December 2019 - Dressage News & Views
Written by by Nan Meek
Sunday, 01 December 2019 09:31
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dressage news

California dressage riders shine at the US Dressage Finals.

by Nan Meek

California is recognized around the country for the quality of its dressage, but our location “out West” is regarded by our sport’s “back East” governing bodies as too far for eastern-based riders and officials to travel for national competitions. Such is the case with the US Dressage Finals, held annually at the Kentucky Horse Park, which admittedly is a fantastic location for many reasons, but a heck of a trek for West coast competitors.
Despite the distance and the cost in travel time and expense, 10 California riders and a dozen horses made the journey to Kentucky for the US Dressage Finals, this November 7-10.

 


What they brought home, in addition to three championships, two reserve championships, and numerous top 10 awards, was a wealth of experience, camaraderie, and dreams for even more dressage competition.

Ruth Shirkey & Wyleigh Princess. Photo: Susan J. Stickle

Ruth Shirkey & Wyleigh Princess

With her 9-year-old Hanoverian mare Wyleigh Princess (Weltmeyer x Heiress B by His Highness), Ruth Shirkey brought home the Intermediate I Freestyle Adult Amateur Championship with a score of 73.900%, as well as the Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur Reserve Championship title on 70.843% and third in the Intermediate I Adult Amateur Championship on 70.294%.

“This was my first time going to Kentucky, and I thought I would be happy with a top five, so these championships were a little surreal, quite frankly,” Ruth commented. “It all seems like a fairy tale!”

Ruth and Wyleigh were part of the KEFA Performance Horses contingent headed up by Kevin and Ericka Reinig. “It’s great to have all the mutual support and camaraderie, knowing they’re there for you. They know us so well, from the in-hand training Kevin gave Wyleigh as a youngster to Ericka, Lindsay and Chelsea helping start her under saddle back in the day.”

Ruth and her husband Eric Drew did their own hauling, with EMT and medical transport professional Eric behind the wheel while tax accountant Ruth worked on phone and laptop. Their seamless teamwork and comprehensive preparation paid off, with a trouble-free trip and safe arrival at the Kentucky Horse Park, a round trip of 5,600 miles there and back to Wyleigh’s home base at Carolyn and Patrick Adams’ Yarra Yarra Ranch in Pleasanton.

These days, Ruth works with Wyleigh on her own and in clinics with US Equestrian Dressage Young Horse Coach Christine Traurig, who is helping them continue advancing up the levels.

Reflecting on her fairy tale experience, Ruth remarked, “The best part of it all was the opportunity to compete against the top riders from other regions. We have a wonderful pool of talent in California, and we have the opportunity to show against each other at our own Annual Show. Then the US Dressage Finals are yet another level. With the top riders from other regions, it’s a broader pool of competition. We’re tested and compared directly against our peers. While we can read the USDF listings each year, they don’t tell the whole story – those scores are from different judges, different show conditions, etc. At the Finals, we were all riding in the same conditions, for the same judges, and it was clear who was the best on the day.”

As a rider who likes to get the most education out of every experience, Ruth said she appreciated the chance to see others riding. “You can see what the judges see, and all the rides are videoed so you can see the marks score by score. It was interesting that the nicest moving horses didn’t always score dramatically better – it was more about riding the movements properly and building the flow of the test so it was fluid and presented a harmonious overall picture.”

Looking ahead, Ruth remarked, “This experience reoriented me. Next year I’d like to get into the CDI arena and qualify for Lamplight.” That’s the USEF Dressage National Championships held at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois, next August, where national championships are contested at Grand Prix and Intermediaire I, among other national titles. Here’s betting that’s the next cross-country trek for Ruth Shirkey, Eric Drew, and Wyleigh Princess.

Brian Hafner & Enjoy Point J

“She went into the arena like she owned the place,” Brian Hafner said proudly of Enjoy Point J, his 10-year-old KWPN mare (Westpoint x Invisible by Wagenaar). They clinched the Fourth Level Open Reserve Championship on 69.074% and added a seventh place finish in the Prix St. Georges Open Championship on 69.314%.

Brian describes his mare’s strengths as being very consistent and brave, adding that she’s quite a personality with a little sensitive side, as well. Their outstanding performance meant even more after being unable to ride for a few days before the long haul to Kentucky, due to the wildfires affecting air quality at their Santa Rosa home base.

Remarkably, the US Dressage Final was only her fourth show at Prix St. Georges, and as Brian remarked, “She gets better scores at Prix St. Georges than she does at Fourth Level.” Brian bought her two years ago as a sale horse, and noted that an option to selling her would be an in-barn lease.

