5 Unforgettable Moments from the 2021 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®

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Sally O'Dwyer at Finals. Photo by Chelsey Burris

By Chelsey Burris

2021 marked the biggest US Dressage Finals EVER!!  The record-breaking surge of competitors caused the number of rides to rise by a whopping 55% since the last Finals in 2019.  Riders and horses from all over the US flocked to the Kentucky Horse Park, competing in rings from the prestigious Alltech Arena to the famous Rolex Stadium, for national honors!  Here are 5 unforgettable moments from this year’s competition.

Julia McDonald Dazzles with Remarkable Freestyle

When 17-year-old Julia McDonald was thinking about attending the 2021 US Dressage Finals, she faced a dilemma – compete in the new Junior/Young Rider divisions at Finals, or go to the open level class.  She was confident in her new horse Lehndorff Van Vogelzang’s abilities, and ultimately decided to enter one Jr/YR class, and put it all on the line in the Third Level Open Freestyle.  Against a large field of open adult competitors, Julia soared to star status by scoring a 76.278%, winning the class!  She also brought home a win in the Fourth Level Junior/Young Rider Championship! 

Meet Julia and her horse, affectionately known as Lenny, in the below video.

Junior and Young Riders Shine

Elise Franks and Syrtaki. Photo by Susan J Stickle-2

The 2021 Finals held the inaugural championship classes for Junior and Young Riders, and the youth competitors came to play!!  The first ever Jr/YR to be crowned a Finals champion was 13-year-old Elise Franks in the First Level Junior/Young Rider Championship. Aboard14-year-old Oldenburg gelding Syrtaki, the pair scored a 71.250% to clinch their class. 

“I’ve never been to the Finals before, and I probably wouldn’t have if they didn’t have the new division,” Franks said after her ride.

The addition of the new Jr/YR classes lured many other youth competitors to Finals for the first time. “My trainers have qualified for the Finals in the past but I have never been able to come, so with this being the inaugural year for the Junior/Young Rider divisions I was really excited to finally be a part of it,” said the 17-year-old Ella Fruchterman, who came away with a win in the Third Level Junior/Young Rider Championship.  “Competing in the Rolex Stadium was a great experience, all the while thinking about all the legendary horses and riders who have ridden in that ring.” 

Adult Amateurs Take Center Stage

One of the things that makes the US Dressage Finals so special is that it gives the opportunity for adult amateur competitors to take center stage. The 2021 AA class was ready for their time in the spotlight!

Region 5’s Sally O’Dwyer had a thrilling experience this year at her first US Dressage Finals with her mare, Rayme.  Sally is an advocate for adult amateur equestrians, and contributes frequently to YourDressage, sharing stories and tips to encourage AA riders.  You can check out some of her articles here.  Sally and Rayme sure didn’t seem like Finals first-timers – they performed a scintillating freestyle together and left the Kentucky Horse Park as Second Level Freestyle Adult Amateur Champions.

Check out the video below, courtesy of Brian Volland at Embedded Films, which features Sally O’Dwyer talking about her experience at Finals.

Alice Tarjan’s Tour de Force  

Alice Tarjan. Photo by Chelsey Burris.

Region 1’s Alice Tarjan brought three horses to the 2021 Finals to compete aboard.  When the dust had settled, she had won four classes, and finished second in her other class.  She was also awarded two of the coveted perpetual trophies.

Aboard Summerby II, Alice was victorious in the Fourth Level Open Championship and Third Level Adult Amateur Championship, and with Serenade MF, she won the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Championship and Intermediate II Adult Amateur Championship. With her third horse, Donatella M, she finished second in the Grand Prix Adult Amateur Championship.

For her terrific performances throughout the week, Alice was awarded two perpetual trophies, the Lloyd Landkamer Perpetual Trophy for FEI Highest Scoring Mare (presented by Janet Foy) and the inaugural Verne Batchelder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the FEI Highest Scoring US Bred Horse at US Dressage Finals. 

Freestyles to Remember

The Grand Prix Freestyles are always a crowd favorite at Finals.  Watching the top horses and their riders dance their way down centerline to perfectly choreographed music always brings goosebumps, and 2021 had its share of unforgettable freestyles. 

In recent years, Adiah HP has become a recognizable figure at the US Dressage Finals – the gorgeous mare with her flashy coat is always easy to pick out in a crowd.  This year, it was Adiah HP’s half-sister, Vashti, who stole the spotlight with rider Kristen Wasemiller-Knutson.  (And in case you were wondering, Adiah HP finished second – what a pair of powerhouse sisters!)  Kristen and 12-year-old Friesian/Warmblood cross mare earned a 74.275% for their “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”-themed freestyle, which you can watch in the video below.

In the AA division, Lucy Tidd and Dutch Warmblood gelding Ellert HB were crowned Grand Prix Adult Amateur Freestyle Champions.  This was a special event for the pair, as Ellert HB is Lucy’s first Grand Prix horse, and the two have been coming to Finals since its inception, where they started as Training Level and First Level Adult Amateur champs.  They have attended every Finals through the years, rising through the levels to their ultimate goal of wearing a SmartPak championship cooler in the Grand Prix victory lap.

Watch their championship freestyle in the video below.

These are just a few of the memories that we know we will be talking about for years to come!  There were so many other amazing stories at the 2021 US Dressage Finals.  Do you have an interesting story to share?  E-mail us at yourdressage@gmail.com for your chance to be featured.

What was your favorite moment?  Let us know in the comments below!

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