By Alice Collins for Jump Media/USDF
The second of three weekends of 2023 Great American Insurance Group(GAIG)/United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Regional Championships, held across a total of nine USDF regions, offered more riders the chance to pick up qualifying berths for the 2023 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® at the Kentucky Horse Park on November 9-12.
Five for Burson at Region 4
The Region 4 Championships on September 28-October 1, in Cumming, IA, proved to be a stellar show for Brittany Burson. The 31-year-old USDF Gold Medal rider picked up no fewer than five Regional titles riding three different horses.
Her diminutive 15.3-hand six-year-old Fürstenball mare Fiorenza, which Burson bought from Germany unseen, was a double winner at Second Level Open boasting high scores of 75% in the first class and 76.303% in the Freestyle. The pair’s results were even more impressive given that last year Burson came close to retiring Fiorenza from the sport altogether.
“Fiorenza had a really fantastic Freestyle at Second Level — she felt great, she was in front of my leg and wasn’t trying to get downhill. During the COVID-19 pandemic I bought her off a video and took a chance, but she’s truly wonderful,” said Burson, who is based with her long-time trainer Heather McCarthy in Union, IL.
“Last year Fiorenza was lame, and we couldn’t figure out her issue,” Burson went on to say. “I thought I was going to have to retire her, but we changed her foot angles a little bit, made some small shoeing adjustments, and that’s really helped her. For her to come back and be this successful is amazing; she tries her heart out. I still can’t quite process it all.”
At Fourth Level it was Furst Emilio’s turn in the spotlight — once he overcame his fear of the spotted horse in the warm-up arena. Patricia Joy’s 13-year-old gelding by Fürst Fugger is another bought from Germany unseen during the pandemic, and was intended for Joy, but he can be complicated, so Burson is sharing the ride with his 70-year-old owner.
“I really felt like in his Fourth Level Freestyle he was electric, fiery enough, and listening to me. It was a ton of fun,” said Burson, who scored 72.075% for the win. “Emilio was supposed to be a schoolmaster for Patricia, but he can be tricky and she’s allowing me to have the ride for the show season. He gets reactive and spooky — in the warm-up he was really afraid of the Appaloosa that was warming up with us.”
Linda Phifer and Cathi Alkhawaja’s seven-year-old Leonardo Z delivered Burson’s fifth victory. The Glamourdale son clinched the Third Level Freestyle with 74.688% and was reserve champion in the opening class with 71.188%. Leonardo has recently jumped up the levels.
“I’ve had him for around 18 months, and last year he showed Training Level because I had to go back a bit and figure him out,” explained Burson. “We went to Florida for January and February, and I felt he was getting stronger. When we got back home in the spring, we tried Third Level, and he’s really better moving up the levels. He’s surpassed all my expectations.
“I’ll be heading to Finals with all three of them and I’m so excited. It’s a show I look forward to every year, and it’s developed into such an elite competition. The sportsmanship and the level of riding are both wonderful,” she concluded.
Growing and Winning Together in Region 4
It was a memorable weekend for Adult Amateur (AA) Casey Eiten. Not only did she and the 14-year-old Eschaton win the Region 4 Intermediate II Championship title with 60.074%, but they also contested their first ever Grand Prix, gaining a score towards the rider’s USDF Gold Medal in one of the warm-up recognized classes that ran alongside the Regional classes. Eiten, who is 28 years old now, was 15 when she and her parents bought Eschaton, and they have climbed the competition ladder together.
“We didn’t know very much about what kind of baby horses we were looking for,” admitted Eiten, who liked the look of the young son of Sir Sinclair. “He was actually born and bred at the farm where I took lessons, and the breeding seemed right. I was out there every day when I was younger, getting him used to all the little stuff, like brushing and bringing him in.
“We started him, and I was the first person on him. It’s kind of crazy because I went through high school and college and now my adult career and life with him; he’s been there with me through it all. I feel really lucky that he turned out the way he did.”
The pair have been to Finals every year since 2017, the year in which they won the AA Second Level Championship.
