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Fifi MLW Finally Has Her Chance to Shine On Last Day of 2018 US Dressage Finals

It would be an understatement to say that Nora Batchelder of Williston, Fla. had a successful trip to the 2018 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, held November 8-11 in Lexington, Ky.

Nora Batchelder and Fifi MLW enjoy their victory lap for the Prix St. Georges Open Championship at the 2018 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. Photo by Susan J. Stickle

Going into the final day of competition on Sunday, her two talented small tour horses, Faro SQF and Fifi MLW, had already earned top placings in both the Intermediate I Open and Intermediate I Open Freestyle. The only problem was that Faro SQF always seemed to come out on top.

“I love them both and can’t help but feel a little bad for Fifi,” said Batchelder earlier in the week. “She’ll go in the ring and set a score that I think can’t be beaten, and then here comes Faro and he tops it. It seems that she’s always the bridesmaid, but never the bride.”

But in the Prix St. Georges Open Championship, the nine-year-old Hanoverian mare (Fidertanz x Wolkenstanza MLW by Wolkentanz I, bred in the U.S. by Mary Winn) finally turned the tables on her stablemate, setting a score of 73.137% which neither Faro SQF, nor anyone else, could beat. In the winner’s circle, Batchelder and Fifi MLW were presented with both the Miki Christophersen Perpetual Trophy (presented by USDF Region 4) for their victory and the Lloyd Landkamer Perpetual Trophy for FEI Highest Scoring Mare (presented by Janet Foy), an honor which Fifi MLW also earned in 2017.

“Both of these horses are special to me, but I’m so happy for Fifi,” said Batchelder. “They were both bred in Florida near where I live – it meant a lot to me to get horses bred in the U.S., and they are such great quality. Fifi was just showing at Training Level when I got her, and I took my time and brought her out at Third Level after I had the changes. She’s so powerful and can be a lot of horse to manage, so I have to remind her to wait for me. Her walk and trot are her strongest gaits, so I strive to get her sitting in the canter and am always working to improve the connection. She’s still young enough that we may try the Developing Grand Prix next year.”

Batchelder also praised her 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding Faro SQF (Fidertanz x MS Rose by Rotspon, bred in the U.S. by Jill Peterson, owned by Batchelder and Andrea Whitcomb) who earned 71.765% for Reserve. “We’ve been together about two years, and he’s so easygoing and polite – very different from Fifi,” she explained. “He was a great amateur horse and his owner loved him, but he was just a little too big for her and they were struggling a bit with getting changes, so she decided to sell him. He came to me for training and I said, ‘I just can’t let him go’, so called up my cousin and asked her if she wanted to buy him together. So here we are. We’re going to go home and keep working on the Grand Prix movements and maybe try the Intermediate II next year.”

Gallagher Claims Second Finals Title with Training Level Adult Amateur Championship

Bethany Gallagher of Nashville, Tenn. (Region 2) and her seven-year-old Hanoverian mare Fabiola also had a great experience at the Kentucky Horse Park. Despite frigid morning temperatures, the pair claimed the First Level Adult Amateur title on Saturday, and wrapped up their winning weekend with the Training Level Adult Amateur Championship on a score of 74.773%.

“It was really, really cold but she was so good – she’s just an amazing mare,” Gallagher said of her mount. “She’s so honest and accurate and tries so hard, plus she has great natural balance, suppleness, and is forward and steady. She’s mesmerizing to watch. All of her basics are so solid, and are really something we’ve focused on. We hope to put some muscle and weight on her, jump up to Second Level and maybe Third, and be right back here next year!”

Erin Bailey of Elverson, Pa. (Region 1) and her five-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Ivegazz (Jazz x Vega by Metall) celebrated their one-year anniversary together, as well as their first trip to the Finals, by earning the Reserve Championship with 71.061%. “I was really proud of him because he’s only five, and all of this was a lot for him to take in,” Bailey noted. “It was 22 degrees and the footing was frozen when we rode, so it was a little tough for him since he is a big boy with big gaits, but anything I asked, he did. I’m just so glad I didn’t body clip him right before the show!”

