By Alice Collins for Jump Media
Eight championship titles were up for grabs at the Kentucky Horse Park on day two of the 2022 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®. The marquee show, which offers more than $120,000 in prize money, runs through Sunday, November 13, and boasts competition from Training to Grand Prix level.
The day’s hotly contested class, the Open Grand Prix Championship, was held in an atmospheric evening session in the Alltech Arena. A harmonious and mistake-free test from the defending champions Heather Mason and her long-time partner RTF Lincoln, whom she rides in a snaffle bridle with no flash, was rewarded with 71.304% — earning the win and the Veronica Holt Perpetual Trophy.
Of the 17 combinations in the class, reserve champion went to Shelley Van Den Neste who rode Eyecatcher to 70.616%, with Brian Hafner finishing third on Dream Catcher (69.783%).
Mason and Lincoln improved on their winning score from last year by one percent, proving that, despite being 17 and the equal-oldest horse in the class, Lincoln is still fit and keen to do his job. That is because Mason has figured out exactly how to produce the best from this complex, explosive horse.
“Ten minutes of lungeing, three to four hours ahead – we have it down to a system,” revealed Mason, who is riding 12 tests at this show. “Lincoln has to have his gallop on the lunge. He’s been this way since a young horse. It’s just taken a long time to figure him out. I then warm him up for about 15 minutes before the test.
“He was a super boy today. He was on the aids, and his pirouettes were nice and tight. I’m very happy with him. He’s one of the easiest horses to ride when he’s good mentally. He has a wicked spin on him though, so I have custom made knee blocks, ‘Lincoln knee rolls.’ He loves to show, and I do too. I love figuring out the different horses,” added Mason, who owns 20 of them herself.
One of the most recent to be added to her burgeoning collection, Shmoky Quartz, secured another win for Mason on Friday, taking the Open Training Level title. The pair stormed to a monster score of 77.529%.
Judge at C, the experienced FEI judge Janet Foy, awarded the winning test over 81%, rewarding the harmonious pair with four nines and a 10 — the latter for the stretching circle in trot.
The five-year-old Oldenburg gelding, who is by the Sandro Hit son Shakespeare RSF, lived up to his rightful billing as the freshly minted 2022 Adequan®/USDF Horse of the Year at Training Level and First Level.
No Longer the Bridesmaid: Absolute Dream Lives Up to His Name
The Intermediate I Open championship was an all-day affair in the Alltech Arena, with 32 combinations vying for the title. It was Jennifer Truett’s fluid test on Absolute Dream that clinched the coveted sash with 72.794%. The eight-year-old Westphalian gelding (by All At Once x Fürst Piccolo) was twice reserve champion at the Finals in 2021. However, her preparation for this year’s class did not exactly go to plan.
“I’m thrilled with this result because we had a warm-up test yesterday at the top of the hill where we only got 62% because he was scared,” said the Cincinnati-based rider. “So today I decided to just go as big and bold as I could and give him a lot of confidence and praise him. He was amazing and gave me the best feeling I’ve ever had. He’s only eight and he’s always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. This is really his first big win.”
Truett trains with Olivia LaGoy-Weltz, who had a remarkable five students in the class. She found “Dreamy” as a two-year-old in Holland at Reesink Horses.
“I fell in love with him on the cross ties and then I saw him move, and he was so elastic — like a cat,” added Truett, whose test was lavished with a good smattering of eights. “He couldn’t have made me happier today.”
Sachs and Frisbee Relish the Rain
When Penelope Sachs decided six years ago that she wanted a new horse, she was willing to look for it anywhere in the world. She had a very specific list of requirements, which she sent to her contacts in Germany, her native Britain, and in the U.S. But it was a lady from the next property over who sent Sachs a message saying, “I’ve got your horse,” and she was right.
On Friday that horse, the 50 Cent son Frisbee 55, relished his chance to shine in the rain — in the blustery conditions produced by the tail end of Hurricane Nicole — to claim the Fourth Level AA championship with 68.426%, adding to their 2021 Freestyle title at the level.
