Unforgettable Moments from the FEI World Cup Finals Omaha 2023

USA's Steffen Peters celebrates aboard Suppenkaspser. Photo by Chelsey Burris

By Chelsey Burris

Last week, competitors, horses, team members, volunteers, and fans from all over the world converged on Omaha, Nebraska for the FEI World Cup Finals 2023.  It was an exciting week featuring the world’s best dressage, jumping, and vaulting athletes.  Here are 10 memorable moments that we are sure to be talking about for years to come!

The Champ Is Back!

Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and 16-year-old Trakehner mare TSF Dalera BB of Germany defend their title at the FEI World Cup Finals with an amazing score of 90.482%. Photo by Chelsey Burris

Coming into the FEI Dressage World Cup Finals, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl knew she had a tough task ahead of her in the Grand Prix Freestyle. At last year’s World Cup, she rode while six months pregnant, and just eight months ago, she gave birth to her daughter. Aboard super mare TSF Dalera BB, Jessica appeared to have not missed a beat, and with two scintillating rides, the pair successfully defended their titles. The crowd was electric in Omaha as this duo danced down centerline with a memorable Parisian chanteuses freestyle, and the judges agreed with the crowd, awarding them an astounding 90.482%! Jessica refers to this mare as her soulmate, and that bond shined through as the two of them were truly poetry in motion.

Family Affair

Nanna Skodborg Merrald, from Denmark, earned second place honors with a 87.146% aboard Blue Hors Zepter. Photo by Chelsey Burris

After finishing third in Wednesday’s Grand Prix test, Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald turned in a strong performance aboard Blue Hors Zepter to lock up second place honors in the Grand Prix Freestyle. This was a special connection for the Danish rider – Blue Hors Zepter’s sire, Blue Hors Zack, is the horse that helped Nanna rise to the top of international dressage sport.  Although Nanna and the younger “Blue” have only paired for four months prior to Omaha, we can’t help but wonder if he seemed familiar to her because of his bloodlines. 

“The Rave Horse” Delivers 

The “Rave Horse” in action – Steffen Peters and Suppenkasper strutting their stuff for USA. Photo by Chelsey Burris

At the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, US rider Steffen Peters and three-time Adequan®/USDF Grand Prix Horse of the Year Suppenkasper went viral for their freestyle featuring club-type techno music.  Even folks who weren’t familiar with dressage were suddenly introduced to “The Rave Horse” as videos of their freestyle were shared widely across social media.  At the FEI World Cup, this duo was back with this now famous freestyle, and the crowd went wild for it!  They narrowly missed the podium, finishing in fourth place to improve on Wednesday’s fourth place finish, which was the highest of any rider from the USA in the dressage competition.

Breaking Barriers 

Anna Buffini smiles with her dance partner, Diva. Photo by Chelsey Burris

Who was the happiest rider at the World Cup?  We have to give it to USA’s Anna Buffini, who seemed like she couldn’t stop smiling with FRH Davinia la Douce (better known as Diva).  This powerhouse pair broke a lot of barriers at World Cup – Anna was the first black equestrian to ever compete in a World Cup competition, and in this year’s edition she was also the youngest competitor in the dressage arena. Riding like a seasoned pro, she finished in sixth place with a wonderful freestyle, and ninth in the Grand Prix. Showcasing her additional talents, some of the vocals on Anna’s freestyle track were actually sung by her. We have a feeling we’ll be seeing this talented duo at many more top-level competitions! 

Dressage on Display

Behind-the-scenes interview with Simat Whipp after her demonstration. Video by Chelsey Burris

It wasn’t just the big, glamorously lit competition arena where dressage was on display.  Several events in the demonstration arena featured dressage, from a session where Pan-American Games silver medalist Karen Pavicic provided commentary while FEI-Level trainer and competitor Jami Kment schooled her horse Gatino Van Hof Olympia, to Simat Whipp teaching the crowd about the variety of breeds that make good dressage mounts, including her American Saddlebred. A bustling trade fair surrounded the warm-up arena, stretching across the complex to the demo arena as well.  There were lots of shopping options for dressage enthusiasts – and attendees could also stop by the USDF booth and The Dressage Foundation booth to get their dressage fix!

