honest, first, the size. I’m pretty tall and I have long legs so I need something to cover me for the picture. I saw the video, my old boss sent me, and he has a special spark. Very powerful movement and when I saw him in the stall he immediately looked at me with bright eyes, and I was like, wow. Before I saw him go I thought, that’s probably the horse.”

Is there anything that you’re going to tweak on your second test?

Orlob: “To be honest I would like to get the same feeling. It will be hard because it was really an incredible feeling today. I hope I can pull it off a second time.”


Averi Allen and Superman
Averi Allen and Superman. Photo:

Adequan®/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship

Sixteen combinations began the Adequan®/USEF Junior Dressage National Championship by completing their first test, the FEI Junior Team Test. Averi Allen (Pleasant Hill, Mo.) and Superman impressed the judges with a solid test to earn a score of 70.808%. Allen and Jonni Allen’s seven-year-old Hanoverian gelding competed in the junior division last year and they are showing a year of improvement by winning Friday’s class.

“In the warm-up, I felt like it was going pretty well. We were just walking a lot, making sure he didn’t get too tired. We got in there and as soon as I asked for the canter he was ready to go, and I was like, ‘Oh we will see how this goes,’’ Allen said with a laugh. “But once we got in the arena and we started going through the test, I felt more comfortable and I could let him go a little bit more. I am a little upset about his changes. He got too tired and started going on the forehand, but his changes are [normally] really good. But other than that I think the test went really well. I am very happy with it.”

Annelise Klepper (McCutchenville, Ohio) and Happy Texas Moonlight, Shannon Klepper’s 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding, were second with a score of 69.646%. Caroline Mader (Woodside, Calif.) and Fireking, her seven-year-old Oldenburg gelding, finished in third place with a score 69.343%.

From the Mixed Zone:

How long have you been riding Superman?

Allen: “I think I have had him for about three years. The first year we did training level, and then the second year, we just went right to third level and did juniors. Then, we are just taking it slow this year.”

Is there anything you want to improve upon for your next test?

Allen: “Yes, the walk pirouettes. We have been struggling with those a little bit. And his medium trots, again I think he got too tired and had too long of a warm-up and he just started diving down. I didn’t want to make a huge fuss about it. Just go through the test, but I think it went well.”

What are your goals for the future?

Allen: “Next year, I don’t think it is official, but we might do young riders or we might just keep taking it slow and do fourth level. It just depends how the winter goes. I think we might do young riders for a couple of years, we will see. And then, do the U25. I think those are the plans, just slowly get there.”


Abby Fodor and Slip and Slide
Abby Fodor and Slip and Slide. Photo:

USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship

Nine combinations performed the FEI Pony Rider Individual Test in hopes of winning the USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Championship. Abby Fodor (Bloomsbury, N.J.) and Slip and Slide held on to their top spot on the leaderboard with an overall score of 68.227% to take home the win. Fodor and Marie Fodor’s 17-year-old Quarter Horse/Haflinger gelding had some bobbles in the FEI Pony Rider Individual Test, but their score of 66.216% enough to earn them top honors. The pair won the 2017 USEF Children Dressage National Championship, adding another impressive result to their resume.

“I think he was a little tired today compared to yesterday, but I was still happy with it,” said Fodor. “I think his lateral work and shoulder-ins and half-passes were a lot better. I think my serpentine was good.”

Carmen Stephens (Saratoga, Calif.) and Woldhoeve's Silco, her 20-year-old KWPN/Welsh gelding, earned the reserve national champion title with an overall score of 67.657%. Olivia Brown (Charlotte, N.C.) and Balthazar, her 18-year-old Belgian Riding Pony gelding, were third in the overall standings with a score of 66.558%.

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your test.

Stephens: “The test went really well today. The simple changes were a lot better than yesterday. He was just more on me aids, but he was getting a little bit tired. I could tell in the trot work that I was having to push him a little more than yesterday, but I am really happy with how the test went.”

How does it feel to be a national champion?