“Worker Bee” Nicene Wins First Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Title

Region 8’s Alexandra Krossen and Nicene, First Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Champions. Photo by Jennifer M. Keeler

After earning a Reserve Championship in Saturday’s Second Level Adult Amateur Freestyle division, Region 8’s Alexsandra Krossen of Basking Ridge, N.J. and the six-year-old Oldenburg mare Nicene (Nimbus x Pamela by Portofino, owned and bred in the U.S. by Heather Mason) improved upon that performance to win the First Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship with 72.700%.

“Like I said yesterday, she may definitely act like a ‘chestnut mare’ on the ground, but she is such a worker bee under saddle,” Krossen laughed. “I still had plenty of horse today – she’s like the Energizer Bunny – energy is never a problem! Her trot felt great today, very ‘up’ and she was trying so hard, and it paid off today. My freestyle music features the song ‘Dangerous’ by David Guetta, and at first I thought it might be a little risky because it includes lyrics. But now I really like it – for instance, the lyrics say ‘hold on tight’ during our canter circle, so as long as I hit my music I think it’s cute.”

Kerry Rose of Middletown, N.Y. (Region 8) and her 11-year-old Percheron/Dutch Harness Cross gelding Benjamin Blue have been coming to the Finals for four years, and this time they took home a Reserve Championship with 72.278%. “He’s actually an ex-Amish driving horse,” Rose explained. “Five years ago I was looking for a dressage horse but they’re so expensive, so I thought, why not look at driving horses? I saw him and loved him, but he didn’t know how to canter or steer when I got him, or what leg aids were. We look forward to the Finals every year and always hope to qualify, because we treat it as a family vacation.”

Kuhn Sticks to the Plan to Win First Level Open Freestyle

Martin Kuhn of New Berlin, Ill. (qualified in Region 4) and Debra Klamen’s five-year-old Hanoverian gelding Ronin (Romanov Blue Hor x Something Royal by Sir Donnerhall I, bred in the U.S. by Marcia Boeing) have proven to be a winning combination: the pair claimed top honors in the Training Level Open division on Friday, and returned to the ring to earn a top score of 77.844% and win the First Level Open Freestyle Championship. After having to resort to improvisation with another mount in a previous day’s freestyle, Kuhn was pleased just to stay on track with Ronin.

“We only had one little bobble and the rest was perfect. It was nice to have a freestyle that went according to plan,” Kuhn laughed. “I think a highlight was our canter lengthening and the overall flow of the test – we were right on the music today, so I made my choreographer proud. Ronin was with me from the very first step to the last.”

Despite being only 14.3 hands, Margaret Groom’s five-year-old Oldenburg mare Reflection (Ridley x Royal Beauty by Farmer, bred in the U.S. by Chris Rush) made a big impression with the judges to score 73.500% for Reserve honors. “She’s young and has been a little electric this week – this is a lot of atmosphere for her,” said rider Donna Gatchell of Nokesville, Va. (Region 1), who originally hails from Great Britain. “We had a couple of tense moments today but I was very happy with our ride. I’ve been to the Finals before while coaching other riders, but I just got my U.S. citizenship in May of this year so it’s the first time I could actually ride. Competing here is a whole new perspective for me, and it’s just been amazing.”

Venivici Came and Conquered in Second Level Open Championship

Elizabeth Cronin’s Venivici (Vitalis x Sabrina by Sherlock Holmes) definitely lived up to his name as the seven-year-old Westfalen gelding not only came to the Finals, but conquered. In the experienced hands of Martin Kuhn of New Berlin, Ill. (representing Region 4), Venivici added to his 2018 awards roster by winning the Second Level Open Championship with 72.602% for Kuhn’s second win of the day. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“About a half hour into my warmup, I jokingly said to his owner, ‘I think he’ll be ready in another hour or so,’” Kuhn laughed. “He was very, very, very energetic and full of himself, and actually bolted three times in the warmup. So I was deliberately conservative in the test and was very aware of what was going on outside the arena in order to be prepared for any possible situation, because I could tell he was on the lookout for gremlins. He was quite fire-breathing and ready to explode. I was a little surprised that he had so much energy this late in the show, but he’s a sensitive boy who needs a quiet ride. Despite everything, the simple changes were a highlight and his balance in the counter canter was great, plus we didn’t have any unexpected flying changes today or go off our pattern like we did in the Third Level Freestyle.”