“We had a rough start to the year,” said Sachs, who recently became a grandmother. “We tried moving up a level, and it didn’t work out for us. We did get to regionals at Prix St. Georges, but Frisbee, who’s 12 now, doesn’t do well indoors so I was delighted to be showing outside here. We rode in the heaviest downpour, and I came out dripping but having done a fabulous test. The footing here is really fancy. It’s really special riding in front of the three judges. I’ve been very lucky that we’ve come to several of these magical finals and always been outside, but one of these days I’m going to have to ride in that arena.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sachs moved from Wisconsin to Illinois due to travel restrictions, basing herself with Heather McCarthy, whom she describes as her “coach and rock. Sachs qualified via the Region 4 show in Missouri.
“Heather’s going to Florida for the first time, so I’m going; it’s very exciting,” enthused Sachs, who has lived in the U.S. for 34 years. “I want to do FEI in a fancy coat down in Wellington — and it will be outside, so Frisbee won’t have to worry!”
A Unanimously Good Friend
Cecelia Stewart and Friend were the only combination to break the 70% barrier in the AA Intermediate I championship. The rider from North Carolina was awarded first place unanimously by all three judges, finishing on a score of 70.343%. Stewart’s own Dutch gelding is by Rousseau out of a Tango dam. The reserve champion, Lisa Valone, rode the oldest horse in the class, the 22-year-old Iggi Pop, to 66.225%.
“I’m incredibly proud of everything Friend has accomplished,” said Stewart of the 12-year-old she bought in Belgium six years ago. “Every mistake that he ever makes is my fault; he gives his heart and soul in the arena, especially at show time. We’ve been working on the piaffe/passage, with help from my trainer Christopher Hickey, so I’m anxious to move forward now.”
Jennifer Conour Conjures Winning Test from ‘Chicken’ Hofratt V.Z.
The Third Level Open Freestyle was a class replete with quality combinations, born out by the top nine of the 26 entrants all achieving north of 70%. However, it was Jennifer Conour’s charming test on Hofratt V.Z. that vanquished them all with 73.789%. Conour, who is based in Indiana, competes the tall Dutch 10-year-old by Tango x United for owner Laurie Saldana-Rich, who mostly rides him.
“I just catch ride him for the shows because he’s a chicken,” laughed Conour. “He has a strong startle reflex, but he was super today, and he likes his music. He’ll be really nice when he stops thinking flowers are scary. He’s a rockstar and a quality horse; he just needs to mentally settle.”
Anartz Chanca Continues to Dazzle
Every test Anartz Chanca has touched at the 2022 Finals has turned to gold, and Friday was no exception. He added two more winners’ blankets to his collection: The first came courtesy of his morning ride on his Oldenburg gelding Dazzle in the Amateur Grand Prix. He piloted the son of Danone I to victory with 66.594% and was also awarded the George W Wagner Jr. Perpetual Trophy.
The Texas-based rider had already claimed Thursday’s AA Intermediate II and was concerned that the 10-year-old may be tired with two demanding tests so close together. His fears were unfounded as, second to go from 13 starters, nobody could better his score. The duo scored a double win in qualifying in Region 9, and here they improved on their Grand Prix score by almost two percent.
Chanca’s second win was delivered in the Second Level AA championship, where he rode the youngest horse in the field of 27 competitors. His score of 71.706% on Dante Rubin M.R., by Dante Weltino, left him almost two percent clear of the chasing pack. Chanca has the chance to extend his unbeaten streak when he and Dante Rubin head back into the ring for Saturday’s First Level AA class.
Competition resumes on Saturday, November 12, with a whopping 13 championship titles up for grabs, including the prestigious Open Grand Prix Freestyle during the evening session in the Alltech Arena. Follow the action via the USDF Facebook page and the US Dressage Finals website, plus live online streaming on the USEF Network. To learn more about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, view results and day sheets, and read daily news releases, visit the official US Dressage Finals event website.