Fodor: “I think it is nice to come back to ponies because I took a year of doing regular shows and then decided to come back to ponies this year. It feels good to win because it is my last year of doing it and I will age out.”

Tell us about Slip and Slide’s breed.

Fodor: “He is a Quarter Horse/Haflinger pony. He used to be a Western pony from an auction and we bought him from Canada. His owner in Canada taught him a little bit [about dressage], then I taught him more and added more to his knowledge when he came to the U.S.

What plans do you have for the future?

Fodor: “I think I will move him up the levels a little bit.”

Stephens: I’m starting to get too big for him, so it’s my last year with him. I have had him for five years, and we are going to look for someone to lease him and kind of just do the lower levels and someone who he can teach dressage to. I hope to eventually do the juniors and young riders.

Is the reserve national champion title special since it is your last year with Woldhoeve's Silco?

Stephens: “Yeah. We did Children’s last year and got reserve. It was really special to be back again this year.”


Alice Tarjan and Donatella M
Alice Tarjan and Donatella M. Photo:

Markel/USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Dressage National Championships

The Markel/USEF Developing Horse Dressage National Championships for Grand Prix is a show case of some of the brightest rising stars in American dressage. Twelve combinations performed the FEI Intermediate II Test on Friday, the first of two tests they’ll complete to determine the national champion.

Alice Tarjan (Oldwick, N.J.) brought two developing grand prix horses to compete, and they both rose to the top of the leaderboard. Tarjan’s 9-year-old Oldenburg mare, Donatella M, took first place in the class with a 72.696%.

“Donatella put in a pretty good test,” said Tarjan. “It was basically clean. It’s about what we can do at home, so I’m thrilled with her. She’s a good horse; just goes in and does her job.”

Tarjan and her 8-year-old KWPN stallion, Harvest, placed second in the class with a 67.647%. James Koford (Raleigh, N.C.) and Mary McKenna’s 10-year-old Hanoverian stallion, Flavius MF, finished in third place with a score of 67.157%.

From the Mixed Zone

How long have you been working with her?

Tarjan: “I got her at the beginning of her four-year-old year. So she actually came here and did four year olds. I had a little trouble keeping her sound, so she had two years off and had a baby. She came back at the end of her six-year-old year. She’s not really had much training, so she’s a little green still, but we’re working on it.”

Did you expect to go first and second?

Tarjan: “I say she can reliably get to the test and you make a couple of mistakes, but she’s pretty reliable in the ring. She definitely tries for you, so I figured we could hopefully put in a halfway decent test. Harvest is incredibly green at this level. We just brought him to get the experience. I think it’s just good for him to get in the ring and get experience. He has some super qualities, so I guess the judges rewarded that, which was nice. He needs another two years before he’s very reliable. We’ll take what we’ve got.”

How do you switch your headspace to ride both of them in the same class?

Tarjan: “Both these horses are very willing and they really help you out in the ring for the most part. They’re both green, but they both want to play along. The other grand prix mare, Candescent, she’s a little bit of a handful and is not always going to be so cooperative. These horses are kind of easier to ride than she is. They’re both more consistent in the contact and they fight for you a little bit more. Candescent will fight for you once you get her on your side, but you have to negotiate. These two, you don’t. You can just ask and they’ll give you the answer every time. They really try.”

Was there anything specific that you really want to work on for the second test?

Tarjan: “I think the test basically showed what she’s able to do right now. I think going forward for sure the changes swing so that’s something that we’ve got to work on. The rhythm in the piaffe and passage needs a lot of strength yet. But, I’m not going to fix that in a day. If I can get the same thing I got out of her today, that’s what she can do at home so that’s what I can hope for.”


Endel Ots and Sonnenberg's Everdance
Endel Ots and Sonnenberg's Everdance. Photo:

USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship

Twelve combinations headed down the centerline to perform their FEI Intermediate I Freestyle Test, the third and final test in the USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship. Endel Ots (Wellington, Fla.) and Sonnenberg’s Everdance put on a stellar performance for the judges to earn a score of 77.645%. Ots and Sonnenberg Farm LLC’s 11-year-old KWPN mare led the national championship division from start to finish, earning the title with an overall score of 75.572%.