Finishing in second with 71.911% was Kathryn Stoy of Huntsville, Ala. (Region 3) with Flash Gordon HF, a six-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Falsterbo 11 x Big Girl by Baroncelli) owned and bred in the U.S. by Lisa Thompson Smith. “This is such a fun show, and the weather was decent today,” Stoy said.  “He was a little jazzed up and spooked right before we went in – I’m not sure what that was about – but he likes to show, so he settled in once we were in the ring. I loved our mediums and collected work, he was pretty steady, and I thought our simple changes were good as well.”

Dressage Newcomer Rides to the Top of Third Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship

Dressage newcomer Tricia Earley and San Angelo rode away with the Third Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship. Photo by Susan J. Stickle

Small animal veterinarian Tricia Earley of Aledo, Texas (Region 9) may be a newcomer to dressage, but she and her 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding San Angelo (San Remo x Weltfee by Welton) looked like seasoned veterans as the only combination to break 70% for the unanimous win under all three judges in the Third Level Adult Amateur Freestyle Championship with 71.856%.

“Last year I’d never even heard of the US Dressage Finals, so this is all very new,” said Earley. “I only started riding as an adult – I always wanted to as a child but never could. So when my daughter asked for horseback riding lessons, I said, ‘Can I come too?’ I had my first lesson at 40, and I tried eventing but quickly realized it was not the sport for me. But I loved every minute of the dressage. As for my horse, we’ve only been together for a year. I found him in Sweden when I went with a friend who was horse shopping for herself – I wasn’t even looking! But he had such a kind eye, and I thought at the time, ‘That’s the horse I would love to have one day.’ Later I did end up needing a horse and he was still available, so I bought him without ever having ridden him – there was just something about his eyes. A year later, here we are.”

Earley and her husband had a long haul to Kentucky, but she considered the trip well worthwhile. “I’m so happy to be here, and it was so much fun being in the atmosphere of the Alltech Arena,” she explained. “Ignorance is bliss and I’d never been in an arena like that at all, so I didn’t know what to expect. Then I was schooling in there earlier in the week, and all of a sudden got very nervous. But a friend told me, ‘Just take a second and look around. You’re in the Alltech Arena.’ So I did and it’s beautiful, and I realized how lucky I was to be here. It was very calming. Personally a highlight of today’s test was that we had a little bobble in the beginning, but he came right back to me. It was like he was listening to the music and I was so pleased with him.”

Reserve Champion Judith Nordstrom, an ultrasound technologist from Pleasant Plains, Ill. (Region 4), was also delighted with her nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Esteban (Rousseau x Fleur by Naturel) and their score of 68.844%. “I was a little nervous getting ready but when I got on him, I had a calm feeling come over me and I felt like he was with me right from the start,” Nordstrom said. “This is the first time we’ve ever competed in a type of setting like the Alltech, and it’s overwhelming. My horse and I have been together since early 2016, and he’s a lot more energetic than anything I’d ridden before so it was a steep learning curve, but we’ve come a long way.”

Au Revoir Bids Farewell to Rivals in Fourth Level Open Freestyle Championship

Proud champions of the Fourth Level Open Freestyle, Heather McCarthy and Au Revoir. Photo by Jennifer M. Keeler

The Fourth Level divisions at this year’s US Dressage Finals proved to be hard-fought all week, but ultimately the top two finishers from Saturday’s Fourth Level Open class repeated their success on the final day’s Fourth Level Open Freestyle Championship. Heather McCarthy of Prairie Grove, Ill. (Region 4) once again rode Sandi Chohany’s seven-year-old Oldenburg gelding Au Revoir (Ampere x Lara by Liberty M) to victory on the strength of a score of 71.167%.