“He’s been so fun to bring along. I didn’t quite realize what I had done — now I’ll be chasing that feeling again at Finals,” added Eiten, who works for a local feed company and keeps Eschaton two hours from home at Kathryn and Martin Kuhn’s barn, Star West.
“I usually ride twice a week and it’s a lot of driving, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Kate and Martin have one of the best training programs in the area, and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. Martin has done an amazing job bringing ‘E’ up to the Grand Prix. Everyone was a little teary last weekend, and the whole barn family was there watching. This wouldn’t be as fun without them all.”
Eiten will attend Finals for the Intermediate II Championship and also hopes to ride a warm-up Grand Prix to garner her remaining Gold Medal score.
Allen’s Four Wins Dominate Region 5
Adult Amateur Andria Allen had a stellar show at the Region 5 Championships on September 29-October 1, in Scottsdale, AZ, with her two horses. She scooped three Regional Championship titles and a reserve with the six-year-old Dutch-bred Mardeaux (Ferdeaux x Connoisseur) and Keno SSF (Governor x Contango).
Her double champion Mardeaux — at Second and Third Level — was yet another bought unseen from the Netherlands two years ago, mid-pandemic, and has been a little challenging since he arrived.
“When he got here, he was balanced but he was nothing like the video. I think the trip was very traumatizing and he’s very, very sensitive,” said Allen, who spent 11 years in the United States Air Force serving as a captain before switching to real estate. “The first time I went to swing a leg over, he almost exploded. We spent six weeks in the round pen on the lunge line. Since then I’ve been riding him out a lot, and we’ve had some sporty rides.”
Mardeaux’s sensitivity was further tested when a young girl jumped up and down in the stands behind him at Regionals wearing a pink tutu.
“He reared and bolted twice, and judge Michael Osinski told me to pick up the last movement and start from there. I’m so grateful to him for that,” added Allen, who has recently made a permanent move to Arizona, having previously split her time between there and Colorado. She now trains full time with Kim Yacobucci.
A fresh approach to saddle fitting has been the key for Allen’s other ride, the eight-year-old Keno SSF, whom she bought in-vitro from Shooting Star Farms.
“He’s such a big powerful horse, and as a five-year-old he was so naughty,” she explained. “We found a little bit of kissing spine, not much, but it needs managing. My Colorado trainer rode him in a different saddle — a Dresch — that sits further forward so the scapula can go underneath it. It puts my weight about four inches further forward, and it’s been an absolute game changer for Keno.
“I was an eventer and, in February this year, Kim said, ‘We’re going Prix St. Georges!’ I’d had a shadbelly in the closet for seven years that I’d never been able to use, and I felt like a princess when I finally got to wear it,” she added. “Keno won both his classes, and I got my Silver Medal and FEI high point.
“At Regionals our tempis were not quite right. They’re not reliable yet, but we’re working on that. I had mistakes with both horses, but I adore them, and I so appreciate everything they give me,” concluded Allen, who firmly believes in cross-training her horses and only schools them three times a week.
Stacey Knox and Frosty Fox led an enormous Region 4 Second Level AA class, putting down an unassailable 71.429%, which was the only score above 70% out of the 25 starters. The seven-year-old Hanoverian by Floris Prince finished third at the Region 4 Championships in 2022 at First Level and will be making his first trip to Finals.
Andrea LeRoy took commanding control of the First Level AA championship class, posting an unassailable 71.042% — the only score above 70% in the class of 11 starters. With her partner Deveaux EDI, a five-year-old by Quaterback, LeRoy was also the reserve champion at Training Level, with another plus-70% score.
Taminy Marshall was the queen of the Intermediate I, topping the AA straight test and the Freestyle at the level. She rode Excalibur NPF, her own 14-year-old Donatelli gelding, bred in Canada at New Perth Farms, to two scores over 60% and scored her ticket to Finals.
The 2023 US Dressage Finals will be held November 9-12 in Lexington, KY, at the Kentucky Horse Park and is a national championship competition that showcases the Adult Amateur and Open divisions. Classes run at Training Level through Grand Prix, plus divisions for Junior/Young Riders at Training Level through Fourth Level. There is $120,000 in prize money up for grabs over the four days. Learn more at www.usdf.org/usdressagefinals/index.asp.