“I was very happy with it,” said Ots of his freestyle. “Yesterday, I just took her on hand walks and let her sleep in the stall. She basically slept all day. Then, we did just a nice little short warm-up so she had a lot of energy. I was very happy with her. She carried me through the test and was nice and forward. It was really, really nice to be able to ride the freestyle in competition. I haven’t been able to ride it in competition. I was planning on doing it in Florida before COVID, so this was the first time I did it and I was very happy with it.”

David Blake (Cardiff by the Sea, Calif.) and Heide Spirit, his 10-year-old Oldenburg mare, earned the reserve national champion title with an overall score of 72.368%. Callie Jones (Henderson, Ky.) and Don Philippo, her 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, finished third in the national championship with an overall score of 71.055%.

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your ride.

Blake: “That was the first freestyle with her so I was a little nervous in the beginning, but it worked out really nicely. I stayed on my music, which was pretty impressive for her because she can really, really go so the worry was, ‘Am I going to get ahead of my music?’ I was so happy when I walked at C. It was good. There is a lot of blood in that horse. She kept her act together so I am very proud of her.”

How did you come up with your freestyle?

Ots: “The choreography is actually the same as I had with Lucky for his freestyle, but I wanted something a little bit more powerful in the music. I always liked Edward [Gal’s] freestyles and the powerful music he has, but not so pop-y and super boring classical music. That is what I talked to Karen Robinson about, something a little bit powerful, a little bit Edward Gal-esque, like what he has. I was very happy with how it turned out.”

Blake: “My wife actually came up with the freestyle for her horse. She does a bunch of them yearly and I said, ‘Do you think I can use that and make my own choreography to it and then change the tempos a little bit?’ I like ‘Shut Up and Dance with Me’ for her. It is really good, upbeat, and works for her.

“The choreography is simple for her because she is not very experienced. The trickiest part was when I got done with my pirouette and realized I needed to do my two [tempis] and not walk. I broke it up a little bit so I could take two walk breaks for her to calm her down. The only bummer was not really realizing when to start my twos. Other than that I thought it went great.”

What is it like to be the national champion?

Ots: “I would say this year is really great because it is a new partnership. She is an old soul of a mare. She is very uncomplicated to ride. It is just a nice feeling. It took us a little bit of time to get to know each other and speak the same language. Once we got on the same page, now both of us understand each other. When maybe one of us is not 100% there, the other really helps. Maybe she is a little tired, then I will help her a little bit. Maybe when I am a little maybe not 100% on, she turns up everything. It is really a comfortable feeling.”

What are your goals for the future with your horse?

Ots: “I really haven’t thought too much of it right now. When I met with Dan and Gina [Ruediger of Sonnenberg Farms], the goal I gave them in October [2019], I said, ‘I want to win the I-I championship with her. I want to qualify first and I want to win all three days. I think that is possible with her.’ Past that I haven’t thought of it too much. We have played around with some of the grand prix things. She can play with all the grand prix movements, but for me, I try to have one set goal on there. With every horse-and-rider combination, I try to set goals where they have to stretch and reach them, not over face them. For her, she can play with all the grand prix movements and it is nice but I want everything to be fun and happy for everybody so that it doesn’t over face them and everybody is happy with the results.”

Blake: “I think we are going to have to get the grand prix finished up. She is very close already, but that horse can’t be rushed. Everything is on her terms, but I think she is going to get there. She has a lot of talent.”


Grace Young and Maestro
Grace Young and Maestro. Photo:

USEF Dressage Seat Equitation Final 13 and Under

Eleven up-and-coming riders entered the ring for the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final for Riders 13 & Under. Judges evaluated the class as a group for rail work, followed by an individual pattern that tested each rider’s skill in arena geometry, gait transitions, and lateral work.

Grace Young (Cazenovia, N.Y.) teamed up with Hailey Kates’s German Riding Pony, Maestro, for the winning ride in the class. The victory was extra meaningful for Young, who said that it would be her last year showing the 20-year-old pony at Festival.

