A True Champion

Susan J Stickle photo

By Johnny Rob

 Endel Ots Marks the 2021 National Championship Show as His Best Ever

In the last decade, dressage trainer and competitor Endel Ots has qualified for the US National Championships Festival of Champions eight times and brought home a US National Championship or Reserve National Championship cooler on seven of those occasions. That was not the case this year, in 2021.  Endel competed and finished 9th with his client’s horse, RS Damon. So why did Endel say this was his best National Championship competition ever?

In a compelling conversation, Endel shared why this year was so special.  While Hurricane Ida was bearing down on Louisiana, COVID was reaching record high number’s in his home state of Florida, and the world watched helplessly as the crisis in Afghanistan unfolded, Ots was preparing his client’s horse for the Championship ride at Lamplight.  His warm-up on Wednesday went flawlessly. After the warmup ride, Endel shared that he felt confident that Damon was ready to show the judges and his owners what he was capable of.

Endel had a lot “riding” on this year’s championships.  His mount RS Damon belongs to his clients, Jessica and Jeff Friedrich.  The Friedrich’s are in the process of building an equestrian center in Wellington, Florida which will be Endel’s training base. In addition, Jessica purchased the horse, RS Damon with Endel’s help a few years prior and earlier this year brought Damon back from their home state of Illinois to Endel in Wellington to train and compete.  At Lamplight, Jessica and Jeff Friedrich bought a ringside VIP table at the 2021 Festival of Champions to watch their horse compete. 

But ahh, the best laid plans can go awry when horses are in the equation.  The 2021 Festival of Champions wasn’t going to turn out as Endel had planned.  Endel competed with Damon in the first leg of the Developing Horse Grand Prix on Thursday and the pair finished out of the ribbons.  The next day, they discovered Damon was bitten by a spider and his neck became stiff and swollen.  Coaches and friends encouraged him to pull the horse from the following day’s final class – since he didn’t have a shot at a top placing going in.  But Endel felt it was unsportsmanlike to not compete if the horse was comfortable on Sunday.  So, on Sunday Endel headed to the ring and he let Damon tell him if he was okay to perform.  Indeed, he was okay to compete and the pair finished 9th overall. 

Susan J Stickle photo

So why was Endel smiling from ear to ear in the awards ceremony and later overheard calling the show his best Championship ever? Could appreciation of where you are in life and gratitude for amazing owners and a chance to visit family after a long period of separation be a better win than any ribbon or cooler? That is what Endel learned at the 2021 National Championships.

Damon’s owners were still thrilled to be at the Championships watching their horse “develop” in the Developing Horse Grand Prix. They were also proud of Endel for his display of sportsmanship.  And on Sunday, they were pleasantly surprised to be asked into the arena for a special presentation as Damon was awarded the Best Presented Horse in the Inspection Award presented by Grayson-Jockey Research Club Foundation. Winning the award really felt like a team victory since Jessica is not only Damon’s owner, she was also his groom for the show!

When asked about the show, Endel said, “Horses always teach us humility, and I was proud of Damon. He is new to the level, and on Sunday, he gave me a good ride, but I am overwhelmed by his owners, Jessica and Jeff (Friedrich). They stood by me and my decision to ride on Sunday.  They never wavered.  In a time when the world is in turmoil, I was immersed in support and came home with an immense amount of gratitude for my life, the horses, and the honor of working as a team with such fine owners.” 

As true champions know, winning comes in so many forms, and at the 2021 Festival of Champions, Endel Ots learned the greatest victories don’t always come with ribbons or coolers…and while some people may not understand this, he hopes someday they will.

Endel  FOC National Dressage Championships Record:

2021 9th Place Developing Horse Grand Prix – RS Damon  

2020 – USEF Intermediare I Dressage National Championship -Sonnenberg’s Everdance

2019  USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship – Lucky Strike

2018 USEF Developing Horse PSG National Champion Lucky Strike

2017 USEF Res National Champion Developing Horse PSG- Lucky Strike

2016 Markel/USEF Six-Year-Old Dressage National Championship – Lucky Strike

2014 – Developing Horse Grand Prix National Championship – Donatus

2012 – Res National Champion Developing Horse Grand Prix – Agastrofos 

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