By Jennifer M. Keeler
When launched in 2013, the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® fulfilled a long-anticipated dream to have a unique national dressage showcase for adult amateurs. As hundreds of adult amateurs from across the country flocked to the event, their trainers and coaches quickly realized there were also plenty of opportunities for open competitors, whether to nurture the careers of up-and-coming dressage mounts or simply to strive for national accolades.
As a result, in both 2018 and 2019 the number of open riders attending the Finals has grown to be equal that of adult amateurs, and two enthusiastic professionals who are taking advantage of the many opportunities the Finals present for all riders is the husband-wife team of Martin Kuhn and Kathryn Fleming-Kuhn of New Berlin, Illinois.
“I think most of all we love the atmosphere of the Finals,” said Fleming-Kuhn. “I think that USDF has really made the show so special for everyone, both amateurs and professionals. It truly has the feel of a national event, and I think that’s very important. For many horses and riders, that is the most intense atmosphere they’ll see in this country other than large international events, so it’s great experience for them to be exposed to it. And it’s always fun to go head-to-head with the best in the country.”
And the Kuhns have done very well competing with the best in the country in five out of the last six editions of the Finals (the only edition missed was for the birth of their son in 2015). Just last year, Kathryn Fleming-Kuhn had the championship ride in the Second Level Open Freestyle division with her six-year-old homebred Swedish Warmblood gelding Washburn SW (Wolkentanz II x Opal). Martin Kuhn was especially busy in winning the Training Level Open Championship and the First Level Open Freestyle Championship with 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), while also claiming the Second Level Open Championship and Third Level Open Freestyle Championship with Elizabeth Cronin’s seven-year-old Westfalen gelding Venivici (Vitalis x Sabrina by Sherlock Holmes).
From an exhibitor’s standpoint, Fleming-Kuhn has no doubt that the Finals have also impacted competition at Regional Championships, where she and her husband have competed in both Region 2 and Region 4 in past years. “I do think it’s had a trickledown effect to Regionals, where I feel like the standard has been raised and they are becoming more and more competitive in recent years as people are trying to qualify for the Finals,” she explained. “It’s stepped up the game for everyone. The more you become exposed to a higher level of competition like the Finals, the more it pushes you to be better.”
As professional trainers and coaches with a busy barn and many adult amateur students, the Kuhns often have clients approach them about attending the Finals as more and more riders make the event a primary goal for themselves. “When students come to us and say they want to try for the Finals, we have a talk not just about the show but about the process,” Fleming-Kuhn said. “It’s easy to get very excited about it, and sometimes they want to do it but it’s just not realistic yet. As I mentioned with the competition becoming tougher at Regionals, to even qualify to go to the Finals via competing at Regionals is a big deal at this point. It’s hard to get there, and it really means something to get that invitation.
“So maybe for some riders, we formulate a long-term strategy to achieve that goal, with multiple steps to mark progress along the way,” she continued. “I think it’s a great exercise for everyone to come up with a plan, work hard to follow through, and deal with all the excitement and disappointment that inevitably comes along the way.”
With at least 13 horses being geared towards the Great American Insurance Group/United States Dressage Federation Region 4 Dressage Championships on September 26-29, 2019 in Cumming, Iowa, “We will definitely be back at the Finals again if given the opportunity,” said Fleming-Kuhn. Remember, declarations are now open for any competitor interested in the 2019 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® – submit your declaration today at this link: http://www.horseshowoffice.com/usdf.org/.
Don’t miss your chance to compete! The US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® is a unique national head-to-head competition which offers a wealth of championship titles and over $100,000 in prize money, all while showcasing adult amateur and open riders from across the country in Training Level to Grand Prix. This year’s event will be held November 7-10 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, download competition information, declare and nominate for the Finals, and sign up to receive news and updates, visit the official event website at www.usdressagefinals.com.