“I have had him for probably four years now, and he is such a blessing,” said Young. “He was an opportunity that I got to go try and I loved him so we brought him home. He’s been a challenge, but such a blessing and really incredible to work with.”

Kasey Denny (Hutto, Tex.) rode to a second-place finish in the class with Amy Denny’s 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Hemingway KW. Maren Elise Fouché-Hanson rounded out the top three with her own grade pony, In My Feelings.

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your ride.

Young: “It’s very much an honor to be here and I’m very grateful. This is a super meaningful for me because this is my last year that my horse is allowed to be here. He’s going to age out. It was a very memorable and exciting ride today.”

Denny: “I’m extremely pleased with how we did. I’ve only been riding him for about seven months now. Despite all his bucks and spooks today he was awesome and very good and listening to me and I’m really happy with how he went. I’ll definitely remember my last year in this division.”

Fouché-Hanson: “I feel happy with my ride. He was a little stiff today but hopefully we can get that back by the weekend when I have my children’s division. I want to thank my mom. She’s my trainer, Christy Hanson. She has trained me since I was pretty little and worked on my seat. I just posted video on my Instagram from six years ago, and I could barely sit the canter. It was like, ‘Wow, I’ve really improved and now I’m here. I’ve made it really far.’”

What are your goals going forward after this?

Young: “I have recently been thinking more about my specific goals and what I want to do going long-term. Having a career in the equine industry and I’ve been recently thinking about going to try for the Olympics (in the future).”

Tell us more about your horse.

Young: “I have had him for probably four years now. And he is such a blessing. He was an opportunity that I got to go try and I loved him so we brought him home. He’s been a challenge but such a blessing. And really incredible to work with.”

Who do you train with?

Young: “Diane Brandau at Spruce Valley Stables.”

What did you focus on working on before this competition?

Young: “We have been focusing on a lot on my FEI test. I was preparing to come here as well for my FEI and equitation. I came here last year kind of by accident I got the scores and we were reading and saw that I was eligible to come here and so we came and now I’ve been qualified again and came this year.”

What did you think of today’s pattern?

Young: “It is a quite well put together pattern. We had been practicing them at home, so it wasn’t a complete and total surprise to me. But yeah, he definitely was kind of sticky with the leg yield to the canter, quite difficult.”

Have you done any other shows this year?

Young: “I have. I was able to get to two shows, one in Vermont and then one closer to my home at HITS in Saugerties, so that was very nice to be able to get a few in. There weren’t very many opportunities to go for shows.”

How does it feel to be back at a show?

Young: “It feels very nice! It’s really different not being able just to say hi to a fellow competitor that you only know through this show, like nationals. But it’s still being run, which is very nice to be able to still do something so wonderful and [to do] my sport.”

Kasey, can you talk to us about your partnership with your horse?

Denny: “My other one actually got hurt in January so he kind of popped up and then I was like, yeah, we’ll take him. He was rehabbing from jumping. I got him back strong and everything and then I decided to go to the show and I got qualified for FEI children’s, and then my other horse for equitation is retired so we used him instead, so it’s been a lot. But he’s been really good.”

You won a championship with your older horse, right?

Denny: “Yeah, so last year we were champion and then two years before we were reserve. I’m very lucky to be in top two every single year I come for equitation.”

What did you think of the pattern today?

Denny: “I liked it. I liked that it’s kind of one thing after another because he gets kind of distracted if he has a long break like when we have the whole long side and there’s nothing to do for stretches, so having the leg yield, canter, to trot leg yield again was really nice to keep him busy and thinking and on my aids.”

Tell us about your horse.

Fouché-Hanson: “My pony, Drake, I’ve had him two years now. I took him to Lamplight last year for Festival of Champions. We qualified in children’s. We didn’t really know what it was at first and we heard about it from my friend, and she was riding.