“He was a super star this week,” McCarthy said of her equine partner. “This was his first time in the Alltech Arena other than for awards ceremonies, so I wasn’t sure how he would handle it. He was a little snorty at first, but after the music started he was perfect. My goal was to have the same horse with the same feeling and electricity that we had in the Fourth Level test on Saturday, and I did. This whole freestyle was very much a last minute idea: I found this music from an old horse, made a Fourth Level routine for it, qualified for Regionals and here we are. It was very much spur of the moment to try this, but I’m very happy I did!”

First down centerline with their Indiana Jones/Thor-themed freestyle was Angela Jackson of Henderson, Ky. (Region 2) aboard Sheila Borneman’s seven-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Gaston TF (Uphill x Neasandra by Sandro Hit, bred in the U.S. by KC Dunn/Timbach Farm), and their score of 70.444% held up for the majority of the class to earn Reserve Championship honors. “The very first show I took him too, he put his head between his knees and bucked me off. He’s on much better behavior now,” Jackson laughed. “In order to build his confidence, we really tried to throw everything at him this year and make him deal with it. He finally learned to trust that I would never put him in a situation that he couldn’t handle, and it’s made all the difference.”

Hewitt Proves to Be Once Again Unbeatable in Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur Championship

Hannah Hewitt of Atlanta, Ga. (Region 3) has certainly made the most of her very first trip to the US Dressage Finals. After proving to be unbeatable in the Intermediate I and Freestyle divisions for Adult Amateurs earlier in the week, Hewitt returned to the Alltech Arena one last time with Tammy Pearson’s eight-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Fidens (Tango x Bliss by United) to accept the Janine Westmoreland Malone Perpetual Trophy (presented by USDF) for their victory in the Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur Championship with 70.735%.

“The competition here has been so tough – I watched other people’s rides and they were just incredible. I’m just so lucky to be here competing against this group, and it makes me a better rider and competitor,” said an appreciative Hewitt. “I was especially proud of Fidens today because he was running on fumes, but even though he was tired, he tried so hard and was with me the whole time – he never looked for an ‘out’ and was all heart. It’s been wonderful to share this experience with my amazing trainer, Karen Lipp, and my family – my mom has always been so supportive and my sister is here braiding for me. This week has been an amazing experience and I’ve met so many nice people and had a lot of fun.”

After winning the Fourth Level Adult Amateur Freestyle title last year, Susan Jones of Walton, Ky. (Region 2) returned to the Finals with her new mount Four Ever, 14-year-old Westfalen gelding (Farewell III x Robina Royale by Rosso di Sera) and earned 68.186% for the Prix St. Georges Adult Amateur Reserve Championship. “I am delighted to be back at the Finals and it’s exciting with a new horse,” said Jones. “He’s like a large puppy dog, but he’s very fiery and awesome to ride. I call him the ‘Magic Carpet’ because he just sails around. We had some issues earlier in the week, but it was a really great learning experience and I’m very proud that we put it all together today. That’s why I think this show is so great for adult amateurs, because of how much we can learn from competing in this environment. It’s so inspiring to be here.”

Region 1 Claims 2018 US Dressage Finals Regions Cup

Adding to the excitement of the final day, the top-scoring riders in various divisions from each of the Great American/USDF Regional Championships competed on regional teams in the US Dressage Finals Regions Cup, vying with competitors from across the country for awards and bragging rights for their respective USDF Region in which they qualified to attend the Finals. Coming out on top after four days of championship competition was the Region 1 team comprised of Michael Bragdell and SenSation HW in First Level Open; Alice Tarjan and Donatella M for Third Level Adult Amateur; and Lucy Tidd with Ellert HB in the Intermediate I Adult Amateur division. Their winning average score of 71.877% just edged out reserve champions Region 4 with 71.306%, with Region 2 finishing in third on 70.531%.