Brian also showed Wendy Roberts’ Dreamcatcher to fifth place in the Intermediate II Open Championship with a score of 65.539%.

Jocelyn Towne and her trainer Kristina Harrison after the rainy day warm up ride in Kentucky.

Jocelyn Towne & Bandini

Jocelyn Towne returned to riding four years ago after a 20-year hiatus, and with her 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding Bandini (Bon Fatious x Shakira by Sandro Hit) she’s already won the US Dressage Finals Fourth Level Adult Amateur Championship with a score of 70.833%.

“When I won the USDF Regionals, I didn’t know if I should go,” Jocelyn recalled, “and I’m glad I listened to friends who told me I wouldn’t regret it if I went!” Her concerns included not only the trip itself, but apprehension about the combination of nerves with the kind of cold weather to which California girls just aren’t accustomed.

“There were a lot of firsts for us on this trip,” she explained. First trip to the Finals, first hack for this city-based horse and rider across the rolling green Kentucky hills, the expansiveness of the Kentucky Horse Park, and the long walk to the Alltech Arena on the “green carpet” that made them feel like stars.

“A lot of things came together for us at this show,” Jocelyn said. In addition to her regular lessons with trainer Kristina Harrison, Jocelyn has just ridden in a clinic with US Dressage Technical Advisor Debbie McDonald a week before Kentucky. “She just used some different language about using half halts and the short side and the corners to balance and set up for the movements. It’s nothing that I hadn’t heard before from Krisi and in clinics with Button Baker, but for some reason it all came together, and we had the best ride ever. After the class, I didn’t know if we’d won, but I knew it was the best we could do.”

Kimberly Frederick & Fantastica CS. Photo: Susan J. Stickle

Kimberly Frederick & Fantastica CS

“I couldn’t have asked for more,” Kimberly Frederick said of her 5-year-old Hanoverian “red-headed mare” Fantastica CS (Furst Romancier x Lady Liselo by Londonderry). Not only did they win the Training Level Adult Amateur Championship with a 70.172% score, they also placed fourth in the First Level Adult Amateur Championship on 73.565%, all in their first main competition year together.

Kevin and Ericka Reinig helped her find Fantastica, who was imported from Germany about a year ago, as a 3-year-old just turning 4. “It takes a village to get a horse down centerline,” Kim said of the group of family, friends, and supporters who pitched in for all of the KEFA competitors.

“I’m just getting the connection with my mare, and having her trust me,” Kim explained of their first year together, in which they’ve been working on rideability to bring out the beauty and harmony. “Of course, you have to have the basics, and we’re just starting.”

Not a bad way to start, with a US Dressage Finals championship. “I was almost in tears of joy during the victory lap in the Alltech Arena,” Kim recalled. “It was so much fun, and I hope to attend the Finals again.”

But Wait, There’s More

There are more California riders who brought home a rainbow of ribbons and a priceless array of unforgettable experiences from the US Dressage Finals.

At first level, Kristina Harrison and Emily Murray’s Juilliard DG placed third in the First Level Freestyle Open Championship with 77.122%, and fourth in the First Level Open Championship on 72.546%.

At second level, Rebecca Clare Evans and Donna Stutzman’s Tom Collins stood ninth in the Second Level Open Championship with 66.032%.

Third level saw Elena Flaharty and her own Royal Chrome take third in the Third Level Freestyle Open Championship with a score of 72.756%, while Ericka Reinig and Alanna Sellers’ Bellisambrosso RTH stood eighth in the Third Level Freestyle Open Championship with a 71.856%. In the Adult Amateur Third Level Championship, Elaine Lamotta and Caribbean Veluv scored a 59.792%.

FEI level competitors included Ericka Reinig and Elaine Lamotta’s Stanford LR with a 66.235% in the Prix St. Georges Open Championship and a 64.510% in the Intermediate I Open Championship, while Jaclyn Pepper and Cooper scored at 64.853% in the Intermediate I Open Championship.

If I’ve left anyone out of this impressive compendium of riders who deserve nothing but massive congratulations, my apologies – especially since even someone like me who didn’t qualify for the Finals knows that hard work, dedication, perseverance, and talent (plus a little bit of good luck) are traits shared by all these riders.

Congratulations!

A lifelong horse owner, author Nan Meek lives on the scenic San Mateo County coast where dressage courts and riding trails overlook the Pacific Ocean. She competed in dressage to the Prix St. Georges level with her late beloved Lipizzan Andy (Maestoso II Athena II-1), and now practices the discipline of dressage with her handsome Spanish warmblood Helio Jerez 2000 and dotes on the newest family member Mischa (Neapolitano Angelica II-1). Yes, dressage is embedded in her DNA.