“So we qualified last year barely, on like, low 60s, so this year weren’t doing so well in the fall and then we got more together toward January. We were like this is going really well. In February we went to Wellington for the CDI and he was amazing and we pulled off our highest scores ever. It was a 73 average, 70 average, I’m not really sure. But, it was an amazing score, so we’re qualified in children’s, and Region Three Regionals. It was me and Alice Burley and we qualified together first and second, which was really exciting because we both qualified to come up here, so it was awesome.”

What are your goals for the future with him?

Fouché-Hanson: “For him, we might try ponies next year. We’ll see. We don’t really have really solid plan yet. I just got a new horse from Dressage 4 Kids. She’s a 2009 KWPN. She’s really awesome. So hopefully we can do Juniors next year”


Sara Hassler and Harmony's Boitano
Sara Hassler and Harmony's Boitano. Photo:

Adequan®/USEF Young Adult ‘Brentina Cup’ National Championship

Seven combinations closed out Friday’s competition with the FEI Grand Prix Freestyle Test to decide the Adequan®/USEF Young Adult ‘Brentina Cup’ National Championship. After winning the first test and having some bobbles in the second test, Sara Hassler (Chesapeake City, Md.) and Harmony’s Boitano laid down an excellent freestyle to clinch the national championship title with an overall score of 69.269%. Hassler and Leslie Malone’s 14-year-old KWPN gelding were third in the 2019 USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship, and they demonstrated that a year of hard work paid off.

“I love this horse so much. I truly did not think that was going to happen because we are so green still,” Hassler said of winning the national championship. “I was just so grateful that the judges and everyone have rewarded what they can see as a future for him. That meant so, so much and I just feel like he always try two million percent in that arena and that is just the greatest feeling in the entire world. Just to get here we were pretty emotional and excited, but to win it, I don’t really have words yet.”

Kerrigan Gluch (Wellington, Fla.) and Vaquero HGF, Hampton Green Farm’s 13-year-old Andalusian stallion, earned the reserve national champion title with an overall score of 68.457%. Rebecca Roman (Birmingham, Ala.) and Ultimo, Nancy Roman’s 19-year-old KWPN gelding, were third in the overall standings with a score of 65.536%.

From the Mixed Zone:

Tell us about your freestyle.

Hassler: “This is actually the first time we have ridden through this freestyle. Marlene Whitaker did an incredible job with it. We actually called because I thought [the event] was going to be canceled, but I am so glad it wasn’t. So we were like, ‘Okay, just through it together at the last minute. Let’s get it done.’ Which is actually funny because that is kind of how it went last year too, so maybe it is a good luck charm for us. I am not sure. But I was so proud of him. We struggled with the changes all week just with getting the right sort of aid in the test because we are really so green still. I was really proud of him because there were only a couple little mistakes here and there. Then, I just kind of spur of the moment decided to do the twos and then the ones and see what would happen and I was so proud that it actually worked and he seemed to like it. I am so proud of him. I was trying not to cry the whole time and I still did.”

Gluch: “Vaquero was super fresh today, which was honestly amazing coming off of two competition days and the third day of competition he was the most fresh he has ever been. Today, unfortunately, he was a little too fresh and reacted a bit to the music in the arena, but I was really proud of him. He was very nervous but when he did the movements I asked, they were amazing. He was very hot, and, for him, that is a very new thing to go through. Normally I need to create as much energy as possible and today I just was able to sit there and ride and had an amazing feeling underneath me so honestly I can’t be happier with him. He highlighted some amazing movements; our piaffe and passage at the end were amazing. I had nice one tempis today, super pirouettes. I had good combinations. I thank Marlene Whitaker for doing my freestyle. I think it really highlighted him as a horse and what he can do in his abilities.

“[The music was] video games—Super Mario, that sort of vibe. We wanted something fun that showed lightness and elasticity with him, but also my personality. I like to get the job done, so I wanted a little bit of both. I think we showed that really well with the music.”

Ride times and results

Competition continues Saturday with classes in the Young & Developing Horse Arena beginning at 8 a.m. CDT and the Grand Prix Arena at 9 a.m. CDT.

Keep up with the 2020 U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions on USA Dressage Facebook and Instagram featuring Instagram Stories. Use #USADressage and #FestivalofChampions.