Isabell Werth Astounds the Crowd

That feeling when you know you nailed it! Germany’s Isabell Werth goes by a lively crowd, many of them on their feet after her fantastic freestyle with her partner DSP Quantaz. Photo by Chelsey Burris

On style points alone, Germany’s Isabell Werth took the cake! This seasoned dressage pro had the crowd on their feet after her Grand Prix Freestyle aboard DSP Quantaz. Their medley included samples of “Straight from the Heart” and “It’s a Heartache” by Bonnie Tyler. Despite Isabell making it look easy, even smiling during her test, her freestyle was incredibly technical, and her execution of a set of one-tempi changes to a piaffe pirouette that led directly into a canter pirouette left many in the crowd gasping. Her memorable performance landed her on the podium in third place Friday night, after finishing second on Wednesday.

Vaulting Makes its Debut 

2023 marked the first year that the equestrian sport of vaulting was a part of the World Cup. Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted. Photo by Chelsey Burris

In addition to dressage and jumping, the 2023 of the World Cup Finals featured the equestrian sport of vaulting, the first time it has been featured at the event.  For those not familiar, vaulting is often described as gymnastics on horseback where male, female, or pairs of athletes perform incredible movements while their horse is at a canter. The crowd was mesmerized by the addition of this sport. Germany dominated the standings in its inaugural year, winning all three divisions: the men’s, women’s, and the pas de deux!

New Grant for Dressage Riders Unveiled 

8 – Debbie McDonald signing autographs at the Dressage Foundation Booth just before the grant announcement. Photo by The Dressage Foundation.

On Thursday night, US Dressage Program Technical Advisor Debbie McDonald visited The Dressage Foundation’s booth for an autograph signing. She was also there for their important announcement – that the Debbie McDonald Fund for FEI Riders has been expanded from $10,000 to $25,000 thanks to the generosity of Pamela S. Jones and the Jones Family Foundation Malama Honua. This Fund provides funding for high-level training to horse and rider pairs, training at Prix St. Georges or higher, who show potential to succeed at FEI Levels, and who may not otherwise have the opportunity for the training. Additionally, the Fund seeks to grow the legacy of compassionate and effective dressage training embodied by Debbie.

An American-Bred Shines

Alice Tarjan’s Serenade MF was the only American-bred dressage mount in the competition. Photo by Chelsey Burris

Looking at the entry box for the dressage competition, one name stood out to American breeders: Serenade MF.  Alice Tarjan’s dance partner was the lone American-bred horse in the field.  The gorgeous mare, with her distinctive white socks, held her own, finishing in 9th place in the Grand Prix Freestyle with a respectable 75.207%.  Serenade MF is a daughter of Sir Donnerhall I out of the Don Principe mare Duet MF. She was bred by Wendell and Maryanna Haymon from Marydell Farms in Columbus, North Carolina. Alice purchased this mare as a weanling and they’ve been inseparable ever since. It was exciting to see them take center stage together and show off what American breeding can produce!

We Can’t Wait to Go Back to Omaha 

Omaha was a wonderful host city…and we’ll be back again to see it soon! Photo by Chelsey Burris

From its gorgeous convention center, tons of restaurants, and friendly locals, the hospitality in the city of Omaha couldn’t be beat! We are excited to return there this fall, as Omaha will also be the host city for this year’s Adequan®/USDF Annual Convention, bringing us back near where our organization was founded (in Lincoln, NE) 50 years ago! Mark your calendars to join us there, November 29 – December 2.

What was your favorite moment at the 2023 FEI World Cup Finals? Let us know in the comments below!

On the podium after the Grand Prix Freestyle – Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (center) is crowned champion for a second consecutive year with super mare TSF Dalera BB, with an amazing score of 90.482%!! Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald (right) and Blue Hors Zepter took home second place honors with a 87.146%, and Germany’s Isabell Werth and DSP Quantaz were third with 85.761%. Photo by Chelsey Burris


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