Competitor Spotlight: Kerstin Laudemann
When Kerstin Laudemann acquired the three-year-old Holsteiner Alexis in her homeland of Germany when she was just a teenager, little did she know that the mare would produce a transatlantic dynasty that would eventually lead to her first-ever trip to the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® on one of Alexis’s granddaughters.
Laudemann will contest the Second Level Open championship class on Sunday aboard her own home-bred eight-year-old L’Etoile JKA (barn name Linus), by the Holsteiner stallion Limoncello II. It has not been a straightforward path to get there; not only did she sell Linus as a yearling, but once she got him back, he faced setback after setback.
In 1996, Laudemann came to the U.S. and planned to stay for only a year, so left the then 10-year-old Alexis back in Germany. When it became clear that her move to California was permanent, she gifted Alexis back to her breeder on the proviso that Laudemann could have the first foal she produced. That filly, Norddeutsche, was imported to California from Germany as a four-year-old, and Laudemann trained and showed her up to Intermediate I level. Subsequently, she produced two full sibling foals, Eclipse JKA (barn name Ella) and — two years to the day later — L’Etoile JKA (Linus).
“When my husband and I decided to move to Massachusetts, we had to reduce numbers, and I decided to sell the colt because I love mares,” said Laudemann. “I was happily training Ella and then, four years ago, someone who I didn’t even know that well sent me a video of a four-year-old who was for sale. She knew I had one by Limoncello II, so she had thought of me when she saw this young horse, who was also by him.
“Then I put two and two together and realized it was Linus,” Laudemann continued. “I phoned the lady I had sold him to, and she said that at 18 hands high he had just grown too big as she was only five feet tall. She told me how much she wanted for him, and I offered a much lower price, sight unseen. I went into the kitchen and said to my husband, ‘I think I just bought Ella’s brother back!’
“When he came off the truck, he was just this tall, lanky thing with no muscles,” she recalled. “He had grown so fast that the muscles couldn’t keep up. He had legs up to the sky and was so ginormous that I wondered whether I could even ride him. If he was an angel, then the size wouldn’t matter but with those long legs I knew any buck would be a big buck. And he had no idea where his feet were.”
Laudemann progressed slowly with him, doing a lot of ground work and lungeing. He progressed well under saddle, but it was hard to put weight on him. As a six-year-old he stepped on his hind pastern and ripped big chunk of flesh off.
“The vet stitched him up and gave him tons of sedation which brought on a really bad colic,” said Laudemann. “He avoided surgery but had to have a lot of fluid pumped out. He was scoped after that, and he was full of grade four glandular and squamous ulcers — the worst. It was no wonder that he couldn’t gain weight.”
A year later, and with his earlier issues under control, Linus sustained a hairline fracture of his pedal bone.
“He gets very attached to one horse in the barn and goes crazy if they’re taken away, so complete stall rest wasn’t an option,” said Laudemann, who used a small outdoor paddock where Linus could see his friends.
Finally, after battling broken bones, colic, injuries, and separation anxiety, Linus was back up and running in 2021 and ready to get out competing again. But he had one more curveball to throw, and, this summer, he stopped sweating.
“He’s now on two bottles of Guinness every day to make him sweat. I am rotating liquor stores in case they think I’m buying it all for myself,” laughed Laudemann, “but it’s working.”
Linus made the 20-hour trip to Kentucky with his own “emotional support animal” to reduce stress.
“He’s such a good soldier,” said Laudemann, who rides in the open section but has a full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry. “Having had the whole Holsteiner family, you see the traits coming through — it’s really amazing. I hope to get him to Grand Prix. There are other horses that move better or have better hind legs, but I don’t care. They’re my breed, and I love them.”
Scenes from Friday at the 2022 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®
Photos © Katie Lewis and Kevin Reinig